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We often find walleye in less than ten feet of water early in the year.  Doesn’t matter if we are targeting pre-spawn or post-spawn fish, on many different lakes, reservoirs, and rivers… a good percentage of walleye will often be shallow.  Whenever walleye are shallow, swimming jigs can be deadly effective, but the effectiveness of a slow swim seems even more effective in the spring. Here are 10 must-know tips on swimming jigs that will help you catch more walleye.

1. Long Line Jig Swimming

Fireball Rainbow Jig
Long lining light jigs far behind the boat is also deadly when trying to contact fish on large shallow flats. We often experiment between different minnow types and sizes until a pattern develops. In cold water, we also use more hair and around weeds, we often use more soft plastics as a rule of thumb.

During a post spawn period, many shallow locations will often hold fish but shallow sand flats, weed flats and shallow gravel or wind-blown rock will all hold walleye shallow at times.  Shallow walleye are often spooked from the presence of the boat early in the year.  Just my own observations, but it seems like when the water is still cool, less than sixty degrees… fish spook from the boat much more.  When the water warms up and the fish’s metabolism ramps up, the fish will become much less boat shy.  Early in the year, it is often important to long line where the presentation is far behind the boat or to cast because fish often won’t hold right below the boat in shallow water.  This is where swimming jigs can be deadly.

2. Slow Swim It & Fine Tune It

There are many ways to fish a jig and the versatility of a jig is what makes them so effective all year long.  However, for shallow fish that are bumping off the boat, a slow swim is often simply deadly.  With this jig swim technique, you don’t have to make steady bottom contact.  You don’t have to snap the jig or pop the jig between making bottom contact.  The technique is more so just picking the right weight jig so that it glides along the bottom but doesn’t touch the bottom. Just a slow reel or slow drag behind the boat. This presentation is especially deadly around emerging vegetation. If you are fishing through eight feet of water, for example, and there are scattered weeds coming two to three feet off the bottom, simply cast and reel a jig that swims about four feet down.  Fine-tuning this presentation often means finding the lightest jig you can swim at a moderately slow speed while finding fish sometimes means using a heavier jig and simply reeling faster to eliminate water and contact fish. 

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Try Plastics

Obviously, you can tip a jig with a minnow or a half crawler.  You can also use soft plastics like a paddle tail or fluke.  Hair and marabou jigs are also extremely effective, especially early in the season.  Not to say that you can’t mix in some snaps and pops with the jig to clean off vegetation or trigger a strike, but so often on so many days, a simple slow reel or drag is deadly.    

4. Keep the Jig Off of the Bottom

I believe that the effectiveness of swimming jigs in the spring comes from the simple fact that you can fish extremely slow yet keep the jig up out of the bottom. Swimming a jig off the bottom and not maintaining bottom contact or finding bottom is difficult for some anglers as many anglers have been taught that jigs must be finding bottom to catch fish.  Making bottom contact can be the answer at times but here is something to consider:  in shallow water early in the year, walleye will often cruise or position slightly off bottom to soak in the sunshine. 

You can creep a 1/16th or 1/8th ounce jig behind the boat or on a cast where the presentation just hangs off the bottom.  The jig is near the bottom but not on the bottom.  The presentation is that simple, just cast and reel or drag and long line behind the boat.  

5. Use Monofilament When Swimming Jigs

This presentation also seems to perform much better with monofilament line.  The mono seems to cushion the jig glide and floats through the water causing the jig to lift with a steady pull.  Six-pound monofilament is my all-around favorite line for swimming jigs in shallow water. 

6. Try Rainbows and Chubs For Spring Walleye

In some parts of the country like northern Minnesota, jigs paired with shiners are a confidence bait but large rainbows or small chubs can be deadly because both rainbows and chubs swim pretty hard against the jig.  Figuring out the pattern each day often means figuring out what size and type of minnow the fish are preferring.  Some days, it doesn’t matter.  While other days we see a specific preference for say a large spot tail shiner or a medium-size rainbow. 

7. Hair Jigs Can Be Key For Spring Walleye

hair jigs for spring walleye
Hair jigs like the Northland Deep V Hair Jig are deadly for swimming slowly through shallow water.  Hair jigs often work better by thinning the hair out.  Pair up with six-pound monofilament so the jig glides and hangs in the water.  Pictured is a Scheels One Limited Spinning Rod in the 7-foot 2 inch Medium Light, a deadly rod action for pitching light jigs in shallow water.

If there is something often overlooked by many walleye anglers, it might be the effectiveness of hair jigs early in the season.  Hair jigs do have a strong following but that following is very regional.  There are many places where anglers refuse to use hair jigs although they are probably one of the deadliest spring presentations for walleye that many anglers don’t use.

The advantage of a hair jig is that bucktail or synthetic hair is much more durable than a minnow and the hair causes the jig to swim and glide very naturally.  The hair pulsates and quivers delicately.  You can use a hair jig many ways and there are times when the fish want the jig snapping and gliding but catching walleye on hair jigs is often as simple as casting and reeling.  The jig might not look like it is doing much in the water when you drag behind the boat or cast and reel, but it sure does catch fish. 

8. Thin Your Hair Jigs

When using hair jigs, remember that most tackle manufacturers tie too much hair on the jig to give the jig better shelf appeal.  I find that most hair jigs work better if you pull about half the strands out to make the hair thinner.  The thinner hair dressings seem to have a much better action.  A phenomenal hair jig on the market right now is the Northland Deep-Vee Hair Jig.  Also, make sure that the hair is hanging straight behind the jig.  If the hair is twisted or crossing the hook, it won’t pulsate or swim correctly.

9. Knot Placement Matters

Knot placement is crucial when swimming jigs.  You can use an improved cinch or Palomar knot if the knot is perfectly centered so the jig swims straight.  I find that a loop knot also works well as the jig will always be balanced and straight as it swims. 

10. Find Warm Water

Spring Walleye Tips Jason Mitchell
Swimming jigs through shallow water is a deadly do-nothing approach that is simple and catches fish.  Don’t worry about making heavy bottom contact, simply cast and reel or drag so that the jig swims above the bottom.  This approach is deadly over emerging weeds or when rocks and boulders have slime and algae that fouls up hooks.

Swimming jigs in the spring is something I am extremely confident with.  It could be as simple as making a long cast behind the boat with a 1/16th ounce jig and dragging the jig along eight feet of water or casting a 1/8th or ¼ ounce jig and swimming the jig over a shallow sandbar or rock reef.  Use your temperature gauge to find the pockets of warmer water and slowly swim a jig.  Chances are, there are going to be some walleye waiting for you.


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