In Minnesota’s northland, avid anglers are eager for open-water fishing. It’s been almost five months since we last stored the boat. Between the end of ice fishing and the open-water season, there’s time to prepare rods and tackle.
At Lindner Media, we’ve always focused on multi-species fishing, believing that each game fish brings its own fascination and challenges. Spring can be the best time to catch all kinds of fish. Here are a few baits we always have on the deck in the spring that catch multiple species.
No. 1: jerkbait
This is such a fun bait to throw because everything will eat it, but largemouths, smallmouths, and walleyes can lose their minds for it. Depending on how you work the bait, it can produce different fish in the same area. Fish it erratically and smallmouths jump on it. Use a pull-and-pause cadence and walleyes smash it while smallmouth often ignore it.
The bait generally shines in shallow water, say, from 2 to 12 feet, and seems to be most effective when water temps range from the mid-40s to high-50s. Generally, the colder the water, the more subtle the retrieve and longer the pause. The warmer the water, the faster and more erratic you should work the bait.
One thing we’ve found in really cold water, when fish are still deep, is to “jerk-troll” using a deep version of an X-Rap or Shadow Rap. Use the motor like your reel, kicking it in and out of gear. It can work amazingly well when fish are swimming in the 12- to 18-foot range.
Many anglers fish jerkbaits with baitcasting equipment. However, we like fishing them with spinning gear.
No. 2: lipless crankbait
This is one of the most versatile tools in your tackle box. It can be fished shallow, deep, horizontal, or vertical; there’s no wrong way to fish it. This is my No. 1 search tool in the spring for walleyes, smallmouths, and white bass. It’s not limited to those species, however. Smaller versions are deadly for crappies and stream trout, and larger sizes can be awesome for pike and lakers.
Generally in the spring, fish are shallow and concentrated in small areas. I use the lipless crank to find pockets of fish. You can put on a lot of miles with this bait, and that’s a big key to its success. A simple cast-and-wind with subtle hesitations is the retrieve when pounding the shoreline areas.
If the fish are deeper off the first break, let the bait hit the bottom and slow roll or jig it back. It’s simply one of the best tools for covering water.
A couple of notes about the baits and equipment. A size 6 Rippin’ Rap is my favorite, but there are many options in this category. Lipless cranks are heavy for their size and have small treble hooks, so your rod, reel, and line selection is important in landing fish. It’s nice to have a setup with a lot of “give.”
We use glass rods with medium power and moderate action, a 100 to 200 size reel, preferably with a slower gear ratio, like a 6.3:1 and monofilament or fluorocarbon line. I like the 10-pound Sufix Advance Mono, because it has less stretch than most monos and is insanely strong. The glass rod and mono line put a lot of play in the system and keep fish pinned when they jump.
Shallow vegetation often attracts huge schools of shiners at this time of year, which in turn draw in bass, walleyes, pike, and big crappies. Lipless rattlebaits are hard to beat in these situations. Again, fish a Rippin’ Rap over developing vegetation in 4 to 8 feet for largemouth bass, and you’ll find pike lurking there, too. Retrieve slowly, letting the lure tick the top of the grass before you pull it free.
Walleyes favor the mouths of feeder creeks and gravel bars, where you’ll run into smallies, too. If fish have pulled out deeper, work it with a lift-drop retrieve – a jigging action that imitates dying preyfish.
No. 3: bladed jig
This innovative lure comes into its own when waters warm into the 50-degree range. It has a big thump that can make fish lose their minds in shallow water. Although this was designed as a largemouth bass bait, other species don’t realize that. Bladed jigs are deadly for prespawn smallmouths on gravel and rubble flats, and on several spring trips we’ve caught more walleyes than bass via bladed jigs.
If you’ve not fished this category of lure, try it. When it’s on, you’d be hard-pressed to find another presentation even close to as effective. The bait has a lot of “lift,” meaning it wants to rise on the retrieve. I like choosing slightly heavier weights than you would expect for shallow water.
You can throw bladed jigs on your favorite rod typically reserved for spinnerbaits or jigs. If you really get into it, you’ll find most hardcore bladed jig fishermen use 6-foot, 10-inch to 7-foot, 4-inch medium heavy/moderate fast rods with 20-pound fluorocarbon and a 6.3:1 gear ratio.
No. 4: marabou jig
These fuzzy little lures go back to the 1960s, long before anyone used rubber or silicon skirts on jigs. I learned this technique from my friend north of the border, Jeff Gustafson. The Canadians were killin’ it with marabou years before smallmouth anglers found its fire in the U.S.
There are many versions of marabou jigs, but what I’m specifically talking about here is a light 1⁄16- to 1⁄8-ounce black marabou jig, which is a great leech/bug imitator. Again, this presentation caught fire with smallmouths, but it’s an incredible walleye lure, and perhaps the deadliest clearwater largemouth bait for a tough bite. Trout, pike, and panfish love it, too.
The feather dressing gives the lure a gentle swimming motion on a slow retrieve. You don’t fish this like a traditional jig and minnow. You basically want to glide the bait a couple of feet off the bottom with little jigging. A steady retrieve almost always out-produces a jigging retrieve. They’re deadly from ice-out until fish move deeper in summer. Tie one on!
The biggest challenge with this presentation is throwing a 1⁄16-ounce jig a long distance. Longer rods are your friends here, so walleye rigging rods work well. I use a 7-foot, 6-inch to 8-foot, 6-inch medium light, extra-fast rod with a size 2500 reel, 8-pound Sufix NanoBraid with a 6- to 12-pound leader, depending on the conditions. With this system you’ll be able to throw, basically like a fly, an incredibly long distance.
No. 5: swimbait
Swimbaits, specifically soft plastic swimbaits, are lures we tie on all year. There’s no wrong way to fish them, everything eats them, and they can be fished in any depth, depending on the weight of the jig.
If you’re just getting started in this category, try a pre-rigged swimbait in a 31⁄2- or 41⁄2-inch size. As you learn about its effectiveness, you’ll discover a whole new world of different jigs, hooks, body shapes, sizes, and colors in this category.
Their versatility makes them great choices in spring, when weather changes cause fish to shift locations and depths. Adjust weights to follow them deep or shallow.