A while back someone asked me one very simple question. Why did I use that lure?
Seems simple enough but it really got me thinking. Why do I really use Lure “A” and not Lure “B”? What is the logic behind the selection? Is there a science or is it just because I saw Lure “A” before Lure “B”? I really didn’t know how to approach this subject at first. After some careful consideration I think I figured out a way to best answer this without taking a gazillion year’s like that stupid computer in A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.
Before I begin though I need to lay down a few ground rules. Not so much rules but something to remember while reading this and taking in all the information. I am by no means an expert and there are a multitude of variations based solely on personal preference. This is what works for me and I will do my best to give an explanation as to why I choose A, B and C over X, Y and Z.
- This is for Handlining only. Some of the logic will apply to other methods but this is for my preferred method of walleye fishing.
- This is my opinion and like something else everybody has one. This is just something to think about and not some concrete, cast in stone, this is the only way, rule.
- I am not going to spend a lot of time on color. I am a firm believer that too many fishermen spend way to much time thinking about color. There are more important things to consider. You can run all the Clown Rapala’s you want but if your presentation isn’t right you are not going to catch much. Remember that!!
- Finally, and I can’t stress this enough, find what works for you and exploit it. If you’re catching fish don’t change because someone else says you have to do it his way. I can right a book on the bad advice and silly theories I have heard over the years. Now that I think about it that might not be a bad idea.
Now that I got that out of the way lets get started. I am going to break this down into 3 different categories, body baits or stick baits, pencil plugs and spoons
Body Baits/Stick Baits
Original Floating Rapala’s in sizes 5 to 13.
Smithwick Rattlin’ Rouge’s (not the suspending lures).
Bomber Long “A”s.
Storm Thunder sticks in both regular and junior sizes.
Wooden Pencil Plugs.
Nite Stalker Pencil Plugs.
Spoons, specifically Spike’s Spoons.
Each one has their time and place. Some of them I use all season long (Rapala’s), other’s only dirty water periods (Smithwick’s) and other’s only when the water temp hits a certain point (Spoons). Of course this varies on conditions but for the most part my reason for using them has held true over the years. So with that being said let’s get started.
Body Baits/Stick Baits
I use these types of lures more than anything else. From ice out to ice in my Rapala’s are always in my boat. This is the lure of choice for many handliners both in factory paint schemes and custom paint schemes. About the only time I don’t use them is when the White Bass run is in full swing or if the river is full of weeds. Once the ice is out and the boat is in the water I will run all Rapala’s, generally in sizes 9 through 13. I will run a 13 on my long lead, an 11 on my mid lead and a 9 on my kicker. All 3 will be in different contrasting colors. Usually this time of the year the walleye like them big. A walleye can eat a baitfish up to 1/3 of their size and I have seen plenty of 6 to 8 inch shad in their stomachs to back that up. The smaller sizes like a 5 or 7 will work and I know people that have great success with them. I just prefer the bigger lures, especially in the early Spring. The fish are big and they take a toll on equipment. Those tiny hooks on the smaller lure don’t hold up. This holds true for the Fall fishing as well. The walleye are storing up for the winter and they can be very aggressive and big. The gizzard shad start to move back into the lower river and the walleye are right behind them. The emerald shiners are still around but given a choice between one easy meal and having to chase hundreds of minnows I think the walleye are going to take the easy way out. Again though it is a rule of thumb, I still run 3 leads and I will vary the sizes on each one until I find what they want. During both the Spring and Fall I have run nothing but size 7 and 9 Rapala’s and had success on both. It all depends on the mood of the fish that day. During the summer I will run the smaller sizes during the daylight hours, especially on my long lead. I’ll run a size 9 on my long lead and a couple of spoons on the other. Unless of course the weeds are horrendous then the Rapala’s stay in the box. That lip catches every weed that floats downstream whereas the single hook on a spoon sheds most of them. Once night time rolls around though the spoons usually come off and it’s nothing but Rapala’s and usually in the bigger sizes. I want that big silhouette contrasting against the night sky. If I want some extra vibration I will run a Smithwick, Thunderstick or a Bomber. These lures are all plastic, hollow and usually contain rattles in them. That extra sound can prove to be a difference maker some nights, especially in stained or dirty water. I want to make it easy for a walleye to find my lure so if conditions dictate it I’ll take advantage of it. I will run the rattle lures during the day under dirty/stained water conditions. Again, it’s all about making it easier for the fish to find the bait. A walleye can’t eat what he can’t find.
As for colors my hands down, all time, go to, never fails me, greatest pattern ever is a #11 Bleeding Chartreuse Rapala, followed closely by a #11 GFR. I have more of these than any other factory paint scheme Rapala. They have been proven fish catchers under all conditions. Mostly because I will grab one of those before anything else. Confidence in a lure will do that. As for Custom Paint scheme’s it’s a Copper Crazy Tiger from Jim at Downriver Tackle. This pattern is deadly during the summer months. It has a copper body with purple stripes and it resembles the goby’s and immature smallmouth that are present in the lower river during the summer. These are of course just my preference, ask a dozen other fishermen and they will all come up with something else. It just shows that they all work and being on top of fish with the proper presentation is more important.
Pencil plugs have been around since the early 1900’s. In the beginning many of them were hand made in the garages and shops (and secretly in a lot of shops of the Big 3) of local fishermen all around south east Michigan. They are a very basic design and hundreds of thousands of walleye have fallen victim to them. When compared to the action of a Rapala it is almost non-existent and one would wonder how it catches anything at all, but it does. That subtle action coupled with its large size can prove deadly to a walleye when the conditions are right. I start to run these once the White Bass show up. For some reason the White Bass really don’t like them whereas a Rapala they will attack without hesitation. Granted there are those nights when the White Bass will hit everything that moves but as a rule that subtle action doesn’t trigger a strike from a bass. A walleye on the other hand will still hit it. On more than one occasion I have caught my limit of walleye and only a dozen white bass while other fishermen running Rapala’s have caught a few walleye and a couple of hundred White Bass to go with them. Granted there are nights when the walleye don’t want anything to do with them but if the peak of the White Bass run is on I won’t run anything else.
Once the run is over and things return back to normal I will still use them during those summer evenings, especially when the weeds are bad. PP’s don’t collect the weeds as will as lipped body bait. The weeds will still get hung up on the hooks but it isn’t as bad. The weeds tend to miss them because of the angle at which the lure runs. It still happens but not with the frequency of the body baits. One other advantage is those hooks, all 3 of them. I can honestly say that when a walleye grabs a pencil plug chances are he is going to end up in the boat. They just don’t nip at the end of these lures, they hit it right in the center and get all those hooks in them. A walleye is lying on the bottom behind some kind of structure waiting for something to come overhead and when the pp comes along they go after it center mass. I don’t know why this doesn’t always happen with a Rapala but for some reason I don’t get a lot of light or short strikes with a pp. It may be because a pp floats higher and doesn’t dive like a Rapala thus allowing a walleye to be more lethargic about grabbing the bait. All I know is that on more than one occasion a pp caught walleye will have all 3 hooks in him.
The rule of thumb for color selection on a pencil plug is bright colors on clear nights, dark colors on cloudy nights and chrome during full moon periods. The main idea is contrast. A walleye is looking up for dinner, not down. On cloudy nights the man made lights reflect against the clouds and a darker lure creates a better silhouette. Clear nights or no moon periods don’t offer that reflection so bright colors or lures with an orange stripe on the belly are the norm. As for a full moon period I like to run chrome or pearl body baits. I really like fishing during a full moon. Give me a clear night with a full moon, nice west breeze to keep the weeds and bugs at bay and cool temps and I am in heaven. I have never tried them in the Fall but I don’t see why they wouldn’t work. I usually go back to the other body baits but maybe I will give the pencil plugs a try some evening in October.
Last but not least are the spoons. These are another niche lure that I use during the daylight hours after the White Bass run is over. Normally when the surface temps start to approach that 50 degree mark the spoon bite for walleye will start up. Problem is at those temps the White Bass run is starting to peak and it is impossible to get 3 leads with spoons down to the bottom before the White Bass will grab all 3 spoons. Now once they clear out, usually around the end of June, I will run spoons during the day all summer long. The river gets a second run of smaller walleye and they are in there feeding on the emerald shiners which are about the same size as a 1 to 1 ½ inch spoon. Those first couple of weeks after the white bass run is over can be some of the best fishing all season. Lot’s of eater size walleye that will readily attack a spoon. Of course everything else has gone back to feeding and they all like spoons. Rock Bass, Smallmouth Bass, Largemouth Bass, Sheepshead, White Perch, White Bass, Channel Cats, Steelhead, Musky, they all grab them. Some days it can be an exercise in futility trying to get through everything else to get to a walleye but it does pay off. Just remember that in order for a spoon to be effective it has to really be kicking. Speed up the motor a notch and make that lure dance.
As for colors I have just about every possible color pattern there is but I generally stick to the same ones. Anything with chartreuse or orange in it. Just about every time I go out I can safely say that a certain chartreuse, orange and black spoon will be attached to a lead. I’ll also run different contrasting colors, sizes and shapes to see if one kind performs better than others. For the most part though I stick to the willow leaf style or the teardrop/daredevil style spoon. If I am fishing the CDN side I will run brass spoons because of all the goby’s on that side of the river. For some reason the Amherstburg Channel has a lot of Goby’s. The US side of the lower river has a lot more shiners so I will stick to the aluminum or tin spoons.
Well there you have it, my reasoning behind what lures I use and why. There are other lures that I did not mention that other handliners use and with great success. I just don’t use them for one reason or another. I don’t use spinners because I don’t like messing with live bait. I don’t own any Rabble Rousers because I have found that Smallmouth Bass like them better than walleye. As for flatfish I don’t use them because once they get fouled they tend to spin around in a big circle and tangle my leads. Everybody has their own personal preference though, they all work. My only suggestion is to find the ones that work for you and stick with them. If you are catching fish there is no need to change just because someone else tells you that you have to use X,Y,Z because he catches fish as well. There are other variables involved and past success does not guarantee future success.
Some of my Favorites
Every lure I caught fish on one year.
Some of my more productive patterns.