The Red River "Jig"
by Daniel Kiazyk
One fascinating facet of Manitoba's history is its people and their cultures. The Metis people who first settled along the Red and other rivers in the province used to celebrate their successes and joyful experiences by a dance known as the Red River jig. This dance had an interesting rhythm. It was a hybridization of dance between their Aboriginal and European ancestry. Much like the unique jig which occurred on the banks of Manitoba's great rivers there is another unique jig which occurs each fall and early winter on its rivers. The "Red River jig" for the infamous Lake Winnipeg greenbacks. This run of fish occurs each fall and has fish of unkown numbers moving up into the great rivers which feed into the great lake. These fish are quite well known throughout Walleydom for their unique colour and good size. For instance, last year a Manitoba record Walleye was photographed, weighed and the picture never published in a local paper – and the angler did not wish to register this fish with the Manitoba master angler program. Why? Maybe a 19 ½ lb. fish would draw too much attention to his favorite fishing haunts. Last year my own boat saw more fish over 10 lbs. than ever before. What was the secret? Nothing extraordinary. Rather I would like to think that it was the "jig" used or an approach refined over a number of years that gave my guests all the success. What method? The "Red River jig". This approach has been refined, using trial and error, discussion and just plain luck..
Many different types of jigs have worked over the years, but as the years have gone by, two factors seem to have emerged as significant for increasing our success. The first and I believe the most important is jig size. As opposed to the finesse 1/16 and 1/8 oz. jigs of summer, we fish nothing less than 5/8 of an ounce. On some occasions, jigs as large as 1¼ oz. have proved very successful. Bigger on most occasions in the fall is better! The other factor that seems to have a bearing in these rivers is the color of the jig. Color seems to be a lesser factor as turbidity in the Red River reduces visibility to less than 6".The fish in this water need something to hone in on and if they do see the jig it's only for a brief period of time! Nonetheless our experience over the years has singled out a particular range of colours: Chartreuses, chartreuse/lime and chartreuse/orange are combinations that seem the best. Have fish been caught on small different colored jigs? Certainly, but it's all a matter of percentages and what makes for more confident angling
Any number of bait combinations have been tried as a part of the "Red River Jig" approach. Worms and leeches seem the least effective as the water temperature is at or below 50 degrees. These forms of bait are not active at this temperature and the fish don't seem particularly interested in them at this time of year. It follows that the old adage of minnows below 50 degrees works here. Not to slight some of my friends who are commercial bait fisherman but these fish don't seem overly particular about live bait. Yes, I've had days when live bait (particularly larger chubs, have out produced frozen and salted minnows). However, referring back to my journal entries of the past five or six seasons there appears to be no difference in catch counts using either types of bait. In the end, just as many big fish (fish over 10 lbs.) have been caught on fresh frozen and salted. My own preference is with jumbo whitefish minnows. They're easier to keep at home, store and handle on the boat (especially when you're fishing in near zero temperatures). Perhaps the only twist with this approach is that I'll change from fresh frozen to salted when the action slows (as one local guide/friend said to me, "All animals like salt, eh!").
The action imparted to the jig is perhaps the one most significant component to this approach. Some generalizations are in order here. As the season progresses, the amount of action given to the jig is reduced. These fish are cold blooded and as the water shifts from cold to ice covered, their activity level is reduced to just a few hours of feeding activity (morning and evening). Another adjustment generally made when two people are in the boat is to have difference jigging actions. I have my wife to thank for this one. On some occasions the long hours of jigging and bobbing on the water would put her to sleep. It would follow that there action was very slow and rhythmical while mine was usually a bit quicker and more erratic. It followed that that one season my wife caught (on three outings) five fish over ten pounds! My count of good fish was less than half that number. The insight derived from this one important season was that there was a need to have different jigging actions in the boat. One angler jigs aggressively with some subtle breaks while the other jigs slowly, with short rises and longer pauses. One other suggestion for increasing your catch when doing the "jig" is to pound the bottom ever once in a while. This technique can be worked into the "jig" at your discretion. Finally and by no means unimportant when talking about the action imparted upon the jig is the platform from which all this occurs: All of dance described to this point is from an anchored position. Why? In the Red, especially with the water so turbid, some have suggested that the fish's field of view is very much reduced. Hence remaining in one place probably gives the fish more time to hone in on the bait. Everyone will do the "jig" a little differently but I've noticed that those that have a lot of fun doing the jig have little side steps that they have worked in over the years…..
Long hours of doing the "jig" requires special gear. A good bait caster loaded up with 6 – 8 lb. Mono or a 2/10 super-line will suffice. A medium rod with a quick tip helps to set that hook when you feel that tell tale "weight" at the bottom of your jigging action. Heavier outfits don't seem to detract from the action as the heavier jigs don't require much finesse. Stinger hooks are an add on in some instances, but are by no means a requirement.
The "Red river jig" as a dance has been going on for a long time next to southern Manitoba's Great rivers. Its unique character derived from its creators has given it its particular flavor. It so goes that he approach described here as the "Red river jig" will probably continue to be refined and hopefully it will continue to generate many fond memories.