Walleye hunters are always looking for tricks when fish come hard. One of my favorite ways to boat big fish when all else fails borrows from our brothers on the brine—I call it saltwater baits for sweetwater ‘eyes.
The beauty of the system is fish aren’t conditioned to reject it. On pressured lakes, trophy walleyes have seen it all, including bass-style hardbaits, soft plastics and live bait. But the weird, bulky profile of saltwater softbaits, along with their lightweight rigging techniques, throws even the most jaded ‘eyes a curve worth a second look.
A variety of salty plastics will take walleyes, but my favorites are members of Lindy Fishing Tackle’s Old Bayside family. With its pot belly and split tail, the 5-inch Saltwater Shadlyn is a standout. I like the root beer pattern, but a variety of others work, depending on water clarity and conditions. The 4-inch Squid—a tube with long tentacles—is good, too, as is the Skeleton Shad.
After trying various hooking methods, I found nothing works better than a 1/8- to l/4-ounce, wide-gapped, round jig with a longer-than-normal shank. Lindy’s Max Gap is a good example, because it puts the barb far enough back on a long-bodied saltwater bait, and the extra gap is key with a chubby body style.
Most of the time I’m fishing six to 12 feet of water, sometimes down to 18 in a clear lake. Because the baits are bulky, the light jig head--along with the weight of the lure itself--gives you the perfect drop profile and fall speed.
It's no secret that walleyes patrol weeds including milfoil, cabbage and elodea much like largemouth bass. And they use twists and turns on the weed edges, as well as open pockets in the main bed, as ambush points.
I use my bow-mount electric to move quietly along weed edges, dropping baits into any crevice or turn--both inside and outward. These irregularities don't have to be terribly significant to hold fish; just a matter of a couple of feet either way can be enough. Above all, avoid long, straight expanses of weeds.
My casting style is a hybridization of flipping and pitching that produces short pitches geared more for accuracy than distance. In tight quarters, you can also drop baits directly into a pocket.
Splashdown and descent are key parts of the attraction. Often, strikes come on the drop. If the jig reaches bottom unscathed, a variety of retrieves come into play. Experiment with drags, pops and swimming moves until you get a feel for what fish want. Good news is, you’re not waiting for a finicky, touchy-feely pickup—this is smashmouth action.
I’ve always been a short-rod fan and prefer the control and feel of a 5- to 5 l/2-foot, medium-action stick with a moderately stiff tip and short butt. Sensitivity isn't critical because big walleyes smack saltwater baits with abandon. Normally I have about six rods rigged with different baits for immediate changes.
I tailor line according to the conditions. Clear water dictates fairly light mono of 6- to 8-pound test to allow that bait to hover and sink naturally. In dirty water, such as a river or stained lake, beef up to heavier monos in the l2- to l4-pound class.
In general, lighter line increases your bites, but you end up breaking off a fish here and there. Sometimes in timber or thick weeds, you have no choice but to bump up the poundage.
We’re all looking for that extra edge over the fish. Getting it often means forcing yourself to think outside the box and throw baits beyond your comfort zone. Trust me, using saltwater baits for monster walleyes is one of those departures that, when applied correctly, will put fish in the boat for you while other anglers are scratching their heads.