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by Rick Olson
There’s more to live bait rigging than meets the eye. The concept sounds simple enough; Take a sliding sinker, add a leader, hook on some live bait, and you’re in business. It’s a presentation that’s extremely effective when walleyes are holding on classic walleye structure, like sunken islands, humps, underwater points, break lines and proverbial drop offs. Precision rigging is a way to capitalize on that very scenario, and maximize your chances for success.
Precise boat control comes into play once you’ve discovered a specific depth that most of the fish are holding at, or at least most of the biters. Graphing a spot can give up fish location, but it can’t distinguish the biters from the slackers. That can only be accomplished by getting a bait in front of a few them in each depth range, before you are able to start putting together a pattern.
Take an underwater point, for example. As you pull up and graph the point, you might see fish on top, along the sides, and at the base of the break. At least a few will probably be active, at any given time, but most of them won’t. The active ones will likely take a well presented bait, while the rest will simply turn up their noses at your best effort.
That’s the way most feeding movements occur, and is as if they take turns, with some fish being actively feeding,, some starting to get in the mood, and some acting as if they’re dormant. The fact is, they don‘t all do the same thing at the same time, and is a reality that must be considered. By working the top, the sides, and the base of the break, you’ll quickly find the willing. Once you’ve
determined a depth that’s holding the biters, you can then maximize your efforts by staying in that zone.
Staying in the zone is the toughest part of the whole equation, especially when Mother Nature throws you a curve. To be effective you have to be able to adjust boat position, speed, and concentrate on what’s happening at the business end of your rig, all the same time. It’s not all that difficult when you’re dealing with smaller bodies of water and calm conditions, and is where precision rigging can become a snap. But when the winds start to howl and the waves begin to pound, the real riggers rise to the top.
Precision rigging often calls for a dead slow presentation, which can be difficult to master under the onslaught of a heavy waves. To help deal with the toughest conditions, good riggers have developed waysto keep a boat where they want it, when they want.
Bow mount trolling motors in the sixty-five to ninety pound range will handle most of what Mother Nature can dish out, but the toughest conditions call for extreme tactics. One extreme tactic utilizes a big bow mount and a kicker motor, used simultaneously, to hold on productive areas. It does takes practice and requires a little team work, but it can be done.
Another method involves using a controlled drift utilizing a drift sock, or combination of socks, to slow the boat down to a crawl, and using either the bow mount or kicker to adjust position. Finely tuning a live bait rig comes into play when you start to consider sinker size, leader length, and even hook color. Minute differences, like hook color, can make a huge difference in numbers of fish boated in the course of a day. Sinker size is determined by the depth of water you happen to fishing, and the existing weather conditions. High winds and heavy waves may demand the use of heavier sinkers, which will help to keep your bait where it belongs, on or near the bottom and in front of ol’ marble eyes. Heavy sinkers may include sizes in the 3/4 oz. range, or more. High winds can grab your line and suspend the bait well off the bottom, and completely out of the zone.
Leader length is determined by what you see on your graph, and the attitude of the fish. Longer snells will allow a bait to get off the bottom, and can provide the ultimate in a super finesse presentation. Live bait,like minnows and leeches, will often swim up and off the bottom, which may be all the lift you need to get the bait where the walleyes want it.
Another option is to use a floating jig head, which can give your bait the extra lift it needs to stay at ‘eye level. To get a crawler off the bottom, try injecting it with a little bubble of air from a worm blower. But instead of injecting the tail, try the head, which will let the tail continue to squirm and writhe. Hook color, as previously mentioned, really can make a difference, and is something you’ll have to experiment with to find out just exactly what the walleyes want. VMC has some great new colored hooks in in the V7199 Ultimate Live Bait Hook and V7105 Wide Gap Walleye series, and are made of the highest quality steel and possess needle sharp points. If you do everything right but your hooks don’t measure up, you’ll probably come home empty handed. Good hooks may cost a little more, but are well worth the investment.
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