Swimming lures are designed with a baitfish profile -- resembling a minnow, chub, shiner, shad, or young-of-the-year panfish. The baitfish-profile concept of swimming lures is the same as the crankbait design for open water, which is to fool walleyes with an artificial lure that looks and moves through the water like a live baitfish.
Vertically jigged, swimming lures dart horizontally. But several jigging techniques can be used -- besides just making the lure dart up and away -- to make the lure appear lifelike. Properly timed, every lift, drop, hop, bounce, and shake duplicates the bad moves baitfish make, which are actually good moves when it comes to triggering walleye strikes. The key is to master specific jigging actions and use them at the right time based on how you think walleyes are responding to your bait.
The Hail Call (lift-fall-hold) -- I always start every jigging sequence with a basic lift-fall-hold. This basic move is simple. Start by thrusting the rod tip up between 12 and 16 inches, let the bait free fall and settle back into place, then hold for a few seconds. It's that simple. It's probably the most unrealistic jigging move you can make considering that baitfish rarely repeatedly dart up and away, then back down to the same spot they just left. But it's also one of the best moves to attract fish in for a look.
It's kind of like the hail call waterfowlers use to attract ducks far off in the distance. At best, the hail call is a high-pitched squeal that barely sounds anything like a real duck. But it doesn't matter because it' only intended to attract ducks in for a look. Once the ducks turn to investigate, waterfowlers use more realistic calls to further fool ducks into believing that the decoys are quacking. Waving wing-shaped flags in the air, creating the illusion that ducks are flying and landing in the decoys, is another trick waterfowlers use when the birds are too far away for calling and for decoys to be effective. Once the hunters get the birds attention, they often put the flags down and use realistic quacks and rely on the decoys to fool the birds.
Same rule applies to the lift-fall-hold. You're simply trying to attract walleyes in for a look. Once you get a walleye below you, a variety of other more realistic jigging moves are used to present your bait in a natural fashion.
Fleeing The Scene (steady lift) -- If a minnow spots a walleye getting too close, their instinct is to swim away. And if a walleye recognizes he's been spotted, he instinctively rushes the bait before the opportunity is lost. This is why a move I call "Fleeing The Scene" works so well. I start by working the bait at least a foot or two from bottom. When a walleye moves in on sonar and starts to nose its way up to my lure, I instantly, yet slowly and steadily, move my lure up away from the fish to mimic a baitfish trying to escape. Raising the lure with the rod tip works fine out in the open with plenty of room to set the hook after the strike. Inside a shelter, slowly reeling in line is a better option in order to have enough room above you to get a good hookset.
As the walleye starts to chase the bait, speed up the lift slightly, yet, obviously let the fish catch up with your lure. Nearly every time I do this, the fish rushes the lure and engulfs it. But I've had fish rush the bait then suddenly stop before striking, possibly missing the bait. Sometimes stopping the bait causes them to hesitate, too. So after a few jiggles and maybe a bounce, I'll again slowly and steadily raise the bait and the fish often follows. It's like they can't resist.
One thing to be aware of with the fleeing baitfish move is that walleyes rise up to feed, often inhaling the lure on the rise. Rarely do you feel a distinct tick or tug on your line. Almost always, the line goes slack and you lose feel of the bait. Simply remove any slack in the line and set the hook.
Stunned -- Since jigging the lure works great most of the time, not jigging the lure at all is actually a difficult move to master. Baitfish, though, often hold motionless in place, either stunned or totally unaware of any danger. It's why relying on the realistic profile of swimming lures works to trigger strikes.
This works particularly well when walleyes seem spooky. Either the fish won't move in at all, or they move in and then quickly dart away when you move the bait. Admittedly, my patience isn't geared slow enough to hold the bait still for long, so I convince myself I can add movement to the bait to trigger a strike. So when I recognize that the fish are acting spooky, I deadstick my swimming lure in a rod holder, suspending the bait a few feet from bottom. I'm amazed by the number of fish that move in for a look.
But you don't have to set your rod down if you have enough willpower to hold the bait steady for 30, 60, even 90 seconds. Actually, even though you're not jigging, the lure continues to move slightly due to either line twist, water current, or wind blowing on your line, adding some action to the bait.
Jiggle (nervous) -- A jiggle actually best imitates the movement a baitfish makes before it gets ready to take off. Just before a baitfish darts, its body begins to move ever so slightly from shoulders through tail, coiling its body, fins flailing and rippling, loading up like a spring, preparing to take off. Predators anticipate this movement -- a prelude to a darting escape -- and often react by biting before the baitfish gets away.
It's a fast movement, yet is barely a movement up and down at all. Concentrate on just barely moving your hand up-down four times. Just barely up and down. Don't try to move the rod tip; that moves the lure too much. Concentrate on your wrist or your hand. A jiggle causes a swimming lure to roll or flip left-right left-right on its axis, mimicking a baitfish preparing to flee.
Bottom Bouncing (feeding) -- For whatever reason, bouncing your bait on bottom -- on rocks, gravel, or in sand and mud -- excites fish. Bottom pounding works great for triggering fish that seem hesitant to rise off bottom or are acting neutral or negative.
Due to their weight, most swimming lures are ideal for creating a puff of sediment on bottom. Simply drop the lure down your hole and let it crash right to the bottom. Sometimes nearby walleyes spot the first initial cloud of dust your lure created and instantly move in to investigate. Wait a few seconds before slowly lifting the bait 3 to 6 inches, then hold it steady. I've caught a lot of fish this way. The strike can come as soon as you lift your lure up from the bottom, so stay alert. If nothing happens, again drop the lure to the bottom, pound the bait on bottom 4 to 8 times, then, again, raise the bait and hold it steady.
Using an underwater camera allows you to observe how much sediment you're kicking up with your lure. It's also a great way to see how fish get interested when you pound the bait on bottom. Using an underwater camera also allows you to position the bait just above the cloudy water so walleyes can find it easier.
Injured Baitfish (constant bouncing) -- Constantly bouncing the bait is an aggressive move I use when all else fails. I first tried this move on walleyes that weren't responding to anything. Out of frustration, I started methodically and rhythmically bouncing my bait without any pauses. In an instant and without warning, a walleye slammed the bait.
The action is much like a jiggle, only instead of eventually pausing or holding the bait, keep the action constant, jiggling the lure 30-, 60-, or 90 seconds. Walleyes seem to get use to the constant high action, get excited, and move in for the kill. Nearly every fish I've caught using this move rushed the bait so fast I didn't see it on sonar. I'm sure they were sitting off to the side of sonar, trying to time their strike on the high-action bait.
PUTTING ON A SHOW
I generally always start with a lift-fall-hold to attract fish in for a look. I may do a lift-fall-hold four times in a row, keeping my bait anywhere between 1 to 3 feet from bottom. (Generally the deeper the water, the higher I hold the bait.) Next I hold the bait motionless for 30 to 60 seconds to let any fish in the area move in for a look. I may bounce the bait a bit to add action, but generally holding the bait steady will suffice.
When a walleye moves in, select one of the fish-triggering moves to get them to strike. You're only capable of making one move at a time -- so pick one. The safest move is to simply hold the bait steady and see what happens. You may feel comfortable starting with a jiggle to give the appearance that your lure is about to flee the scene -- again, it's up to you. I love the fleeing baitfish move and often try it first.
If the move you chose doesn't work, try it again on the next fish that moves in. Still not getting bit, try a new move. Eventually, and inevitably, one of the moves you make is going to be what will trigger the most strikes on any given day. That's the beauty of angling. Once you figure what walleyes want, simply repeat the jigging sequence.
Rapala's Swimming Rapalas and Nils Masters Jiggers unquestionably produce on specific spots where walleyes search for food. Molded from lead, they sink fast and have a swift, yet subtle action. Vertically jigged, water pressure on the clear plastic V-shaped tail sends the bait scooting forward in the direction the head is facing. On the fall, the baits quickly glide back down, settling below the hole on a tight line. Due to their subtle action and thin profile, they're not the best option for attracting or calling fish in for a look, particularly in basin lakes, or dark and dirty water.
Nils Master was first to develop a larger-profile swimming lure, the Jigging Shad, one of our favorites. It has the same basic features as the Jigging Rapala and Nils Master Jigger, which includes nose and tail hooks and a treble dangling from the belly. The main difference is that the larger body makes it easier for fish to find the bait. Their Junior and Baby Shad also are popular for walleyes.
Salmo's Chubby Darter is another larger-profile swimming lure. Offered in three sizes, these realistic baits don't have a V-shaped tail to make them swim, rather, due to a counter-acting balance of flotation and weight and the line-tie position, the lure swims forward on its own when vertically jigged. On the upstroke, the tail moves from left to right, which creates vibration and sends the lure swimming forward. On the fall, the bait settles with a realistic baitfish body motion back into place.