Everything you'll ever need to tackle trophy 'eyes
Since walleye are arguably the most popular sportfish in Canada, it’s not surprising that there are dozens of tried-and-true lures out there for catching them. I’ve selected the best of the lot and set out the following recipe—if you will—for the ultimate walleye tacklebox. (Make that the ultimate tacklebag; the best way to now organize your lures is in waterproof plastic trays that can be easily stored in soft-sided bags.) And included with my lure choices are some handy tips on how best to fish them—and when.
When to use ’em: Jigs are the universal walleye lure, ideal for catching plenty of fish, big ones included. They work best early in the season and any time walleye are concentrated in a relatively small area close to bottom and/or around isolated structure. They’re also good in rivers or other moving water.
Where and how: You could write a book about where and how to fish jigs for walleye. To simplify things, load up on 1/16- to 3/4-ounce jigs, but keep in mind that 1/4- to 3/8-ounce jigs will catch the most fish. The best colours include orange, yellow, lime green, glow, red and two-toned combinations of those shades.
In the spring, cast 1/16- to 1/8-ounce jigs tipped with minnows to shallow shoreline cover and newly emerging weed points. When walleye are inactive early in the season, and later in the summer and fall when the fish are relating to snag-infested bottoms, fish a light jig tipped with live bait (crawlers, minnows or leeches) under a slip bobber; at night, use a lighted bobber.
In rivers, let the current carry a 1/4- to 1/2-ounce jig and live-bait combination. The jig should touch bottom periodically so you know you’re in the walleye zone. If you find a tightly bunched school of fish milling around an eddy or current break, move upriver, anchor and then cast a jig to the hot spot.
Your jig should weigh enough that when you lift it with your rod tip, it will hover and swing a few inches from the bottom in the current before settling back down when you drop your rod tip. You can create the same bottom-thumping presentation when you’re not fishing a river or other moving water by drifting with a heavy wind or by using your electric trolling motor.
Lastly, if you’re fishing a jig in areas with plenty of panfish, or where walleye are biting eagerly, or where there’s simply no live bait at hand, use a scented Exude or Power grub, shad or finesse worm instead.
When to use ’em: Late spring through fall, especially for trophy-sized ‘eyes. Crankbaits, thanks to the noise they make, are also ideal for fishing at night and in dirty or stained water.
Where and how: Bang floating or diving cranks into the bottom around shallow to moderately deep structure (points, bars, shoals and rocky shorelines) to attract nearby fish. Pause your retrieve when the lure hits an object; the lure will then rise slightly, which is when a hit usually occurs.
You can also cast moderate- to deep-running cranks into shallow water and walk them down the sides of structure into deeper water. Crankbaits cover a wider, deeper zone than floating minnowbaits and jerkbaits.
When walleye are scattered along expansive structure flats and the edges of shorelines in 10 to 20 feet of water, try trolling cranks at those depths along the structure or shoreline contour. This is a precision technique, so you need to know exactly how deep your crankbait is running when you troll a specific amount of line at a specific speed behind the boat. Remember to occassionally bang the lure on the bottom to ensure you’re trolling in the key walleye zone.
Lindy Little Joe Fuzz-E-Grub, Blue Fox Foxee Jig, Blue Fox Vibrotail, jig heads
When to use ’em: From spring through fall, suspending jerkbaits will catch walleye within six to eight feet of the surface, especially when the fish are close to shore, on top of shallow structure (a sunken reef, hump or rocky bar, for example) or along the edge of a shallow flat. Suspending jerkbaits also shine where jigs and the like get snagged on bottom.
Where and how: When fishing the above areas, keep your rod tip pointed toward the water and use a long sweep-and-pause retrieve. Experiment to find the ideal pause length. When walleye are aggressive, they’ll whack the daylights out of these lures virtually any way you retrieve them, while other times they’ll want an excruciatingly long pause between sweeps on retrieve.
Suspending jerkbaits can also take the place of floating minnowbaits in the open-water basin area of large lakes and reservoirs. And note: suspended walleye often prefer the profile and wobble of a suspending jerkbait trolled behind a planer board.
When to use ’em: Spoons are ideal any time walleye are tightly schooled in 15 feet of water or deeper. They’re also exceptional lures to entice big walleye in big rivers.
Where and how: Use a 3/8- to 1/2-ounce spoon for depths of up to 30 feet. For water deeper than 30 feet, switch to a 3/4- to one-ounce spoon. Fish spoons vertically over the side of the boat. After the spoon hits bottom, take up the slack line and position your rod tip just above the surface of the water. Sweep it up to shoulder height and pause for a second, then drop the rod tip back down, letting the spoon flutter down on controlled slack. Pause and repeat the procedure. Walleye almost always hit a spoon on the fall or during the pause.
When to use ’em: In the spring, summer and fall, spinner rigs are ideal for producing a lot of walleye, especially when the fish are spread out in a general area.
Where and how: Slowly troll a spinner rig behind a two- to three-ounce bottom bouncer along the contour of the targeted structure (Lindy Little Joe X Change bottom bouncers allow you to slip weights on or off without retying). Or try trolling spinners and bait combinations behind planer boards for walleye roaming open-water basins. Use snap weights or segmented lead-core line or bottom bouncers if the walleye are close to the bottom.
By the way, the Little Joe Spinner Rigs also feature the X Change system, which conveniently lets you switch blade shapes, sizes and colours without retying. Numbers 3 and 4 Colorado or hatchet blades will get the most work, but use #5 and 6 for big fish or in muddy or stained water. Silver, gold, chartreuse, green and orange (especially fluorescents) are the best blade and bead colours.
Rapala Husky Jerk, Storm Thunderstick, Smithwick Suspending Super Rogue
When to use ’em: Spring through fall, whenever you find walleye aggressively feeding in shallow water. Floating minnowbaits (the top lures for catching trophy-sized ‘eyes) are excellent for locating walleye, particularly when they’re not concentrated.
Where and how: Around structure, troll using a three-way swivel rig with a one- to four-ounce bell sinker (depending on water depth) and a four- to six-foot-long leader at the depth you suspect the fish are at.
In late spring and summer, troll without downriggers, planer boards or snap weights, or cast floating minnowbaits over emerging weeds. When casting, use no additional weight or, if you must, add just one or two splitshot eight- to 12-inches above the lure. This technique is deadly (especially at night) when the walleye are in shallow water.
If the walleye are suspended in the open-water basin of a large lake or reservoir, troll floating minnowbaits behind planer boards with either snap weights or segmented lead-core line, depending on the depth you’re fishing.
In late fall, cast a large floating minnowbait from shore at night in channel areas, constricted current sections of lakes and reservoirs and over the tops of any remaining weeds.
When to use ’em: Fish Lindy Rigs following a cold front in clear-water lakes and reservoirs, in the middle of the day during summer and any time the fish are inactive and nothing else seems to entice them.
Where and how: Lindy Rigs are the ideal lure to troll along structures where you’ve located walleye that won’t bite. The classic Lindy Rig features a single, fluorescent Gamakatsu, VMC cone cut or No-Snagg hook on a three-foot leader tied to a small barrel swivel, above which is a sliding, boot-shaped sinker. Replace that sinker with an egg sinker in deep water over muddy or sandy bottoms, a cone-shaped sinker when rigging in the weeds and a No-Snagg slip sinker when rocks and logs are present.
Bait your hook through the lips of a lively minnow, the suction cup of a leech or the nose of a crawler, then slowly troll backwards along the structure. Use a sinker that’s heavy enough to keep your line at a 45-degree angle behind the boat; and keep the bail on your spinning reel open and your finger lightly looped on the line. When you feel a fish bite, let it run for 10 seconds. Close the bail, reel in the slack, and when you feel the weight of the fish sweep set the hooks.
One downside of Lindy Rigs is that the fish often swallow the small hook. A gut-hooked walleye is a dead walleye, so take care when you’re hooking big fish (and where protective slot regulations exist).
Rapala Original Floater, Storm Shallow Thunder, Rebel Minnow, Cotton Cordell Red Fin.
Marker buoys: Have at the ready to mark hot spots.
Drift sock: When fishing from a boat, use a drift sock, or sea anchor, to help with precise boat control. For all intents and purposes, drift socks were designed for lake trout and salmon fishing, though many walleye anglers now use them. They’re that good.
Anchor: Again, for anglers fishing from a boat, a good anchor is essential. Make sure it’s heavy enough to hold your boat and that you have enough rope (at least three feet of nylon anchor rope for each foot of depth).
A long-handled net: This is handy for safely netting fish in rough water.
Precision casting and precision trolling: These are fantastic reference books for calculating exactly how deep your lures run (precisionangling.com)
Scent: Keep some Dr. Juice or Berkley Power Bait Walleye Attractant on hand. Scent helps hold fish onto a lure.
Digital scale: Both Berkley and Rapala make digital scales that are wonderful for quickly weighing fish.
Mesh laundry bag: Instead of weighing a fish by slipping the scale under its jaw, place the fish in a laundry bag (which weighs almost nothing) and hook the bag onto the scale.
Lure retriever: This can be worth its weight in gold.
Razor-sharp scissors: These are good for cutting braided line, which will only get frayed by nail clippers.
Bottom bouncers: Use when trolling spinner rigs along the contour of a structure.
Nail clippers: These are handy for cutting non-braided line.
Jig Buster: Rapala/Normark makes a neat tool for popping the paint out of jig eyes.
Hook sharpeners: Keep a small file on hand for larger hooks and a diamond pencil file for fine work.
Planer boards: You’ll need these at times when fishing floating minnowbaits, spinner rigs or suspending jerkbaits.
Slip bobbers: Use slip bobbers when fishing jigs over relatively snag-infested bottoms. Use lighted ones at night.
Polarized sunglasses: Buy the best you can afford.
Snap weights: Often used in conjunction with planer boards, snap weights are used at times when fishing floating minnowbaits or spinner rigs.
Gamakatsu replacement hooks: To guarantee solid hooksets, remove the hooks that come with your lures and replace them with Gamakatsu hooks.
Forceps: Rapala and Pure Fishing both make good forceps that are ideal for removing small hooks from fish. Forceps are far better than pliers for removing the small hooks walleye anglers often use.