River Jigging isn’t just a Spring Gig
By: Mark Romanack
Adult thick walleye like this are the reward for anglers who set aside some time to jig fish in rivers during the fall.
Every year in March, April and May, anglers across the Great Lakes region come down with a condition known as “jigging itis”. It seems anglers just can’t get enough of river jigging in the spring of the year when walleye crowd into the Detroit and St. Clair Rivers.
Ironically, in the fall of the year the river jig bite is also amazing. The ironic part is that in the fall few anglers seem to suffer from “jigging itis”. If you love to jig fish for walleye, but hate waiting in line at boat launches, perhaps a dose of fall jigging itis is just what the doctor ordered?
Both the Detroit and St. Clair Rivers get a noteworthy run of walleye in the fall of the year. As soon as the water temperatures dip down to around 55 degrees the jigging games begin.
Cool water and flowing water are natural magnets for attracting walleye. Mix in an abundance of emerald shiners and gizzard shad and you have the makings for a colossal jig bite.
Jake Romanack shows proof that river jigging is just as much fun in the fall as it is in the late spring.
FALL IS DIFFERENT
While the jigging techniques used to catch river walleye in the fall are similar to those used in the spring, the fall time frame is very different for the fish. In the fall of the year, walleye that get attracted to flowing water are doing so because they are eager to capitalize on abundant forage fish. Forage fish like shiners and shad have grown to adult size and represent literally the perfect meal for walleye that have already started developing eggs and milt that make it possible to spawn in the spring.
GO BIG OR GO HOME
Because the forage fish have grown to adult size by fall, it’s good to match the hatch by fishing with larger minnows and or soft plastics. In the spring of the year, a three inch minnow or soft plastic is pretty much standard for river jigging. In the fall, bumping up to four or even five inch plastics routinely produces better action.
STINGERS ARE A MUST
When tipping jigs with big soft plastics, you’ll want to also use a stinger hook. Because the baits are big and the jigs used are often heavy, a stinger hook will stick those short biters.
Every fan of jig fishing seemingly has a recipe for using stinger hooks. I find that I do best when the stinger hook rides free and just above the tail of the minnow or soft plastic. I use a No. 10 size treble hook tied to 10-12 pound test fluorocarbon leader material. On a typical day jigging in the fall, 40 to 50 percent of the landed fish are going to come on the stinger hook!
Big jigs and oversized soft plastics are hands down the ticket for river walleye jigging success.
Vertical jigging is one of those presentations that requires a stiffer rod than most anglers realize. My simple rule of thumb is to tie on the jig I expect to use and then check to see if the weight of the jig causes the rod tip to bend noticeably. The rod should be stiff enough that the weight of the jig alone doesn’t bend the rod tip. The added stiffness will make it much easier to feel bottom and subtle strikes.
Spinning reels suitable for jigging should be small and lightweight. I prefer a 20 or 25 class spinning reel. Reels don’t need to be expensive. For years I’ve been using Daiwa Laguna LT reels that retail for just $45.00 yet they have awesome drag systems and they are exceptionally lightweight.
Perhaps the most important part of any jigging set up is the line. An eight carrier super braid such as Daiwa Braid 8 in 10 pound test is ideal. This line is very thin, has nearly zero stretch and because it’s round in shape it spools onto spinning reels perfectly. At the terminal end, I add a 3 foot leader of 12-15 pound test fluorocarbon leader and tie my jig directly to the leader material.
The crowds of spring are little more than bad memories when fishing river walleye in the fall.
Some of the best days to be on the river jigging in the fall are those Indian summer days when the wind is light and the air temperature is comfortable. Cold and nasty days are better spent in a deer or duck blind.