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Lift, Pause, Drop

By Mark Romanack

The best vertical jig fishermen are more interested
in where the jig is in relationship to bottom than
the movement or jigging motion.
Jig fishing for river walleye is simple. The key to success boils down to an understanding that river
fishing is less about jigging and more about controlling the jig. The typical angler is overly concerned with the need to keep the jig moving and pays little attention to where the jig is in relationship to bottom.

Lift, pause, drop is how I describe the art of vertical jigging to visitors at my seminars or viewers of the Fishing 411 television series. These simple steps are how I concentrate on keeping the jig close to bottom, as motionless as possible and on a tight line that telegraphs strikes readily.

Allow me to explain. To most anglers jigging means moving the jig up and down in a constant motion. While this approach will trigger some bites, in the spring when the water is cold and often murky, too much movement on the jig generally has the reverse impact!

Picture what the walleye sees as it lays motionless on the bottom facing into the current. The water is murky and visibility is limited to a few inches. When something good to eat like a minnow pinned to a jig drifts to within sight of the walleye, it only has a split second to react. If this same jig and minnow drifts past outside of this limited zone of visual awareness, the fish won’t react at all. Walleye are sight feeders and in rivers when visibility is limited, the presentation has to almost bump a fish on the nose to be effective.

If a jig passes into the fish’s visual zone of awareness hopping around like a Mexican jumping bean, it’s not likely to stimulate a more aggressive strike response, but simply makes it tougher for the fish to effectively catch the moving target. It’s that simple.

A little swimming movement on the jig is good. Too much movement tends to lift the jig up and out of the limited strike zone or zone of awareness located just inches from bottom. The more stained or turbid the water becomes, the more critical it is to keep the jig close to bottom and as motionless as possible.

Simply lifting the jig a couple inches off bottom and pausing a few seconds allows the boat and jig a few seconds to drift naturally downstream. Every five to 10 seconds it becomes necessary to slowly drop the jig down to make contact with bottom, followed by lifting again and pausing. This simple lift, pause and drop presentation produces the most bites, is easy to learn and helps the angler develop a refined sense of concentration.

Lift, pause, drop accomplishes a lot of important things, but perhaps most importantly it makes it much easier to concentrate on anything that doesn’t feel right. Too much jig movement becomes a form of distraction, not a strike triggering element.

Vertical jigging is one of the author’s favorite ways of targeting
winter, spring and fall walleye.
The sensation of a walleye bite isn’t always a distinctive rap or tap on the rod. More often than not the bite is detected as little more than an unnatural sensation of weight on the line. The bite feels sort of like the jig suddenly got heavy!

Fish that are just suddenly there are a common phenomena of vertical jigging. Bites that occur when the jig is being lowered or when the jig is motionless resting on the bottom are difficult to detect. More often than not, these fish are detected as a sensation of weight when the jig is again lifted.

If a walleye bites while the jig is suspended motionless in the water, a distinctive rap will be telegraphed up the line. This is the classic bite everyone is waiting for, but in the real world of vertical jigging more bites are detected as weight than a rap on the end of the rod.

The lift, pause, drop vertical jigging presentation works wonders, but it requires a specialized form of boat control to keep the jig positioned directly below the boat. Staying vertical is critical because it allows the angler to control the jig a few inches off bottom and avoid snags that would occur if the jig was allowed to drag.

Secondly, staying vertical enables the angler to have a direct contact with the jig and making bites easier to detect. Thirdly, from a vertical position, the hook set is going to nail most fish right in the upper jaw where there is a high percentage the fish that bite will be landed.

A bow mounted electric motor is the most effective tool for vertical jigging and boat control. Begin by pointing the bow of the boat into the wind. No matter which way the wind is blowing from, the bow must always be pointed into the wind.

Lower you jig to bottom and the second it makes contact, reel up the slack and suspend the jig about six inches off bottom. Watch you line carefully. As the boat drifts from the impact of the wind and current, your line will start to angle under or away from the boat.

This is indicating that the boat isn’t drifting at the same speed as the current. To remain vertical you must take the electric motor and move the boat over top of the jig. Watch the line return to the vertical position as the boat is moved over top of the jig. It’s a process many anglers call “chasing the line” because as the boat drifts downstream you’re constantly removing the angle from the line and positioning the boat over top of the jig.

Think of it this way; the boat, current and jig must all move at the same speed to remain vertical. You can’t control the current speed or the speed the jig moves in the current, but you can easily use an electric motor to control the boat’s drifting speed. Match up everything perfectly and it’s amazingly easy to drift downstream naturally with the jig always directly below the boat.

This image shows a jig rigged with a stinger hook for vertical jigging.
Normally stingers are used with live minnows, but this rig can also
be used with a wealth of soft plastic baits.
As with any form of fishing, using the right gear helps to master the presentation. For vertical jigging, I encourage anglers to use medium action graphite spinning rods/reels equipped with low stretch super braid line. A six foot rod is ideal and invest in the highest quality rod you can afford. I personally use high modulus carbon rods that are exceptionally lightweight and sensitive.

The reel should be loaded with six to 10 pound test super braid and nothing heavier. Using ultra thin lines helps in keeping the jig vertical and makes it easier to detect subtle strikes. Fluorescent lines make it easier to monitor the line while staying vertical. Adding a 18 to 24 inch leader of fluorocarbon line provides an invisible connection to the jig and makes it easy to retie when a jig snags bottom and must be broken off.

At the terminal end a long shank jig heavy enough to easily detect bottom is critical. If you’re struggling to feel bottom, go up in jig size until it’s easy to feel the jig contact bottom.

Long shank jigs provide a better hooking leverage than short shank jigs. Short shank jigs are designed for casting, not vertical jigging.

Stinger hooks are essential for cold water jigging when using minnows. Once the river water warms to around 50 degrees, soft plastic baits work as well as minnows and stinger hooks aren’t necessary.

The way to get good at vertical jigging is to practice and practice some more. The best anglers are those that dedicate themselves to this unique presentation until the act of staying vertical and controlling jig movement becomes second nature. When an angler gets to this level, walleye can be caught almost at will. Vertical jigging is that deadly. Luckily vertical jigging is also that straight forward.

A few of the great walleye rivers where vertical jigging is popular include the Detroit and Saginaw Rivers in Michigan, the Wisconsin, Fox and St. Croix Rivers in Wisconsin, the Illinois River, the Mississippi River in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa and the Missouri River in North and South Dakota.