Jiggin’ 101

Choosing the Right Bait

Back in the day, the go to ice jigging bait for walleyes was a silver Swedish Pimple. The other option was a Kastmaster. Today, the shelves at the local bait shop are decorated with hundreds of icy fish enticing vertical jigging options geared towards helping you catch the big one.  For many ice anglers, the choice of what to drop down the hole can be quite overwhelming. Actually, it’s quite simple if you understand just a few key points in regards to the jigging lure itself and how to match the lure to the walleyes aggressiveness. 

Let’s keep this simple and break down the multitude of ice jigging lures into 3 basic groups. The groups of jigging lures are based on the action/characteristics of the lure themselves and the general activity level of the fish Drum roll please…The three basic jigging lure groups are:   

1. Swimming/gliding lures, 2. Updown lures and 3. Basic jig heads (like your favorite lead head jig you use all summer long).

Let’s quickly chat about each category and the basic application.   

1. Swimming or gilding lures.

Swimming or gliding lures themselves make up the most aggressive lure group of the three groups. After the initial upward pull (usually 1-2 ft), these lures swim or glide up, then out to the side as they begin an unpredictable darting quarter to full circle type pattern downward as it settles back to its original starting point. Let it sit still for 10-15 seconds, then “twitch” it about 5 seconds, let it sit still again for another 10-15 seconds and repeat! That’s a lot of action fishing through a hole in the ice! Common examples of these lures are the Jigging Rapala, Salmo Hornet, or the Moonshine Shiver Minnow. I use these lures 90% of the time to catch aggressively feeding fish of all species—like a hot crappie bite, “golden hour” walleyes, or pike in general. The other 10% of the time I use swimming/gliding lures to trigger fish that are not aggressive at all.  Can you say deadly on finicky walleye? In other words, this group of lures can be quite versatile. Keep the colors basic.  Bright “fire tiger” type colors in stained water, golds/oranges/glow in tanic stained water (i.e. Lake of The Woods/Rainy), and the classic silver/black, gold/black, white, perch, silver/ blue in clear water situations. Fish the baits “naked” or tipped with a small minnow head for scent (a big minnow head can ruin the action). Experiment with different upward pull lengths and pause time in between your customized jigging sequence.  I hang ‘em up on a lighter monofilament line like Berkley Trilene 8-10 lb. test tied directly to the lure or with a small cross lock snap to make switching lures faster. Generally, once I settle on particular lure, I will remove the snap and tie it direct.   

2. Updown lures

Updown lures (yes I just created that word) are just that. When pulled upward at a fast rate, they basically travel straight up flutter or dart just about straight down. These lures are typical “flashy” chrome colored lures.  Silver and gold on almost all of them. I think that classic Christmas song “Silver and Gold” by Burle Ives was actually about these lures! Classic examples of these lures are the Swedish Pimple or the Kastmaster. The JB Weasel is another example. Just about any jigging spoon falls into this group. This group of lures is in my opinion the most versatile in regards to catching active or inactive fish. I probably catch 75% of my walleyes throughout the winter using this lure group. I also tend to use smaller sizes (1.5”-1/8 oz. type of stuff) to help catch numbers of walleyes and those bonus big perch. I use the same line as I do with the swimming/gliding baits but a small cross lock snap is always used in this case. I also recommend tipping the bait each time with a fresh minnow head.  Minnow tails work too, but the heads are better most of the time. I start with a more aggressive jigging approach using 1-3 foot upward pulls, let it settle and sit for 5-10 seconds, twitch for 3 seconds, let it sit for 5-10 seconds, then another upward pull. That’s where I start, and I tweak from there depending on the bites. Gold or silver with a little blue, glow, green, orange or white will do the trick in the color department.

3. Basic jig head.

Yup, the jigs you in your left in your boat now in storage you should go get. My summer tackle is in my ice box and my ice tackle is in my boat. There’s a hint. I use jig heads through the ice the least amount amongst the three groups. However, they are very important in catching non-aggressive fish.  Slowly tapping the bottom with a 1/16-1/4 oz. jigs (1/8 oz. seems to be most consistent) tipped with a whole minnow (lip hooked or threaded onto the hook). The entire lead head jig approach is less invasive.

Slow short lifts, resting on the bottom, hovering and twitching a few inches off the bottom. With the jigs I use 6 lb. test Berkley monofilament. I like the stretch in the line which offers less resistance to help a non-aggressive walleye “inhale” the bait in easier. This combined with a lighter action rod and a slow rod tip will help put more fish on the ice. A jig set up in this fashion can easily be used as a dead stick. Pull the fish to you with an Updown lure and watch them smack the dead stick.   

Pretty basic but deadly. By adding jigging lures to your “bag o’ walleye tricks” this ice fishing season (use them in the summer too!), I’m confident you will wonder why you didn’t do it sooner! 

About The Author

Josh Hagemeister

Captain Josh Hagemeister has been making a living as a professional fishing guide for 31 years. With a passion of fishing that started at age 4, Josh took it to the next level by starting Minnesota Fishing Guide Service (minnesotaguideservice.com) while still in high school. Throughout college and throughout his adult life Josh has guided over 5,000 trips in the boat alone--and countless ice fishing trips as well. Due to spending nearly 300 days year on the water, Josh has become known as one of the most versatile and efficient multi-species guides throughout the state known to catch fish anywhere at any time. Hence the famous “Guaranteed Fish” associated with Minnesota Fishing Guide Service. While his specialty is walleye (due to demand), Josh enjoys all species of fish including salt water. While most of Josh’s time is spent in a boat knocking out nearly 200 trips or more a season (yes that’s 3 a day much of the time lol), during the “frozen period” he is scouting and moving fish houses for his ice fishing rental/guiding business—minnesotaicefishhouserental.com. Helping people learn about fishing and catching more has been in Josh’s blood since the days he worked at In-Fisherman Magazine’s Camp Fish as an instructional fishing guide. Josh’s most recent endeavor has included the re-creation of Camp Fish (mycampfish.com) partnering with Troy Lindner and other former Camp Fish Staff to get the job done. Josh is married and has 3 boys who also love to hunt and fish.