For those of you that have not fished these rivers before, they are top notch for walleye especially in the spring. Walleye season never closes on these two rivers so an angler can target walleyes year round. There are many ways to target walleye but around here if it is spring most guys are handlining or vertical jigging.
Most of you probably aren't going to handline any time soon but vertical jigging for walleye may be a tactic that will work for you. Vertical jigging is a simple presentation. Vertical jigging is offering a lead jighead in various colors with a minnow attached to the hook (real or plastic). How is that different from tossing out a lead jighead and working it back?
Vertical jigging gets its name because you let the line out once and then move the boat to keep up with the line keeping the presentation vertical from the rod tip to the jig. Once you are vertical, you jig the bait along the bottom raising it up and then bringing it back maintaining contact with the bottom. When you feel resistance, you are snagged or fish on!
When vertical jigging it is important to stay vertical. If you are not vertical, you will snag up more often and you will catch less fish. There is something about the vertical presentation that the fish slurp up. Vertical jigging sounds simple and is when you try it a few times but the first couple of times out can be rough.
Tips for vertical jigging that I have learned is to always power into whatever is stronger the wind or the current. The wind usually is the stronger factor most of the time for me. When I go out on the water, I always look to see which direction the wind is coming from on-line to give me a general idea and then double check that with a flag on the water.
Whichever way the wind is blowing, I put the front of my boat into it and power against it with my trolling motor. I use a bow mounted trolling motor with a controller so if you use a transom mount trolling motor or an outboard this will be different.
Think of it this way, as the wind pushes the boat the jig will stay with the current. You do not want the wind to hold the boat behind the jig, push it in front of the jig or make it move to the left or right of the jig. This is why you need to use whatever power you choose to hold you steady with the current. It is hard to explain on paper but once you get on the water and start to chase your jig you will figure it out.
Like I said before, I like to use a hand held controller with a bow-mounted trolling motor but people use a few different methods. If you do not want to upgrade to a trolling motor, you can use your main outboard power. To do this, you have to throw the motor in reverse to chase your jig. While this can be done, some are awesome at it, I have only tried this method a few times. A transom mounted trolling motor can be used the same way.
When you are learning to vertical jig, I recommend using a one ounce weight. As most of you know, the heavier the weight the more touch you have. Another recommendation is to use a superline like fireline or power pro. These types of lines are super-sensitive and do not stretch. This will help you fell the bottom better.
Once you get better at vertical jigging, the superline should stay but you can go down in weight if you choose. I personally use one ounce weights when I fish the St. Clair river and 3/4 on the Detroit. Some people feel the big weight is overkill but I would rather feel comfortable feeling the bottom all the time then risk not hooking one out of ten fish that are interested in my presentation. To help lower that risk, you can use a stinger hook which you should be doing early in the spring anyhow so I feel bigger is better.
What about color? I honestly don't think it matters much for the jig head or really the bait but I do have a few colors that I keep on-hand and switch them around. I usually use a plain lead jig head but I have a few dark and light colors as well.
What type of minnow to use? I personally use fin-s minnow or gulp minnows pretty much all the time. I like Rainbow trout/Arkansas shiner in fin-s and natural colors in the gulp. Live minnows work as well but are a pain sometimes. When using live minnows, I still use the plastic but will put a chunk of the live minnow on the bait to complement it. I know some people that use the live minnow though and have good luck.
Once you start getting the vertical part down hopefully you will start catching fish. Once you do, remember where you had luck and try going over those spots every time out. Concentrate more on the spots you have repeat luck with and you will be bringing home consistent walleye dinners each time out.
My father in-law nicknamed my boat one-eye when I first started because I would get one walleye each time no matter what. The next year, I remembered the general spots I had luck with and started going over them each time out and started having days of 3 to 4 fish per trip. I am by no means a pro and still get skunked every few trips but I am confident every time I go out.
Hopefully this article with convince you that you can catch walleye as well. All you need is some practice. Good luck out there!