It's the middle of walleye season and so we're going to do this right. I'm going to indulge you as readers in the technique of jig fishing for walleyes. The jig. A jig is probably the simplest, deadliest technique in fishing. It is also a complex technique to learn and takes a long time to master; not something gained over night. To be an expert with a jig, the trick is having control of the jig 100% of the time.
The average angler loses control of the jig on the fall. Others let it just lie on the bottom, which may not seem like much, but I've watched walleyes pick up that jig and spit it out just as quickly, you could only see it to believe it. So the key to being a good jig fisherman is to 1.) Never lose feel of your jig and 2.) Always be in control of your jig. These things are important because 80% of the strikes come on the fall, most of the time when it is 1 to 2 inches off the bottom. Next I will describe to you my rig setup and my jigging technique in detail.
As far as rods go, I like a short rod anywhere from 5-1/2 to 6 foot. The shorter the rod, the more control you have of your jig, especially in the wind and other interfering circumstances. I use a lot of light or medium light action rods, but I recommend matching the weight and action of your rod to your jig. Also, match your jig to your condition.
For most situations, I use 1/4 to 3/8 ounce jig heads, some with plastics, others with live bait, and even both when called for. If I'm fishing flooded timber, weedy areas, or shallow water (3 feet or less), I use ½ to 1 oz. size. I also use the ½ to 1 oz. size in rivers or in extreme situations and weather conditions. Many people will believe that is too heavy and that I should stick to 1/16 or 1/8 oz., but those are the same people that are in 14 foot of water and couldn't tell you where their jig is at, where the bottom is, let alone what it is made of and they're also the ones who miss those light bites.
My number one thought pattern is that fish don't SEE weight. If you need more weight to stay on the bottom or to keep control of your jig, then going heavy is more important than going light to present a more "natural" presentation. A natural presentation does no good if you can't feel it anyway.
When it comes to fishing line, I either use Trilene XT in 6 lbs. test or I'll use 4/10 Fire Line. The Fire Line is nice because it is very sensitive and helps pick up extremely light strikes. It also helps get those fish in from a distance due to the no stretch. I recommend keeping your casts short and do more of a pitch, because if you have too much line out on those short rods, the hook set can be pretty rough.
My typical cast is a short cast between 20 and 30 feet. Once I've cast out my line, I immediately close my bail, that way I have slight tension on the line in case they hit on the initial fall. When I feel the jig hit bottom, I hop it up about 2 to 3 inches in three set intervals, so my jig comes off the bottom a total of 8 to 10 inches. Any more than that and you're probably pulling it out of the walleye's strike zone. A walleye has no reason to go chasing after anything. It will simply sit on structure and wait for food to come to it.
After I lift my jig off the bottom, I hold my rod in place and let the jig pendulum back to the bottom. By doing this, you are never losing feel of your jig. Once it hits bottom, I lower my rod and quickly reel up my slack and repeat the process. It sounds difficult but once you master this technique, you will put a lot more walleye in your boat or on shore.
The last thing I encourage people to try is to actually feel this technique, not see it. Many anglers watch their line to know when they're on bottom, but that does you no good in certain situations. So try to discipline yourself with mastering the feel of the jig. Watching your line at first can be beneficial, but try not to make it a habit. If you have any questions on jigging for walleye or any other questions, please feel free to call me anytime at (303)947-8327. Good Luck!
A Cherry Creek Reservoir Walleye during the annual DOW walleye spawn.
© 2022 Nate Zelinsky
About the author, Nate Zelinsky:
Nathan Zelinsky is a full time professional walleye angler. He has fished the MWC along with many other tournaments. Besides tournament fishing Nathan is owner/operator of Tightline Outdoors guide service which is an all species guide service, fishing for Walleye, Smallmouth Bass,Northern Pike, Trout, Catfish, Carp, Perch, Tiger Muskie, Kokanee Salmon and Wiper. Nathan spends around 300 days a year on the water or ice. Nathan also runs a Ice Fishing School in the winter months. He is a frequent guest on ESPN Outdoots with Terry Wickstrom and also appears frequently on Angling Adventures, Fishful Thinker and Lip'em & Rip'em.
Nathan is also a member of ICE TEAM.
Nathan is sponsored by Lund Boats, Mercury Marine, JR’s Tackle, Interstate Batteries, JIffy Augers, Berkley, Fenwick, Phlueger, White Caps, Crowly Marine, Replicas INC, The Sign Guys and Gal, Ice Armor, Clam, Vexilar, Mr. Heater, Ice Team, Blue Quill Angler, Todays Tackle and Line-X.