Make sure you're using the rig jig for the job
Big soft-plastic swimbaits require a jig head with special characteristics
While there are no statistics to bear it out, it is a pretty safe bet that anglers fishing with jigs over the years have caught more walleye than all other presentations combined. But jigs also come in vast array of shapes and sizes.
The traditional lead- or ball-head jig, for example, is ideal when you’re tipping it with a minnow, leech, crawler or soft plastic worm or grub. And a laterally compressed aspirin-shaped jig is usually the best when you want to cut current and get your bait down to the bottom quickly.
And then there is the swimbait jig that looks more like it belongs in the saltwater angler’s tackle box than the freshwater specialist’s. As a matter of fact, for many years that is exactly where I’ve gone to find them—in the saltwater section of the big box tackle shops and online catalogues. Two of my favourites are the Owner Saltwater Bullet jig and Kalin’s Ultimate Saltwater Bullet Jig. More recently, however, I have become enamoured with Kalin’s Google Eye Swimbait Jig, which is specifically made for the freshwater task at hand, and comes as close to being the perfect swimbait jig as possible.
Because soft plastic paddletails are typically four, five and six inches long, wide bodied and bulky, you need to pair them with a relatively big jig that allows you to present them properly. That typically starts with a jig fashioned around a long-shank hook, that places the point about mid-way back of the body. When you rig your paddletail the traditional way, you want the hook exiting the back of the bait around where the dorsal fin would be located on a baitfish. This puts the point where you want it for sure hookups, yet doesn’t interfere with the tail wag.
Just don’t forget to also hook it with the flat side up. This set-up looks strange, but offers a completely different tail kick and a much slower fall, making it the perfect way to target deep weedlines and the fast-breaking sides of main lake rock structures. A swimbait rigged with the jig hook exiting the flat side of the body also lands on the bottom with the hook up, greatly reducing snags, and giving you maximum gap for perfect hook sets.
If I have any issues at all with the saltwater versions, it’s that the hooks tend to be on the slightly thicker and heavier side of things, often 2X- or 3X-strong, because they are made for powerful saltwater fish. This is great when a muskie or pike inadvertently eats your bait, as they often do, but having fished with the new Google Eyes, I prefer their thinner, and thus sharper, hooks for walleye.
The way I like to think of it is the same way I view getting a needle at the doctor’s office. The bigger and thicker the hypodermic the more pressure the nurse or doctor has to use to jab it into your arm. Whereas when it is thin and sharp you barely feel it penetrating.
Frequent readers know how much I prefer throwing swimbaits pinned to 1/2-, 3/4- and 1-ounce jig heads for walleye, especially when I find the fish frequenting shallow to moderately deep (15- to 25-feet) water. The combined weight of the jig and bait forces you to lift, pause and swim them aggressively, which often turns the walleye into a feeding frenzy.
I have to confess, too, that over the years my favourite colour head has been natural lead grey. I’ll often pour drain cleaner into a plastic container, dilute it with some water and then dip the heads into it to remove the freshly poured shine and add a walleye-loving patina. But the painted Google Eye heads perfectly match the noggins of yellow perch, shiners, ciscoes and smelt that walleye devour. I love the bulging light-reflecting glass eyes too, and I think they add a hotspot or target point for the fish to home in on. The subtle Shockwave Rattle system is another big-time bonus.
The only thing I wish is that the Google Eyes also came in 3/4- and 1-ounce models. For the time being, they top out at 1/2-ounce in weight, which makes them ideal for water depths down to the high teens to 20-foot range. I also choose them for slightly deeper depths when the water is glass calm and clear.
If you’re looking to up your walleye game this season, check out Kalin’s new Google Eye Swimbait Jigs that pair perfectly with soft plastic paddletails. I think you’ll like them.