Catching walleye on soft plastics

When I was a little kid I loved fishing with my Grandpa because he was always more interested in using lures than dropping the traditional jig and minnow over the side of the boat. He had a tackle box full of old lures and they were way more fun to use than soaking meat. His number one fishing goal each summer was to catch walleye on artificial baits and he usually found one of two to fall for his stuff and that was always one of the highlights of the season.

Today, we have much better tackle than we did 30 years ago, especially in soft plastics. We now have baits that have realistic colours, the plastic is soft to provide a natural action and a lot of the baits today are scented to improve the chances of tricking fish into biting our fake baits. They actually catch fish, a lot of them.

When fishing in the boat over the past four or five years I could count the number of times on one hand that I have purchased bait to use for walleye fishing. It’s not that it doesn’t work, it most certainly does but it is another cost in an already expensive activity, especially with these embarrassing gas prices we have right now. There are also more stringent rules on using live bait and transporting it, making it inconvenient to use. 
I feel for the people who trap and sell live bait because most of these new regulations are not necessary for our area. I think in this instance, people in Southern Ontario are making decisions for the Northwest region, which is nothing new. It is what it is, but it makes the use of soft plastic baits more appealing.

I have been home for the past two weeks and most of the fishing that I’ve done has been for walleye on Lake of the Woods. The fishing has been as good as I’ve ever seen it and as has been the case over the past few years, there are more walleyes than ever in shallow water. I’m talking two to eight feet, which is not uncommon early in the year, but the numbers of fish that are up there right now is incredible. I think the high water and all of the new cover now available has created a lot of habitat that the crayfish and baitfish like and that is bringing the walleye into shallower water.

My bait of choice over the past couple of weeks has been a Z-Man MinnowZ swimbait, which is a small minnow imitator. Put it on a ¼ ounce jig and then simply cast it out and reel it slowly back to the boat, keeping contact with the bottom throughout the retrieve. The Z-Man soft plastics are made out of Elaztech, which is the stretchy, very durable plastic. One of the things that I feel anglers need to do with any of the Elaztech baits is add a dab of super glue to the collar of your jig when you rig them up. That way the baits never get pulled down on the jig and you can literally catch dozens of fish on one bait.

My favourite places to cast these swimbaits are small coves with sand and rocks in them. You can’t tell where the little beaches are on Lake of the Woods or Rainy Lake right now because of the high water, but those are high percentage spots. Small points and rock piles in the bays are good as well as weed beds, which are just starting to sprout up now. You can catch fish throughout the day but the last couple of hours before dark are when they really get active.

I’m not saying that you can’t catch walleyes deep right now, I’m sure you can but I haven’t even looked. It’s so fun casting for these fish in shallow water, the bites are very aggressive and the fishing is incredibly good with fish of all sizes. We have also been getting plenty of smallmouths and pike mixed in as well. It’s a fun way to fish.

Eric Naig of Minnesota with a beautiful walleye from Lake of the Woods this past week caught on a soft plastic minnow imitator. – Submitted photo