Catch River 'Eyes on Blade Baits Right Now

One of the best and most exciting ways to catch river 'eyes

by Lake-Link Staff

We're just about to 50 degrees water temperature on a lot of rivers throughout the Walleye Belt meaning the bite is on! One of the best and most exciting ways to catch late-fall and winter river 'eyes?

Blade baits...

Lomira, Wisconsin-based walleye pro Max Wilson is an absolute expert when it comes to catching cold-water walleyes, growing up with numerous rivers, the Great Lakes, and Winnebago in his back yard.
In terms of tournaments, Wilson won the 2018 Cabela's NWT Championship on Lake of the Woods and has numerous other top finishes under his belt. Over the past 10 years, Wilson has averaged 20-25 tournaments a season in the NWT, AIM, H2H and MWC circuits. He's had 5 major wins, 52 top 10 finishes, 2 All-American finishes, as well as two MWC Team of Year awards, and been named Team Captain of the USA National Predator Team.

And when he's not fishing tournaments Wilson is on the water every day putting clients on walleyes across Wisconsin.

When 'Eyes Hit Blades Best

While walleyes rely on sight and smell to feed, their lateral line is highly attuned to what's going on in the surroundings. River walleyes, especially, where waters can be low in visibility rely on sound and vibration to key into available feeding opportunities. Enter the rod-tip shaking blade bait.

Although you can catch 'eyes on blades year 'round, Wilson says it's when the water temperatures dip into the lower 50s or you get a huge drop in the water temperature that triggers their feeding tendencies.

"Say the water temp drops ten or fifteen degrees quickly, those fish are going to be a little out-of-sorts so you're going to have to trigger bites. That's when I go to a blade bait. It doesn't have to be super cold water to fish blade baits but the general rule of thumb is the colder the better. If the water temp is 50 or below, that's what gets me really excited, in fall, winter, and spring," says Wilson.

"A blade bait is one of two things for me: first, it's a reaction-style bait in cold-water, so that's where it comes into play for me fall, winter, and spring. Secondly, it's one of my go-to baits on river systems where water visibility is often limited," says Wilson.

In both situations there are a lot of times when a slow-moving bait just doesn't get bites. That's when Wilson picks up a blade bait.

"In the fall river walleyes literally gorge themselves so that's primarily where I'm fishing them right now," says Wilson. "But I use them on the Great Lakes, too, especially on deeper rocks. Live bait doesn't work that well in these situations but blade baits will draw a reaction strike."

Where To Work 'Em

One of the great things about blade baits is they work everywhere from 1-foot of water to 50 feet of water-and everywhere in between. You just have to size your blade weight accordingly.

"A lot of times, fall and spring walleyes will be up in 1-3 feet of water and that's where the vibrations work really well. And when the fish are in 30-50 feet in river scour holes in the dead of winter, I'll throw a heavy blade bait down in there and the vibration will trigger bites even though the fish are pretty lethargic. You aggravate them so much they want to kill it to stop the vibration," says Wilson.

How To Fish 'Em

Wilson confesses that for the longest time bladebaits were the Achilles heel of his professional walleye tournament program.

"I could not figure it out. Blades were my kryptonite. On the Fox River, the Mississippi, really everywhere, guys were kicking my butt on blades, and I couldn't catch a fish off of them," admits Wilson.

"What had happened was I was overthinking it. I was trying to do too much with it. Once I dumbed things down and went back to the basics and just went fishing with them, it clicked. Vibrate, let it hit bottom, vibrate, let it hit bottom. It's a simple technique that's become one of my favorite waters to catch fish because at the end of the day it's a reaction bait that will catch fish 9 times out of 10 when other baits don't."

Wilson fishes an aggressive cadence in the fall-a long pull with a snap-which he calls a hybrid cadence between two other popular bait jigging methods. "With Jigging Raps or Shiver Minnows guys are snapping really hard and fast, and with Rippin' Raps it's more of a slow pull. I kind of do a hybrid of those two cadences."

But the biggest things to remember, Wilson advises, is the rod and bait movement should all occur in movement of the wrist. "I start downward with the wrist and move upward slightly. It's not a snap with slack line, it's a quick aggressive pull with a snap."

Which Blade Bait Do I Use?

Wilson fishes just about every blade available on the market, applying each to match the forage size of the waters he's fishing, as well as the weather conditions.

"I fish just about everything-from Sonar-style baits to Silver Buddy Original Buddy Blade Bait style baits to the newer stuff on the market like the Damiki Vault Bladebait. I'm also big on the baits and colors available from Viper Custom Tackle," shares Wilson.

Wilson says that you can easily get hung up on colors to the point of custom paint jobs like crankbaits, but for him, he's into "shades of colors."

"I want bright, loud colors for walleyes to visually locate. In the Mississippi River, I throw a lot of orange, yellow, firetiger, green, chartreuse and the more natural colors, the blues and purples, can be really good as well. It depends on water clarity and weather. On a bright sunny day I'll fish chrome green or chrome purple and on cloudy days I go to matte colors which cast a better silhouette in the water. I do have a bunch of blades for Viper Custom Tackle that work great when the fish are finicky. Again, I like the different shade models," shares Wilson.

The other thing: Be prepared to lose a lot of blade baits to snags. It's not uncommon to lose a half-dozen to dozen baits over the course of a day. To those ends, some of us on the Lake-Link staff that fish blades for walleyes order our baits in bulk from BFISHNTACKLE in Iowa. Their ¼-ounce B3 Blade Baits are generally better for smaller fish-but for walleyes gorging themselves on plus-sized shad, we up-size to ½-ounce which also performs better in stiff current and deeper waters. And you can't beat eight baits for $34.99! We generally stock up on nickel and gold as our go-to colors and throw in different glow and bright color options.

Rod, Reel, and Line Set-up

"I'm pretty picky on the rods I use for blades. I fish a 6'10" medium-light power, extra-fast action JT Outdoors Products spinning rod, That's my go-to casting rod for blades, Ripping Raps, and crankbaits. I like a rod that you can feel the vibration from over the entire rod. A lot of times with a bladebait you don't feel the fish bite so my cadence is my hookset. If you have too stiff of a rod you'll pull hooks out of fish. You want something with enough absorption that the fish absorbs the initial hookset and head shakes," says Wilson.

Wilson continues: "You've got a chunk of lead in their mouth and they're thrashing so there's the potential to lose a lot of fish. As far as reels, I fish a 2000 size Piscifun spinning reel that has good line pick-up. I like more line pick-up per rotation. A lot of times I'm making short pitches and might not make the right cast and need to reel in quick and re-pitch. Since I fish walleyes a lot more in rivers, I'm constantly on current seams or wingdams and making short pitches."

In terms of main line, Wilson fishes 12- to 15-pound Sufix 832 Braid tied directly to a 1-foot section 15- to 17-pound fluoro leader to keep the bait from fouling on itself. In clear waters he runs 18- to 24-inches of fluoro.

"Some river rat guys will tie direct to the bait from braid because they can get their baits out of snags easier but I've noticed if you don't have a heavy fluoro leader it really messes with the action of the bladebait. It will tangle up in the main line."

He says the heavier the fluoro leader the more springiness the bait has. Lighter line absorbs the shock.

"Heavy fluoro leaders allow me to fish it in some pretty gnarly areas and pop baits in and out of snags easily. Swivels are subjective. In a snaggy area and I'm fishing by myself, I will use a swivel. That way if I snap off, it's just the bait and I don't have to tie on a whole new leader. If I'm with clients or on clear water, I use a line-to-line knot," instructs Wilson.

Fall Vs. Winter and Spring

While we're in fall and soon, the open-water winter river walleye bite, Wilson notes that come spring he changes up his blade bait cadence.

"In spring you're working blades the opposite of fall. It becomes a small lift off bottom, not a snap-pull hybrid with the wrist. Instead of going from 9 to 12 o'clock, I'm moving my wrist from 9 to 10 o'clock for small vibrations punctuated with frequent bottom drops," says Wilson.

In early spring walleyes are just emerging from their winter coma and very slow-moving. Wilson says the mistake a lot of anglers make is using the same cadence they would in fall. Instead, it's a small pull, enough to feel the vibration, and then letting the bait hit the bottom.

"I don't snag a lot of fish in the spring," comments Wilson. "A lot guys do because they're working the bait too fast. Once I slowed the cadence down, blade baits definitely became my deadliest spring walleye bait."

Parting Words

We encourage you to get out this fall, winter, and spring and get on the walleye blade bait bite!

Take to heart the advice from Wilson and we're convinced you'll flat-out catch fish.

To book a cold-water walleye trip with Max Wilson, visit Max Wilson!

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