What’s in your ... tackle box?
Among Minnesota anglers, answers can vary wildly. Muskie addicts tote voluminous suitcases filled with jerkbaits, bucktails, crankbaits and more. Bass anglers favor spinnerbaits, plastic worms, grubs and fake crawfish, among a boatload of other attractants. And fly fishermen carry in their vests feathery specialties with names like Prince Nymph, Elk Hair Caddis, Woolly Worm and Pass Lake.
But Saturday is Minnesota’s walleye opener, and anglers seeking these delectable prizes will lug tackle war chests specific to their missions.
Jigs, yes. But what sizes, and in what colors? Also, crankbaits are at times a walleye angler’s best friend. But in what shapes? And under what conditions should they be deployed?
Even experienced walleye seekers debate these and other tackle issues.
But this much is certain, or as certain as fishing can be: In most circumstances, early in Minnesota’s walleye season, live bait outperforms artificial baits. Also (there are exceptions), minnows will catch more walleyes on the opener and in the few weeks thereafter than leeches or night crawlers.
More specifically still, shiner minnows often outperform the more plentiful (and less expensive) fathead minnows.
So it is that knowledgeable Minnesota walleye anglers will load up their opening-weekend tackle boxes with jigs and other tackle specifically designed to present minnows in (a) places where walleyes are, and (b) in ways that trigger these fish to strike — while also possessing sufficient numbers and types of artificials such as crankbaits to deploy as necessary.
So, what’s in ... my opening day tackle box?
Jigs, certainly, in a kaleidoscope of colors, and in enough shapes and sizes to ensure I can get my bait in front of walleyes, assuming I can find them.
Also I’ll be stocked with plentiful sliding-sinker rigs, or “Lindy Rigs,’’ outfitted with variously colored spinners and beads. Designed to be trolled, these outfits will give me another highly productive way to present minnows to walleyes.
Finally, yes, crankbaits are a must for the opener. In various sizes and colors, they can cover a lot of water in search of walleyes, particularly on openers such as this one, when fish, following early ice-out dates statewide, likely will be scattered.
All this to fool a fish whose brain is about one-fifteenth the size of a similarly sized bird?
Well, yes, exactly.
There are an assortment of baits I’ll carry on Saturday’s opener because I’ll begin the season in the northeast, where, in addition to walleyes and northern pike, bass will be legal fare.
Walleyes first: A jointed floating Rapala and its straight-stick cousin. Each can be a great walleye locator, particularly during springs (like this one) when ice goes out early and walleyes are likely to be scattered. Depending on speed the baits are trolled (or cast and retrieved), they’ll run 3-5 feet down, and are particularly effective for walleyes at night when pulled along a weed line well behind a boat (called long lining). These and similar baits also can find walleyes on opening days when fished in shallow, dark-bottomed bays, where the water will be warmer than in deeper parts of a lake. Meanwhile, a swim bait can fool walleyes when cast and retrieved with a lifting and dropping motion.
Three bass slayers extraordinaires: A Creek Chub Injured Minnow, a vintage enticement that came from my Dad’s tackle box. The bait was a favorite of his and remains a favorite of mine — and of bass. A Scum Frog is a soft-plastic, top-water bait that largemouth and smallmouth bass really whack, especially on quiet mornings and evenings. Bass often have a hard time telling a River2Sea Dahlberg crayfish imitation from the real thing.
Survival kits the world over often contain one or more jigs, and for good reason: They catch fish. Designed to carry bait to a lake or river bottom, jigs are easy to use — but just as easy to misuse. In jigs, size matters, and any well-stocked walleye tackle box will hold these bait-hangers in weights ranging from one-sixteenth ounce to one-half ounce. The goal: Use the lightest jig possible to carry a minnow or other bait to a lake or river bottom while keeping your fishing line vertical. Current, for instance, must sometimes be accounted for, and might require use of a heavier jig than would otherwise be necessary. Jig style also is a consideration. When fish are hungry, standard round-headed jigs, unpainted, often do the trick.
Other times the “right’’ color is needed to produce strikes. Jig “heads’’ also come in different shapes, as do hook lengths and shank gaps. Note also that some jigs have a second “eye’’ to which a short line with another hook (a “stinger’’ hook) can be attached to trick walleyes and other fish that “short strike’’ a jig and its bait.
Knowing which jigs to fish when and where requires time on the water, practicing. This is especially true on Minnesota lakes whose clarity has dramatically increased after being infested with zebra mussels. Baited jigs in these cases must often be cast extra-long distances from boats, or fished in water deep enough so that targeted walleyes aren’t spooked. One way to practice is to cast various (unbaited) jigs into a swimming pool and watch how they react as you retrieve them at various speeds and with different up and down “jigging’’ motions.
Not only do jigs and hooks come in different colors, weights do, too. Colored sliding sinkers commonly are used in live-bait walleye rigs. Each is designed to slide, or bounce, on a lake or river bottom, trailing a minnow or other bait some distance behind. How far depends on the length of the snell, or line, that extends from a swivel just below the sliding sinker to the hook. Snell length can be important. Mille Lacs, for example, generally has a very muddy bottom, so longer snells often are used there to allow baits to trail well above the bottom.
Regardless, when fishing is tough, experienced anglers vary their approaches. In fishing, creativity often leads to success, which encourages persistence, without which productive angling isn’t possible.