For more than a quarter of a century, Gary Parsons has rendered an indelible influence on walleye fishing.
He has plied various walleye tournament circuits since the 1980s. During this spell, his name has graced the top or near the top of the leader boards nearly a hundred times, and he has won six angler-of-the-year trophies.
He is especially noted for developing and employing crankbaits for walleye. In 1991 he authored a book entitled "Walleye Trolling Secrets" published by In-Fisherman.
Many observers say that Parsons can inveigle walleye any which way, but when he is queried about a favorite tactic, Parsons responds without a moment of hesitation, proclaiming that it's casting a jig, and in the same breath he says it's the most enjoyable one, too. And his prowess with a jig has become legendary.
For scores of years, Parsons dressed his jigs with a fathead minnow. But since 1995 and '96, when he and Keith Kavajecz helpedBerkleydesign a line of soft-plastic PowerBaits for walleye, he and Keith have worked a lot with a Berkley PowerBait Minnow and Jigworm on a jig.
Then in May of 2007, Parsons discovered a new soft-plastic lure-and-jig combo for walleye. And in his eyes there is nothing else like it in the walleye world.
He says it's entirely different than wielding a swimbait that features a big soft-plastic bait affixed to a big jig, which is ripped through submergent vegetation and cranked across points. And it's much more refined than working with a 3" soft-plastic minnow and jig. In fact, he said: "I think it's as close to being a magic lure as I have ever had or ever thought of having."
Big swimbaits and 3" soft-plastic minnows, Parson says, are what anglers use when their focus is on catching a walrus-sized walleye, but smaller walleye are rarely caught on these big offerings. Whereas, Parsons' new combo readily allures 13- to 15-inch walleyes, as well as an occasional 8-pounder, and it often works its magic when traditional walleye methods fail. He calls it a fantastic way to engender a lot of bites from a variety of species and catch unthinkable numbers of walleye in a relatively short period of time.
Even though Parson has waylaid untold numbers of walleye for four years with this combo, he said that there are only a few anglers in the walleye world who are aware of its effectiveness and have become devotees. Parson says Mike Gofron and Chase Parsons are two of the most renowned devotees.
Parsons says that this discovery began to unfold shortly after the opening of the 2007 walleye season, when he was probing a shoreline of a spawning bay in a northernWisconsinlake with a 1/16-ounce jig and live flathead minnow, casting and retrieving it into about 18 inches of water. This shoreline had a rock-rubble bottom that was often windswept, and Parsons notes that these rocky spawning locales need to be buffeted by wind or a current flow.
The spawn had ended, and Parsons' focus was on the small males that traditionally linger around the spawning sites, where anglers traditionally employ a stick bait or jig and live minnow.
At the outset of this outing, he garnered several walleye strikes, but failed to hook them, which resulted in several severely scarred and maimed flathead minnows.
During these near-miss encounters with the walleye, Parsons pondered about another way to allure and hook the short-striking walleye. In short, he wanted to employ a soft-plastic bait with hook situated close to the tail
He examined several soft-plastic options and determined that the 3" PowerBait Minnow and Gulp! Alive! 3" Minnow wouldn't work because the hook placement was too far from the tail. But when he affixed a Gulp! Alive! 2 ½" Minnow to a 1/16-ounce jig with a No. 2 hook, it looked as if he had found an effective substitute for a fathead minnow and method to alleviate the short-strike woes he had been enduring.
To his delight, during his first cast and retrieve with the jig and 2 ½" Minnow, a walleye viciously attacked it, engulfing it deeply into its mouth. Then on the next cast another walleye inhaled this new combo with unheard of gusto, and all of the strikes thereafter were equally vigorous. By the time that Parsons executed his last cast of the outing, he had landed 26 walleye, including a 22-incher, 26-incher and 27-incher, and this occurred at a lake where anglers rarely catch a walleye of those portions — especially around shallow, rocky spawning locales.
Even though these walleye were actively feeding, they were easy to spook because they were in shallow water. So as not to spook them, Parsons executed extremely long casts. Parsons says that one of the assets of this combo is that it allows anglers to make long casts. Some lures, however, are difficult to retrieve properly when there is a vast amount of line stretching from the tip of the rod to the lure, but that is not a problem for Parsons with this combo.
Upon examining the way that the 1/16-ounce jig and 2 1/2" Minnow moved during the retrieve, Parsons noticed that it glided much differently than a jig affixed to a live minnow. He suspected that the glide was what provoked the walleye to react so violently. His retrieve was a fast-paced one, which was executed by quickly raising his rod from the 10:30 o'clock to the 12:00 positions, and then allowing the combo to glide to the bottom, and invariably the walleye inhaled it when it hit the bottom.
Because of the swiftness of the retrieve, it allowed Parsons to quickly probe wide expanses of the rocky terrain. Parsons called it power fishing with finesse.
As the post-spawn walleyes vacated the shorelines, Parsons followed them into patches of coontail, cabbage, wild celery and other submergent vegetation, as well as some bulrushes, that embellished the spawning bay. These are traditionally the province of bass anglers, but walleye anglers have learned how to ply these coverts, too.
The water around the vegetation was 5 to 7 feet deep, and the bottom consisted of sand.
Another locale in the spawning bay that Parsons enjoyed some exceptional post-spawn and pre-summer catches was situated around a swimming beach that was graced with scattered patches of coontail and sand grass. The swimming beach phenomenon is overlooked by many anglers, but at scores of waterways they have proven to be fruitful terrains for Parsons across the years.
Because the vegetation was immature in the spawning bay, Parsons could work every square yard of each patch with his jig and 2 ½" Minnow, as well as the pockets within the patches and all of the inside and outside edges. At times he found significant concentrations of walleye milling about in the middle of a massive patch of coontail. But as the vegetation matured, he was limited to focusing on the edges.
The bulk of the post-spawn and pre-summer walleye inhabited these locales as long as the water temperature was in the 60s
When the water temperature climbed into the 70s, the majority of the walleye vacated the bay and inhabited the main body of the lake, where they spent a lot of time residing in and around submergent vegetation, such as coontail, cabomba, eel grass and cabbage, that was adjacent to a significant drop-off. The water had a tannic hue, which prevented the vegetation from growing deeper than 8 feet, which was an ideal depth for employing a 1/16-ounce jig and 2 ½" Minnow. The vegetation, however, was dense and tall, which forced Parsons to focus on the outside edges.
Here he caught fish even when area walleye guides could hardly garner a bite with traditional tactics during the heat of the summer and most had given up pursuing walleye. Parsons inveigled them by casting the 1/16-ounce jig and 2 ½" Minnow to the edge of the vegetation and retrieving it so that it would glide downward along the outside of edge of the vegetation, and when the jig settled upon a piece of vegetation, he vigorously lifted his rod from the 10:30 o'clock to the 12:00 positions, and then allowed it to continue its downward glide. After it reached the bottom, he vigorously lifted the rod from 10:30 o'clock to 12:00 and then allowed the combo to glide back to the bottom. If he didn't catch a walleye, he quickly executed several more lift-and-glide routines before he made another cast.
As Parsons plied the vegetation, he moved his boat at a rather fast clip with his bow-mounted electric trolling motor, and his casts were made at a 45-degree angle in front of the boat.
Another one of the manifold virtues of this diminutive combo that Parsons discovered was that he could fish these massive patches of vegetation quickly, and that was important because there many yards that were devoid of walleye.
He noted that if he watched his line for the tell-tale sign that the jig had glided to the bottom, he was fishing too slowly. He described the presentation as a 100% feel method and not a visual one. Therefore, it was important to establish a rhythm in the retrieve, and then the sense of feel was developed, and after a while, the feel became almost intuitive.
Once he found one walleye, he would stop his hurried pace with the trolling motor and completely dissect that location from a variety of angles and with different hues of jigs and 2 ½" Minnows. As he methodically fished a covert of vegetation, he often would catch another walleye or two.
Across the past four summers, there have been several hot and windless August outings, when no rational walleye angler would be afloat on a northern Wisconsin lake, but then Parsons used the jig and 2 ½" Minnow to waylay in a relatively short period of time as many as 15 walleye and more than a dozen northern pike, largemouth bass and smallmouth bass.
Parsons has found that this method works best on windless summer days and in water that isn't deeper than 8 feet. In the wind and in water deeper than 8 feet, he has to employ an 1/8-ounce jig, but he has never found it to be as effective as the 1/16-ouncer because it doesn't have the same evocative glide. He has caught walleye as deep as 15 feet with this rig, but it's basically a shallow-water approach to walleye.
In clear-water lakes, where the vegetation grows into 12 feet or more of water, Parsons discovered that it is best to locate the walleye by trolling the edge of the vegetation with a crankbait. When he catches one, he stops and dissects the vicinity with the 1/16-ounce jig and 2 ½ Minnow.
At times, Parsons has also used it successfully on shallow, mid-lake rocky reefs, where he catches walleye by wielding longs casts and executing fast retrieves.
Through every season and location, Parsons works with a 6-foot, medium-light power, fast-action Bass Pro Shops' Walleye Angler Signature Series Rod spinning rod that sports a Johnny Morris Signature Series, size 1000 reel that is spooled with six-pound-test FireLine. Parson uses flame-green Fireline when he plies stained water and smoke-colored Fireline when he fished clear water. He doesn't use a leader, and the jig is attached to the FireLine with either a Palomar or improved clinch knot.
The body of the 2 ½" Minnow is threaded on the jig so that the hook is exposed. He has tried Texas-rigging the Minnow on the jig to make it weedless and snagless, but walleye tend to shun it.
As for color options, he primarily uses the Minnow in a smelt hue, watermelon pearl or emerald shiner. The color of his jig is either green or a green-and-white combination. In heavily stained waters, he might opt for gold, chartreuse or a fluorescent orange jig. He noted that his approach to colors is different than most walleye anglers who switch colors a lot when they can't find the walleye. Instead, he doesn't change colors until he finds the walleye, and then he changes colors in order to fine-tune the look of his presentation.
Besides the 1/16-ounce jig and 2 ½" Minnow's capacity to magically entice vast numbers of walleye, it also allures a potpourri of other species, which has made it a joy for Parsons to use day in, day out, and it has been so fruitful that Parsons hasn't purchased a fathead minnow in four years.
Sunning the Minnow
When Parsons removes a fresh Gulp! Alive! 2 ½" Minnow from the jar or bucket, it's normally not flexible enough for his taste. To solve that problem, Parsons always tries to have a jar or bucket of 2 ½" Minnows exposed to the warm rays of the sun. He prefers to use the Gulp! Alive! 2 ½" Minnow because they are hydrated with the scent. The Gulp 2 1/2" Minnows are contained in a plastic package rather than a jar, and they are more flexible than the ones in the jar or bucket, but their scent factor isn't as powerful as the ones that are contained in a jar. Therefore, the best scenario occurs on a sunny day, when he can employ a scent-filled and flexible Gulp! Alive !2 ½" Minnow by merely allowing the jar to sit in the sun. On cloudy days, however, he is relegated to using the softer ones in the package.