Bombing is bigger than any one season or region
Bombing tactics for walleyes are so good that at times on a sunny 80-degree lunch-hour Saturday in June, July, or August, it's reasonable to expect to catch fish, even while floating in a beehive of pleasure boaters or working through clouds of forage.
The consequence of living in the middle of 14,000 lakes is that summer vacations produce a procession of guests, all of whom request boat rides during the year's busiest season. No problem? The deal is, I serve as skipper and tour guide — and in exchange, I get to bring a single rod and a small box of lures, dropping in on a fish or two when no one's watching. The past years, afloat on such rush-hour lakes as West Okoboji, Iowa, Minnetonka, Gull, and Whitefish in Minnesota, and Geneva in Wisconsin, bombing has scored big fish on hot, hectic days when wetting a line seems almost silly.
Bombing is bigger than any one season or region. If it doesn't work in your area, it's only because no one's tried it yet. So I wasn't surprised when news from other regions started trickling in a few years back, regarding the success of these aggressive, new-wave presentations. In recent travels to eastern waters — Chautauqua Lake, New York, Erie, St. Clair, and portions of Superior — and west to reservoirs in South Dakota, Colorado, Wyoming, and to the Columbia River, bombing classic walleye structures has generated consistent and often spectacular results.
The Rapala Jigging Rap has been one of the hottest bombing lures the past few years, but other lures may work as well or better, depending the situation. Bombing branches into other sub-classes of swimming-jigging lures.
The method is far from new. Tournaments have been won with various forms of the presentation even before Kim Papineau used a Jigging Rap to win a Professional Walleye Trail event on the Detroit River in 2001. In-Fisherman first wrote about using Jigging Raps on open water for smallmouths almost 30 years ago. And a similar technique with ice fishing spoons such as the Jig-A-Whopper Rocker Minnow, enjoyed a decade of modest popularity as a technique introduced by In-Fisherman Editor In Chief Doug Stange in the early 1990s. Meanwhile, Al Lindner, of Lindner's Angling Edge, helped to popularize use of the Jigging Rap, which is Rapala's fastest growing lure family.
Beyond lures or electronics and their value in identifying fish targets, bombing embraces two fundamental ideas: (1) It allows the rapid presentation of a compact, easy-to-catch lure; (2) It allows anglers to efficiently canvas expanses of underwater real estate, in shallow and deep water, without bait.
Especially compelling is that the technique allows a search for fish in deep water, by retrieving a heavy Jigging Rap or a 1/2- to 1-ounce bladebait, while maintaining bottom contact throughout the retrieve. We can make a 100-foot cast, dropping the lure quickly to bottom in 20 to 40 feet of water, and canvas the entire boundary of a small structure, while maintaining bottom contact as we quickly retrieve the lure.
A trolled crankbait offers depth control, but lacks the ability to perform quick, dramatic, fine-tuned maneuvers. Leadhead jigs and softbaits work in bombing scenarios, but they must be heavy enough to maintain drop-speed and the control required in deep water. With the right plastic accoutrement, such as shad or minnow profile baits, the jig-and-softbait option can be golden. Part of the magic of bombing often rests, though, with working compact lures from 3 to 4 inches long and weighing 1/2 to 1½ ounces, since such lures represent the yearling forage so often preyed upon by walleyes.
Some of the fun in working with bombing lures is in experimenting with the various ones within the category. When I fish with Guide Tony Roach, who often pitches and rips a #7 Glow Yellow Perch Jigging Rap, I might fish a Northland Fishing Tackle Puppet Minnow.
Newly redesigned, the #4 (9/16-ounce) and #5 (1-ounce) Puppet Minnows have been outstanding options. Northland Tackle Lure Category Manager and ex-tournament angler Eric Naig says the new Puppet has a flatter belly and a more bulbous head than the Rap, resulting in slightly slower, more accentuated horizontal glide on the fall. He also says the Puppet's weight-forward design mimics a feeding minnow when dropped to the bottom, the presentation phase when walleyes often engulf the bait.
The Puppet also has a hook eye that's tighter to the bait's belly, allowing for use of a slightly larger treble hook. Naig says that on snag-filled rock structures, he occasionally snips off the front (head) hook, which results in fewer snags and no noticeable drop in hookup rate. The other thing you can do to reduce snags, with bladebaits or Puppet-style swimmers, is to snip off the forward facing tine on the belly treble hook.
I like the slightly deeper bodied profile of the new Puppet, which more closely approximates perch, shiners, and other walleye forage. The #5 Puppet is slightly shorter than the #9 Rap, though from hook end to hook end, the lures are the same length. The #5 Puppet also is slightly heavier than a #9 Rap, though both weigh just under 1 ounce. Color is never as important as depth and lure action, but the textured scales, flash, and color schemes on the Puppet have worked well for me. I like the Rusty Crawfish, Green Perch, and solid UV Glo White Puppets, while the Glow Yellow Perch, Gold, and Chrome Red Jigging Raps are classic fish catchers, as well.
"Following a sequence of rip-drop-rip-drop maneuvers I often hold the Puppet still for 15 to 30 seconds, whether it's on bottom or hovering below the boat," Naig says. "It's the same triggering maneuver as having a suspending jerkbait sit suspended. Some days, the longer you pause, the more fish like it."
Other exceptional heavy bombers suited to deep water are hybrid swimmers such as the Sebile Vibrato and Vibrations Tackle Echotail. I've written about how effective the Vibrato has been early in spring, late fall, and through the ice. The Vibrato and other vibro-blades like the Silver Buddy often outfish a Jigging Rap or a Puppet, especially when big fish are available.
The best retrieve usually is a short, quick (firm but not violent), upward sweep of the rod tip, from 10 to 12 o'clock, followed by a pause until you feel the lure clunk bottom. Vary the length of the pause, depending on fish response, before repeating the next pull.
Roach says that the right retrieve makes the lure jump off the bottom more vertically than horizontally with the upward rod-tip stroke. Too many anglers use sideways sweeps, which make the lure drag rather than jump. It's a timing and rhythm thing, using the rod, braided line, and a compact heavy lure.
From the basic lift-drop, you can get creative with retrieves, especially as fish become more difficult to trigger or as they follow but fail to bite. To pull off the proper moves, though, it's vital to work with specific rod actions and braided line, which doesn't stretch. I've experimented with many lengths and actions, finally settling on a 6-foot 8-inch St. Croix Legend Tournament Walleye "Snap Jig" rod, rated medium-power, extra-fast action, which means it has a fast-response tip. I spool a Shimano Stradic 2500FJ with 15-pound PowerPro and use a 3-foot leader of 8- or 10-pound test fluorocarbon. The stiffness of fluoro helps prevent the lure from fouling in its hooks while it also guards against the abrasiveness of rocks, mussels, and other underwater hazards.
At the other end of the bombing spectrum are lighter jigging wobblers and lipless swimmers, which work on shallower structure. Pitching these baits and jigging them along behind the boat, even while drifting or slow trolling, can be productive — often, in place of a jig or rig with livebait.
On windy summer days, Roach uses #5 and #6 Rapala Rippin' Raps. They're fine shallow rock baits. But he doesn't pop it off bottom like a Jigging Rap. He uses a steady lift-fall, and longer pauses, in water less than 12 feet of water. On the pull, a Rippin' Rap buzzes like a crankbait — you feel it on the rod tip. And on the pause it wobbles slowly as it sinks.
He pitches to targets like a boulder, a bottom depression, or a dark spot on a light bottom. The lighter bombers work well on shallow sandflats, too, as well as in the saddles between rock humps — places he used to pitch a jig and minnow, he now uses a Jigging Rap or Rippin' Rap.
In the cold water of early spring and again in late fall, bladebaits like the Vibrato and Silver Buddy become big-fish producers. They offer some of the same seductive wobbling, vibrating qualities as lighter lipless lures, but work well shallow or deep and put out more intense levels of flash and vibration. They often seem to work better than Jigging Raps and Rippin' Raps in these situations.
Beyond the fundamental lift-fall-pause, potential retrieves are many, especially with heavy compact lures like the Jigging Rap, Puppet Minnow, and Vibrato. I often target individual walleyes spotted on sonar or 360 Imaging. On some outings, you see that walleyes follow the lure all the way to the boat, but won't strike until you stop and give the bait a few twitches directly below. Or they follow until you stop and hold it in place for several seconds and give it another twitch. Other times, most bites are on the first fall, at the end of the cast.
Walleyes like to follow and nip, often not committing to a solid bite. Mix up the cadence. Give the lure a rip and let it sit with an extended pause before starting to retrieve again. Or work the lure with increasing intensity — giving it a rapid twitch-twitch-twitch between lift-falls or pauses. Speed up the whole lift-fall cadence; use shorter pauses. The end game is a constant. Drop bomb. Set hook. Big smile.