by Tim Stouffer
Jigging for Walleye in the Boundary Waters
Jig fishing is a time-honored nearly failsafe method for fishing for Walleye in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. It has many different incarnations and can lead to a variety of angler modified or inspired choices when it comes to personal preference. In short it is versatile and adaptable and requires a very limited number of parts to reach success. I like vertical jig fishing because with a little patience and of course (luck?) the right location, you can do two things well: 1) Have Fun and 2) Catch Dinner.
Traditional “ball jigs” combine a spherical weight with a hook and when the hook is tipped with bait it is a simple combination that allows an angler to take the bait down to wherever the fish are or might be. This combination allows one to fish the rocky shorelines, fallen trees, weed lines and shale piles by casting if they want to change the pace or tire of jigging.
Vertical jigging off the bottom allows your bail on your spinning reel to be open while you rest the line on your finger. Walleye often nibble or have light mouthed touches (not always — there are plenty of times they suck up your jig with force) and this approach allows you to play a little line out subtly before you set the hook. You can also close the bail and just wait for the tell-tale bobbing of the end of your rod, something that gets the blood pumping really fast. Fishing vertical drop offs, where the depth of the lake changes dramatically is a good place to start. Jigging near tips of points, and over top mounds or rises in the middle of lakes is a good option for jigs as well.
We promote non-lead alternatives in an attempt to promote Loon health. Our state bird can easily be poisoned by lead jig heads and sinkers, as they often ingest them accidentally, mistaking them for food or rocks. Tin and Bismuth make a slightly larger but no less effective jig.
Color choices can get you into many a long conversation with older more experienced anglers and those who are just superstitious, or rely on a favorite. We have a variety of water colors in the Boundary Waters lakes, from crystal clear to dark and tannin stained. It pays to have a variety of colors in your tackle box. Many people would never try darker colors, however I’ve personally proven to myself that fish must see darker colors differently than we do because black, dark blue, red have performed well for me even in darker waters. Traditional choices are yellow, chartreuse, pink, white or glow and orange.
The ideal choices to bait your jig hooks with are leeches, minnows and nightcrawlers. However, live bait is increasingly difficult to keep alive during wilderness trips that extend past a couple of days or if the weather is warm such as it is in the later weeks of July and much of August. There are a number of artificial and plastic baits that mimic the visual and swimming performance of minnows, leeches and worms. There’s even a company called of all things, Magic®, that package preserved Emerald Shiners. These shiners are traditionally a favorite bait on some Minnesota lakes where for years and years anglers have used frozen shiners that they preserved. These preserved minnows have an anise scent to them. Jigging up and down tipped with an Emerald Shiner seems to some to indeed be Magic.
It’s hard to beat a twister tail on the end of a jig. White, green or black seem to do an excellent job of exciting fish and mimicking minnows, leeches and worms.
Jigs have the downfall by nature of not being weedless and hanging up on rock piles and getting stuck. That’s why it always makes sense to take along more than you think you’ll need. It makes sense to give yourself color options and even take along some different sized jigs in case the wind comes up (the Walleye Chop isn’t famous for no reason… they like the wind, they despise direct sunlight (look at their eyes — wouldn’t you) and they also like fast moving water (fishing the tail end of rapids often produces). Tiny jigs and bits of Twisty Tails or colored fluff are excellent baits for crappie, trout and panfish.
I have to confess that I really enjoy bobber fishing and often I’ll employ a jig at the line underneath my bobber and just let my patience drift. There’s nothing quite like watching that red and white ball go under, and then go deeper. Wham!!! Dinner!
Just a side note because sometimes you want options. When I first moved to Minnesota I came across a rig called a Winkum Spin-N-Float. There’s a little float and a spinner attached to the same leader line as the perfect sized simple Walleye hook. Where this rig attached to your line you attach either a sliding weight or a few of Water Gremlin Lead Alternative Sinkers. You bait the hook with a nightcrawler or your preference and the float keeps it up off the bottom while the spinner attracts attention. Toss is out from your campsite and leave it sit while you wait for the end of your rod to bend down! When I’m not jigging or casting a countdown Rapala® or Mepps® spinner, I’m using one of these.
Once again, my fishing choices revolve around simple, classic choices that can appeal to a variety of species and produce time-honored results. Walleyes in Minnesota seem to bite on vertical ball head jigs more than just about anything else. If you don’t include Mister Twister® Tails in your pack, you should.
As one of the anglers, Mark, who replied to my last fishing blog said, “I usually paddle into the wind on a lake, and then toss one of my white twisters out and drift with the wind across the lake and usually have caught at least one northern or walleye using this method.” You see what I mean, jigs are versatile and adaptable. They allow you to develop your own style and catch fish the way you are most comfortable.
Boundary Waters Fishing: Go To Lures by Tim Stouffer
I often find Original Floating® Rapalas® in various conditions in the bottom of old tackle boxes that I buy. Since I was a little kid, one of my passions has been antiques. I gravitate towards old tackle boxes and (avoiding rusty hooks) love to dig through them looking for treasure. Aside from remnants of melted plastic worms, the single most popular discovery is some form of lightweight balsa Rapala® Floating Minnow. Sometimes this will include foil-sided early models with embossed stars from when they were still made in Finland.
This got me to thinking… why do I find so many of these? Why are they always in such a state of disrepair and not pristine? Why do their newer counterparts show up nearly as often in Perch, Silver and Blue, Firetiger and Orange? And, perhaps an even better question, what do I consider my “Go To” lure when on a Boundary Waters Canoe Trip? Not necessarily my favorite lure, because if I’m perfectly honest Mepps® Spinners are my favorite because they were my Dad’s favorite and who doesn’t enjoy a bit of flash? Usually walleye, definitely Pike and the Smallmouth love em. Let’s face it though, they aren’t minnow shaped, don’t swim or look like a minnow except in the heat of the moment.
Most predators are attracted to anything that closely mimics their natural prey. Wounded or erratically swimming minnows. Or, when wounded ones aren’t on your radar, something that looks like what you’d expect to be swimming in the water.
Live bait is difficult to keep alive during the Summer months when the temperatures rise. It’s hard to transport and care for even when it is cooler outside. Most of us use artificial baits on extended trips longer than a couple of days. Most anglers have favorite colors and like to change it up according to the season. I prefer perch colors early and late in the year and will switch them out for Firetiger and Silver and Blue and crawdad brown and orange imitators during the heat of July and August.
Whether or not I’m going up to Quetico Park in Canada where barbless hooks are a requirement, I always pinch the barbs of my hooks off. Often on a Rapala® that means crimping down 9 hooks for the three trebles, at least six, depending upon the model. Fish tend to flip and writhe at the exact moment you are reaching into the net or for their mouths. At that point you are in danger of embedding multiple hooks into your hand or arm and believe me you don’t want that to happen. You especially don’t want those hooks to have barbs on them when they are driven deep into your thumb.
From the beginning Rapala® has tank tested and tuned by hand each of the lures that they produce. This is how you know that every model you pull of a new box or old tackle box will accurately mimic the action of baitfish. There are many different models available and I plan on highlighting a few of our favorites that produce well in the Boundary Waters. You can plan your wilderness tackle box accordingly and tweak what you take along in your canoe to your taste.
Shallow Fishing for Northern Pike, Walleye, Bass and Trout is an ideal beginning to the season. For this the Original Floating® Minnow is very hard to beat. Fish where you know baitfish will be: in warmer waters, near new weed growth just underneath, casting near structure like downed trees and shallow rocks. Add weight like a pinch on sinker of some sort (we recommend non-lead alternatives because lead poisons Loons and other wildlife) perhaps a foot above your Original Floating® Minnow and you’ve just extended the season and reason for this lure. Now you can troll at mid-depth with it.
If you like to hunt for large fish, you can use Husky Magnum® or Floating Magnum® Rapalas both as floating surface models as the Lilly Pads and grasses grow out of the water or off of a “bottom bouncer” a weighted wire that bounces off the bottom and allows you to fish large lures way down deep. This is a classic up north way to troll deeper waters but requires heavier rods, reels, line and leaders. The point is, as you are starting to imagine, that Rapala® makes a lot of lures, but each one has multiple uses!
While we’re on the subject of Big, one of our Outfitting Crew’s favorite lures is the Deep Tail Dancer®. Made to head down to the thirty foot range they seem to attract a great deal of attention from Lake Trout and larger fish in particular. They come in some fantastic color options. They’re a little bit like an overgrown version of the Fat Rap®, which has also been a favorite of Walleye and Pike for many years.
The CountDown® Rapalas® are the best choice for mid-range depth and they lend themselves to great stop-and-go motion when retrieving. One of my most successful afternoons of Walleye fishing involved casting medium sized Perch colored CountDown® Raps towards an island and counting to five before I began retrieving it in a steady, fluid motion instead of stop-and-go. I couldn’t cast it too close to the island because by the time I reached five, it would have sunk to snag in the rocks, but with patience in my pocket by the time I reached another five on the retrieve I had a Walleye on. Time and time again, the perfect size for dinner, one after another. Ever since then, especially on a hot day, I’ll go back to the CountDown®.
Anytime during the season when you want to get attention quickly, it’s a good idea to move to the erratic swimming motion of a Jointed Rapala. Your retrieve and depth choices can modify the display of this magical lure even more. Wounded Baitfish, wounded baitfish, wounded baitfish. It should be your mantra, especially when nothing else is working. If you are paddling steadily towards your first (or next) campsite and you want a lazy way to have the best chance at fresh fish for dinner, the Jointed Rapala is often your best bet.
Around camp, you’ll often find panfish. Usually that also means there’s Northern Pike, the wolves of the northern waters, cruising for big punkinseed and bluegill (not to mention Black Crappie). Traditional ways to fish for panfish include slip bobbers and tiny “flu-flu” jigs. I like to put on a piece of night crawler when I’m near home. People love to fish them with a slip bobber rig and small, silvery “crappie minnows”. Those traditional methods involve live bait. There’s a relatively new version of the fantastic performing Fat Rap called simply the Mini Fat Rap. They have a compact, tight swimming action that imitates (nearly perfectly) the speed and motion of a fleeing baitfish. This causes what seem to be instinctive strikes from panfish that you’d expect from its one and a half inch size. Again, add a weight six to twelve inches up from it on your line and you can create this action at a deeper level, down by where the bigger ones are hiding in the shadows.
Well, that’s why you find so many Rapalas® in old and new tackle boxes up North. Down South too, for that matter, but for the Boundary Waters and Canoe Camping Trips, it’s hard to beat a balsa minnow that has been hand tuned to catch fish for dinner. Breakfast too.
You pick the colors, you pick the style, just get more than one, because even if you don’t lose any, your friends will want to use em. These lures and/or other Rapala® lures are in-stock at our Retail Store, Piragis Northwoods Company at 105 North Central Avenue in Ely, Minnesota on the edge of the Boundary Waters.