There are numerous ways to fish for walleye during the open-water season. One of the most productive methods is to anchor, or to move at a snail’s pace, and fish vertically. This style of fishing works well because it allows you to put an offering directly in front of the fish and keep it there until the fish gives in and bites.
There are several vertical presentations that can be effective for catching walleye during the open-water season. This article explains some methods to help make your next walleye adventure more successful.
Before discussing the fishing presentations, it’s important to talk about the boat control that is required to fish vertically. For these presentations to work, it is imperative that you maintain control of the boat to keep your fishing line in a vertical presentation at all times. The easiest way to do that is to anchor the boat and sit in one spot. For years, this tactic was done by letting out an anchor, then fine-tuning your position by adjusting the length of your anchor line. In recent years, MinnKota bow-mounted trolling motors feature a spot lock option. This allows you to anchor up with the simple push of a button, alleviating the hassles of dealing with anchor ropes. To make things even better, the newest models have a jog feature. That allows you to move the boat five feet in any direction with the push of a button.
Sometimes wind or water current will be too strong to allow you to hold perfectly in one spot while anchored. Other times, you may want to slowly move along and cover an area of water. In these instances, you can use either a bow-mounted or transom-mounted trolling motor to hold you in place or to slowly move along. Anglers will argue over which style of trolling motor is better for these purposes. Both work, so it is more a matter of what style trolling motor you are comfortable operating and what your pocketbook can afford.
One of the most commonly used vertical presentations is jig fishing. Jigs are so versatile and easy to use. They come in a variety of shapes, styles and colors. Jigs can be bounced up and down with a variety of jigging cadences, or they can be suspended motionless just above the bottom or anywhere else in the water column.
When fishing with jigs, use jigs with 90-degree eye ties and tie your line directly to the jig. Doing so allows the jig to sit horizontally, which will help increase your catch rate. In addition, use jigs with long shank hooks. This ensures more of the hook is in the fish’s mouth. That also increases your catches when you lift your rod tip up and set the hook. To prevent line twist, tie a small swivel about 3 feet above the jig. Doing so ensures the swivel does not get tangled up in your line’s guides when you battle a fish. It also gives you enough line to be able to re-tie or change your jig a few times before having to move the swivel further up the line.
When fishing with jigs, you want to use the smallest jig possible to get lure to the bottom, so you can feel the lightest of bites. That said, when fishing in strong wind or current, you will need to upsize your jig sizes in order to stay vertical.
While jig fishing, experiment with baits and jig colors. The hot bite can change from day to day and even throughout the day. In terms of bait options, you can use live bait such as leeches, night crawlers or minnows. You can also use a variety of artificial plastic baits or thin strips of beef or deer heart.
Live Bait Rigging
Another great vertical walleye presentation is slowly trolling live bait with a floating jig on a snell or a live bait rig (often referred to as a Lindy Rig), straight below the boat at 0.3 miles per hour. While many like to run these presentations a bit back from the boat, I like to fish them straight up and down. That presentation really allows me to feel the lightest of strikes.
Live bait rigs and floating jig heads are best fished using a walking weight system, where the fishing line can easily slide through the weight. Use an open bail, and once a strike is detected, allow the fish to take line. That lets it completely inhale the bait and hook. After a few seconds, close the bail, reel in the slack line and set the hook as soon as the fish is detected. Since the fish will essentially be straight below you, use a vertical hook set motion. That’s a better option than a long sweeping motion. (That’s what you would use if the rig was running back and away from the boat.) Leeches, night crawlers and minnows make great baits for these rigs.
The Rapala Jigging Rap was originally designed as an ice fishing lure. However, a few years ago, walleye anglers started using them in the fall to catch walleye during the open water season. This presentation worked extremely well in open-water situations to trigger reactionary bites. It did so well, in fact, that savvy walleye anglers started using this presentation throughout the entire open-water season. As a result, many options of these weighted minnow baits now exist, such as Clam Tikka Minnows and Moonshine Shiver Minnows.
When ripping, slowly move over structure and watch your electronics for clouds of bait fish. As soon as you see some, stop moving and drop your ripping lure to the bottom. Once it hits bottom, pause for a moment and then rapidly rip your rod tip up about 18 to 24 inches. Then let it drop to the bottom again. This will cause the lure to shoot upwards in a very erratic motion and then drop downwards in a spiraling motion. Keep repeating this motion over and over. The combination of movements imitates a wounded bait fish. In most cases, the walleye will grab your bait as it falls or pin it on the bottom. In either case, you’ll know you have a strike when you begin your lift for the next ripping cycle.
Due to the unique design of these lures, the use of bait is more a hindrance than a help as the weight of the bait will actually destroy the action of these lures. If you want to add a little scent to your offering without changing how it was designed to move, you can apply some fish scent gel, such as Pro Cure Trophy Walleye Super Gel, or some Liquid Mayhem Walleye Attractant to your lure.
Another prime vertical presentation is the use of jigging spoons. This presentation is very similar to ice fishing, where the jigging spoon is used to mimic a sick or injured baitfish. However, in the open-water season, anglers can fish these lures a little more aggressively with faster jigging cadences and longer jigging sweeps.
When using jigging spoons, the key to success is to tip the lures with just a small piece of bait. This could be a minnow head, small leech or tiny plastic bait. That ensures that the lure remains balanced and moves in the way it was designed to move.
When choosing jigging spoons, anglers need to match the spoon style to the mood of the fish. Slab or straight-style jigging spoons, such as Northland Buckshot Rattle Spoons, Bay de Noc Swedish Pimples, Acme Kastmasters and PK Spoons, are designed to drop very quickly. However, when dropping, they will do so with limited flash and vibration. These lures work great when the fish are feeding aggressively and you want to get your hook down to strike zone as quickly as possible.
Bent jigging spoons like the PK Flutter Fish, Bay de Noc Do Jiggers, Acme Sidewinders and Jig-A-Whopper Hawger Spoons offer lots of flash and vibration as they fall. This style of jigging spoon is ideal for attracting fish from afar. Also the slow drop is extremely tantalizing to both a aggressive and neutral walleye. When selecting bent jigging spoons, keep in mind that the greater the bend, the more they will flutter as they drop, which will also slow the speed of the drop.
On days when I can see walleye on my electronics but they aren’t biting, I will take the treble hook off my jigging spoons and add a short dropper line with a single hook. I’ll then tip the single hook with some live bait. On these outings, I’ll slow down my jigging cadence and periodically suspend the lure about a foot off the bottom to encourage strikes.
Lipless Rattle Crankbaits
Similar to weighted minnow baits and jigging spoons, lipless rattle crankbaits that feature hook ties on the back of the lure can also be fished vertically in open water. Some of the more popular rattle baits are PK Ridge Rattl’rs, Northland Rippin’ Shads and Yo-Zuri Rattle N Vibe Crankbaits.
While these baits do give off some flash and action as they rise and fall, it is the sounds they emit from their rattles that really attract walleye and trigger them to strike. Once again, these lures are best fished without any baits, but the use of fish attractant scent on them can increase your success rate.
The key with these baits is to lift them sharply and with enough force to feel the rattles inside them vibrate. Once you reach the top of your jigging sweep, you can either let the lure drop back down to the bottom or temporarily suspend it in the raised position before letting it drop. I like to pause and suspend the lure every four or five lifts. While I have the lure suspended, I will vibrate my fishing rod to make the rattles shake. It is often during that process that the walleye will suck in these rattle baits.
Drop shotting is a presentation commonly used by bass anglers and that can be used just as effectively by walleye anglers. With this presentation, you deploy a single inline hook six to 18 inches above a weight and tip the hook with live or artificial bait. When using this presentation, the key is to keep the line vertical and tight so you can feel even the lightest of strikes. You can shake the bait (and not the weight) for neutral to inactive fish, or you can lift and bounce the weight off the bottom when trying to attract and draw in fish.
When fishing with a drop-shot rig, I find bell weights work very well to hold the line tight while being snag resistant. In areas where it is legal to use more than one hook on a line, you can substitute a jig for a bell weight to catch walleye right off the bottom. When I first started fishing these rigs, I would tie an octopus hook to my main line using a Palomar knot and attach the weight to the tag end. When using this setup, I often found that my line would become twisted while fishing. To eliminate line twist, I’ve started using VMC SpinShot Drop Shot Hooks that feature a swivel as part of the hook.
One of my favorite artificial baits for drop-shotting is a rubber, minnow-shaped bait with a very thin tail. When hooked through the nose, the thin tails on these baits flutter enticingly with the slightest movement of my fishing rod.
Blade-style baits like the Freedom Blade Bait, Cabela’s Mean Eye Blade Bait and Acme Cicada are another great vertical presentation. The key to fishing these lures is to make quick, sharp jigging motions so you can feel the lure vibrate and then let the blade bait hit the bottom on each drop. As soon as the lure hits bottom, snap it back up again. With so many of the other vertical presentations, walleye will inhale these lures on the drop or pin them on the bottom.
When looking at these lures, you will see they have multiple line holes. The purpose of all these holes is to control the amount of action and vibration you create on the upswing jigging motion. The further back on the lure that you connect your line, the more action and vibration you will create.
Snap swivels work well for attaching blade baits to your fishing line. The snap not only makes it easy to attach the hook to your line to adjust vibration, but it also protects your main line from fraying and breaking. That can happen because so much force is put on the line and the thin backs of these lures can damage the line. Also, the swivel portion completely eliminates line twist.
No discussion of vertical fishing presentations would be complete without discussing the use of slip bobbers. Slip bobbers are often used early in the season to hang juicy live bait right in the face of lethargic post-season walleye when using a small jig head or single octopus hook. They can also be used throughout the open-water season. This presentation is super effective.
Given that the line runs through the bobbers, it’s possible to use these bobbers in any depth of water. In shallower water, I generally use a rubber bobber stopper to adjust the depth because I’m typically using a visual adjustment to get the depth right. In deeper-water situations, I will attach a heavy jig to my fishing line and drop it to the bottom of the lake. Once it hits bottom, I will figure out where the bobber needs to be to suspend a lure six or so inches off the bottom. Then, using dacron line, I will tie a Bobber Stopper Knot to maintain that depth. Once the bobber stopper is in place, I will reel in the heavy jig and replace it with a smaller jig tipped with a leech or minnow to start fishing. Once the bobber goes down, I reel in any slack line and set the hook as soon as I feel the weight of the fish below.
The beauty of vertical walleye presentations is that they work, and that you and your fishing partners can start the day using a different vertical presentation. When multiple presentations are used at the same time, you can quickly figure out which is the best presentation for the day. So, the next time you are targeting walleye try doing so vertically.