April 01, 2018For most of my adult life I've had a love/hate relationship with stinger hooks. Any walleye fisherman who has put in his or her time fishing stinger hooks knows exactly what I'm expressing here. Stinger hooks help us catch more walleye, but they are clearly a pain in the butt cheeks to use!
Besides catching more walleye, stinger hooks have the annoying habit of catching on just about everything else including the river bottom, landing net mesh, in the boat carpet, on fishing gloves and literally everything else they come in contact with!
A little discussion on how I deal with the question of "to sting or not to sting" seems appropriate considering the best jig fishing of the season is almost upon us.
The author believes that stinger hooks are worth the effort, especially when targeting walleye in cold water conditions. Walleye are well known for being a species that often bites light or strikes short. To maximize fishing effort, adding a stinger hook often is the difference between a fish dinner and going home empty handed.
Before we dive into when to use a stinger and when not to use stinger hooks, we need to first touch base a little on stinger hook technology. To be frank, most of the stinger hooks on the market are next to worthless. Stingers tied on steel leader material and/or heavy monofilament line are way too stiff to be effective walleye jigging.
The stiffness of the stinger hook robs the minnow or soft plastic bait of that natural flip action that triggers strikes. I look for stinger hooks tied on 10 to 12 pound test fluorocarbon or monofilament line.
The most productive size treble hooks for walleye stinger fishing tend to be No. 10 and No. 12 size hooks. When targeting exceptionally large fish a No. 8 hook size is acceptable.
Stinger hooks work great when fishing minnows and most styles of soft plastic baits. Stingers however do not work well when fishing live nightcrawlers as the treble hook tends to "ball up" the crawler destroying the natural action in the process.
A stinger hook can be used anytime an angler is fishing a jig tipped with a minnow or plastic, but clearly the biggest advantage comes when fishing in cold water and lethargic fish. Early and late in the season when the water temperatures are 40 degrees or below represent the ideal conditions for stinger hooks.
In warmer water, most of the time the bite is going to be good enough that a stinger hook can only marginally improve fishing success. That stated, on those days when the fish are seemingly "closed mouth" a stinger will hook and land fish that would otherwise be missed. This tidbit of knowledge holds true regardless of water temperature.
In other words, stingers are most useful in cold water, but they can also be useful in tough bites no matter what the water temperature or time of year.
The other rule of thumb involving stinger hooks plays to the jig size. In general, the heavier the jig used, the more likely a stinger hook will improve fishing success. I generally fish stinger hooks on 3/8, 1/2, 5/8, 3/4 and one ounce jigs.
When fishing lighter jigs, normally the fish has no trouble inhaling the entire jig and minnow. Larger jigs are more difficult for walleye to suck completely into their mouth and hence best used with stinger hooks.
Attaching the Stinger
Different stinger hooks attach to the jig in different ways. Some have small clips that can be attached to the "eye tie" of the jig or a special stinger hook loop molded right into the jig. Others slip over the hook point after the minnow has been added to the hook.
For some time now I've been using a fairly unique stinger hook produced by Golden Gator Tackle. The GGT stinger features a slip-knot tied in combination with a small bead. The angler slips the small loop over the hook point and pulls the stinger up tight to the hook shaft by pulling on the stinger. When it's time to re-bait, simply grasp the bead and pull gently opening up the loop so it can be slipped off the hook point.
This unique set up in stinger hooks technology also helps to keep the minnow from working loose from the jig hook. I typically fish the three-inch models with a No. 10 treble hook.
Tying Your Own
For those anglers who enjoy making their own fishing tackle, stinger hooks can be tied up in a jiffy. To get started anglers will need a good supply of No. 10 and No. 12 treble hooks, some small clips, line connector sleeves and some 10 to 12 pound test fluorocarbon line. A quality round bend style treble hook such as the Eagle Claw L960 Lazer Sharp is available in bronze and fish attracting colors such as red.
An Egg Loop knot is ideal for attaching the treble hook because it helps the hook lay straight on the fluorocarbon line. At the other end the small clips that fly fishermen use so they can change flies rapidly are ideal for attaching the stinger hook to the jig eye.
For most walleye fishing applications the stinger hook should be approximately three inches long. Shorter stinger hooks tend to position the treble hook too close to the jig hook to significantly improve the hooking ratio.
Stuck or Dangling
Normally a stinger hook is stuck into the flesh of the minnow or pierced into the soft plastic bait so that the hook is positioned perfectly for short biting walleye. Some anglers feel that letting the stinger hook simply dangle allows the bait to have the maximum amount of natural action.
I personally have no faith in dangling a stinger hook. My feeling is this practice hooks few fish and increases the chances of snagging.
Stinger hooks are often used by walleye fishermen, but the truth is stingers can be very useful for a multitude of species routinely caught jigging or live bait rigging. I like to use stingers when jigging for lake trout in deep water and I've also found stinger hooks invaluable when rigging for pike and bass with large shiner minnows.
Summing It Up
It's true that stinger hooks are a pain to deal with and create more work for the angler. However, it's also true that using a quality stinger hook helps anglers land more and bigger fish.
To sting or not to sting is a personal decision every fisherman will eventually be faced with. What separates the men from the boys in this discussion is the knowledge that stinger hooks really do help catch more fish when used in the right situations.