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The Making of a River Walleye Jig

Round head jigs like this one are widely available, affordable and popular
 among river fishermen. The problem is these jigs tend to feature the lowest quality
 hooks and they are not the “best hooking” models to chose from.

By: Mark Romanack

Jigs designed to attract and catch walleye in rivers seemingly come in every size and shape imaginable. The question becomes, does the shape of a lead-headed jig really make a measurable difference in terms of putting fish in the boat?
            The answer to that question is both a resounding “no” and also “yes”. To be brutally honest the shape of a jig doesn’t do a lot to visually attract fish, impart action or trigger strikes. Round, darter, banana, shad, flat-head, sparkie, pancake, stand-up and about a dozen other popular jighead shapes are all capable of tempting walleye bites on a routine basis.
            Imparting action may not be the strong suit of jig shape, but the shape of the lead-head can effectively accomplish other important goals. In my mind a shape that matters are the many forms of stand-up jigs on the market. Stand-up jigs make the most sense for walleye fishing in rivers because walleye are so fond of being on the bottom in flowing water. A stand-up jig doesn’t impart much action, but it does do a nice job of keeping the hook riding upright and ready for action.
            Just about every other jig design will tip over when it hits the bottom, increasing the likelihood of snags and just as disparaging creating a game of Russian Roulette when it comes to hooking the fish that do bite. When a walleye sucks an ordinary jig up off the bottom, there is no telling which way the hook will be pointed as that jig enters the fish’s mouth.  Sometimes the hook point sticks soft tissue and the fish is hooked. Other times the hook point completely misses the soft tissue and that’s a fish that bit, but probably didn’t end up getting hooked.
            With stand-up jig designs the hook point is always in the best position to stick that fish in the roof of the mouth. Obviously not every fish that bites a stand-up jig is going to get solidly hooked, but the percentage of solid “hook-ups” is noticeably better when using stand-up jigs.
Stand up style jigs like the one used here by Chad Thompson 
of Pasha Lake cabins are among the best choice for river walleye
 fishing applications. Stand-up jigs keep the hook point 
positioned perfectly for a flawless hook-set fish after fish after fish.

            Jigs come in a host of head shapes and they also feature a variety of hook types. The position the eye tie on the hook comes out of the jighead is an important consideration. For vertical jigging the eye tie needs to come out the top of the jig or what is commonly called a 90 degree hook bend. This configuration allows the jig to hang perfectly horizontal in the water.
            For dragging jigs on bottom, a hook with a 60 degree bend allows the eye tie to come out at or near the nose of the jig. This jig and hook design slides over the bottom with less snags and tends to also pick up less debris at the point where the fishing line is tied to the jig.
            The hook itself is perhaps the most important element of any jig and ironically the one concern that gets the least attention. The majority of the factory produced jigs on the market feature “garden variety” hooks that are frankly nothing special when it comes to design or sharpness. These hooks are “affordable” and that’s why manufacturers gravitate in this direction.
            A good jig hook should  be made of thin, soft wire, it should be a wide gap design and also be as sharp as possible. Thin wire hooks tend to penetrate with less force than hooks fashioned from tempered wire. Wide gap hooks allow anglers the luxury of dressing their jigs with soft plastics, live bait and still having room in the hook gap to effectively stick the fish that bite.
            The final piece of this puzzle is having a hook point that is as sharp as possible. Cutting edge style hooks are among the sharpest designs and these hooks penetrate far better than ordinary needle point style hooks.
            Because the average walleye angler owns hundreds of jigs and isn’t going to spend a buck or more per jig, most walleye jigs are manufactured to achieve an “acceptable price point”. This is precisely why a lot of serious jig fishermen mold their own jigs so they can pick head designs they have faith in and also match up those heads with the best possible hooks on the market.
            Because the majority of the jigs out there feature marginal hooks, it’s important that an angler learn how to sharpen those hooks. A flat file is still one of the best tools for putting a cutting edge on any hook. I hold the hook in my off hand between the thumb and forefinger. The hook point  is positioned so it is pointing away from my body.
            With a flat file I make a couple strokes on both sides of the hook, from the shank towards the hook point so as to create a sharp cutting edge. Tread lightly here because too many strokes on the file will literally remove the hook point and ruin the hook’s ability to stick and hold fish.
            Hooks that feature a gold or silver plating tend to be exceptionally dull and need more sharpening attention compared to normal bronze hooks. The dip plating process actually covers the hook point, making for a very cool looking jig, but also a jig that sports an extra dull hook point.
            Another critically important part of picking river fishing jigs is finding jigs that are the appropriate size. Catching walleye in rivers is about making contact with the bottom and staying in contact with the bottom. Depending on the current speed and water depth, that might mean fishing a 1/8 ounce jig or a 3/4 ounce jig!
            The vast majority of walleye jig manufacturers only produce 1/8, 1/4 and 3/8 ounce jigs. For serious river fishing an angler is also going to want a good selection of 1/2, 5/8 and even 3/4 ounce jigs to choose from.
            The larger jigs tend to fall into a “speciality” category that of course cost more money and end up being twice as hard to find. Most retailers don’t carry these specialty jigs and that’s another reason why serious river guys often find it better to simply make their own jigs.
Specialty jigs like this Northland Whistler Jig tend to 
be expensive considering that the avid walleye jig
 fisherman is going to own hundreds of jigs in 
different sizes, shapes and color patterns.

            River jigging for walleye is a contact sport. The best jigs for the job are going to be stand-up models that feature premium wide gap hooks. A well equipped walleye angler is going to have a good assortment of jigs ranging in size from 1/8 ounce all the way to 3/4 ounce models.
            The moral of this story is finding affordable factory produced jigs that meet all these requirements is challenging. If that means taking matters into your own hands and molding your own walleye jigs, so be it.

Crankbaits & The Long Cold Winter

Replacing round bend treble hooks with wide bend treble hooks like pictured here is one of the ways serious crankbait fishermen get the most from their lures. Also note that running double split rings allows the hook to rotate more freely and eliminates a rolling and thrashing fish from gaining leverage and tearing free. 


Mark Romanack

            About the only time my collection of crankbaits sets idol is when ice covers my favorite fishing destinations. Crankbaits are about as close as it gets to year around walleye lures and my collection of these lures has gotten a little out of control over the years.
            I currently own so many baits it has become almost a full time job keeping track of them and making sure those baits remain in top working order. Here’s a little food for thought on how to keep crankbaits working at peak performance.
            I bet there are a few anglers out there raising their eyebrows and wondering if Mark has lost his marbles. Who washes their crankbaits? I do and regularly because I use a lot of scent products like Pro-Cure when trolling for walleye and other species. Scent products do a great job of setting up a desirable “scent stream” in the water that gives fish more confidence that those wobbling baits are actually good to eat.

Fish scents like Pro Cure are great fish attractants,
 but they are also greasy and leave a oily film
 on lures that must be washed off with a
 mild detergent such as Joy dishwashing liquid.

            The problem with fish scents is they are greasy and leave behind a film that must be washed away. I use an odor free dish soap like Lemon Scented Joy because it cuts the greasy grime and leaves behind zero scent on my baits. When cleaning lures it’s critical to avoid soaps that have bleach in them. Bleach is a good cleaning agent, but it leaves behind an unnatural odor and can also damage the paint finish on valuable lures.
            The best way to clean crankbaits is to put a few drops of Joy in a plastic bucket, add a little water and take a scrub brush to each bait. After the baits are washed, rinse them in clean water and set them aside to dry before putting them back into their utility boxes.
            I work hard at cleaning my lures every day while using them. Not only does this regiment insure my baits hit the water without the baggage of  unnatural odors, the natural amino acids in fishing scents can damage the paint finish on lures if left unattended over long periods of time.
            Getting fish to bite is hard enough. Having those fish escape because a dull hook slips free at the most inopportune moment is inexcusable. Sharp hooks stick and hold fish and dull hooks are a bad day waiting to happen.
            Spending a little time with a file sharpening hooks is arguably the single most important step an angler can do to insure the fish that bite end up in the bottom of a landing net.  I like to sharpen hooks using a double rattail file because it removes material from two sides of the hook on every stroke. I grab the hook with the point facing away from me and push the file parallel to the hook point two or three strokes.
            This creates a knife edge on the hook that cuts deeper and stays stuck better than the round needle points that come on most of the hooks found on crankbaits. Flat diamond stones that have a groove cut in them to accept fish hooks are another great way to sharpen a fish hook.
            Metal files tend to remove material faster, so it pays to tread lightly when sharpening hooks with files. Metal files also rust easily and must be lubricated with a light oil often.
            A flat diamond stone takes a few more strokes and a little more work to sharpen hooks, but these stones last for decades with virtually zero maintenance. 
            A few crankbaits on the market come factory supplied with premium hooks. Most of these baits however are equipped with “adequate” hooks and hardware at best. Re-hooking baits using premium after market treble hooks is a great way to not only insure these baits have razor sharp hooks on them, but also hooks that function better than the run of the mill trebles generally provided on crankbaits.
            Premium hooks are sharper out of the package. A good example are Eagle Claw Lazer Sharp series of needle point hooks. Chemically sharpened these hooks are “sticky” sharp right out of the package and affordable enough an angler can justify using them generously.
            In the Lazer Sharp series anglers can pick from wide bend Kahle hooks or traditional round bend style trebles. Wide bend Kahle style hooks tend to hold a little better because the inward angle of the hook point applies more pressure at the point which in turn drives the hook home a little better than round bend, straight shaft hooks.
Eagle Claw Trokar TK310
For anglers who are seeking the ultimate in after market treble hooks the Eagle Claw Trokar TK310 is the hook all others are compared to. These hooks feature razor sharp cutting edges in a Kahle wide bend design. No fish hook is sharper than the Trokar and nothing hooks and holds fish better.
            Because the Trokar and other super premium hooks are expensive many anglers use them only to replace the tail treble. This option makes sense because most of the fish caught on a crankbait are going to come to the boat hooked on the tail treble.
            A growing number of anglers are also switching to brightly anodized color hooks. Many anglers feel that using brightly colored red or chartreuse hooks helps in attracting fish to their favorite lures. The jury is still out on whether colored hooks attract fish or not, but confidence is a big part of fishing success. If using colored hooks gives an angler more confidence I can see no reason not to.
            When I go to the trouble of replacing factory supplied hooks on my crankbaits, many times I’m also going to opt for a replacement hook that is slightly larger in size. Going up one hook size is a good way to improve the hooking ability of most crankbaits. This rule of thumb applies primarily to round bend treble hooks. Wide bend or Kahle style hooks already provide a wider hook gap and in turn hook and hold better. In the case of Kahle hooks go with the same hook size provided by the factory on most lures.
            Increasing the hooks used on crankbaits more than one hook size  is risky business. Most crankbaits have a delicate balance that can be easily destroyed by using too large and heavy a hook.
            Some anglers like to replace the tail treble with a hook two sizes larger and then remove the belly treble hook to compensate for weight and balance. In snag ridden areas it may be a good idea to remove the belly hook on some crankbaits, but it’s also important to monitor the action of these lures closely to insure they are still wiggling the way they should.
            The split rings used to attach treble hooks to crankbaits are also an issue. Sometimes these split rings are so small they bind on the treble hook, especially when switching out hooks for models one size larger. Using a larger split ring insures that the hooks will hang and swing freely.
            A few industry insiders go a step further and use two split rings on the trebles of their prized crankbaits. Using two split rings gives the hook more freedom to twist and works to prevent fish from leveraging against the hook during the fight.
            When using two split rings on a crankbait, be sure to match those lures up with short shank treble hooks. Otherwise the overall length of the split ring and treble hook can lead to problems like the tail hook catching on the belly hook.
            A good pair of split ring pliers makes it easy to replace split rings and hooks without poking your fingers in the process! I keep a pair in all my boats and also a spare pair on my work bench I use often when tackle tinkering off the water.
            Most anglers who own a lot of crankbaits store them in utility boxes. In a typical 3700 style utility box I divide the compartments into six spaces and place four lures of the same color in each compartment for a total of 24 baits per box. If I have a lot of faith in a particular lure, I’m going to carry on board with me three or four utility boxes designated for that particular brand and lure model.
            For most lures I feel confident carrying 24 to 48 baits of a particular brand and model. When I buy new lures I have not yet fished with, I normally start out with 12 baits in six different color options. Then if this lure starts catching fish, I expand on the number of baits I carry and also color options.
            I also like to print labels to stick on my crankbait boxes so I can identify what brand and model of lure is stored inside at a glance.

The author has an extensive collection of crankbaits that he uses to target
 all types of fish. Keeping those baits in good working order requires
 annual maintenance many anglers don’t think about.

            Crankbaits are fish catching machines and with a little “tweaking” these lures can be even more deadly. Modifying crankbaits in the off season is almost as much fun as fishing and a great way to hit the water ready for action come spring.        

The Dirty Dozen Of Walleye Cranks

By: Mark Romanack

Amongst crankbait fisherman there is a constant debate over which lures consistently produce the most bites. With literally hundreds of crankbait models and almost as many brands to consider, one might conclude that identifying just 12 baits a pipe dream. Actually, the dirty little secret of crankbait fishing is that most baits simply don’t produce fish on a consistent basis. Sure just about any crankbait will catch the occasional fish, but when it comes to hard core lures that catch walleye again and again and again, the list of noteworthy baits is a surprisingly short one.

     Reef Runner 800 Series:Almost from the day this bait was introduced it has become a classic choice among walleye anglers. Born on Lake Erie’s Central Basin, this bait is productive anywhere walleye are found. If the 800 series has a short coming it’s this bait is tricky to tune. Because this lure features a long and rather narrow diving lip, the eye tie must be perfectly centered to achieve the best action. Even the slightest imperfection will cause the 800 series to blow out. Many anglers get frustrated trying to keep this bait fishing, but with a little patience and experience, the 800 series can be perfectly tuned into one of the best walleye catching machines of all time!

2.   Rapala Deep Down Husky Jerk 12: Interestingly enough the Deep Down Husky Jerk series is available in a smaller 10 size and a larger 12 size, but just about everyone favors the number 12. The No. 12 has a great reputation for being tuned and ready to fish right out of the box. While Rapala baits are only produced in a modest amount of color options, a short list of available colors hasn’t handicapped this bait’s ability to catch walleye almost at will. Considered by many to be the ultimate cold water trolling lure for walleye, anyone who considers him or herself a walleye fishermen will need a good assortment of these baits on hand.

3.   Smithwick Perfect 10: The Perfect 10 is a reality new bait, but one that has quickly proven itself both as a night troller and also as a cold water bait that fishes beautifully in combination with snap weights and lead core line. Closely related to another classic the Rattlin’ Rogue, Smithwick simply did a better job of marketing the Perfect 10 to the army of anglers who fish Lake Erie’s many basins.
4.   Storm’s Original Deep Jr. ThunderStick:
     The original moldings of the Deep Jr. ThunderStick were lights out baits for anglers targeting open water walleye. The problem with this bait is it was retooled after Rapala purchased Storm Lures and the modern versions are simply not as productive as the originals produced by Storm Lure Company. For the guy who wasn’t lucky enough to have purchased the Deep Jr. ThunderStick when Storm was producing them, many are still available on the internet for premium prices of course. One might argue that while $20.00 each might seem like a huge price to pay for a crankbait, the Deep Jr. is worth every penny for the angler who understands that not all crankbaits work as advertised.

5.   Storm’s 3/8 ounce Rattle Tot: When it comes to high action baits, the standard was set decades ago when Storm introduced the Rattle Tot. Unique in that no other manufacturer has seen fit to produce metal lip crankbaits, the Rattle Tot and it’s smaller brother the 1/4 ounce Hot n Tot have dominated among high action, wandering crankbaits. Unfortunately, this lure fell to the same fate as the Deep Jr. ThunderStick when Rapala purchased Storm. The modern, retooled versions simply don’t catch fish like the original versions. One of the best features of the Hot n Tot series is these lures can be tuned using your fingers instead of having to rely on a pair of needle nose pliers. Hand tweaking a Hot n Tot produces a bait that will run great fast or slow and produce fish when most other baits won’t get a sniff.

6.   Rapala No. 5 Shad Rap: Arguably the most beloved balsa bait of all time, the No. 5 Shad Rap is the perfect walleye crankbait for targeting these fish on in-land lakes, rivers and impoundments where gizzard shad are the most common forage fish. The No. 5 Shad Rap is also deadly on lakes where young of the year bluegill are an important forage species for walleye. This bait is almost always perfectly tuned in the package and compared to other balsa shad baits on the market is clearly the lure of choice among countless walleye fishing enthusiasts. Like other Rapala baits the No. 5 Shad Rap doesn’t come in a lot of color options, but the natural finishes this lure is produced in work day in and day out on walleye fisheries coast to coast.

7.   Rapala TDD 11 TailDancer: Rapala’s deepest diving balsa bait, the TDD 11 is at home on the Great Lakes and other bodies of water that produce trophy sized walleye. Like all of Rapala’s balsa baits, these lures are tank tested and come tuned and ready to fish in the package. Perhaps best described as the “sleeper” of all walleye crankbaits, the TDD11 will on most days fish as well or almost as well as the Reef Runner 800 series, yet far fewer anglers have discovered this unique lure.
8.   Rebel Spoonbill D20: The Spoonbill was a bait ahead of it’s time. Now discontinued and tricky to find, this lure was catching cold water walleye long before the Rapala Deep Husky Jerk series was introduced. Plagued by lousy hooks and no marketing campaign the Spoonbill never achieved the popularity it should have. Those who embraced the Spoonbill replaced the factory treble hooks with premium No. 6 trebles. Another lesser known trick is to rig this bait with only a nose and tail hook and remove the belly hook. This livens up the action of the bait without negatively impacting on the lure’s ability to hook walleye.

9.   Storm’s 3/8 ounce Wiggle Wart: Here’s a bait that locally on Lake Erie has earned the respect of every single charter captain in the Western Basin. The original 3/8 ounce Wiggle Wart produced by Storm Lures before Rapala purchased them is a high action, tight wobbling bait that fills an important niche among Lake Erie trollers. In June and July when the dreaded whitebass of Erie are at their most active, the majority of charter captains switch from fishing spinners and spoons to pulling Wiggle Warts. By switching to Wiggle Warts and bumping up the trolling speed to about 2.5 MPH, captains continue to put the hurt on walleye and avoid catching so darned many whitebass and white perch. The baits that these captains covet are the ones produced by Storm Lures and not the retooled versions produced by Rapala.

10. Berkley Flicker Shad No. 7: In the world of shad baits lures made of balsa have dominated in the walleye market. The one noteworthy exception is the Berkley Flicker Shad No. 7. This injection molded plastic bait will fish with the balsa baits day in and day out. Berkley took their time developing the Flicker Shad series which may well be the best selling crankbait of all time. An interesting story about the Flicker Shads helps to explain why this lure is so widely in use among walleye anglers. Inadvertently the Flicker Shad baits were included in a list of baits Berkley had decided to discontinue and sell at close out prices. Thousands of Flicker Shad baits were dumped onto the market at a fraction of the cost they should have fetched. Because the price was too good not to try some, thousands of anglers gave the Flicker Shad a try and quickly discovered these baits will catch fish. When Berkley recognized their mistake the Flicker Shad was not discontinued and to this day is one of the best selling baits of all time.

11. Salmo No. 6 Hornet: Made in Poland, the Hornet series of crankbaits are produced from a high density foam that gives these lures action characteristics similar to balsa baits. Like balsa baits the Hornet series enjoys the benefit of being tuned and nearly perfect in the package. Any fisherman who has fished the Hornets will immediately witness that these lures are great fish catching baits. The problem with Hornets is they are expensive and not widely distributed. The baits most anglers have discovered are the floating/diving models. It’s interesting to note that Salmo also produces “sinking” versions of the Hornets. These sinking baits look exactly the same as the floating models, causing a lot of confusion among anglers as to which is which!! The floating models are preferred for trolling applications and the sinking models shine best for situations when casting a crankbait is necessary.

12. Yakima Mag Lip 3.5: The Mag Lip series of baits are rare in that they are injection molded of plastic and made in the United States. The vast majority of plastic baits sold in America are imported from China and other far east nations. What sets the Mag Lip apart from other crankbaits is the “skip beat” action this lure is becoming famous for. The skip beat action could also be described as a wandering action because the bait will wiggle in a uniform and consistent manner and then without warning simply dart out to the side for a second before returning to it’s normal uniform wiggle. When the Mag Lip darts out to the side it looks like a baitfish escaping and is immediately hammered by walleye and other species. The proof of how well this skip beat action works is by noting how hooked fish come to the boat. With most crankbaits the fish are hooked on only the tail treble hook. When fish hit the Mag Lip they tend to take the bait more aggressively and routinely both treble hooks are lodged in the fish. The Mag Lip family includes both larger and smaller baits, but the 3.5 is the go to choice among walleye anglers looking for a high action bait that catches fish on rivers, in the Great Lakes, on in-land waters and also impoundments.

SUMMING IT UP: The above list of baits I’ll dub the “Dirty Dozen” represents a collection of crankbaits I have come to respect and depend upon. With over 30 years of experience fishing walleye with cranks and also testing crankbaits for the Precision Trolling Data apps, I’ve developed some pretty strong opinions on what works and what doesn’t in the world of crankbaits. Not all these baits are still on the market, but thanks to the internet all can still be found and purchased if the price is right! It’s also worth noting that I didn’t pull any punches when identifying the strengths and weaknesses of these lures.

            In my mind crankbaits are tools designed to help anglers catch fish. Marketing claims, pro staff opinions and advertising hype aside, the proof of that goal is when a crankbait works time and time again. It would be a wonderful thing if every crankbait out there consistently put fish in the livewell, but in the real world only a select group of lures end up on the “approved for walleye” report card.