A winter-walleye stalwart could be your hot new lure of the summer
There likely isn't a hardwater walleye angler in the country who doesn't own at least one hard-bodied swimming jig. When the winter-walleye bite is as tough as nails, these unique minnow look-alikes shine. So why don't more anglers also use them in the summertime, when the walleye are feeding ferociously?
Darned if I know.
Over the past several open-water seasons, I've discovered there's rarely a time when these so-called winter baits don't distinguish themselves from traditional walleye rigs, jigs and crankbaits. As a result, I've been making more and more room in my summer tacklebox for these heavy, self-swimming lures. And often, they're the only lures I get wet.
Where & when
I'm most likely to rely solely on swimming jigs when I find walleye bunching up along the shady side of structure or cover, such as a boulder pile, drop-off, shoal or weedline in 10 or more feet of water. But instead of casting these lures, you vertically jig them over the side of your boat—the same way you would through a hole in the ice.
The other place where jigging lures excel is in rivers and lakes with current. The lures' unique size, shape, weight and profile allow you to drop them quickly to the bottom—where moving-water walleye spend most of their time—and maintain a vertical presentation. Indeed, it's the ability to precisely control the depth and speed of swimming jigs that makes them so amazingly effective for open–water walleye—as well as for bonus bass, perch, pike and sauger.
The right rod
The one drawback is that most anglers—particularly hardwater walleye fishermen who rely heavily on these lures—initially tend to overwork them in open water. And it's easy to see why. During the hard water season, anglers typically use very short rods and fish sitting down, whether on a snow machine, ice-fishing bucket or seat in a shelter. Compare that with standing in a rocking boat, several feet above the water's surface, with a seven-foot-long fishing rod in your hands. Unless you consciously minimize your movements, you'll likely impart far too much action on the lure.
All of this is to say that it's a good idea to substitute a short six- or 6 1/2-foot medium- or medium-heavy-action spinning rod for the longer stick you'd normally use, at least until you get the hang of minimizing your jigging action.
How to fish it
Whichever rod you choose, here's how you should work the lure. Open the bail on your spinning reel and let the jig fall to the bottom. Make sure you're spooled up with 12- to 14-pound-test FireLine or a similar, thin-diameter no-stretch braid. You should also attach a two-foot-long, eight- to 10-pound-test fluorocarbon or monofilament leader.
Once the lure hits the bottom, reel up roughly one foot of line and close the bail. Next, gently lift up your rod tip a foot or two, then let the lure settle back down under controlled slack.
Remember: when it comes to imparting action on a swimming jig, less is best. That's because the bait never stops swimming on its own, even when you're anchored or fishing in perfectly calm conditions. And that's why these lures are so effective—in both winter and summer.
You will, however, notice one key seasonal difference. During the winter, most walleye will strike during the peak of the pause after the lure settles back down. In the summer, meanwhile, active 'eyes will violently smack the bait immediately after you stop jigging.
That is, of course, if you didn't leave it stashed away with all your other hardwater gear.
A better bait
Want to make your swimming jig perform even better? Start by removing the bottom treblehook, then snip off the wire hook hanger with wire cutters. Also snip off the barbed tip of the single tail hook. Next, use needle-nose pliers to twist what's left of the tail hook into a small loop, with the cut end embedded into the lure. Using a split ring, attach a red-feathered #6 Gamakatsu treble to the loop you just created. The next time you fish this lure, hold on.