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Advanced Vertical Jigging For Late Fall Walleyes

By Jason Halfen - November 5, 2020
As walleye collect below dams and in deeper holes along river bends, there are few presentations that will produce big numbers, not to mention wall-hangers, like the time-tested method of vertical jigging. But modern vertical jigging is not the same "minnows-and-mono" game played for decades by generations of walleye purists. Rather, we can apply contemporary angling advances to put more marble-eyed fish in the livewell.

You are hereby given permission to leave the minnows at the bait shop during your fall walleye trips, because you won't need 'em. One fact of river fishing is that cold water walleye LOVE soft plastics. Boot-tail minnows, ringworms, and related soft baits that are 3.5 to 4 inches long, have a slender body shape and moderate action are outstanding choices. As autumn waters continue to cool toward wintertime lows and fish become accustomed to typical soft bait profiles, it's time to downsize. A sleeper strategy - quietly practiced in the northland for the past decade - is to switch to baits that seem more appropriate for panfish than our primary toothy targets. Compact paddletails and mini flukes, measuring 2.5-inches long or so, are outstanding choices. These soft baits possess all of the key attributes that walleye love, including slim profiles and tails that swim in the current, delivered in compact packages that are perfect for cold water.

Rig your walleye-sized soft baits on a jig that will get down fast and stay there. The best jigs for soft baits have long-shanked hooks, wire bait keepers to keep the plastic pinned to the jig head, and current-cutting head designs that resist being blown downstream by autumn river flows. The VMC Sleek Jig combines all of these critical features with angler-friendly conveniences, like resilient finishes that withstand river rocks and debris without getting nicked and chipped, and a uniquely-shaped hook that locks fish in place after the bite.

Your line is a big difference-maker when vertical jigging. Typical monofilament lines simply have too much stretch for this application, which not only impedes a positive hookset but also makes it challenging to distinguish between a rock and the subtle tap of a fall walleye. I use 20 lb test braided line and an 8-12 lb test fluorocarbon leader, which assures a stealthy presentation at the jig and combats the abrasive wood, rocks and Zebra mussels that are found in typical river walleye haunts.

Most vertical jiggers select shorter rods for better line and bait control, and to position their jigs within their boat's sonar beam while fishing. St. Croix Avid spinning rods in the 6' to 6'3" range are outstanding choices. Crafted from high-modulus graphite, Avids are the workhorses of many walleye rod collections, and are excellent long-term investments in your walleye fishing success. While vertical jigging bait and tackle has evolved, the time-tested fundamentals of presentation have not. Lower your jig-and-soft plastic combo to the bottom, then raise it up three to six inches and hold it there. All you need to do is hover. Let the current do the work, providing subtle action to your bait. Avoid the aggressive, saw-toothed jigging motion that a novice angler might utilize. As you slip downstream with the current, drop down and touch the bottom every once in a while, and then raise your bait back to its hovering position. That's all there is to cold-water vertical jigging with soft plastics: less is more - the less action you impart on your bait, the more strikes you'll get.

Fall is here. Now is the time to enjoy some of the most consistent fishing of the year. Get that boat in the water, because Mother Nature's seasonal clock is ticking. What are you waiting for?

Gear Used

Jason Halfen
Dr. Jason Halfen is a long-time guide, tournament angler, and specialist in marine electronics. He owns and operates The Technological Angler, dedicated to teaching anglers to leverage hi-tech tools to find and catch more fish. Learn more by visiting
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