Aggressive tactics for walleyes on artificial baits
Walleye fans are a passionate group. Few foul conditions or other potential barriers stand between us and the pursuit of our marble-eyed quarry. We’re also religious in our devotion to time-honored tactics. But oftentimes, thinking outside the box can lead to epic catches.
Take the use of live bait. Even as our tackle, electronics and fishing platforms have evolved into modern marvels, our reliance on natural baits to trigger strikes borders on addiction. It’s not that we don’t have options, either. Advancements in artificial softbaits for tipping jigs and rigs have given such offerings the ability to outfish live bait in a number of situations.
"One reason more walleye anglers don’t embrace artificial baits is we’re creatures of habit," says longtime guide and decorated tournament champion Scott Glorvigen. "Beyond that, though, some of the hesitation stems from not using plastics to their full potential, which is often a matter of not fishing them aggressively enough."
Glorvigen’s initiation to power fishing occurred decades ago. "Back in high school and college I guided on Lake Winnibigosh in northern Minnesota," he explains. "We jigged minnows spring and fall, and rigged leeches or nightcrawlers in between. Artificial options weren’t on our radar."
But one fateful summer day, just as the live-bait progression was shifting from leeches to ‘crawlers, he witnessed firsthand the power of aggressive artificials. "I was in a pack of about 30 boats dragging leeches around a rock pile on the north end of Winnie," he recalls. "It was a painfully slow, painstaking process, and only produced a walleye every so often."
Then a lone boat appeared in the distance. Like an aberration, it plowed steadily forward at a fair clip as its captain methodically jerked his rodtip high into the air. "This guy was ripping hair jigs right where we had struggled to finesse a few fish into biting, and he had walleyes coming over the rail like they were on a conveyor belt," says Glorvigen. "That was the first time I saw legendary guide Dick "The Griz" Grzywinski in action on Winnie. And the way he caught those fish so aggressively, without any live bait, really made an impression on me."
Following this introduction, Glorvigen added rip-jigging to his repertoire, mainly when standard tactics failed to produce fish. "Standard procedure involves forward trolling, letting the jig fall, then sharply snapping your rodtip from a 11 to 2 o’clock position," he says. "Let the jig fall, then snap it back up again."
Gradually, he and his brother Marty also began factoring plastics into presentations at tournaments on the Detroit and Mississippi rivers. "We figured out that smelt-type baits like a Berkley PowerBait Minnow worked well in cold, flowing water," he recalls. In current, such presentations excelled when fished similarly to their natural counterparts. "But in lakes and reservoirs, especially at warmer water temperatures, being more aggressive produced more walleyes," he adds.
He also found that upping the ante in jig weight was a key when switching from slowly jigging live bait to power fishing plastics. "Let’s say I was passively fishing a 1=8E4-ounce Northland Fire-Ball tipped with a minnow," he begins. "If I wanted to rip-jig an Impulse Smelt Minnow, I upsized to a 3/8- to 1=8E2-ounce Gum-Ball jig. Besides the extra weight, this jig has a long-shank, wide-gap hook, which produces better hooksets with plastic trailers."
Line choices hinge on the presentation. "When making long casts to a weed edge or other cover, I prefer braided superline such as Northland Tackle’s Bionic Walleye Braid or Berkley FireLine Crystal," he notes. "These allow me to feel everything the jig touches, from weedtops to a walleye’s mouth, even at long distances."
For short-range rip-jigging while forward trolling, however, 8-pound-test monofilament gets the nod. "Mono offers several benefits for this presentation," he says. "With the boat and your jig already traveling at 1 to 1.5 mph, no-stretch braids move the bait too far, too fast, to trigger strikes from inactive walleyes sulking on bottom. Mono also produces a slightly slower fall rate, which is key because that’s typically when fish hit. Finally, mono’s stretch and forgiveness make it harder for fish to feel resistance when they grab your jig. They’re less likely to spit it out, and more apt to turn with it, giving you a much better chance to make a solid hookset."
Rod options are a bit less technique-specific, as a 7-foot, medium-fast action spinning rod like St. Croix’s Legend Elite shines for both casting and forward trolling applications.
A variety of softbait styles take fish. "Experiment with different designs, including paddles, twisters and split-tails," he says. "The fish will tell you what they want. In general, trailers in the 3- to 31=8E2-inch range work well for aggressive jigging."
He notes that sometimes bigger is better, however. "Marty developed a summer pattern that pushes active jigging to the extreme," he explains. "He pounds 7-inch soft-plastic flukes along weedlines where you can’t buy a bite on a slip-bobber or live bait rig, and routinely catches walleyes 5 pounds and up." The pattern, he says, reinforces the need to fish artificial baits with a strong hand.
"The same principle applies to rigging," he continues. "For example, artificial leeches like the Impulse Riggin’ Leech and Gulp! Alive! Leeches are great softbaits, but you have to pull them faster than you would the real thing. I troll them 1 to 1.5 mph, almost as fast as I would a spinner."
Glorvigen’s speed-rigging setup hinges on a size 4 hook tethered to a relatively short, 31=8E2- to 4-foot leader that trails a 1- to 11=8E2-ounce egg sinker. "I always run braided mainline, so I can make sure the weight isn’t dragging bottom," he adds. "It’s a key point, because with the sinker suspended, the fish doesn’t feel any resistance when it takes the bait."
Like rip-jigging and other aggressive artificial-based tactics, speed rigging makes it easier to cover water fast and trigger reaction strikes from fish that turn up their noses at slower-paced presentations. "Impulse and Gulp! Alive! leeches also leave a scent trail," he adds, offering yet another reason to work artificial baits into your walleye strategies this season.