The Art of Jigging
“Caught ’em jigging.”
You’ve heard it countless times and have probably said it more than a few times yourself. If someone else uses that phrase, and you’re seeking direction, it would be prudent to ask a few more questions.
“Jigging” or “jig fishing” means different things to different people. That’s at least partly because jigs can be presented so many different ways.
You can fish the right jig in the right part of a lake and never really come that close to catching fish if you don’t use the right presentation. With that in mind, we’ll now look at five jig presentations that can be highly effective for spring walleyes and consider the various situations that lend themselves to choosing each presentation.
When walleyes relate to the bottom but are widespread along a bank or holding at a range of depths atop a point or reef, a classic bottom-hopping jig presentation is tough to top. Cast, let the jig fall to the bottom, lift the rod tip to pull the bait off the bottom, and then let it sink. What could be simpler than that?
Tipping a jig with a nightcrawler works great for hopping because the crawler flutters on the drop, which is an important part of the presentation.
One subtle but important variable with bottom hopping is the tightness of the line as the bait falls. A loose line allows a jig to drop quickly and straight down. A tight line creates a pendulum effect, which slows the fall but allows you to cover more water.
Some anglers would contend that only one of those ways of fishing is correct, but the walleyes don’t know the rules and their preferences truly vary from day to day. Keep both options in mind.
Bottom presentations actually vary in a lot of ways, including the sharpness and scope of each lift on the rod, the pause or pauses (if any) between hops, and whether the hops are linked so that the jig dances a bit on the way up before it falls.
Conditions will tell you some things about the likely mood of the fish. For example, high fishing pressure might suggest more subtle movements. However, the real keys to success are experimenting and paying careful attention to patterns.
When walleyes are spread along a specific break and tight to the bottom, one of the most effective ways to target those fish is simply to work the boat perpendicular to the break and drag jigs tipped with leeches or crawlers. As long as you know the depth range of the break, you can easily keep your boat directly over the break by watching your depth reading.
When choosing a jighead for walleye fishing, consider all the variables that you intend to come up against. Then adjust accordingly and choose the correct application that fits those needs. Let the fish tell you what they want.
When you straddle a break, jigs dragged on one side of the boat may be several feet shallower than jigs dragged on the other side, especially if rods are extended perpendicular to the boat. That allows you to cover a wider swath and to pattern the fish. If all the bites occur on the shallow side of the boat, stray a little shallower to straddle that depth.
If the depth fish are using seems tightly defined and the slope is fairly sharp, you can keep more baits in the zone by dragging lines directly off the stern so there is less separation.
If your electronics show that you are going over fish, but they won’t bite, experiment with dragging speed, jighead colors, and trailer styles or tipping baits. Also try mixing in some hops as a bait moves along the break. Usually a straight drag works best if the fish are tight to the bottom, but occasionally they react when the bait hops a bit.
At times walleyes congregate on very specific spots. Whether a spot is a rockpile that’s close to a big drop, a ledge that crosses a current to create an underwater eddy or high point on a reef, if you can position your boat over such a spot without spooking the fish, vertical jigging keeps the offering in the strike zone. Along with the efficiency gained by keeping your bait in the zone, vertical jigging allows you to be very precise with presentations.
Spend time looking at the structure and the positioning of the fish before you ever let down a bait. Drop a marker buoy on a key spot. Even if you are watching everything on your electronics as you fish, having a visible reference point on the surface helps you with boat positioning and efficient presentations.
Vertical jigging presentations can range from aggressive, with heavy jigs, snapping lifts, and uninhibited loose-line drops that “pound” the bottom, to subtle jiggling of a hair jig just off the bottom. The vertical approach even allows you to target suspended fish that are directly below the boat, and you often can gauge the fish’s interest by what you see on the graph.
If you see fish moving up to your bait, but they won’t quite commit, you’re likely close with what you are showing them. Alter the presentation to see whether that triggers a strike or spooks the fish, or try a different color of jig.
Drifting may work best for river settings when fish are hanging along edges of river bars or along the bottom in big holes. It also works well when fish are cruising big-lake flats and enough wind is blowing to move the boat. Drifting not only allows you to cover a lot of territory, but also to keep your bait in the water longer.
If the water is sufficiently deep to make a good presentation and not spook the fish, a vertical or mostly vertical line allows for the best control of your jig and the best sensitivity to strikes. If the water is shallow enough that you’d be too close to the fish with a vertical approach, cast upstream or let out some line with the jig on the bottom initially to put a bit of extra space between you and the jig.
If conditions dictate drifting with a fair amount of line out, dragging the jig along the bottom might be your only option. With a more vertical presentation, you have the choice of keeping your jig right on the bottom, jigging it as you drift or even keeping the line tight so that the jig swims suspended. The suspending option works best with a grub or swimbait type of tail on your jig.
Early in the year, when walleyes are often shallow, one of the best and most overlooked ways to fish a jig is to cast and crank, either swimming the jig steadily or adding tugs or twitches but keeping it up in the water column.
Casting and reeling effectively imitates baitfish, which are the mainstays of the walleyes diet in shallow water. Casting allows you to pick apart cover and structure and to work your jig tight to points and cuts along a weed line, next to bridge pilings and riprap, between rocks and more.
Because you’re keeping jigs moving and generally imitating baitfish, a grub or swim bait-style tail again works best. Alternatively, tip a jig with a whole minnow to provide both the baitfish look and the scent and flavor sometimes needed to get walleyes to bite and hang on.
Important variables for casting and swimming jigs are the weight of the jighead and bulkiness and buoyancy of body or trailer. Jigs that are heavy, relative to their bodies, work well for dropping down by weed edges, swimming just off the bottom and swimming quickly to draw reaction strikes. Offerings with more neutral buoyancy allow for much slower and more natural deliveries.