This past year on the Professional Walleye Trail, one of our qualifying events brought us to Lake Winnebego in Wisconsin. I had a pretty good pattern jigging fish in the weeds and on the first day, fired up my Mercury 225 Optimax and screamed across the lake in my Ranger 620 to be first to the spot in some very thick weeds that had proven itself to hold some real quality fish during the week of pre-fishing. Iíd been marking the weed edge with my Bottom Line Tournament Champion NCC 6500 and fishing in this heavy cabbage with 6 foot medium action Shimano V rods, VSA-60M, and working 1/16 ounce Lindy Fuzz-E-Grubs. All my gear was specific to the exact circumstances I was fishing.
After pulling my rods out of my rod locker, one each for me and my amateur partner, we broke one of the rods accidentally. The net result was that my partner had to fish with a different rod, one with a tip too soft to work through the weeds and be able to pop weeds off his Fuzz-E-Grub, and he was unable to catch any fish and contribute to our total catch. By not having just one piece of equipment, one that was right for the circumstances, we only weighed the 4 fish that I caught that day and it cost me money in the standings at the end of the tournament. The moral to the story, is that if you want to be a proficient angler, you need to have the right tools for the circumstances you face.
The whole point of this article is to help you understand just exactly the properties your equipment needs to have, no matter what style you are fishing Walleyes for that day. Once you understand the basic qualities and principles, youíll be able to make informed tackle decisions when buying, and also be able to choose the proper tool out on the water to help make you a more successful angler.
Since most Walleye fisherman fish jigs, lets start there. Understand that fishing jigs is not a single technique, but several techniques depending on where you are fishing and how heavy the jig is that you are using. In the circumstance cited before, you need a rod thatís 6 to 6 and 1 / 2 feet long with a bit of stiffness to allow you to pop the jig through the weeds and clear them off your hook. That means that I choose a medium action with a fast tip. Fish in the weeds tend to be extremely aggressive, so the fact that you have a stiffer rod than open water jigging, is not necessarily going to hamper your fish catching ability. It is going to require you to set the hook immediately when the fish pounces on that jig, and the good news is that they will usually pounce with authority.
With that same Fuzz-E-Grub, pitching it to shorelines, youíll want to select a different rod. My ideal pitching rod is a 6 footer with a softer tip, mine being a Shimano V series spinning rod, VST-60ML. You want that softer tip to help you in two ways. It helps you to pitch that light jig farther, and also allows the rod to load up slightly as the fish sucks the bait in. These fish wonít usually hit as aggressively as the weed fish. Many times they actually start at the tail of the minnow or leech on the jig and work their way up to the head. The softer tip will allow you to place the slightest amount of tension on the fish without letting him fully detect you. When this happens, the fish will usually hasten his movement towards the head of the bait, fearing it will get away from him, and allow you a better opportunity to hook the fish. With too stiff a tip or rod, you either have too much tension on the fish or slack line, either being undesirable.
Now we get into vertical jigging situations, which can either be in the open water over structure, or river situations where weíre dealing with current. In both circumstances jig size and depth are going to determine your rod action. If in open water and fishing high, you would generally choose a fairly light jig and the rod that you were pitching with could also double as your open water shallow rod. If you have to get down 15 or 20 feet, youíre going to have to up your jig size and hence your tackle. I might go all the way up to a half ounce Fuzz-E-Grub in those circumstances and then Iíll upgrade my rod to a 6 foot Shimano V Series Medium Heavy, VST-60 MH for better feel of my jig. If your rod is too light, youíll not be able to feel the detail of when your jig touches lightly on bottom, nor be able to read the subtle contour of the structure and find the little sweet spots where the fish are really congregated.
In river situations, Iíll use the same rod as I did for weed fishing if the jig is 1 / 8 ounce or less, and then use the medium heavy rod that I used for open water for jigs of heavier weight. Remember that when jigging, all monoís have stretch, including the Stren lines that I use. You need to have a heavy enough stick that when the fish hits, you have enough backbone to drive a larger jig and hook home and get a good hookset.
When harness fishing with Lindy Hatchett Harnessí, there are two different styles you can use depending on whether you are hand holding the rod and backtrolling, or you are fishing with In-Line boards like Cannon Rover Boards. When hand holding, choose a 6 1 /2 to 7 foot baitcasting rod with a soft tip like a Shimano Convergence, CV-70MB. Walleyes will very often hit the very tail of the crawler and work their way up to the hooks. You need that soft tip to load slowly so that the fish doesnít detect you as he does this. When fishing Cannon Rover Boards, I go to a longer rod in the 8 to 9 foot range, like a Shimano Convergence 8í6" CV-86MHB. This rod has a nice soft tip for fighting big fish yet maintains enough backbone that it handles the Cannon Rover Boards with ease.
When casting light crankbaits like Shad Raps to fish, a 7 foot medium light spinning rod is ideal. You want something with a fast tip for long accurate casts, and a medium action to fight fish and drive the hook home. My personal preference is the Shimano V Series, VSA-70F-8/12. If you get into heavier bait like Husky Jerks or Countdown Rapalas, switch to baitcasting gear like a Shimano Compre CO-70MLB that is 7 foot and medium light backbone. It will allow for more accurate and measured casts than spinning tackle when using a bit heavier baits.
There are other specialty situations that require slightly different gear, like pulling Lindy Big Jig Rigs, Trolling Cranks, Jigging Spoons, and slip bobbering, that require slightly different gear unto themselves. But for most of your fishing situations, these are the rods, sizes and actions that youíll need to be consistently successful. If youíve spent as much time on the water as I have, youíll quickly find out that all the knowledge and ability in the world just wonít make it happen if you donít have the right gear for the situation. If you catch me at a sports show this winter, feel free to grab me and have me show you why I pick the rods that I do, I love to help people catch more fish. Until then, I hope to see you on the water!!!