When it comes to getting walleye to bite, lure profile can be a deal breaker. Some days, fat-bodied lures with deep vibrations, like crankbaits, are unstoppable at stimulating strikes. Yet, return to these same fish another day and they might snub bulky offerings like a gourmet food critique served a microwave dinner. When fish aren’t interested in thick baits, switching to thin offerings is a reliable strategy.
The fish that make up a walleye’s diet have a range of profiles. Some days, shad shapes or thick minnows are perfect to elicit strikes. Just as often, though, the slender profile of a minnowbait or a jerkbait puts fish in the net.
In certain scenarios, I attribute this to a skinny bait “matching the hatch” of abundant thin-profiled forage. Other times, I believe the bait’s success is because it has a tighter action and emits a different vibration pitch than bulky baits. Even active walleye can be particular about a lure’s movements and audio signals. On some outings, slim baits deliver the recipe to trigger strikes.
Minnowbaits and jerkbaits excel whether cast or trolled. They’re go-to choices to skim over the top of weeds when walleye are hunting in vegetation. The running depth of these hard baits also makes them well-suited to fool fish stalking shoreline areas or rummaging for a meal on the crown of a shallow hump, reef, or bar.
Another tactic I keep up my sleeve is running a 4- to 6-inch minnowbait or jerkbait on a three-way rig. This approach works in any water depth, but is particularly good when deep-water fish are being fickle. Pulling a stickbait on a three-way rig has consistently caught fish that rejected my favourite deep-diving crankbaits on earlier trolling passes.
Thin tail kickin’
Another skinny superstar is a boot-tailed swimbait or minnow, such as the Trigger X Paddletail Minnow, Gary Yamamoto Swim Senko, Reaction Innovations Skinny Dipper, and Berkley Grass Pig. Lifelike swimming action and steady thump make these offerings excellent baitfish replicas that walleye readily gobble up.
Choose a bullet, ball, or mushroom jig head that matches the soft bait’s profile. Factor in weight when tinkering with lure action. At times, walleye will be drawn to the slow, lazy thump of a boot-tailed bait sinking on a 1/8-ounce jig head. In other instances, a rapid, panicked kicking tail will trigger more hits, in which case a 3/8-ounce or heavier jig head is best. Retrieves run the gamut with these baits. Slow and steady along bottom works well. Just as good is a hop-swim-fall sequence. Vary the intensity of the lift, swimming distance, and overall speed until you’re consistently getting bites.
Finesse worms between 3 to 6 inches should be in every walleye angler’s tool kit. Their slenderness gives them lifelike action, which varies from an undulating swim to a slithering crawl. Dragging, shaking, and pausing a worm rigged on a 1/8- to 3/8-ounce ball- or mushroom-head jig will evoke strikes from bottom-dwelling walleye.
Just as deadly is rigging a finesse worm on a drop-shot rig. Thread it on a No. 1 to 2/0 worm or Aberdeen hook. Octopus, drop-shot, and mosquito versions will work. However, these hooks might limit you from sticking fish if they’re biting short. Downsizing to a 3- to 4-inch worm or using a long-shanked hook are two easy fixes.
A drop-shot rig can be cast and worked along bottom with a shake-drag retrieve. A straight-down approach is also effective when walleye are tight to structure, such as along the ledges of a reef or hiding among a strip of boulders. Vertically jigging a spade or a flat-tailed worm on a jig will also work in these scenarios.
This season be mindful of the fish-catching power of lure profile, and remember that skinny offerings can hook walleye when bulky baits fail.