You could reasonably argue that the jig is not only one of the oldest and simplest lures available, but also one of the most versatile. In layman’s terms, a jig is basically a hunk of lead or tungsten molded onto a hook. It’s really that simple. Walleye anglers have relied on them for decades, usually tipping hooks with plastics, skirts, or live bait, and in some circumstances, all three.
Due to the jig’s popularity and utility in so many situations, both lure manufacturers and DIY garage lure makers have continued to tweak and modify head and hook designs to suit specific applications and fish behavior. While countless jigs are available in today’s market, here are eight jigs that will fit just about any situation you encounter while walleye fishing.
Ball Head Jigs It’s not a stretch to assume that the original ball head jig has accounted for more walleyes than any other lure. While this jig design went unchanged for decades, it has recently gotten a bit of a facelift to keep up with the times. The Northland Deep Vee has a slightly narrower head design that allows it to cut current and keep from wedging in the rocks as much as the original. Many hardcore jig fishermen have added custom large eyes to their jigs in the belief that it helps attract more strikes. It’s always worth the price for higher quality hooks to increase hookups and landing rates. For these reasons, the Deep Vee is my favorite and most used all-around jig, especially since it is also available dressed with bucktail.
Long-Shank Jigs Like many of the most popular jigs, the original design starts with garage-tinkering anglers who modify molds to create something that fits their specific need. A long shank allows you to better thread plastics onto the shank and cause the plastic to run straighter. But in all reality, most anglers use long-shank jigs to pair with live bait. A long shank facilitates threading minnows or shiners through the mouth and out the gill and into the meat of the minnow. Regardless of how you specifically rig your live (or dead) minnows, this long shank provides more secure rigging. The same goes for leeches and nightcrawlers. This design allows you to cast or work your bait with less fear of it constantly coming off. This simple feature can save a lot of casts and dollars at the same time.
Stand-Up Jigs Anyone who fishes jigs regularly will become good at tying knots, thanks to hungry rocks. When fishing broken rock, sand, or even mud bottoms it can be beneficial to use a stand-up jig head design. While it’s common sense that it helps keep the hook upright and off the bottom, it also has the same effect on the minnow or leech it’s tipped with. When dragging jigs on the bottom for stingy walleyes, a stand-up head design helps reduce the number of jigs you have to tie on and live bait you have to rig up. The Northland Stand-Up Fire-Ball Jig is available in both traditional and long-shank models.
Swimbait Jigs As paddletail and boot-tail plastics have grown in popularity for walleye fishing in recent years, many jig head designs have evolved to match that profile and maximize the tail’s action. Hand-tied Flashabou or bucktail jigs often employ this idea too. These heads are usually cone shaped, blade shaped, or simply look like a minnow’s head. Those designs provide extra realism to go along with modern plastics, and their streamlined designs sink fast and give off a lot of wiggle. VMC’s SBJ Swimbait Jig includes handy bait-keeper barbs to make sure your plastic stays put.
Propellor Jigs Prop jigs like the Northland Whistler provide both flash and vibration with each lift and drop. These unique hooks feature a metal propeller on the shaft behind the head that create an action unlike anything else. While they can be cast and worked back, both open water and ice anglers seem to have the best results with them when they are vertically jigged.
I have personally also had good luck with trolling prop jigs in Canadian Shield lakes. One caveat is that relatively shallow water and slow speeds are needed to maintain bottom contact. The prop can act like a sail, lifting the lure off the bottom. This jig is also a major sleeper for ice fishing.
Underspin Jigs The underspin jig is much more common and popular in the panfish and bass markets but play a major role with walleyes as well, for those in the know. Think of it as the walleye version of a spinnerbait. When rigged with a live minnow or swimbait-style plastic, this is a killer walleye rig. While they are effective when vertical jigged, this is one of the few walleye jigs that is probably better when cast and retrieved. There are many underspin jigs on the market, but the better-quality ones feature premium hooks and a collar that effectively holds soft plastics in place.
The small spinner blade causes flash and some vibration. In off-colored water, don’t be afraid to switch the factory willow blade in favor of a small Colorado or Indiana blade for added vibration.
Weedless Jigs An awful lot of walleye anglers skip fishing weeds because they either don’t know how often walleyes can be found in them, or they do know how much of a pain in the ass weeds are to fish. The latter is a good reason to use a weedless jig. The Northland Weed Weasel features a wide Y-style plastic guard and heavier wire hook that rips through instead of flexing and hooking into heavier patches of weeds.
Thinner wire weed guards that can be found on many styles of bass finesse jigs work OK for sparse or thin patches of weeds, but the thick plastic or mono guard is very beneficial when pitching into weed pockets.
Non-Toxic Jigs Non-toxic jigs are typically molded from tungsten instead of the traditional lead. In some cases this is due to local environmental laws, but usually it’s because they can offer a few distinct advantages. One of the biggest benefits of tungsten is its increased density, which causes the overall size of the jig to be much smaller when compared to the same weight jig made from lead. For this reason alone, tungsten jigs dominate in ice fishing circles. I personally prefer a tungsten jig when dead-sticking or suspending under a slip bobber. In both circumstances, walleyes have more time to inspect your offering and a more compact package to eat. If there is a downside, it’s the cost—tungsten is much more expensive than lead ounce for ounce.
There are surely more than eight styles of jigs. But if you have a selection of different sizes and colors of these walleye ones, you can bet you’ll be prepared to catch walleyes for whatever the lake or river throws at you.
Feature image via Bill Lindner