Want to catch more walleyes? Then conquer the river, young Huck Finn. Fishing river walleyes will be more fun – and productive – if you’ve mastered moving-water jigging techniques.
It’s no secret that jigs have many uses in flowing water. “Vertical jigging in rivers is a top option year-round,” says walleye pro Mark Courts, Harris, Minnesota. “It’s especially effective on fish-concentrating structure such as shoreline breaks and gradual rock spines.”
Courts scouts likely areas with sonar. “Since you can’t tell whether an arc is a walleye or a redhorse, the only way to know for sure is drop a jig and start catching fish,” he says. “When I decide to fish a spot, I motor slightly upstream and use the bow-mount to slip down-current over the fish, keeping the line as vertical as possible. To double my chances of success, I often fish with a rod in each hand.”
THE GO-TO PRESENTATION
His go-to presentation is simple: Lift a jig 6 to 8 inches off bottom and drop it again. “Strikes are seldom light—you’ll know when a fish hits,” he grins. “If they’re just nipping at the tail of the bait, though, try a stinger hook.”
Courts uses a ¼- to ½-ounce jig—just heavy enough to maintain bottom contact. “Wedge-shaped heads cut the current better and allow you to go a little lighter than other designs, but a round-head jig is a good choice, too,” he explains. Tipping options include minnows or a variety of manmade softbaits.
He favors a 6½-foot spinning rod—either medium-light or light action, depending on jig weight. Four- to 8-pound test, high-vis superline is tied direct to the jig, though he notes a 1- to 2-foot fluoro leader is a workable option for anglers who don’t like snapping superline when they’re snagged.
ANOTHER ANGLER, ANOTHER OPTION
When walleyes turn finicky, try tossing out a hair jig. “Hair jigs do better when most guys aren’t catching much,” says Gierke, who grew up on the St. Croix River. The best jigs are very light on hair. You want the jig to have just enough hair to expand in the water and catch some air, but still cut through the water and maintain a natural flow in the current.”
With rising water on a spring river, slide into the shallows and pitch a 3/32- or 1/8-ounce hair jig to natural holding spots such as eddies, current breaks and areas with incoming water. When targeting deeper river walleyes, slow your drift to maintain a vertical presentation and drop the jig. Gierke holds his hair jig tight against the bottom and snaps the jig every ten seconds.
If that doesn’t work, he experiments with holding the jig 18 inches off the bottom and snapping the jig more drastically. “When the bite is tough, a faster snap jigging approach can be more effective,” Gierke explains. “Sometimes sluggish walleyes are willing to commit to a bait higher off the bottom when they’ve been triggered and it’s a reactionary bite.”
Turk Gierke is a multi-species guide on the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers who specializes in walleyes. He can be contacted at 1-715-377-0006 or www.croixsippi.com.