A jig is a jig right? Well, I'm fortunate enough to be able to do a lot of experimentation when it comes to jig size, color and what we hook onto the back of a jig. Everyone has their own tweaks and favorites. I'll share a few of mine, along with the thought process that goes along with choosing the right jig for the conditions and fish mood. I field a lot of questions from clients about jig choice, here are some of the most frequently asked questions from my outings on Leech Lake.
Q:"What's your favorite color for jigging up Leech Lake walleyes?
Me: "I don't really have a favorite...the one that is getting bit that day. I feel like half of the time, jig color makes no difference at all. The other half of the time, it can be the difference between a so-so day of fishing, and a very productive and memorable day."
The truth is, I typically approach color as a new experiment each day. When fish are aggressive, I do however like a jig color that stands out. Chartreuse, orange, and U.V. combos get the fishes attention, and allow feeding fish to find your bait the quickest. Conversely, if we are getting short-strike after short-strike, or fish are negative or spooky, then a less aggressive color gets the nod. Here is a tip: colors that match the bait are often most productive for finicky fish. Gold or silver jigs blend-in with minnows, and fish don't know where the minnow ends, and the jig begins (see above photo). When fishing Leeches and the bites are short, a black or brown jig will match the bait, and can make a huge difference in the number of hooked fish during a tough day of fishing. Of course, an abundance of available forage like crayfish, shiners or mayflies can also effect what colors might work best in a given situation, so experimentation is almost always a good idea.
Q: "What size jig-heads do you like for Leech Lake walleyes?"
Me: "A simple 1/8 oz ball-head is the standard, but I like jig-heads from 1/16 oz to 3/16 oz for most live bait situations, and 1/4 oz to 3/4 oz when fishing plastics."
I'll typically start with 1/8 oz, and will move up to 3/16 oz if the wind is really howling. Down-sizing to 1/16 is sometimes beneficial for spooky shallow fish, when we are missing a lot of strikes. I do all my jig fishing in 2-12 feet of water, when we are looking for walleyes that are holding deeper than twelve feet, i'll typically switch to a heavier live-bait-rig. I just don't think these fish like a lot of lead near the bait. Of course, we utilize spinner rigs and crankbaits for fish holding in 12-25 feet of water as well.
Q: "Do you ever fish with plastics for Leech Lake walleyes?"
Me: "I love fishing with plastics...aggressive bites will often cue me to make the switch to plastics. You do have to be willing to experiment with jigging cadence, color and jig weight however. It really helps if you have multiple anglers on-board to experiment with plastics."
Anytime we are catching walleyes with a fast, aggressive jig-stroke (aka snap-jigging), I feel like those fish will eat plastics. At this point, the fish don't have time to examine the offering..it's a reaction bite. We save a lot of time (and bait) when we make the switch to plastics, and the bites will often be harder and more frequent once we get dialed-in on color, profile, jig weight, jig stroke etc. I almost always fish with a heavier head with plastics though, this will force you to fish a bit faster and more aggressively. Putting a plastic trailer on an 1/8 oz jig and fishing it just like live bait almost never works for Leech Lake walleyes.
Another situation I like plastics is when we are specifically targeting big fish with something like a swimbait. Hungry post-spawn female walleyes smash 4"-6" swimbaits fan-casted over cabbage weeds and boulders in May and June. This is a pattern I look forward to each year. It isn't always a numbers game, but the size of the fish caught will typically be very impressive. Many big walleyes are caught by muskie fisherman during this time, which is further evidence that these females may be targeting larger meals in shallower water.
The MN Fishing Opener is just days away and hopefully these simple tips can help you put a few more of those delicious state fishes top-side.
Cheers and hook-sets!
Capt.Phil Bauerly- Leech Lake