This has been one of the toughest winters on record for a large part of the country, and not just the northern reaches. Snow and record low temps have everyone ready for spring and some fun outdoor activities. This seems especially true of the vast majority of walleye anglers out there, and luckily the time is here for the first really good open water action of the season. It’s time for the Spring River Walleye bite!
This is one of the most anticipated events of the season to walleye anglers ... that first venture out on open water in several months. The rivers are flowing, the walleyes are staging for their spring spawning ritual, and anglers are more than ready to drop their jigs in the water and do battle with their favorite fish. There’s an anxiety spurred by the feeling that this first outing could set the stage for the upcoming season, so success is a high priority. There have been countless hours of preparation the past few weeks ... organizing tackle, re-spooling reels, and sharpening hooks. The only remaining question is, will you be prepared to drive home that first hookset?
It’s an often overlooked aspect of a walleye angler’s game-plan, but when it comes to vertical jigging, a quick hookset is one of those things that separates the good anglers from the great ones. Three major factors need to be addressed when it comes to improving your hook setting skills: 1) Understanding how a walleye bites, 2) Sensitivity in your presentation, and 3) Reaction to the bite.
It’s important to know how a walleye feeds in order to understand what’s happening to your jig when a fish bites. Picture the walleyes sitting at the head of a hole just off the main channel in your favorite river. They’re holding just below the lip, out of the main current flow, watching for a potential meal to float by. As your jig comes within the fish’s strike zone, he approaches it, opens his mouth and flares his gills. This creates a suction-like effect that pulls the jig into his mouth. As quickly as the jig was taken in, the walleye decides if what he’s just inhaled is food or foe. If foe, he exhales the offering at the same instant that you’re thinking to yourself “Was that a hit, or was that just the bottom?” The old adage, “Snooze and you lose” describes what has just happened to you. You missed the bite.
By understanding how the walleye takes your bait, you can do a few things to improve your chances of getting hooked up next time. The key is to “allow the bite to happen”. Using as light a jig as possible is the first step. A lighter jig will be easier for the fish to inhale; therefore you’ve got a better chance that the bait and the hook will get fully into the fish’s mouth. Jig size will be determined mostly by what size you can keep vertical and on the bottom in the current and wind conditions you’re faced with. In most cases, 1/8th to 3/8th ounces will cover most your vertical jigging situations. If you feel a heavier jig is needed, or if you’re still missing bites,