In walleye country, rivers hold an abundance of fish. Current adds another dimension to angling, which can be a challenge, but often concentrates walleye in specific areas. The next time you plan to target river walleye, be sure you've got a selection of these go-to lures.
Walleye taken by a ball jig and Berkley Gulp! Alive Minnow Grub in chartreuse.
River fishing for walleye without jigs is asking for trouble. I carry at least one tray stocked with basic, round jig heads between 1/16- to 3/8-ounces. This style of jig works well for most vertical jigging and casting situations. Although several high-quality grub bodies are available on the market, I've found Berkley's Gulp! Alive! Minnow Grubs to be especially productive. The three- and four-inch grubs have become one of my favorite walleye jigging bait as of late.
Yet, I'm also a big fan of bucktail jigs for walleye, such as Luck 'E' Strike Bucktail Jigs. They're excellent for rip-jigging weed edges in rivers for aggressive fish. They also shine when finessing fish in deeper water as well. Natural colored hair bodies tipped with live minnows or leeches have a way of coaxing bites from walleye other lures can't deliver.
I also carry a few other specific styles of jigs. The first are bladed jigs, like those by Road Runner Lures or Northland's Thumper Jigs. When tossing jigs around eddies and current breaks, the blade on these jigs adds flash and extra vibrations to your offering. Another good jig to carry is Fin-Tech's Nuckle Ball Jigs in original or two-tone color patterns. The jig's shape helps it sit with the hook pointing up for easy walleye slurping. The bent hook design allows for weedless rigging. The hook positioning on these jigs also ensure proper placement for the set and delivers high hook-up rates. Another excellent weedless jig is Northland's Weed Weasel. Tipped with a grub or minnow this style of jig is excellent for pitching into holes in cabbage and milfoil beds for walleye.
When it comes to working bends, holes and eddies for river walleye, live bait rigs like minnow and crawler harnesses can be deadly when fish are fussy. Little more than a weight, swivel, beads and a hook, these rigs catch plenty of fish. Complete rigs are available, such as Lindy's Floating Rig X-Treme in crawler and minnow set ups.
Walking sinkers can be purchased separately to make your own rigs. Northland's Roach Walker Sinkers are more of the traditional style of weight used, although Lindy's No-Snagg Slip Sinkers work well to prevent hang-ups. Thread these sinkers on the main line and then add a small bead and tie on a ball-bearing swivel. The bead protects the knot and line from the sinker. To the other end of the swivel tie on a monofilament or fluorocarbon leader of 18-inches or more. Lastly, tie on a small hook for live bait rigging, like Gamakatsu's Octopus Hooks.
The author returns a St. Lawrence River walleye fooled by a crankbait.
If using worms, consider using Lindy's Worm Blower to add a bit of air to the offering to keep it suspended off bottom. Alternatively, using a floating jig head works well. Northland's Gum-Drop Floater or High-Ball Floater jigs are good choices.
On certain days on rivers, slip floats seem to be the best way to present bait to walleye. I've used this tactic to drift live and artificial baits over points, bends and humps, around islands and through holes and eddies. Slip floats work best when fishing for walleye in deeper zones as casting with spring floats is often unmanageable. Good float options include Bass Pro Shops' Premium Oval and Pencil Slip Floats and Thill's Night 'N' Day Floats. For taking walleye during twilight and at night, use Thill's Nite Brite Lighted Floats. These illuminated floats make it easy to see strikes.
To keep slip floats in place, thread a bobber stop onto your main line. Octopus hooks work well for live bait rigging beneath floats, as do small jigs between 1/16- to 1/8-ounces. You may need to add a few split shots so the float sinks easily when a walleye bites. Separate the sinkers by a few inches up the line just above the hook. Not only does this make light strikes easy to detect, but it also ensure the float provides little resistance when the fish takes the bait. Worms, leeches and minnows all work well below floats. Berkley's Gulp! Alive! Leeches are deadly as well.
Spinner Rigs & Bottom Bouncers
Although I have a lot of confidence in vertical jigging and prefer this presentation when it's effective, at times, trolling simply boats more walleye. One of the deadliest presentations for walleye is a spinner rig teamed with a bottom bouncer. Use them along typical walleye structure haunts like breaks, points and holes. They also shine on the outside edges of weed walls. To get started in this style of fishing, you might consider purchasing Northland's Bottom Bouncer Walleye Rig Kit.
Individual bouncers and spinners are also available from a variety of companies. For on-the-water customization without needing to retie rigs, check out the spinners with interchangeable blades. It's important to carry both single- and double-hook spinners. Use singles for leech and minnow tipping and tandem hooks for crawlers.
Crankbaits & Minnowbaits
Line-counter reels make trolling cranks and minnowbaits a precise affair.
Continuing the trolling theme, you should also carry a good selection of hardbaits for walleye. Your collection should include a few shallow-running baits for night-time trolling over weed flats. Walleye frequently invade greenery come dark to feed on perch and other baitfish. Good baits include Smithwick's Rattlin' Rogues, Yo-Zuri's Crystal Minnow and Rapala's Shallow Shad Rap.
Next, carry an assortment of deep-diving baits for trolling walleye daytime haunts. There are plenty of lures available, but here are some tried-and-true walleye trolling baits: Cotton Cordell's Wally Diver, Rapala's Deep Tail Dancer, Storm's Deep ThunderStick, Mann's Stretch Series Trolling Lures and Reef Runner's 800 Series baits.
If you don't already own a line-counter reel for trolling, consider investing in one to troll with precision. Once you match the running depth of your lure with where walleye are holding and feeding, catching multiple fish is as easy as setting out the same length of line for each trolling pass over active fish.
When it comes to river fishing a few boat tools will make life easier on the water. It begins with a quality drift sock. These devices help you maintain boat control and position during wavy and windy conditions, and ideally you should have at least two socks. They can also be used to slow down the speed of your boat when walleye will only bite lures presented at a snail's pace troll.
An inexpensive but effective device for walleye fishing is a marker buoy. Marker buoys usually come in packs of three and are available with a holder. They allow you to mark the edges of structures like points, breaks and humps. They're difficult to use in fast current, but are otherwise are excellent tools.
In many respects, waypoints in GPS units can serve as digital marker buoys. Better still, these icons can be saved for return trips. GPS and electronic fishing maps like those made by Navionics make fishing more efficient and precise. GPS and map data combined also let you explore underwater fish-holding structures. These features are particularly helpful on large river systems where reading the water is not as straightforward as it is on smaller ones.
Next time you head to your favorite river for some walleye fishing, make sure you're outfitted with a good selection of tackle. From jigging to trolling, a tackle box stocked with an assortment of the items mentioned above should have you covered for walleye success no matter what conditions you encounter.