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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.