YOU SAY "JIG" AND I SAY TROLL, TROLL, TROLL (a la Beatles)
by Daniel Kiazyk
It's surprising how a cool fall morning on the river clears your mind about what might or might not work for Walleye. On my home trophy walleye waters, the Red and Winnipeg rivers, there are some commonly held ideas to approaching these rivers, but no clear consensus exists as to how to tackle those "greenbacks -- walleye" of these two great rivers. My own approach is a multi-pronged and flexible, I don't really have a hard and fast authoritative approach. Too uni-dimensional and you'll probably have a few good days and quite a few not so good days. The trick it seems (for really good walleye) is that to get to know what is the "rhythm" of the river you have to be willing to sing a different tune than other anglers might be humming any given day.
What does it mean to not be overly uni-dimensional and to be multi-faceted in approach? Simply put I'll see the same local anglers and many visitors to The Red and Winnipeg rivers doing the same thing week in and week out. Persistence at times is certainly a virtue, but on the other hand you have to know when you're just wasting your time. To simplify what I'll do on the river on any given weekend, I've tried to boil down my approach to a one, two, three, four set of considerations.
Firstly I'll often start by looking at the season where we catch our monster walleye. Fall itself is not some singular season. The fact of the matter is that fall is truly dynamic. Any number of factors will impact upon fish, producing an excellent bite or fish with lockjaw. Trying to factor in these components will have an impact on the approach you'll probably take on any given day.
Changing weather is one constant that you can count on in Manitoba come fall. Successive lows can put fish down and in a negative mood. Very often I'll switch over to the jig in these situations. Fish in this context need to have food dangled in front of their noses. Having a crank pound by slowly or quickly is not really a productive option for these fish. I also find that if things get really tough I'll work mornings and evenings – with a long coffee break or siesta in between…
It also follows that as we move later into fall and have steady warmer weather, I'll resort to the crank with greater frequency…. even if the water starts dipping into the high 40's. The important consideration is how long the high-pressure system/warm front stays in place…. The longer the period of warmth, the better the bite will be. Perhaps minnows/forage move back into the warmer shallower water areas to make use of an environment that previously held no feed for them.
Secondly with regards to my approach to fall walleye, water temperature itself becomes a really significant consideration. This one factor seems to have one of the most significant impacts on fall walleye behavior in our rivers. I realize that it is often difficult to separate this from the prior consideration but it is a necessary. Water temperatures that are lower then 45 F even if a warm front has set in for consecutive days will most often dictate the use of a jig, an approach different than that suggested in the prior. Many, however, feel that 60 F water temperature is a threshold for when they'll start to pursue fall river walleye in Manitoba. This generalization is just that… as I've caught greenbacks in warmer water in the fall. But, as a generalization, it does serve as a good rule of thumb. Cooler longer nights (photo period), the first few hard and heavy frosts and the corresponding drop in the river's water temperature will often signal the beginning of one of my favorite seasons of the year
Having said when to start is one thing, but what tactic corresponds with what water temperature is another. Much has been written about the cold water crank bait bite and I realize that what I'm about to say may fly in the face of all that. Earlier in the season when water temperatures are above 50, fish seem more apt to chase down a moving target like a crank or a spinner. However, when water temperatures go down, below 45 F, the jig seems to be far more effective on our rivers. These two suggestions are generalizations and as such can be discredited by this or that experience on the Red or Winnipeg rivers. However having people come out and pay (with all of the expectations that engenders) I'll go by these generalizations and have few dissatisfied clients.
I have been asked why I don't think Cranks in cold water on our two rivers are not the most effective method. Why? Fish don't seem as willing to expend as much effort to chase down a crank in our murky water when temperatures drop. I realize there have been articles written of late that say don't put away your cranks when the water drops into the mid 40's, but the majority of these articles have been written based upon experience of crank bait use in relatively clear waters. If a bait is place right before a fish for a longer period of time Fish in our rivers seem to bite it more readily (on the Red and Winnipeg rivers).
A third significant consideration for successful fall walleye tactics on the Red and Winnipeg rivers is "where" you wet your line and with what tactic. Large flats with nearly no structure calls generally for the cranks while specific structural areas demand a more precise approach, something the jig can provide. Hybrid approaches do exist but their impact is not always dramatic or consistent. Dragging a big minnow over the flats with a jig is one of the mélanges. Also tipping a crank bait with worm (something we associate with jigging) can help entice a curious follower.
In relation to the latter factor another tactic that I'll employ to put a couple more in the boat is the following: I'll watch and see how others are doing. If things are slow, I might pick up and move to another proven spot or I might switch to cranks or Jigs (the opposite of what everyone else is doing). This past fall I made the switchover to cranks when nearly everyone else was jigging. I too had spent 2 hours jigging only to catch a couple of sauger and one good walleye. Once switched over, we caught 8 sauger and 2 good walleye in 30 minutes: Boy did we learn that lesson the hard way, as one fishing TV personality puts it when others zig you zag.
Finally I also see as significant the time of day and tactics employed. Certainly this is a question of preference, however, there seems to be periods of the day when putting the jig down in specific areas would seem to be a more effective tactic than covering water with a crank This generalization can be adjusted if cranks are cast out over specific structures with an effort to saturate a specific area. My own preference is to set up and jig on a specific spot until the fish let me know they're not coming in (or the contrary, they there in numbers – biting and I'm staying put) Usually the latter will run out by early mid morning. It is from this time that I'll put on the cranks and test various depths/patterns that have been productive in the past. The jig will be brought out again to finish the evening in those areas where fish will move up on or into before dark.
The antithetical nature of fall walleye requires an effort to pattern fish given a number of conditions. Jig or crank? As the song goes, "You say goodbye, I say Hello" the answer is not always clear. Your decision has to be weighed in light of what you know about the particular fishery and the experiences you've had with it over a number of seasons. I've known anglers of both stripes who have had enormous success. It's just a matter of being in time with the rhythm of the river. I'll use a jig and you'll troll ‘er low… who's to know…. it's only in the end that we'll know which way to go.