June 16, 2015 Share

Meatless Walleye Rigs

Want to catch more walleyes? Leave the live bait at home!

Like a lot anglers in the heart of walleye country, Steve Pennaz finds himself using live bait less often when pursuing ol’ marble eyes and is electing more and more for meatless walleye rigs.

“Ten years ago live bait was my go-to offering when fishing walleyes,” said Pennaz. “Today, I use it only occasionally, maybe 10 percent of the time.”

Across the walleye belt, states have significantly tightened regulations on the transportation of live bait in an attempt to slow the spread of invasive species like zebra mussels. In states like Wisconsin and Minnesota, anglers are now required drain their bilge, livewell and baitwell prior to exiting the lake access area. They must also empty all live bait containers of lake water and replace it with tap or bottled water if they want to transport their minnows.

Even the use of dead bait is highly regulated.

But these regulations are not the reason Pennaz usually bypasses live bait these days.

“It’s simple,” says long-time Yamaha pro. “There are better options, even when you leave crankbaits out of the equation.

“It used to be I would automatically reach for a minnow, nightcrawler or leech when fishing walleyes,” says Pennaz. “Then, I fished with one of country’s most successful river walleye anglers. I was shocked when he told me he never used live bait. His bait of choice was a soft plastic shad. I soon learned what he already knew…not only do soft plastics work for walleyes, they are often the best choice!

“Look at the advantages: You can fish them fast, making it easier to cover water quickly. They hold up better than live bait in waters where panfish are a problem. And they come in a wide variety of colors, shapes and sizes, which makes it really easy to fine-tune your presentation.

“My favorite soft bait for walleyes is the 3-inch swimming grub, thought it soon may be replaced by the 4-inch ring worm. Both baits fish well on light jigs; I generally use 1/16- and 1/8-ounce most often.

“The third option includes minnow imitators like the 3- and 4-inch Gulp! and PowerBait minnows. I also fish these baits on a jig, hooking them like a live minnow (hook running from bottom to top through the head).

“I fish Gulp! and PowerBait minnows exactly the same way I fish live minnows. However, I am not afraid to work them more aggressively when fish are active.

“Years back, I was fishing Rainy Lake with a friend from the South. We located an offshore hump that topped out at 23 feet, with 75 feet of water surrounding it. The place was crawling with walleyes, but after an hour of dragging live leeches and nightcrawlers through them we had caught just six fish.

“My buddy finally threw up his hands and said, ‘I can’t fish like this; give me another option.’ So I switched him to a 3/8-ounce jig, tipped it with a 4-inch PowerBait Minnow imitator and told him to jig aggressively. His jig strokes started looking like hook-sets! Just seconds later he was into his first fish. We landed 42 more in the next hour!”

Meatless Spinner Rigs

As deadly as spinners are on walleye, there is still much to be learned about this combination of blade, beads and bait. Traditional walleye anglers still tip their spinner rig with a lively nightcrawler, but Pennaz has found artificials offer definite advantages over the real thing.

“The challenge with using real crawlers is simple…every freshwater fish on the planet likes to eat them. So when your spinner flashes by a school or perch or bluegill they almost always attack the ‘crawler and you are left with a mess or two bare hooks.

gulpcrawler“To combat this problem, I started experimenting with the use of plastic worms on spinner rigs. The problem is, none ever worked well. That changed when Berkley came out with the Gulp! Crawler. Unlike the worms I had tried before, this one was only four inches long and it featured a small paddle that swims back-and-forth even at the slow speeds you fish spinners.

“I’ve found that real nightcrawlers and the Gulp! Crawler produce about the same number of fish when fished on spinners, and there is no mess with the Gulp!

“On Green Bay once I tipped a spinner with a chartreuse/pepper Gulp! Crawler. The thing was so bright I laughed when letting out the planer board! A half-hour later a 9-pound stud inhaled that bait! Yes, I was stunned!”

Going meatless for walleye? Sounds like an idea whose time has come!