Live bait certainly has its place in walleye fishing. But when fall rolls around, and the big walleye start packing on the pounds for winter, drastic plastic can be an incredible option. Drastic plastic pretty well describes any soft rubber bait that’s a bit different from what a walleye would normally see. It could be a major change in colour, size or shape of the plastic , and often it’s all three. We are not talking about a three inch twister here. These baits are from 4 to 7 inches. Big, soft plastics have the feel, look and often the smell of something good for walleye to eat. Here’s a run down on some of the types of drastic plastic baits that big walleye love in the fall
Lizards? Yes, the rubber approximation of a salamander or newt that are normally associated with large-mouth bass are equally as potent for walleye. Whether the fish think the lizard is actually a mudpuppy, or some other aquatic amphibian, is debatable. Odds are that the lizard looks so different to the walleye’s normal fare it simply triggers a feeding response. All the wiggle from those arms and that tail provides a lot of vibration in the water, and there’s significant profile there as well. The first time I saw a lizard used to catch walleye was on Northwestern Ontario’s Rainy River, several years ago. The angler tossing the lizard was Minnesota fishing legend Al Lindner, and he was using a 4 inch rubber lizard on a heavy rattle jig to attract more bites in the murky water.
When you fish a lizard for walleye, the easiest way to rig the creature is on a half ounce jig head. Just thread the hook through the nose and out the top of the lizards head. A 4 inch lizard is the best all around size for walleye, but you can go up to a 7 inch if you are feeling bold. On longer lizards, however, bite the head off (Ozzy Osbourne style) and just use the body, as too much rubber behind the hook will cause short strikes. Lizards come in a wide variety of colours, but for walleye; green, red shad, orange, and pumpkin seed have all proven to be good fish catchers. My favourite lizard colours for walleye are the traditional bass shades of blue and purple.
Rubber worms have been around for a long, long time. In fact, I remember seeing rigged rubber nightcrawlers on walleye spinners when I was a kid. Where rubber worms are common in the bass world, they’ve been slow to catch on among the walleye fraternity. That is starting to change, however, as Berkley Gulp and other companies are creating very potent worm copies.
The best technique for fall walleye is to drag a plastic worm slowly along the tops of reefs and over the edges of a drop off. Walleye initially take rubber worms more gingerly than they do live worms, but they usually suck the whole thing in without any hesitation. I like to put them on a Shiner style jig head that features a large hook. The worm is threaded on and slowly dragged along the bottom. When Lindy rigging with a slip sinker, a black or brown floating worm may be the perfect bait as it will suspend just off the bottom. If you do rig with a rubber worm, you may have to strike sooner than you would with a live crawler. That being said, I’ve played around a fair bit with rubber worms on walleye reefs and have had fish hold on to them for better than a minute. Mostly, a natural looking rubber worm is best, but anglers have been using bright pink, green, and even white 6 inch worms as a replacement for nightcrawlers on traditional spinner rigs.
This is a no brainer. If you have doubts about the effectiveness of big plastic baits, start your experiment with a 4 inch plastic jerk shad or minnow bait . The Shad family of plastics includes all types of minnow imitating baits that includes drop shot minnows and jerk shads. These are devastating on walleye. The standard bearer of the shad family was the legendary Vibrotail and later the Sassy Shad. Both had the waggle tail and minnow shaped body that became the basis for all other shad. These days, the Power Shad, Shimmy Shad, and various realistic shads from Storm have been flying off the shelves. Hook the shad on a neutral coloured ball head jig and drop it to the bottom. Then pop it softly every so often as you would a jig and minnow. You can also swim a shad over reefs and windy points by slowly working it back with soft sweeps of your rod. Impart an undulating action in the shad without allowing it to touch bottom.
The best shad colours for walleye generally run along the natural end of things. Silver, white, smoke, black, red, and brown shads will cover most situations. There are also an increasing number of detailed holographic shads on the market that look so real that you have to feel bad for the fish. As long as live bait is sold in Ontario, plastics will never completely replace the real deal. But modern plastic baits are effective and getting better ever year. Make fall of 2014 the season you break out the drastic plastic.