Soft plastics are great for catching walleyes any time of year, but walleye pro Eric Olsen says they're especially effective in fall and spring.
Soft plastics lures can be cast farther than live bait. By doing so you'll avoid spooking fish in the shallows, Olsen said. Cut-tail baits don't require much action to make them work. An angler who's vertical jigging doesn't have to pump the bait radically to make it work, meaning the bait spends more time in the strike zone.
In the Mississippi River near Olsen's home on Lake Pepin or in Mille Lacs, walleyes congregate on shorelines with rip-rap or on sand flats where the water is warmer. Pitching a 1/8-ounce jig with a plastic worm in the shallows is a great tactic. The bait falls slowly and the soft plastic feels real, so walleyes hold on longer. Olsen uses 8-pound green monofilament when pitching jigs and often sees the bite before he feels it.
Fish moods change from day to day, even hour to hour. They may be sluggish in the morning when water is cold and aggressive in the afternoon after it warms. Vary your retrieve, from a drag to a swim to a more aggressive pop-and-drop. Don't be afraid to pause. "A worm can sit still and have action," Olsen said.
Keep slight tension on the line as it falls by following the jig down with the rod tip towards the water as you reel. Allow slack in the line and you'll miss strikes that come during the drop. Picture your jig as you work it and pay attention to what action you used when a fish hit. Duplicate the same presentation next time.
Olsen also vertically jigs in rivers in the fall. The goal is to intercept walleyes migrating upstream along breaks to wintering areas. A triple-tail grub works even in slow current, so Olsen keeps the bait near the bottom where the walleyes are.
While vertically jigging, Olsen uses 10-pound braided line with 4-pound monofilament-equivalent diameter. This increases sensitivity while cutting water resistance on the line, so Olsen can use lighter jigs. He'll use a 1/8-ounce jighead if he can and 1/4-ounce if he must in order to keep the bait directly below the boat as he slips downstream with the current. Allow bow in the line and you'll miss strikes.
In very strong currents like you find below spillways, Olsen makes a couple of adjustments. He steps up to a 1/2-ounce or 5/8-ounce jigheads and ties a small snap on the bottom of the main braided line. Then he attaches a barrel swivel with a monofilament leader lighter than the main line to the jig, allowing for easy break-offs when he gets snagged. He pre-ties the leaders to the swivels and stores then on a rigger for easy access.
Color matters, Olsen said, but keep it simple. In fact, sometimes life is better in black and white, he said. "I have a friend who says, 'Go white or go home.' "
Just like their mood, a walleye's color preference will change over the course of a day or from day-to-day. A black worm of 4 inches or less is the perfect color and length to resemble a medium leech, which can be hard to find late in the season. Live leeches also ball up in cold water. Several other colors are proven producers. Chartreuse silk and purple/chartreuse are Olsen favorites.
"Chartreuse is number one in the walleye's spectrum of preferences," he said.
Plastic baits can be teamed with live bait for a larger profile, plus real scent and taste. Try some soft plastics this fall. They're deadly!
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