By: Jeff Gustafson
Every time we hit the water we have options. Once we choose which species to fish for we must decide on the locations where we wet our lines then our presentation. Time on the water helps us make these choices easier and good decisions have a significant influence on our success so use the following information to make some good ones this summer!
Walleye: Live Bait vs. Artificial
We all know that live bait works great for walleyes all summer long. Whether we choose to use leeches, minnows or nightcrawlers, they will all catch fish. There are times when artificial replicas of these live options catch fish as well so lets look a little closer at when to choose artificial baits over the real thing.
A nightcrawler on a crawler harness spinner rig, pulled behind a one ounce bottom bouncer is probably the most standard, fish catching trolling rig you can use. Catches fish of all sizes in all depths of water. I like to troll this rig when I am fishing new water and want to cover some ground. A plastic worm like the Northland Impulse Nightcrawler is six inches long and can be used on these same spinner rigs in place of the real thing. The plastic versions shine when there are a lot of perch around pecking your worms off or if you are fishing through some weeds because you can pull it through the weeds better without tearing the worm off.
A live leech fished on a Northland Fire-Ball Jig, which has a short shank hook designed for fishing leeches is tough to beat in all conditions, especially when big walleye are lazy on those hot summer days. A plastic leech like the Impulse Rig’n Leech has been deadly fished on a drop-shot rig over the past couple of summers. This bait is light and natural, making it perfect for a drop-shot rig because it looks so natural in the water. My friends and I use it as a smallmouth bass bait and that’s what turned us on to using it for walleyes, because we were catching so many white tips on them as well. It is a great bait to pack in for those remote trips to waters that don’t permit the use of live bait and it will work when the bite it tough.
Minnows are the most widely used live bait around Lake of the Woods because they are easy to find and they can be used on jigs of all sizes or on a variety of live bait rigs. I have taken hundreds of guide trips where we used five or six dozen minnows in a few hours. If your goal is to simply head out there and catch a few walleyes to eat for dinner, a live minnow on a jig is about as reliable of a fish catcher as there is.
Fortunately there are some really good minnow imitators out there with realistic colours and scent enhancements that work most of the time. Usually on these guide trips, I’ll have my guests use the real thing while I use a fake minnow. The Jackall Clone Fry is a really good bait for walleyes, as is the three inch Impulse Smelt Minnow. Usually I’ll rig these up on a ¼ ounce jig and fish them much more aggressively than you would with live bait.
The thing with plastic is you don’t want to let the fish inspect your bait as much so I like to keep it moving. Let the jig hit the bottom, then snap it aggressively so it moves quickly about a foot or so, and repeat. We call this snap jigging and it really works, especially if walleyes are hanging around any kind of weed. The advantage to using plastics around weeds is they can be ripped through it, where live bait can’t. Ripping the jig through the weeds can also be a great triggering tactic