After a long winter, it sure felt great to get out this past weekend and jig-up some walleye. With cool water, post-spawn tactics on my mind, here are a few things to consider for the initial weeks of the season if you plan on tossing a jig around.
Winter and spring are the times when I use live bait the most for walleye. When the water's cold and fish are sluggish, serving the Real McCoy using a jig and minnow can really make a difference in the number of bites you get in a day. Ball jigs are a great "go-to" when using minnows, but having some variety is good as walleye can be a choosy lot now and then. A stand-up jig elevates the bait off bottom, helping it get noticed, while a thin streamlined jig makes it easier to stay vertical when jigging in heavy current. These are just two samples of what's available.
Jig body details also deserve attention. As an example, the extra action from a bucktail or a marabou jig can elicit extra bites from choosy 'eyes. Other times, I've seen a minnow combined with a soft bait (e.g., finesse worm, paddletail minnow) be the hot bait in the boat. Walleye can be a fickle lot for the paint patterns they'll hit, so change-up jig head colors as well as different body hues until you dial-in the best combination.
There will be times this spring when walleye will be biting light or hesitantly. Sticky sharp hooks are an absolute must. Don't skimp on jigs. Buy ones with quality hooks. Also, if fish are biting light, a stinger hook will help you stick more fish. Don't leave the dock without a package of treble stingers.
A well-balanced, sensitive jigging outfit will help you feel more bites and, in turn, catch more fish, but expensive gear doesn't guarantee success. The key is how you work the bait. Many of the best walleye anglers I know are deadly with a jig, and watching them work the bait reveals that they are in constant contact with their bait. This is part art, part science. Using a controlled fall or allowing a jig to sink on semi-slack line can each be effective at times against light-biting walleye. Walleye frequently bite a jig as it falls and if you're unable to follow the bait, you'll miss bites. Learn to maintain a feel for the jig at all times and you'll see your catch rates skyrocket, especially when fish are biting light.