One of the most valuable pieces of electronics for fall and winter walleye fishermen is also the most underrated.
We’re talking about the VCR. You know, the video cassette recorder hooked to the television in your living room. It allows you to tape your favorite weekend football games October through January while you’re out spending quality time on the river. See, October through January can offer the most productive fishing of the year.
All you have to do is do it right.
In fall and winter, walleyes tend to congregate in smaller areas in the first mile or two below dams. They’re easier to find this time of year than at any other. Look for them along outside bends where the river has cut a deeper hole, in areas where the current has created a sort of washboard structure on the bottom and where in-flowing streams have created deltas.
One nice thing about river jigging late in the year is you typically have lower current, making it easier to fish. Lighter current lets you use 1/8 to 1/4-ounce jigs to maintain bottom contact. And lighter jigs are easier for walleyes to eat. The best rule of thumb is to start with as light a jig as you can use and still feel the bottom. If you’re having trouble maintaining bottom contact, go bigger, because feeling bottom is the most important factor in river fishing.
The only way to cover water and maintain bottom contact with light jigs is by matching the current speed, keeping your line as vertical as possible. The wind is your biggest foe that prevents you doing this effectively. Conquer the wind by pointing your bow directly into it to compensate for the breeze. We like to keep our 48 lb thrust Minn Kota All Terrain trolling motors set from 80 to 100 percent and use short blasts to keep our lines straight down.
River walleyes — especially in the cooler months — are almost always flat on the bottom. You need to keep your bait in the bottom six inches. You’re constantly lifting and lowering the jig, six inches up and then down, touching to make sure you’re still in bottom contact. There are two basic jigging motions. The easiest is the “tight line” method, where you lift your jig slowly up and lower it slowly back down. The other method, the “slack line” jigging motion, uses a slow lift, a pause and almost a free fall, with the rod tip chasing the line as the jig plummets to the bottom. The fast fall often triggers strikes when the slower method is ignored.
In either method, constantly watch and feel your line. If it pauses or makes the slightest twitch when the jig is on the way back to the bottom, set the hook immediately. Many bites occur after the jig touches bottom, in this case a slight “mushiness” will be sensed indicating the presence of a fish – set the hook right now!
You’ll find that a stiff rod transmits what your jig is doing better than a limber one. We like the 5′ 9″ Walleye Angler Signature Series jigging rods (in either a high-end HM85 modulus graphite or a less expensive IM6 model) that we help designed specifically for the presentation. It’s also best if your reel has as little back-play as possible. Older reels that allow the bail to swing backwards when setting the hook result in missed fish. We use Bass Pro Pro Qualifier spinning reels with the “infinite anti-reverse” feature. With no back-play the rod becomes an extension of your arm, allowing for immediate bite detection and hook sets.
Another thing that enhances sensitivity and the ability to hook fish is a line with low memory — one that doesn’t come off the reel with any coils set into it. We’ve found Berkley 6/2 FireLine (6 pound test/2 pound diameter) to be the optimum compromise between strength, no stretch, no memory and thin diameter. The no stretch feature gives it outrageous sensitivity. If you try this line, be ready to back reel to compensate for any short runs your walleye might make — the non-stretch property of the line makes it non-forgiving.
At the business end of the line use a jig with a long hook shank. Since you’re setting the hook vertically, the hook gap runs from the head of the jig to the point of the hook. We like the Northland Lipstick jigs, which feature a double barb. That’s extra important when using FireLine as the non- stretch factor is likely to wear a bigger hole in the fish’s lip. The second barb definitely helps prevent lost fish. The Lipstick also has a stand-up head, which pops the bait up a little bit upon bottom contact and can trigger strikes.
What about bait? Earlier in the fall, we like using a nightcrawler or Berkley Tournament Strength Power Jig Worm to tip the jig. Hook it through the tip so that it flaps when you raise and lower the jig. We’ve seen very little difference in the fish-catching ability of this flavored artificial when compared to the real thing. The Power Jig Worm is also more efficient. It’s tougher than worm flesh so less time is spent baiting the hook, and more time is spent attracting walleyes.
When the water gets colder, tip the jig with a minnow. We add a P/K Tackle Clip Stinger, which has two standard hooks and the third turned the other way to keep it from pulling out of the minnow. This “reverse-barb” treble stinger can be easily attached to any jig with it’s small clip.
One last tip is to move with the current, but don’t drift aimlessly. When you catch a fish, circle back around and stay on the spot that produced. Smaller river schools eat for an hour or two and turn off so take advantage of them when they’re active.
This fall and winter, make use of the VCR, the most underrated piece of electronics in your fishing arsenal. While it’s capturing that important football game, you can be out capturing river walleyes.