Walleye lures such as crankbaits and soft plastics are a staple among the walleye elite. I recommend starting out with live bait, either jigging or rigging, to get your hands on some fish first. If live bait is not readily available or you’re set on targeting trophies, then lures are the way to go. These are some of the most historically popular lures: Crankbait, Grubs, Paddle Tails, and Ring Worms. The best walleye lure of all time, grubs on a jig, are the most popular alternative to live bait. If you want to fish fast and avoid keeping bait alive this is your primary option. I really like natural colors like black, white and brown. Tails tipped with chartreuse in these colors are effective in stained water. For beginners, I recommend a 3″ Grub. I really like 4″, but in the early stages you’re going to get a lot more action on a smaller profile that’s just long enough to ward off Panfish. Grubs in the 3-4″ range should be paired with 1/4 or 1/8 Oz. barbed jigs. Grubs are great options off the dock or on the boat, and they let you cover more water than live bait as you’re able to cast and retrieve more frequently without jeopardizing the liveliness of your minnow. Jig, drag, or swim these along the bottom. Many of these techniques produce about a foot or so off the bottom.
Walleye crankbaits are predominantly known for their trolling applications, typically behind planer boards to spread multiple lures apart and to avoid the commotion generated from the boat and motor. A deep diving crankbait that drives 10-13 Ft. down is required to reach typical walleye depths, a #8 in Firetiger is my favorite. These should be trolled along expansive Flats and Reefs during the summer months. Trolling requires a boat and is somewhat advanced, but I recommend having a crankbait in your arsenal if you are a shoreline angler. These lures are great for searching out walleye, then alternating to a more targeted approach, like a slip bobber rig, once you can zone in. They will also catch a fair share of pike and bass which makes for exciting evenings on the water.
I like to use paddle tails when I can locate schools of baitfish. Casting into a ball of bait with a tail thumping shad will work well, but I haven’t had much luck with them outside of deep summer and the fall. Mayfly hatch when baitfish are flourishing. In summer, if I can find a deep school of shad or cisco, I will thump a paddle tail along the bottom. During the Mayfly hatch when baitfish are near the surface I will swim the shad through the upper half of the water column. Beware, there will be a mixed bag of species in this approach. The general rule of thumb for paddle tail shads is to match-the-hatch so stick with natural colors like pearl, shad, smelt etc.
How to Catch Walleye on Live Bait
Live bait is the key to bountiful walleye trips. Anyone who is just starting out should default to live bait as Walleye are generally more finicky and complicated to catch versus the typical freshwater fish. You want all the cards in your favor to start getting on fish. There is a time and place for crankbaits and soft plastics, albeit these are typically more advanced and are generally used to weed out the eater walleye and target trophies. Live bait is the best option when you’re first learning how to catch walleye.
Minnows are the most popular bait option for walleye anglers, I have found consistent success with shiner and flathead minnows. When targeting bigger fish, shiners in the 4-6″ range are the mainstay, these will weed through some of the smaller fish and get you on 25″+ Walleye. If the bite is slow and I am marking fish, or if I am going for eater sized eyes I will use flathead minnows (2-3″).
Leeches & Worms
The second most popular option is leeches, typically in the large to jumbo sizes. These are a great option in walleye dominant bodies of water, however, in smaller bodies of water where perch, panfish and bass populations are robust, your leech will be the victim of theft. This can be true for nightcrawlers as well, however rigging them to worm harness spinners lengthens their profile which sorts through the pests. Minnows and leeches can be jigged, rigged, or floated on a slip bobber. Full nightcrawlers are typically saved for spinner rigs but can also be a great float option.
Jigging is the most popular technique for targeting walleye, we will cover this tactic in more detail near the end. To jig you will need jig heads. For jigging live bait, it is critically important to use fireball style jigs. These are walleye specialized jig heads that have no lead barb on the base of the jig and the hook shank is short with a wide gap. This mold condenses the exposure of the jig + hook, giving your live bait a covert presentation. You tip your jig by the lips of your minnow or the head of your leech so they can panic lively as you fish. However, bait rigged for jigging will not cover up the typical barbed-jig’s shank, so fireballs are the best option. I recommend 1/4 Oz. and 1/8 Oz. for most circumstances, you will rarely need anything larger and anything smaller is going to be ineffective in the typical walleye depth range of 15-30 Ft. Chartreuse is my go to color for live bait jigging, however I always have some glow colors as well for late evening and night bites.
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