In this series, I will refine a few of the oldest techniques of walleye fishing to a point or two beyond the needs of an average angler. I really don’t consider myself a professional at anything but I though this header would tweak more interest.
Not that an average angler can’t appreciate the tips or use them but more for the competitively minded who like to bet on the first, biggest but not necessarily the most fish landed.
Rigging live bait
We don’t use live minnows in Alberta but I love fishing them in Manitoba and in the Midwest US. Live bait rigging is usually a slow, tactful presentation of a baited hook that allows the predator fish to smell, see and feel the struggling bait before swallowing.
Often the size of your bait will determine the hook size as well as the placement. Most anglers favour the octopus light wire hook in sizes from #4 to #2 for minnows but really large bait sometimes calls for a 1-0. I like to nose hook shiners and Rainbow Dace with a smaller #6 or #8 octopus hook so the little minnow doesn’t tire as quickly but the 5″ red tailed chub lasts forever tail hooked with a #2 octopus hook. Anglers who rig consistently have found certain hooks to be their favourites but they can differ with the live bait used.
I found that keeping those really strong swimmers on a shorter lead helped them from darting away from a predator and those little shiners and Rainbow Dace often found themselves trailing behind a baited jig or three way presentation.
Really big bait like golden shiners, suckers and hand picked chubs should have a stinger as well as the #2 in the tail. One thing I do different, is tie my own stinger hooks. They can be single or trebles but I have an assortment of stinger length to match the bait. I also make the commercial type with the coated wire and quick release clips but I favour my own. I tie them with twenty pound SpiderWire line and most times do not stick the added hook into the bait.
So picture in your mind a large five or six inch tail hooked chub. There is a lot of fish to engulf before the hook can be set. My style of stinger is attached to the tail hook and sits low in the gap. The stinger floats somewhere between the head and the dorsal fin, not on the underside of the bait. The bait struggles and squirms against the tail hook but really can’t go too far left or right and more up and then sliding back down as the troll speed pulls them backwards and down. My stiff stinger lead allows the minnow to struggle just below the stinger but remains exactly where I want it when a big walleye comes for an easy dinner. Hook ups are far quicker than waiting for the fish to get the bait far enough into the mouth or gullet to anchor the hook and the stinger stays clean. All my stinger utilize a small snap ring coated in Plasti Dip. This rubber compound stops the stinger from swivelling on the hook shank of the tail hook and keeps the business end about dead centre of the struggling baitfish.
Cobra tailed Nightcrawler
Rigging worms has to be my all time favorite way to rig. I just love the feel of the pick up and the slow methodical way a walleye puts my bait in its mouth before swallowing. There is a point here where the angler has to feel what the fish is doing to set the hook at the right time or end up with a gut hooked fish.
When I am in the zone, I can feel the walleye inching up on the worm and the moment he starts to roll the bait up in its mouth. Thats when I set the hook.
Sometimes a miss will tell you more than you thought. A miss often tells you how aggressive your fish are and how much more time they require to get the bait positioned properly. Deeply caught fish are often really active or you are waiting too long to set the hook.
Depending on the thickness of your worm often dictates the hook size. Super fat worms and you can easily rig with a #4 octopus but the standard for me is a light wire #6 Fusion Octopus hook. I rarely use a single hook stinger for worms no matter how large. I find the added weight drags my bait down into the crud or worm wraps up in a ball on the stinger making my presentation moot.
Now the best part. I play with fish by nose hooking a crawler. The nose hooked crawler is used when I decide to insert an air bubble in a worm. This help to lift the worm off bottom and done right, makes the worm uncomfortable and much more active. I never overpower my crawler with too much air or a hook too large and prefer a #6 Fusion octopus light wire style hook over anything else but down size if the bait is small.
If I am serious, chances are I will use a worm threader. This allows me to position the hook somewhere along the length of the worm. I don’t wait as long to set the hook and my catch percentage increases if I encounter short biters. If I want the bait off bottom, I will have a small float in front of the hook rather than try an air bubble. The air does not hold when the bait has been threaded in this fashion.
I am continually judging and estimating my hook weight and worm size. I am very careful not to put a float in front of my worm that will make it rise unnaturally. I am looking for neutral buoyancy or very subtle lift to keep my worm action more horizontal and natural.
Leeches are also a favorite, especially if they are healthy and active. I think I am most careful about the leeches I purchase because I do not know how long they have been in storage. Sometimes the really large jumbo leeches are the poorest bait for rigging unless they are fresh.
Fresh leeches are great swimmers and that is what I look for most. Because they are small, I will downsize my hooks with a number #6 Fusion light wire octopus hook as the largest hook I will use. I have rigged with #12 hooks so you can tell there are many options.
Line consideration is also very important and every detail has to have purpose. The purpose you seek is to keep this little critter alive and swimming free for as long as possible. Constant bait changes are necessary to optimize your catching opportunities. I use small attractors in front of many leech presentations but I like to use the small round floats as much as a bead. I want my bait to stay clean so a small round float is a great way to skid your leech above the bottom debris and not affect your presentation or hooking power.
My brother showed me a trick many years ago when we bought small leeches for a walleye tournament. He too is an avid angler and never happy with the status quo. I had switched to # 8 and # 10 size hook to accommodate the smaller bait. Tom stayed with the #6 octopus but put on two leeches. The difference was that the leeches were back to back on the hook. For whatever reason, they detest this position and struggled to get away from each other. They would swim with the #6 hook and that became the norm for that tournament and others since.
In all cases of rig fishing walleyes, I have a few standards. First I ensure my rig is totally adjustable in length. I no longer have a set length for rigging unless I am pre fishing or maybe just fishing for fun.
To build your typical rig; you run a shoe sinker up the line followed by a small bead and then tie on your swivel. Stop here and go back a step and add one or two bobber stops behind you bead and then tie on your swivel or forget the swivel all together and tie on your hook. Wet your line and slide the bead and stops to a leader length you want to start at.
I have two favourite lines for rigging and a third choice as well. If I want to fish monofilament line I chose Berkley Sensation first. This line is very sensitive, works well in cold weather conditions and has great knot strength.
If I want to use braid, I always use SpiderWire Stealth. Many ask why not FireLine or something else.
Rigging is a very precise way to present bait. Fluorocarbon lines and even monofilament line will absorb water in time and sink. This drags my bait down and maybe under my target fish. With SpiderWire qualities and the inherent floating characteristics, keeps my bait just a hair off bottom and in the eye of the fish.
More Pro’s pointers
I used to use Mustad hooks for rigging leeches. I even had a favourite color but noticed I was often cleaning my balled up leech or worm. I struggled with this till one day my tournament partner asked me what was happening. I told him I couldn’t understand that I seldom if ever saw him check his bait and that it was seldom balled up.
He took my clean hook and then explained that his Gamagatsu hooks were designed differently. My Mustad hook had a pronounced bend as it went to the point. The Gamagatsu was different. The hook point aligned with the hook shaft. Once I made the change, 99% of my problems disappeared. Now I fish the Berkley series of Fusion hooks. Here again I am always checking the hook point in relation to the hook shank. The kirbed hook promoted a spinning bait which also twisted my fishing line.
Attractors are part of any rigging presentation. The tried and true is usually the addition of a small #3 — #5 bead in front of the baited hook. In my case I use this method a lot. But sometimes it is because of water clarity and current.
In current I might choose to put more than one bead on to keep the bait close to the bottom. Or I might add brightness and a little color to a mundane presentation. An all time favorite is adding a sequin by itself ahead of the hook or in front of the bead for some mini flash.
The last pro’s pointer in this article is the size and type of bead. Using a rattle bead helps lift your bait off bottom. A rattle bead was made with a hollow centre and will float but the hook and line keep your offering in the zone.
When I rig with large attractors like a #8 rattle bead I tend to make an alteration. The large bead can interfere with a small size hook so I make the bead adjustable. This just requires a bobber stop behind the bead. I push the bead about two inches ahead of the hook. My intent is to have the hook in an exposed position to work without the bead interfering.
I hope you are enjoying the information provided in Pro’s Pointers. Sharing information should not be feared between anglers, no matter the situation. There are so many variables individual anglers can put to this information that sharing is a non issue. What is a trade secret to some is just a starting point for others.