It's summertime, and across the walleye belt, common theory is that the best bite for walleyes is over until water temps start cooling down in fall. Classic rigging and jigging patterns that worked so well in May and June simply don't seem to produce as consistently during the heat of July and August.
For Travis Peterson of Bemidji, Minnesota, that presented something of a problem. Travis, like some schoolteachers in northern Minnesota, spends much of his summer guiding on area lakes. While he is a multispecies guide, many of his clients want walleyes. Understandably, many of them vacation during July and August when the weather is nicest in the North Country. To top it off, his clientele are often beginning or average anglers who aren't accomplished at walleye finesse tactics like livebait rigging and jigging. So Travis needed a simple technique that would allow his clients to catch walleyes during the dog days of summer.
Enter the jig spinner. While certainly not new, most who fish for weed walleyes don't even have one in their tackle boxes, and fewer still count on them to catch walleyes.
Essentially, a jig spinner is a small spinnerbait built with walleyes in mind. A safety-pin-style arm with a spinner blade attaches onto the eye of a jighead, and the resulting lure is often rigged with a plastic tail. Simplicity in action.
Peterson prefers a couple of different styles. The first is a Northland Rainbow Jig Spinner with a #3 Colorado blade in either silver or brass. This is attached to a 1/4-ounce roundhead jig dressed with a 3- or 4-inch twister tail. Favorite color? "I like white best, but yellow and chartreuse can also be productive." His second is a Northland Tackle Mimic Minnow Spin, once again in 1/4-ounce in silver, gold, or perch patterns. While both work well, Peterson believes the Mimic Minnow Spin presents a more realistic imitation of a baitfish. The Mimic Minnow Spin's tail also produces a distinct thump, which causes the entire bait to vibrate similar to a lipless crankbait. This vibration induces walleyes to strike the bait.
Peterson has his best luck with this setup during the hottest days of summer. "When the first hot humid days of July arrive, many walleyes in classic North Country lakes move to weedbeds." Specifically, the largest, thickest beds of green cabbage weeds are usually most productive. Generally, the larger the spot, the more walleyes it holds. The most productive depth is usually somewhere between 4 and 8 feet of water.
As baitfish move into the thick, lush green cabbage weeds, walleyes usually aren't far behind. They continue to use these weedbeds until sometime in August when the weather begins cooling. As the water temperature slowly cools, weeds begin to slowly lose their green coloration, indicating that walleyes may move deeper in preparation for establishing standard fall patterns.
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Jig Spinners (cont.)
How about spots lacking weedgrowth? Jig spinners work on shallow rock- and sandbars as well, although the conditions must be right for walleyes to hold there. This generally occurs during windy conditions or under cover of darkness. Peterson still prefers weedgrowth, however, as walleyes continue to hold in the cover even under the midday sun. A good wind blowing into a weedbed can be helpful, but isn't required for good catches.
A jig spinner is remarkably easy to fish. Even beginners catch on to the system right away. Peterson employs medium spinning gear and insists on using Berkley FireLine. "FireLine allows an angler to feel how the spin rig is running and whether weeds have fouled and inhibited the action of the bait. The spinner offers a distinctive thump that is telegraphed up the line. Even a newcomer can tell if the rig is running properly or if it has become tangled with weeds. The nice thing is, the overhead spinner arm makes the rig relatively weedless.
The jig spinner is trolled about fifty feet behind the boat at a medium trolling speed of about 1.5 miles per hour, with a 1/4-ounce jig spinner running about 2 to 3 feet below the surface. The technique is similar to trolling crankbaits; when a fish hits, it is normally hooked by the forward movement of the boat. Peterson trolls with his main outboard engine and doesn't believe the sound of the motor spooks fish. "Because these fish are in cover, they hold in shallower water areas much better than they normally would." Once fish are located, Peterson continues to make successive passes over the weedbed until the fish scatter.
Several other versions of jig spinner have been used by anglers for this pattern. A weight-forward spinner tipped with a piece of nightcrawler or a twister tail works in many of the same situations, although it perhaps doesn't offer the same weedless qualities of the standard spinner jig. A friend has used this rig for years on lakes such as Minnesota's Lake Winnibigoshish to catch walleyes, trolled along or cast to weedlines or clumps of weedgrowth.
Local Bemidji, Minnesota, anglers have long used a similar setup, appropriately named the "Bemidji Rig," consisting of a spinner rig with a #2 or #3 Indiana blade, a single Aberdeen style hook, and a 3-inch twister tail. (See "Gulping! Walleyes" in this issue for further details.) This rig functions like a weight-forward spinner but requires a sinker place ahead of it. A 1/4-ounce bullet sinker is usually the best choice for sliding through weedgrowth.
So, when this summer's dog day blues get you down, don't despair. Instead, dig deep and pull a jig spinner out of your tackle box to keep catching walleyes, even during the heat of the summer.
*Dan DeJaeghere, Walker, Minnesota, is a past PWT pro who works for Northland Fishing Tackle.