THE WALLEYE "BOX"
by Daniel Kiazyk
I've read over the past 20 years a number of articles on what one might find in the "proficient" walleye angler's tackle box. The message in all of these articles seemed to be the same. The angler will have to tailor tactics to suit the fishery in any given season. That's not to say that tackle hasn't changed, nor have angler's reflections on this topic. On the contrary, the proficient walleye anglers tackle box is a sleek, well refined arsenal that compares to the efficiency of an F-18. The "In-Fisherman" gang for example, have been able to publish four tomes on this issue in their professional, erudite manner. If I had to stop writing right now, I'd suggest that people familiarize themselves with these publications for their in-depth consideration of all that is effective in walleye angling. But, what about the proficient angler? The angler who has never read the "books" and does quite well in spite of what we write. What do they do and what do they have which gives them regular success? I would suggest that the proficient walleye angler's box will contain elements of the tried and true as well as newer refinements that have come as a result of a greater amount of understanding of walleye behaviour. That box is also being filled as a result of the shear number of experiments that are being carried out every year and the knowledge that is being shared via internet lists publications television etc.
Firstly, they'll set up their box given a seasonal knowledge of the fish – walleye will dictate the types of tackle you'll find in the proficient anglers box. When fish slow down because of cold spring or fall water, more aggressive types of approach will not be the most successful. A slower, more methodical approach will more than often carry the day. Jigs themselves have been conveniently put into three categories: the jigging spoon (fastest), the minnow bodied (medium action); the jig in a variety of shapes and sizes (can be worked very slowly but at all speeds as well). This categorization is imaginative and does suggest a variety of jig actions, but as a generalization it does not describe where jigs are effective in the water column. They are effective "vertically" in the water column and as such they have a role. The proficient angler will have those lures which will suit those fish which are localized and show a preference to a vertical presentation.
As the season progresses and the whole ecosystem kicks itself into higher gear, tackle which allows the angler to pick up the pace deserves a place in the tackle box. Hard minnow baits which can be either trolled or hand cranked often prove effective in this new context. Once again, new age walleye wisdom has differentiated three different categories of minnow bait, a slow wobble, a tighter quicker shake and rattle, finally a large lipped very radical wobble. This categorization does suggest to the angler what bait will suit a particular time in the calendar year. It follows that as the season progresses an increasingly more aggressive wobble will generally prove more effective. The key to all of these baits and known to the proficient angler and his selection of tackle is the need to concentrate "horizontally" on the water column. This focus on the horizontal is nicely addressed by a variety of minnow baits which are designed to reach increasingly deeper regions of the water columns. The one exception to this bait is particular strength is that suspending baits now provide a combination of the horizontal and vertical components not yet seen in this bait repertoire prior to this date.
But having suggested that cranks are in some way champions of the "vertical" world would be a great disservice to the traditional rigging techniques used by walleye anglers since the 60's. The proficient angler's walleye box has always had room for rigs! Rigging itself has become a vast world with as much or as little complexity as is desired by the angler. Inline weights on a long or short snelled spinner were the standby for many walleye anglers for many years. Blade changing systems, new hooks (coated or rigged in double or triplicate) and a variety of beads as well as the bottom bouncer (developed in Midwest reservoirs to overcome "snaggy" conditions) are all important components of the modern day rigger. In contrast to the more motion oriented view of rigs, a slower more business oriented approach was developed by the Linders with the "Lindy rig". Designed to tempt fish with live bait, it is still as lethal as it was when first introduced to anglers. Aside from the spectrum of rigs (faster/slower) the one overriding characteristic present with most forms of rigging is that it is a superb means of live bait delivery. Whereas jigs can be tipped with bait, live bait rigs deliver the "goods" – lively night crawlers, jumbo leeches, or active minnows in an effective and attractive package Once again there is a spectrum from the super subtle in the bottom walker to the flashy fish scaled look in the blade on the trolled spinner rig and the proficient angler has learned that you've got to give the fish what they want they way they like it if you are going to catch fish!
Finally the proficient walleye angler's box may include any number of "newer" deadly items. These items may or may not be in all walleye angler's boxes as the lake reservoir or river may or may not require them . That's not to say they are not important--- they are and they definitely require more thought and implementation by all walleye anglers. The float for example, can stealthily deliver a jig or hook in current or in a still fishing situation with great alacrity. In another context, large bodies of water were known for their large populations of suspending open water fish. Planer boards and any combination of spinners, rigs or cranks are a response to an old unconquered situation opening up a whole new frontier in walleye angling . In both instances these latter two tackle groupings are slowly working their way into the proficient walleye angler's box. Finally, hybridized rigs have also worked their ways into many walleye boxes of late. These rigs are significant as they work with a synthetic type of thinking not seen before in walleye angling. Snap on weights used by salmon fishermen have been combined with boards and rigs to get to where the walleye are. Three way rigs have been modified (a la Wolf river rig style) to no longer having a plain drop weight, but rather a larger jig to anchor down another rig (fly, hook/bait etc.) above it.
The proficient walleye angler's box will show signs of containing many tried and true approaches to angling for walleye. However refinements and new understanding of walleye behavior in different situations and seasons will continue to call for a more varied selection of tackle. The proficient angler will have a wider array of options for the different seasonal and locational factors affecting and holding walleye. The tackle box of the proficient angler will be as complex or as simple as the conditions require. Certainly the large amount of information available for walleye anglers will give us the best bite for our efforts and our buck.