October 29, 2015
The allure of jigs adorned with blades extends beyond flash or vibration
It's impossible to discount the value of flash in the overall presentation package for walleyes. Even the leadhead jig, the most classic of all walleye lures, often benefits from the addition of a spinner blade. Sometimes, the blade's advantages aren't immediately apparent, or even related to visual (flash) or lateral line (vibration) stimulation, but there are other less obvious benefits that blades bring to the presentation.
Among dozens of jighead options for walleyes, three of my favorites fall into the jig-spinner category, and have long remained go-to options in a wide range of situations. There aren't many jig situations when adding a small blade is a bad idea. Today, there is a proliferation of new jig-spinners for use with soft swimbaits and other plastics — a lure category that's hot both in the walleye and bass arenas.
Northland's Whistler Jig is a stellar walleye jig and a classic by most accounts today. Another less known jig-spinner archetype that remains my all-time favorite upright-style is Apex Tackle's Jig-A-Spin, which has been out of production for years. The Jig-A-Spin is an exceptional swimmer, an elongated leadhead with a 45-degree eye and #0 Indiana blade. The hook had a medium-length shaft and an open gap that fit well with larger chubs, as well as many softbait shapes. For swimming over and through cabbage, it remains unequaled in its weedless qualities, stability, and knack for hooking fish. The Jig-A-Spin also facilitated "bulked-up" presentations, combining twistertails and other softbaits with livebait, resulting in bites from outsized walleyes.
In recent years, the ReelBait Flasher has risen in the ranks, triggering heavyweight walleyes in big rivers, western reservoirs, and large lakes across the walleye belt and into Western Canada. Last Mountain Lake, Saskatchewan, Guide Jeff Matity wields the Flasher in all seasons and situations, having tallied many fish to 15 pounds with the stand-up jighead. With a small willowleaf blade, the Flasher shines both as a casting and vertical jigging option.
A productive variation for me has been the Transparent Flasher Jig, which sparkles its metallic transparent finishes in solid color schemes. A 1/8-ounce, short-shank Transparent Blue pattern has been terrific for casting shallow sand, gravel, and emerging vegetation in spring on natural lakes such as Mille Lacs and Leech in Minnesota. There's something about a short-shank hook and shiner or leech for shallow casting that hooks more fish than a long-shank option. Depending on the day and the lake, Transparent Green is another great color, as is Transparent Purple in clear water.
The Northland Tackle Whistler Jig came along shortly after John Peterson founded the company in 1975. According to Northland Category Manager Eric Naig, this puts the Whistler's origins somewhere between 1975 and 1980. "At the time, John was interested in lures with a built-in sound," he says. "He wanted a jighead that produced an audible vibration, which led him to these little propellers that reminded you of Spanky McFarland's hat from the Little Rascals."
Peterson's prop did more than whistle in the wind. "What he realized was that the allure of his Whistler Jig wasn't just about sound or flash," Naig says. With its tapered, teardrop-shaped head and spinning propeller, anglers discovered that the Whistler fell with a slow "helicoptering" motion. "The jig drops at about half the speed of other equally weighted jigs lacking a prop."
Naig says that although the Whistler sells across the country and for a variety of species, he believes the style is especially effective in rivers, dirty-water lakes, and windswept western reservoirs. His reasoning relates more to drop-speed than flash. "The slow helicoptering of the Whistler gives fish more time to react. This can be key in dirty water, and especially in cold water. The head design and position of the prop causes the jig to fall at about a 45-degree angle — sort of a hovering descent, as opposed to a straight plummet to the bottom."
"The Whistler in 3/8- and 1/2-ounce sizes can be an exceptional 'call bait' in warmer water," Naig says. "I use aggressive jigging strokes — almost a ripping retrieve — and often dress the jig with a softbait rather than a leech or minnow." He says that given the success of today's softbaits such as Northland's Impulse line, he rarely tips with livebait, except for a short period in early spring when he casts short-shank jigs, such as the Northland Fire-Ball Spin Jig tipped with a small shiner.
The allure of jigs adorned with blades extends beyond flash or vibration. Consider the Apex Jig-A-Spin, Bait Rigs Odd'ball FinSpin Jig, Northland Thumper Jig, or the larger sizes of the Blakemore Road Runner. Each of these jigs sports a small Colorado or Indiana blade, which provide flash and vibration, and which may lie at the center of their appeal. But when you fish them, you realize the blade also acts as a rudder, stabilizing the lure in the water. In some cases, such as with the Thumper and Jig-A-Spin, the blade also adds a rocking or shimmying motion that activates nightcrawlers and certain softbaits. And with the Odd'ball FinSpin, you get a tantalizing teeter-tottering motion when you twitch it and a stable, rocking action when you drag it along bottom.
Just as the Whistler Jig and Matzuo Whirly Jig utilize small propellers to stabilize them and slow drop-speed, the blades on other jig-spinners prevent them from rolling and fouling and keep the jighook in an upright position for solid hooking.
Matity says that the ReelBait Flasher features an easy-open clip onto which a crane swivel and small willowleaf blade is attached. The clip allows anglers to quickly change blade styles or sizes, or to attach a stinger hook in lieu of a spinner. "Blade size varies with each Flasher size, style, and hook-shank length," he says. "One key to the Flasher is the positioning of the blade. The tip of the willowleaf terminates near the bend of the hook, as walleyes often key on the blade. It's a calculated design that helps plant the hook right in the jaw, even when walleyes try to eat the spinner.
"When you jig a Flasher, the willowleaf works similar to a bladebait, giving off vibration and flash. This allows me to impart highly aggressive moves, even with a modest sized 1/4-ounce short-shank Flasher. But I can also fish it more delicately, such as when I'm ice fishing. In either case, I often prefer to tie with a loop knot — I use a Rapala knot — which frees movement and lends extra kicking action when jigged.
"Having frequently watched the jig with an Aqua-Vu camera in the winter, I've noticed that on the fall, the blade tends to fold under the jig, causing it to 'snowboard' or ride the blade in slow knuckleball fashion as it sinks and flutters to the bottom. It doesn't plane like a jigging spoon. The action is more random, which I think looks more vulnerable to walleyes.
"This led me to discover that high hops — as far over my head as my rod can reach — can be a tremendous trigger, ice or open water. This random 'snowboarding' action on the fall is key. You have to expect that a fish has grabbed the lure every time you raise it. It's amazing how often walleyes pin the jig against the bottom. I'm constantly feeling for weight as I slowly raise the Flasher and my rod is in position to set the hook," Matity says.
Matity's a believer in nightcrawlers, leeches, and Pro-Cure cured shiners on Flasher jigs. He opts for 'crawlers and shiners with long-shank Flashers and leeches on short-shank models. He also dresses his jig-spinners with a variety of softbaits, including paddletails, shaky heads, and straight-tail baits.
"These jigs shine when coupled with plastics for stealthy presentations along weedlines," Matity says. "During the August crayfish bite, my favorite is a Transparent Series Flasher Jig in the metallic Transparent Orange pattern, dressed with a 5-inch Berkley Shaky Worm in pumpkinseed color."
Naig has had much success coupling a Northland Thumper Jig with a 4-inch fluke- or minnow-style softbait. "One thing to consider is the position of the softbait's tail relative to the jig's blade. If you run a bait with the tail and blade both lying on the belly side of the jig, the blade can interrupt the action of the tail or vice versa, and you won't get the right look or performance out of the presentation. With something like a 3/8-ounce Thumper Jig, with a blade pinned beneath the chin, I reverse the softbait so the tail rides up. I think by doing this you maximize vibration and movement of both the blade and the softbait tail, and may get double the action out of the bait when you swim or pump it through the water."
Among an excess of potential jig-spinner and softbait pairings, Naig prefers a 1/4- or 3/8-ounce Thumper Jig with a 3- or 4-inch Impulse Smelt or Paddle Minnow for aggressive swimming retrieves. He also opts for similarly sized straight tails, such as the 3.5-inch Impulse Jig Crawler or 6-inch Impulse Nightcrawler. For me, Bait Rigs Tackle's Odd'ball FinSpin Jig has been a superb option for dragging ringworms, such as a B Fish N Tackle Moxi or 4-inch Ringworm in river current. And I still swim an Apex Jig-A-Spin with a soft paddletail several times each season.
"Most of the time, it's important to fish aggressively when fishing a jig-spinner with plastics," Naig says. "In warm water, if you're not moving the bait relatively fast, pumping and ripping the rod, the blade just won't do much beyond tiny little flickers, and you won't trigger nearly as many strikes. I like to move them fast and aggressively to get the blade spinning and thumping through the water. The combination of a blade and a paddletail worked this way is one of the best presentations for fishing around weedlines or other shallow windblown structures in summer."
Recently, more bass anglers have been wielding blade jigs paired with softbaits, particularly in waters with shad, working them like a spinnerbait, slow-rolling through sparse wood and over shallow, vegetated flats. Several popular bass jig choices have walleye applications — the Ecogear Blade Spin, Sworming Hornet Freshwater Fish Head Spin, Spintrix Blade-Runner Underspin, and Fin-tech SS Minnow Swim/Spin Jig. Typically, anglers adorn blade jigs with 3- or 4-inch soft jerkbaits or paddletails, such as the Nories Spoon Tail Shad, Castaic Jerky J, or Fish Arrow Flash J — all with provocative potential in the walleye world.
Blades, Bobbers and Beyond
Jig-spinners have been productive when dangled beneath a slipfloat. In 2006, Doc Samson caused a stir when he won a Professional Walleye Trail (PWT) Super Pro event on Ottertail Lake fishing with 1/16-ounce Northland Tackle Thumper Jigs tipped with leeches. He noticed in practice that bigger fish responded best to the flash of his blade-adorned jigheads. To this day, he believes in the power of blade jigs, particularly in clear lakes where he believes walleyes visually key on the flash.
Matity also has confidence in jig spinners fished beneath floats. Last spring, his son Benjamin boated a 32-incher, fishing a nightcrawler on a 1/4-ounce glow long-shank Flasher Jig below a slipfloat. "The Flasher Redtail Series in different glow patterns also has been amazing for monster walleyes when worked beneath a bobber," he says.
He's yet to find a situation not well met with a jig-spinner since they can work so well traversing river current, retrieved swimbait style, dragging along lake bottoms, or even deadsticked in a rod holder. It's like a little kick of flavor for your favorite meal — Tabasco, Sriracha, Cayenne Pepper. A tiny blade can be the spice you've been missing from an otherwise perfect meal. –
*In-Fisherman Field Editor Cory Schmidt lives in the Brainerd Lakes area of Minnesota. Contact Guide Jeff Matity at matitysgetfishing.com.