116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR FALLS — When Neil Hammargren and I were regulars on the Masters Walleye Circuit and Walleye Anglers Trail, we did whatever we had to do to compete.
We both grew up as river fishermen, but the tournament scene sometimes meant learning a new technique or venturing beyond our comfort zone, like using snap weights and spinner rigs behind planer boards on the Great Lakes or trolling spinnerbaits over flooded timber on the Missouri River system.
That said, we always figured out a way to include a jigging presentation in our game plan. It's what we do best, it works, it seems to consistently produce big fish, and it's often different than what other anglers are doing.
Jigging is the most versatile approach there is for walleye fishing. You can pitch, bounce, snap, drag and even troll a jig. You can change from a round head to a more aqua-dynamic head style to cope with heavy current. You can change sizes or body materials to add buoyancy and reduce the rate of fall. You can tip a jig with a chub, shiner, minnow, nightcrawler or leech. You can add a stinger hook when the fish are nipping, but not inhaling a jig. You can add bulk with plastics without adding weight when the walleyes are feeding on larger shad, like they often do in the fall on the Mississippi River.
Some of what Neil and I do was passed down by a couple of angling legends and friends who left us too soon.
Randy "Cooter" Kollmann taught us what a banana head jig tipped with a minnow and a stinger hook will do when cold water, pre-spawn walleyes are tight to the bottom and not very aggressive. We put together a handful of impressive tournament catches on the Mississippi River with that technique, which crawls along the bottom and keeps the minnow up a couple of inches and right in the fish's face.
Tommy Skarlis got us going on a unique and fascinating presentation featuring a plastic lizard or salamander on a plain jig head. It worked on the sauger-filled Illinois River and we had a day to remember for post-spawn walleyes in Vermillion Slough on the Mississippi near Red Wing, Minn. Whether it's because walleyes like salamanders or because they hate them as threats to their eggs, it works.
I wanted to know if it was just a river thing or if it would be effective in lakes and reservoirs, so I tried it on Big Stone Lake in western Minnesota and at Green Bay and Little Bay de Noc on Lake Michigan. It worked there, too, although I also found northern pike attacked it with ferocity.
Our affinity for jigging led us to productive alternatives, too.
What do you do when you find aggressive but scattered walleyes in extremely clear water or at a depth, in current or on structure that isn't conducive to traditional jigging? For us, that's where jigging spoons excel.
Some of our first experiments with spoon fishing came on the Great Lakes where Hammargren and Kollmann had previously dabbled with spoons. At Little Bay de Noc, Neil and I caught walleyes that helped us cash a check casting Hopkins spoons during a tough bite.
In another tournament out of Green Bay, we were poking around in the Menominee River during pre-fishing pitching spoons to rocky shorelines and bouncing them down the breaklines when we found a short stretch that was loaded with big walleyes. On the first day of the 200-boat Masters Walleye Circuit event, our four-fish limit topped 28 pounds and we found ourselves in the lead. Unfortunately, several of the boats that were trolling in the river witnessed our success and our spot was covered with boats on Day 2. We had to scramble for enough fish to hang on for a top 10 finish.
Jigging spoons did pay off with a comeback win during a late September Walleye Anglers Trail tournament on the Mississippi River at Trempleau, Wis. Neil and I knew about some quality fish on a deep break below the dam at LaCrosse, but the lock was tied up with barge traffic so we bounced around the Trempleau pool for a modest first-day catch. We got through the lock on the morning of Day 2, put 26 pounds or so in the boat in about two hours and returned safely through the lock where we basically watched the first-day leaders fight it out near the fishing float below the Trempleau dam.
Jigging isn't for everyone. Neil and I just prefer a rod in our hand rather than in the rod holder, and it's what we know best. Some anglers are masters at trolling or live bait presentations.
No matter what approach you like best, evaluate the conditions and situation, think it through and you'll figure out a way to catch fish your way, too.