Perhaps the most ubiquitous fishing lure in the world, and among the oldest, the jig is particularly effective in catching walleyes. Thus its popularity in Minnesota, where more than 1 million anglers will seek these challenging and delectable fish this summer, beginning at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, the season’s opener.
Records suggest the Chinese and Egyptians employed fishing lures as far back as 2000 B.C. Constructed first of bone, then bronze, these early lures were attached to lines — the Chinese spun theirs from silk — that were held directly in anglers’ hands, probably with the same anticipation Minnesotans experience today while bobbing atop Mille Lacs, Leech, Upper Red or any of the state’s other 5,500 fishing lakes and rivers.
Modern lures such as Rapalas give anglers an unprecedented edge in the timeless tussle that binds fish and fisher. Yet the jig’s allure and effectiveness persist, particularly when presenting a leech, night crawler or minnow at or near a lake or river bottom, the walleye’s most common redoubt.
But which among the hundreds — thousands — of jigs on the market today to use?
“Weight, color and hook design are the three variables anglers want to consider when choosing jigs,’’ said Eric Naig, category manager at Northland Tackle in Bemidji, which this year celebrates its 40th anniversary of lure-making. “Additionally, jigs ‘swim’ differently from one another, depending not only on their weight but on their head designs.’’
Here’s a primer on jigs that might help put a walleye or two in your boat Saturday.
Bullet-headed jigs such as those on the upper left often are deployed in rivers or other waters defined by current. Commonly, these jigs are cast and retrieved in a “jigging’’ motion — in which the lure is lifted up and down repeatedly — whereas the more typical round-headed jigs on the right usually are deployed while vertical jigging, in which the lure and bait are lowered to the bottom at a 90-degree angle to the boat.
Jigs with stinger hooks attached to them often can fool walleyes that are tentative eaters. Also, some walleyes “short-strike’’ baits by nipping at their ends or tails, rather than gulping them. A stinger hook when attached to a baited jig often can resolve this tendency in favor of the angler.
Knowledgeable walleye anglers reserve spots in their tackle boxes for hair jigs. Famed Minnesota walleye seeker Dick “Griz’’ Grzywinski marketed his own versions of these baits for many years, known as Griz Jigs. Now many lure builders offer them. Their bullet-shaped heads, combined with the undulating attraction in water of “hair’’ made of buck tail or marabou, can at times attract fish when other lures won’t.
On lakes or rivers with muddy bottoms, standard lead-head style jigs and their baits can go unseen by walleyes. What to do? Reach for a stand-up jig, whose design places the head of the jig at the bottom, while trailing the bait straight up in the water column, where it can be more easily spotted by targeted fish. These versions, like all jigs, are intended to be lifted and dropped to maximize their allure.
As wind, current and water depth allow, choose the lightest-weight jig possible to reach the bottom while vertical jigging. In some situations, this might mean 1/8-ounce jigs. At other times, 3/8-ounce.
Jigs with shorter shanks are better used in more horizontal presentations, such as while casting, to ensure more positive hook-ups.
Orange is often best on Lake of the Woods. Blue can be effective in the boundary waters. Chartreuse seems always to be good. But hot colors can vary day to day. Stock up.
Do flames matter? Or are the eyes on the three jigs to the left more effective walleye catchers? Whichever you prefer — or both — choose confidently. Fish often. Jigs have made experts of novice anglers for 4,000 years. You’re next.