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The UPS and DOWNS of Vertical Jigging


April 01, 2016
Although it rates right up there, it's not because the tactic outfishes all others. Rather, it's the one ruse you can use all year - including this upcoming spring. And the tactic works wonders for catching walleyes in all types of waterways, from natural lakes, reservoirs and rivers, and, in clear water or stained.

Is the technique a no-brainer to use, however? NopeÖ not even close.

Ups and Downs of Jigging
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Good boat control made for a perfectly presented jig, which helped Mark Martin land this nice walleye. photo by David A. Rose.
I guess you could say it has its ups and downs. (Pun intended.) Overall, there are a lot of little details that make a big difference that you must pay attention to if you want to get bit.

Fish Where They Are

First and foremost, you need to jig where the fish are, not in the 90 percent of any water they are not. I know this sounds obvious, but this fact is overlooked by so many anglers. And this does not just mean fishing in likely areas where walleye might roam, but pinpointing and jigging directly overhead where they are.

Modern electronics are one of the biggest changes for the better when it comes to fishing verses catching.

When I was a kid and fishing with my father and grandfather, for example, it was very difficult to isolate specific structure as well the exact water depths that surrounded it. And we wouldn't even know if there were fish in the area unless we spent a lot of time with lines deployed.

Basically, if we caught fish then we figured the fish were there. If we didn't, we'd move on and start over again.

Nowadays, on both on the dash and at the bow of my Lund Pro-V, you'll find Lowrance sonar units with GPS. And in the card reader of both, an SD card by Navionics, filled with detailed mapping of most any lake, river or reservoir I am on.

The nitty-gritty of it all is the in details of the Navionics mapping program. Navionics help me pin down where, exactly, all the humps, bumps, underwater points and holes are, and, allows me to be able to position my boat directly over the breaklines. And for the most part, it is on the breaklines nearest any structure where the walleyes will be.

Why two units? The one on the dash is for when one of my two outboards is running - either the 250-hp when I'm heading to a spot, or, the 9.9-hp 4-stroke when I am trolling. The one at the bow is for when my bow-mounted electric trolling motor is deployed and I am casting crankbaits or jigging.

Why have my bow-mounted electric set up and running when vertical jigging? Because good boat control leads to perfect jig and jigging control; and all are crucial when it comes to catching walleyes. (Well, all fish for that matter.)

Vertical Means Vertical

Look up the definition of the word "vertical" and you'll find the answer to be something like: at right angles to a horizontal plane; in a direction, or having an alignment, such that the top is directly above the bottom.

In short, this means vertical is vertical. And when you're jigging and your line is at an angle, any angle at all, then you are not vertical jigging.

My bow-mounted electric trolling motor is crucial when it comes to keeping my jig rising and falling flawlessly vertical. My foot is always on the control petal; pushing forward hard; reverse lightly (or again hard); right; left. It doesn't matter. Adjusting the position of my Lund so that my line is continuously vertical is the key to catching.

Sight Seen, Not Unseen

The fishing line I use when vertical jigging is the next most important piece of equipment. It needs to be ultra-sensitive so as to feel the lightest strikes, and thin in diameter so as to "slice" through the water and create very little drag. And it needs to be bright in color so as to be easily seen. And whatever you do, don't worry about the 'eyes eyeing that bright line, because they don't care. Seriously.

By far, Berkley's FireLine in 6-pound test and in "Flame" (bright green) color is the best I have found for vertical jigging. It's a superline that has nearly no stretch, has an ultra-thin diameter (the same, if not less than 2-pound monofilament), and its color lets it stand out from the background. The later makes it very easy for me to see if it is at an angle, which means my boat is drifting too quickly, as well for detecting strikes. Often times I'll see the line twitch the instant a walleye strikes before feeling it.

A rod made just for jigging is essential, as well. Personally, I use Fenwick's EliteTECH Walleye spinning rods built for vertical jigging - their 6-foot 3-inch medium-power fast-action rod is just right. And I couple it with an ABU Garcia spinning reel.

The entire line of ABU Garcia spinning reels are the most multi-species-friendly. This is because they work wonders when I crank the drag "down to nothing" (no line pulls out) when fighting fish that don't make hard runs, like walleye, yet have a superior drag when needed for fish like steelhead and salmon that require an ultra-smooth drag system.

Heavy Metals

Two types of jigs come to mind when it comes to vertical jigging, and that's the ball-shaped lead-headed jig tipped with live or fake bait, and, minnow-shaped lures that sit horizontally in the water.

Northland Fishing Tackle's Gum-Ball Jig in Neon-Tone colors is my go-to. They come in seven sizes, from 1/32 to 1/2 ounce to cover every need. (Tip: Always use the lightest weight jig you can get away with when jigging. They move much more naturally in the water.)

When using a lead-head jig, I always either tip it with live bait fresh from my Frabill bait container (minnows, leaches, crawlers and the like), or with a Berkley Gulp! product (again - minnows, leaches, crawlers and the like). Both live bait and Gulp! give off scent, which is important.

As for a jig with a horizontal profile in the water, I find Rapala's Snap Rap offers not only a straight-up-and-down presentation, but has a slight glide to it on the fall that walleyes just love.

And there's no need to tip the Snap Rap with bait, live or fake. In fact, it is not suggested as it will impede the action of the lure.

Slow and easy wins the race

The jigging action you should employ when fishing vertical is not much of a lift and fall at all.

Overall, a mere raising and lowering of the rod tip about 12 inches is all that's needed to employ plenty of action. Too much can actually spook fish.

In The End

Looking to land a limit of walleyes during your next outing? Who wouldn't!

Use both sonar and GPS, coupled with a mapping program, and you'll find the fish faster and easier than ever before. And keep your boat under perfect control at all times. Next use rods, reels and line made just for the technique. Tip your lead-head jigs with live bait or imitations with plenty of scent. Lastly, jig, but not too aggressively.

Mark Martin is a touring walleye tournament pro and instructor with the Fishing/Vacation Schools, who lives in SW Lower Michigan. Check out his website at markmartins.net for more information.

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