Tails And Profiles For Walleye

It’s undeniable that walleye anglers have a love affair with soft baits. From dainty, finesse offerings, to mondo grande plastics for power fishing, there are options for virtually every scenario. The following are some of the most effective squishy offerings available and a rundown on when, where and how to fish them for bragging-sized ‘eyes.


Give Them the Boot

A swimbait is one of my favourite lures to cover water quickly when searching for walleye. As their diet is heavily reliant on fish, using a four to six-inch swimbait appeals to a walleye’s preference and desire for a belly-filling meal.

What really spurs them to strike is the action and vibration of the paddle or boot tail appendage. There’s rarely any nibbling with these soft baits; hits are savage and rod jarring.

Rocky points, deep weed edges, mid-depth sand flats and reefs are all candidates to fan cast this lure and tactics mirror tossing crankbaits in many respects. Swimming the bait along the bottom or using a lift-fall pattern are both deadly retrieves. Aggressive, rip jigging is also good, as the wiggling tail portrays panic with each dart and drop.

There are two main categories of swimbaits: those that feature an internal weight and hook, such as Storm Lures WildEye Swim Shad, and standalone plastics that must be rigged on a jig head, such as Berkley’s Hollow Belly Swimbaits and X-Zone Swammer.

When choosing a jig head, opt for one with a long-shank, wide-gap hook for maximum penetration. I find a seven-foot, medium-heavy spinning rod, 15-pound test superline and a 10 to 15-pound fluorocarbon leader is the best set up for presenting these bulky baits.

Also noteworthy is that these plastics are becoming increasingly more realistic, both in terms of customized profiles to decoy specific species, as well as reflective metallic products moulded behind lifelike paint patterns to amplify the guise. In clear water these details will increase the number of strikes you’ll get, especially if walleye are fussy or on lakes receiving a lot of fishing pressure.


Teasing Tails

As walleye can be a fickle breed, there are days when the thumpin’ and pumpin’ of a swimbait won’t be as effective as the wispy maneuvers of a thin-profiled bait with a finesse tail. When this happens, I switch to a three to five-inch jerkshad or minnow with a forked or dolphin-style tail rigged on a jig head. The Berkley Gulp! Jerk Shad, Trigger X Minnow, Lunker City Fin-S Fish and Strike King 3X ZTOO are examples.

This soft bait combo is extremely versatile. During tough bites on rivers, a jerkshad on a jig head can out produce vertical jigging spoons, trolling crankbaits and other time-honoured tactics.

Hopping the jig along bottom, while slowly drifting in the current, works to extract walleye from structure ledges. The set up is just as deadly when cast to back eddies and slow-water flats.

In heavy flow, use a stand up jig head to keep the bait upright and less apt to fall over and get snagged.

When walleye are particularly fussy, downsizing to a three-inch minnow on a 3/16-ounce jig head is one of the best finesse plastic set ups I know. Swim, twitch, hop or inch it along – there’s no wrong way to fish this combination, whether pitching it along a deep weed edge or working a shoreline drop off. Using six to eight-pound test fluorocarbon or monofilament is recommended, as both work extremely well to transmit hits when slack, which is advantageous as walleye often slurp in these snacks with little effort.


Subtle and Serpentine

If you don’t carry finesse worms in your boat, it’s time to start. These three to six-inch invertebrate impostors feature thin profiles and come in a range of tail options, with paddle, tapered, diamond and cut-tail being the most common.

Finesse worms are great substitutes for the Real McCoy on any worm-based rig. The artificial version’s durability allows it to pull through snags and remain properly rigged after a short strike. An artificial worm is also a prime candidate to replace a real one on float set ups or as a stand in for a chunk of nightcrawler on a Slow Death rig.

One of my favourite ways to fish finesse worms for walleye I discovered by accident while fishing smallmouth on a 25-foot mid-lake hump: a drop-shot combo consisting of a four-inch finesse worm, rigged on a size two worm hook. This fooled several bronzebacks from the top of the structure, but when I pulled the rig down the hump’s ledge, the next visitor to grace my landing net was a chunky walleye, which was followed by several others that were relating to the drop off.

A great thing about a drop-shot rig is that its sinker keeps bottom contact at all times, while the worm hovers and flutters with an irresistible vulnerability. Another bonus is that when fished in current, the flow gives the worm an undulating action that walleye love. I find a tapered or a diamond tail best for this application.

Finesse worms can also be fished on a jig head. With this combination they are sometimes called jig worms. For a flush, uniform profile, use a mushroom-shaped jig head. Cast the offering out where walleye lurk and pay close attention during the drop, as fish tend to attack the bait as it falls or shortly after it touches bottom. Swim and hop the bait along the floor.

Using a drag-pause-shake sequence is effective at coaxing bites from inactive fish throughout the year, but can be especially deadly on bright, sunny days in autumn. Try a worm with a small twister tail in these conditions. The appendage will flop back and forth as it’s crawled along the floor and this action works wonders to trigger on-looking walleye to bite in cold water.


Do the Twist

No discussion on walleye soft baits would be complete without mentioning grubs, and these offerings teamed with a jig head have probably caught more walleye than any other plastic.

A grub is a blend of form and function. Looking unlike any one thing in particular, it’s able to decoy many walleye.

Drag an olive and brown, three-inch grub slowly along bottom and it’s a leech or a slightly oversized mayfly nymph. Swim a four-inch, smoke-coloured version and it’s a minnow. I’m not sure what species a three or four-inch chartreuse grub replicates, but it’s one of the all-time best soft baits for beginners in my boat, especially during twilight.

The lesson here is that having a mix of natural and hot-coloured grubs is a wise tackle investment. Be sure to include some purple if you fish tea-stained, tannic-coloured water. Several years ago on a fly-in trip to the Gouin Reservoir in Quebec, a grape-hued, four-inch Twister Tail by Mr. Twister dramatically out-fished all other colours, even my go-to chartreuse grubs.

While single-tail grubs are the most popular, there are other options. A double tail grub delivers twice as much action and is a good choice when walleye are looking for something a bit more sizeable. Be sure to carry green versions of this grub, as they resemble a swimming frog. This is noteworthy because in late fall, many frog species migrate to marshy lake areas to spend their winter in the mud. Walleye, and big ones, will move in to gorge on the amphibian buffet and to capitalize on the action you need to serve them a Kermit facsimile.

Grubs are also well matched for precision weed line fishing. An excellent set up is a three or four-inch single tail grub, rigged on a weedless jig, such as a Lindy Veg-E-Jig. A twister tail provides action on the fall, but the offering’s overall compactness helps it slip through stalks and get under the canopy where walleye lurk.


Big and Bulky

One of the most overlooked walleye lures is a tube jig.

Earmarked for bass and panfish, these plastics are incredible at fooling Mr. Marble Eyes. They continually produce fish for me on lakes where walleye feed heavily on crayfish. Dragging a brown or watermelon three to four-inch tube along rock, sand and sparse weed bottoms is as technical as this technique needs to get.

The bulk of a tube jig also has a knack for appealing to hungry walleye. Four and five-inch tubes in baitfish-inspired colours teamed with a quarter-ounce jig head are effective as well. These baits fall to bottom with an injured baitfish spiral that attracts opportunistic walleye. Once near the bottom, work the bait back to the boat using rod twitches and slow, long sweeps in a similar manner to manipulating a hard jerkbait.

Another bulky bait that’s often not considered is a lizard. Popular for bass, these salamander lookalikes will appeal to fish prowling for a filling meal. Stick with plastics between four and six inches in length and rig them on a standard jig head. Texas-rigging them is also a great method to pluck walleye out of deep weeds in summer.

Using a lizard to catch walleye is a lot like an A-list actor performing a cameo in an independently produced movie. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does the action turns a few heads and gets noticed. I’ve got a few disparaging remarks from boat critics when I’ve tossed out a lizard on walleye trips, but the audiences agree – lizards catch walleye. Going against the grain with this type of presentation can sometimes help get your bait noticed by discerning fish. I aim to portray a slow, unaware, easy target when crawling and hopping a lizard along bottom.


Natural Stunt Doubles

There is an ever-growing abundance of realistic soft baits available on the market. Some candidates have been discussed above, but a few invertebrate impostors remain. These artificials can be fished on jigs in a similar manner to grubs, but they’re also deadly on finesse rigs.

Two good techniques are split shot and walking sinker rigs. Both of these set ups are popular for fishing live bait, but they’re just as good when teamed with a scent-loaded artificial leech, minnow, crayfish or hellgrammite.

These rigs work well when the bite is tough, such as in clear water, bright sun or post-cold front conditions. I rely on six-pound test fluorocarbon for its near-invisible traits and sensitivity combined with a seven foot, six inch medium-light spinning rod to fling baits as far as possible for a stealthy approach. As it’s slow and meticulous fishing, I reserve these techniques for time-honoured spots or areas that I’ve surveyed and marked fish on my sonar.

Drop-shooting the above-noted baits also works. Using a straight-down approach to dissect areas will catch walleye holding tight to structure, like drop-offs or boulder fields. Casting a drop-shot and then dragging, shaking and pausing it back to the boat lets you cover water while maintaining a finesse presentation. This tactic always brings fish over my gunnel when inactive walleye are sulking on deep flats during the summer.

This season, celebrate the squishy by giving soft baits plenty of water time. Options exist for big, aggressive fish to fussy ones, and everything in between. And best of all, soft baits catch walleye – lots of them.

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