Ask most walleye anglers what their “go-to” bait would be this late in the season and a large number of them will tell you “A jig and minnow”. Whether it’s fishing main lake humps, points or a river channel edge, a jig is a dynamite fish catcher not only now, but throughout the fishing season. When one thinks of fishing a jig, two primary presentations stand out … vertical jigging, and pitching jigs. There’s one more tactic though that doesn’t get as much attention, yet this time of year can be the absolute best way to go. All it takes is to put a little “angle” on your jigging presentation … we’re talking Jig Trolling.
Once you consider such factors as walleye location and activity level during this seasonal period, it quickly becomes apparent that covering water with a jig is a “no brainer” method to catch fish. Walleyes have made their transition from summer to fall locales, meaning they’ve moved off the flats and are congregated near sharper breaks. They’re not exactly “bunched up”, but they aren’t widely scattered over a piece of structure either. While the water temps have dropped significantly from where they were several weeks ago, the feeding activity of the walleyes really hasn’t. They may not be “jumpin’ in the boat”, but they’re still in a feeding mood, looking to build up their reserves for the upcoming cold water season. With these conditions in mind, it begins to make sense that a finesse presentation designed to cover water would be just the ticket to catching these fish. That’s what Jig Trolling is … it’s a “mobile-finesse” angle on an old reliable presentation.
Normally when you think of trolling it conjures up visions of moving along at speeds between 1.5 and 2.5 mph, with lures trailing out behind the boat 100 feet or more. This is not the case when it comes to Jig Trolling. Remember, the object is to cover relatively small areas efficiently and with finesse. Moving along structure with the bowmount electric motor at ½ to ¾ mph is more the speed you’re looking for. Letting out too much line will also defeat the purpose of using a jig. Jigging, even Jig Trolling, requires a good feel of what the lure is doing at all times. It’s best to keep the jig at about a 45° angle to the rod tip to get the maximum sensitivity in the presentation. A simple “lift-pause-drop” action to the jig as you move along will keep the bait in the strike zone while maintaining good feel of the bottom.
The gear used for Jig Trolling is very similar to that used in other jigging techniques. A high-modulus graphite, 6 foot, medium to medium light action spinning rod works just great for this application. We designed the Bass Pro Shops Walleye Angler Signature Series model WA60ML-HM85 specifically for jigging techniques such as this. For Jig Trolling in deeper water (30 feet and deeper), a longer rod like the 7 foot model WA70MS-HM85 can have an advantage when it comes to getting a good hook set with considerably more line out. Both these sticks are built with HM-85 graphite (85 million modulus) for incredible sensitivity and durable strength. Line choice is also similar to other jigging methods, with top choices being no-stretch 6-2 FireLine or low-stretch 6# Berkley Sensation. The less stretch the line has the more it will telegraph through the rod just what’s happening with the jig. It’s important to maintain bottom contact, and using equipment that will enhance sensitivity will put you well ahead of the game.
When it comes to the “business end” of a Jig Trolling presentation, choosing the right weight jig is very important. As stated previously, maintaining bottom contact is key, so choose a jig that can be run at that 45° angle from the rod tip and still allow you to feel the bottom. Exact weight will be influenced by depth and wind conditions, but for most applications a quarter ounce to half ounce will work fine. As for jig style, a long hook shanked jig tends to get better hook-ups than short shanked models. Good examples would be the Bass Pro Shops XPS Walleye Jigs, which feature super-sharp hooks and some dynamite Holographic color patterns. Another good choice would be Northland Tackle’s Buck-Shot Rattle Jig, not only because of the long shank hook, but the addition of the rattle can make a huge difference in the number of fish attracted to your offering over the course of a day. Jig “add-ons” such as rattles are proving to be increasingly popular among walleye anglers, but rattles are not the only add-on that will help you catch walleyes. A small spinner blade can add fish attracting flash and vibration, and the Northland Thumper Spin is an easy way to add a small blade to the collar of a jig.
Of course one of the most important “add-ons” to any jig is what you put on the hook to help trigger more bites. No doubt, a lively minnow is the number one choice of most fishermen. This time of year in particular, larger-than-average minnows, those in the 4 to 6 inch range, are favored for targeting walleyes looking to put on the feed bag before winter sets in. The bigger bait just seems to trigger more bites in the fall. That’s not to say that live bait is the only jig dressing that will catch fish however. Since the bait is continuously moving throughout the presentation and the angler is imparting action to the jig as it’s bumped along the bottom, Jig Trolling offers excellent opportunity to experiment with plastic trailers. Berkley Tournament Strength Power Minnows or GULP Minnow Grubs can be effective bait choices when Jig Trolling walleyes.
Fall walleye location is no secret on most bodies of water. They can be found on the sharp break of a main-lake point, the steep side of mid-lake hump, or cruising a deep shelf off a large flat. Where ever you find walleyes on your lake this fall, try a new angle to an old presentation. Don’t just sit in one spot and jig a jig, kick up the speed on your trolling motor a notch or two and Jig Troll your way to a more fruitful fall walleye outing.