By Jason Mitchell
We often find walleyes in less than 10 feet of water early in the year. It doesn’t matter if we’re targeting pre-spawn or post-spawn fish, a good percentage of the fish will be shallow. And whenever walleyes are shallow, swimming jigs can be effective. Here are 10 must-know tips on swimming jigs that will help you catch more walleyes.
1) Long-line jig swimming
Long-lining light jigs far behind the boat works well when you’re trying to contact fish on large, shallow flats. We often experiment between different minnow types and sizes until a pattern develops.
Because we’re in the post-spawn period right now, many shallow locations will hold fish, but shallow sand flats, weed flats, and shallow gravel or wind-blown rock will all hold walleyes, too.
Shallow walleyes often are spooked by the boat early in the year. It seems like when the water is still cool, less than 60 degrees, fish spook from the boat much more easily. When the water warms and the fishes’ metabolism ramps up, the fish will become much less boat-shy.
Early in the year, it’s often important to long-line where the presentation is far behind the boat or to cast because fish often won’t hold right below the boat in shallow water. This is where swimming jigs can be so deadly.
2) Swim slow, fine-tune
There are many ways to fish a jig and that’s what makes it so effective all year long. For shallow fish, however, a slow swimming jig is often at its best. With this jig-swim technique, you don’t have to make steady contact with lake bottom. An you don’t have to snap the jig or pop the jig after making bottom contact.
It’s more about picking the right jig weight so that it glides along the bottom but doesn’t touch – just a slow reel or slow drag behind the boat.
This presentation is especially effective around emerging vegetation. If you’re fishing though 8 feet of water, for example, and there are scattered weeds 2 to 3 feet off the bottom, simply cast and reel a jig that swims about 4 feet down.
Fine-tuning this presentation often means finding the lightest jig you can swim at a moderately slow speed, while finding fish sometimes means using a heavier jig and simply reeling faster to cover water and find fish.
3) Plastics, please?
Obviously, you can tip a jig with a minnow or half crawler. You also can use soft plastics like a paddle tail or fluke. Hair and marabou jigs are extremely effective, too, especially early in the season.
This is not to say that you can’t mix in some snaps and pops with the jig to clean off vegetation or trigger a strike, but usually a simple, slow reel or drag works just fine.
4) Keep that jig off bottom
I believe that the effectiveness of swimming jigs in the spring comes from the simple fact that you can fish extremely slowly yet keep the jig off the bottom.
Swimming a jig just off bottom is difficult for some anglers – many have been taught that jigs must be nicking bottom to catch fish. Making bottom contact can be the answer at times, but here is something to consider: In shallow water early in the year, walleyes often will cruise or position themselves slightly off bottom to soak in sunshine.
You can creep a 1⁄16- or 1⁄8-ounce jig behind the boat or cast it where the presentation just hangs slightly off the bottom.
5) Mono is money
This swimming-jig presentation seems to perform best with monofilament line. The mono seems to cushion the jig’s glide and floats through the water, causing the jig to lift with a steady pull.
Six-pound monofilament is my all-around favorite line for swimming jigs in shallow water.
6) Walleye desire: rainbows and chubs
In some parts of the country, including northern Minnesota, jigs paired with shiners are a confidence bait, but large rainbows or small chubs can be deadly because both swim pretty hard against the jig.
Figuring out the pattern each day often means figuring out what size and type of minnow the fish prefer. Some days, it doesn’t matter, while other days we see a specific preference for, say, a large spottail shiner or a medium-size rainbow.
7) When things should get hairy
Hair jigs are deadly for swimming slowly through shallow water. They often work better by thinning the hair out. Pair a hair jig with 6-pound monofilament so the jig glides and hangs in the water.
If there’s something that’s overlooked by many walleye anglers, it might be the effectiveness of hair jigs early in the season. Hair jigs do have a strong following, but that following seems to be regional in nature. There are many places where anglers refuse to use hair jigs, but hair jigs are probably one of the best spring presentations for walleyes that many anglers don’t use.
The advantage of a hair jig is that bucktail or synthetic hair is much more durable than a minnow, and the hair causes the jig to swim and glide naturally.
You can fish a hair jig in many ways. There are times when the fish want the jig snapping and gliding, but catching walleyes on hair jigs often is as simple as casting and reeling. The jig might not look like it’s doing much in the water when you drag it behind the boat or cast and reel, it, but it sure does catch fish.
8) Thinning hair
When using hair jigs, remember that most tackle manufacturers tie too much hair on the jig to give the jig better shelf appeal. I find that most hair jigs work better if you pull about half the strands to make the hair thinner.
The thinner hair dressings seem to have a much better action.
9) Knot matters
Knot placement is crucial when swimming jigs. You can use an improved cinch or palomer knot if the knot is perfectly centered so the jig swims straight.
I find that a loop knot also works well because the jig will always be balanced and straight as it swims.
10) Head for warm water
Swimming jigs through shallow water is a deadly, do-nothing approach that is simple and catches fish. Don’t worry about making heavy bottom contact; just cast and reel or drag so that the jig swims above the bottom.
This approach is effective over emerging weeds or when rocks and boulders have slime and algae that fouls hooks.
Swimming jigs in the spring is something in which I have supreme confidence. It can be as simple as making a long cast behind the boat and dragging the jig along in 8 feet of water or casting jig and swimming it over a shallow sandbar or rock reef.
Find the pockets of warmer water and slowly swim a jig. Chances are there are going to be some walleyes waiting for you.
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