Flicker Shads on the Rocks

As fall and winter approaches the river walleyes head for wintering holes, not because it’s a nice place to hang out, but that’s where the baitfish go to in winter. The wintering holes on the 3 rivers in Pittsburgh, PA for instance (where I do most of my winter river fishing), range from 25 to 50 feet deep. Farther North on the Allegheny River the water is shallower and the holes there are usually no deeper than 20 feet. No matter what depth you’re fishing on your favorite walleye river however, Vertical Jigging is the best presentation for these cold-water river walleyes. This will allow you to present a bait in a natural way and give you the ultimate control to put it right where the fish are. Proper boat control, as well as a quality rod, reel and line combination is a must to be successful at Vertical Jigging river walleyes.

Total Solutions Technique

Walleyes in the rivers I fish are feed on shad and river shiners so we try to “match the hatch” by using a lead-head jig tipped with a bait such as the 3 inch Berkley Gulp! Minnow in shad color. Another increasingly popular technique is to use a tactic more familiar to bass fishing … a Drop-Shot rig tipped with the same baits. If it’s legal in your state you can combine the two tactics and use the jig on the bottom of your line and a Gulp minnow as a dropshot bait above it to double your chances. First your line needs to be completely vertical when drifting downriver. This is accomplished by keeping your boat going the same speed as the current using your electric motor to compensate for wind and current. Using a high-visibility fishing line is a great asset, allowing you to see the line extremely well in any light conditions which will help you stay completely vertical and detect the lightest strike.

When the walleyes start moving shallow in the evening, I’ll cast a shallow running crankbait like the Berkley Flicker shad in either Firetiger or Purple tiger, towards shorline rocks for larger walleyes.  The bite usually lasts from just before dark till an hour after dark.  This bite will happen again just before daybreak until the sun comes up.

Total Solutions Equipment

My equipment choices for this technique include the Fenwick® HMG® Spinning Rod(6 foot, medium action spinning rod) paired with an Abu Garcia Cardinal 500 spinning reel To increase sensitivity and visibility, I’m spooled up with 6 to 10 pound test Berkley FireLine in Pink or Flame Green colors.
As mentioned before, I choose to tip my jigs and Drop-Shot rigs with Berkley Gulp! 3 inch Minnows in Black Shad color. When walleyes bite the Gulp! minnow they won’t let go so you don’t have to be the fastest hook setter. I’ve had fish pick up the Gulp! Minnow and swim around for over a minute before dropping the bait!

The combination of a sensitive rod and the no stretch FireLine is unbeatable, especially in deeper water. You can fish 40 feet deep, detect the strike and with a slight upward hand motion set the hook. Try that with monofilament and a fiberglass rod!
If the fish are being line shy in super clear water I just add a 1 to 2 foot leader of Berkley Vanish Fluorocarbon in 8 pound test attached to the end of the FireLine. But winter fish are usually looking up at the lure and the line color doesn’t matter. I’ve actually caught more walleyes on pink Fireline that any other color. Think of it as an attractor for your bait!

For the casting presentation, I use a Fenwick Eagle model EA70M-FS spinning rod (7 foot medium action), with the Abu Garcia’s Cardinal SX spooled with 10 pound test Berkley FireLineThis longer rod is great for making longer casts that are needed to stay away from spooky shoreline fish. This sensitive combination enables you to feel every rock, pebble, and strike from the moment you start reeling.

Berkley® 3 inch GULP!® Minnow

Berkley® FireLine®

Berkley® 5cm Frenzy® Floating Flicker Shad Medium

Berkley® Vanish®

Fenwick® HMG® Spinning Rod

Abu Garcia® Cardinal® sx

Fenwick® Eagle®  Spinning