W A L L E Y E   H U N T E R
Fishing Articles by Sam Anderson
Live Bait Rigs and Spinners for Ice Out Walleyes
By Sam Anderson
During the spring, live-bait rigs and spinners are two of my preferred methods of presentation. Sure, you can still take old marble eyes on jigs, and crankbaits will produce big results in some conditions, but much of the time, live-bait rigs and spinners will fool fish when nothing else will. Live-bait rigs are effective for several reasons. One of those is that they allow an angler to present a bait to the walleyes in a very natural, life-like manner. The bare-bones rig is nothing more than a hook, snell, and sinker. In some circumstances a colored bead can be added like a Stealth Rig, with an adjustable sinker, or a spinner, like the Lindy Spinning Rig, or a float like a Lindy Floating Rig which makes the bait ride higher off the bottom. Simple yet effective.
The spinner rigs we're talking about are the live-bait rigs with a blade and a few beads just above the hook. As the rig is pulled through the water, the blade turns, which attracts fish with both sound, vibration, and added visibility.
A spinner is a rotating blade on a clevis, sandwiched among plastic beads, followed by a hook or hooks and livebait. Today's standard spinner rig consists of a metal clevis with a #1, #2 or #3 Colorado, Indiana or willow leaf blade followed by 4 or 5 BB-sized beads and a single 1/0 Aberdeen hook for minnows or two #4 short shank snell hooks rigged in tandem about two inches apart for crawlers or leeches. However, another hot blade that is really working well is the Hatchet blade! This standard rig is tied on 36 inches of 14 to 17 pound test line.
Snell length is an important consideration when employing a live-bait rig. Sometimes the walleyes will be tight on the bottom, sometimes they'll be up three or four feet. The snell should be long enough or short enough to get the bait up to the fish or directly above the fish. The secret to this type of presentation is knowing that the walleyes usually won't move very far to take a bait, so you have got to keep it within their strike zone if you want to catch them.
To determine proper snell length, keep a close eye on your sonar unit. If the fish are detected three feet off the bottom, try a snell length of 4 1/2 or 5 feet. If the fish are detected just a foot or so up, drop down to an 18 or 20 inch snell. Sometimes, lifting your sinker off the bottom can also bring your bait into the fish's strike zone.
Walleyes will change the level at which they're running from day to day and even hour to hour. That's why I use Lindy Rigs and Lindy Soft Stops exclusively for live-bait rigging. Snell length can be changed in a matter of seconds, whereas most rigs must be cut and re-tied to lengthen or shorten the snell. The other good aspect about using the Soft Top is that it is soft plastic and it can be reused and it won't damage the line.
Minnows, leeches, and night crawlers are my favorite three choices to use with a Lindy Rig. However, don't be afraid to try other live baits like crawfish or salamanders. Berkley Power Bait have also been known to take fish when they are aggressive or you have a lot of panfish stealing your live bait.
Floating jigs and attractors aren't always for suspended fish. In dirty water, walleyes will most often be close to the bottom. At times, I'll use an attractor or Lindy Spinning Rig on a short snell in water where the walleye's vision is limited due to water color. That added spot of color and vibration could be what it takes to get the fish's attention and get it to bite.
When using spinners, snell length is important. The snell length is the distance from the swivel to the hook. When moving quickly, increase the snell length as a general rule of thumb. This will get your bait away from your bottom bouncer and improve your hookups. A faster presentation is usually called for in clear water, and you want the bait up high enough so the fish can see it from farther away. Also, walleye are more likely to go up for a bait than go down for it.
In dirty water, the walleye will often be closer to the bottom. So, you may have to slow down your speed a little bit to give the walleye more time to react.
Another note on bait, minnows will work in the spring on live-bait rigs, but I generally use either a leech or crawler. Remember, the population of baitfish is at a high in the spring due to all the fish that were spawned in the spring. It will be tough to get a walleye's attention with a minnow when there are already millions of minnows swimming around down there. Therefore, the different bait that isn't as abundant will be more attractive.
Live-bait rigs and spinners fool walleyes all year, but they're
especially productive in the spring. Give them a try and you will see
that rigging and spinning for ice out walleyes is a great method.
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Since August 1, 1998