The Best Walleye Lures of 2018 - Wilderness North

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The Best Walleye Lures of 2018

Dig through the record books and you might notice that most of the biggest walleyes ever caught fell in spring, particularly the early part right after ice out. The catch, however, is that while big pre-spawn fish chew at this time of the year, getting these lethargic giants to open their mouths is not always easy.

This is why guides and tournament anglers like myself literally hit the water with hundreds of lures in hundreds of colors in spring, and we’re constantly swapping and tinkering to figure out what’s going to make the trophies take a shot at the lure.
Mother Nature also makes the spring game challenging. Whether you’re fishing from shore or on a boat, on a river or massive lake, weather conditions this time of year can flip-flop hourly. Clear water might turn muddy as the wind picks up. The temperature in the shallows may rise or dip a degree or two throughout the day. All of these subtle factors can trigger a bite, or kill the one that was already triggered. The key to success is being ready to adapt to the conditions, and doing so means carrying a variety of lures. Though the choices are almost innumerable, here are 20 baits I can say I rely on more than any others throughout the spring walleye season. If you’re on the hunt for that pre-spawn goliath, you should rely on these baits, too.

1) Reef Runner 800

This lure has been wrecking havoc on monster spring walleyes across the country for more than 20 years. The number of colors and local baitfish imitations the company produces on this proven bait certainly speaks to its relevance and effectiveness. Aside from nearly 400 color options to match any water conditions or forage and it’s ability to dive 30 feet unassisted, the drop-style tail helps the bait “hunt” by altering its action randomly, which triggers bites on the troll from the most lethargic spring ‘eyes. The unique body design also allows the 800 to troll effectively at speeds as slow as .8mph to as fast as 2.5mph, making it exceptionally versatile. To get the maximum depth and perfect tracking, just make sure you take the time to tune a fresh 800 before sending it down.

2) Rapala Shad Rap

The Shad Rap has a subtle, wobbling action thanks in part to its balsa wood body, and it seems to draw strikes when other baits are just washing paint. Whether it’s being cranked along a rocky river bottom or trolled through suspended fish on a huge body of still water, the Shad Rap’s versatility delivers, and you’d be hard pressed to find a walleye angler anywhere in the country without a few in his stash. This is especially true considering these lures are available in a wide range of sizes, allowing you to tailor them to any depth or current speed.

3) Rapala Husky Jerk

Believe it or not, I was one of the first anglers to acquire a few Husky Jerk prototypes before they were available to the public. And they were so effective that I felt like I was cheating. What sets the Husky Jerk apart is its ability to truly suspend at depth. Lots of other lure manufacturers make that claim of their products, but trust me, the vast majority actually rise slowly instead of staying put like the Husky. Because of this lure’s exceptional suspension ability, it dominates in water that’s less than 50 degrees, as it will stay in the zone of lazy cold-water walleyes longer than similar baits until a big girl finally decides to pounce. Another benefit of the Husky Jerk is that in all my years using them, every one has run true right out of the box.

4) Smithwick Deep Suspending Rattlin’ Rogue

The Rogue may be an oldie, but it’s still on tackle shop shelves for a reason. While some walleye anglers may have forgotten about this classic, the smart ones haven’t, because it’s a stone-cold killer in ice-cold water. Thanks to its extra-loud rattle, it also puts up loads of big fish in dingy water. The two downsides to this bait are that they often need regular re-tuning to run true, and they don’t dive as deep as other lures. Fifteen feet is about the max unassisted, however, when spawning females slide shallow in spring, you often don’t need to get down any deeper anyway.
5) Reef Runner Ripstick

Without question, this lure has caught me more double-digit walleyes than any other. Its unique V-shaped lip allows it to dive nearly twice as deep as other stickbaits in its class. The Ripstick is also just as effective when cast as it is trolled, and by adding just slightly larger hooks than what come standard, you can get this bait to suspend very well. While it has the same body as Reef Runner’s 800 Series deep diver, this shallow-running model with a max unassisted diving depth of 12 feet has a much more subtle action that excels in cooler waters. It also trolls beautifully at super-slow speeds, even when run on leadcore or paired with a snap weight.

6) Bandit Walleye Deep

A relative newcomer to the walleye world, this offering from a brand most synonymous with bass lures has already proven itself very effective during the early spring season when the water is still chilly. It’s loud rattles produce a unique tone that’s unmatched by similar stickbaits, making it a must-have in dirty water. I’ve noticed that it doesn’t have quite as good an action when pulled at low speeds, however, if you’re bumping the throttle a bit, these lures have terrific action. As a side note, many guides and tournament anglers prefer to swap out the hooks that come stock on this lure with premium #4 trebles.
7) Original Rapala Floating Minnow

If you call yourself a fisherman of any kind, this lure needs no introduction. Rapala’s original floater is arguably one of the most legendary, versatile, and productive lures ever made. Walleye anglers use them for everything from hand lining, to flat-line trolling, to bouncing 3-way rigs along the bottom, and they continue to score when more modern baits blank. The only thing that has changed about this rattle-free, balsa wood killer since it hit the market almost a century ago is that it is now available in dozens of colors to match every walleye food and water condition you might encounter.
8) Smithwick Perfect 10 Rogue

The Perfect Ten may have originally been designed as a jerkbait for smallmouths and largemouths, but these days you’ll find them in myriad walleye colors and patterns. That’s because while the lure is technically classed as a shallow diver, its max unassisted diving depth of 10 feet—which it will reach incredibly fast—means it’s getting down a bit deeper than similar baits that often struggle to hit 8 feet. Whether you cast it or pull it behind a weight on the troll, the Perfect 10’s unique tungsten rattle has a pitch and tone that cold-water walleyes can’t seem to resist.

9) Storm Deep Jr. ThunderStick

The Deep Jr. Thunderstick has been catching walleyes all across the country in a variety of condition for decades. The only reason it’s not a front-runner in the stickbait category is because many see it as a lure best used in certain situations, namely flat-line trolling in shallow water when finesse counts. This lure only measures 3 ½ inches, making it very compact and unobtrusive. The beauty, however, is that it will get down between 6 and 15 feet quickly without needing to pay out a football field’s length of line. When the water is clean, the less hardware you need to hit depth the better, and while you may not pull this bait on every trip, there will come a time and place when it will dominate.

10) Silver Streak Spinner Harness

Without question, it’s hard to pull a more effective walleye lure than a spinner and crawler harness combo. While there are lots of spinner rigs available Silver Streaks has always been my go-to. Versatility is key with a spinner rig, as different delivery options—from leadcore, to snap weights, to in-line weights—allow you to keep your night crawler twirling through any part of the water column the fish are holding. Blade style, size, and shape preferences vary from region to region, as do the seemingly countless colors choices. But in my opinion, it’s hard to go wrong with a size 6 Colorado blade in classic silver or gold.

11) Curly-Tail Grub

It doesn’t get much simpler than a curly-tail grub on a jighead for hooking heavy walleyes—or just about any other fish for that matter. While they won’t do much good on the troll, when casting around shallow reefs or probing the bottom on light tackle in river eddies, curly-tails are a must. They’re also relatively inexpensive, which is critical considering you’ll lose a lot to snags. For walleyes, 2-to 4-inch grubs are most popular, but as for color and brand, take your pick; hundreds of companies make classic curly-tails and while black, white, and chartreuse are top producers, you’re hometown ‘eyes might dig a funky mix of pink and brown poured by a local basement soft-plastic maker.

12) Silver Streak Blade Bait

Even the laziest walleyes in cold spring water seem to be driven insane by the rapid vibrations given off by a Silver Streak Blade Bait many believe the reason they hook so many fish when jigged is that the strong vibration can be felt from a distance, and the fish home right in. In stained to downright dirty water, these baits can be straight-up magic. Available in plated and UV colors, these lures have a high landing percentage thanks to their shape and a double set of treble hooks. When dropping a Blade Bait, be sure to use a small snap and short, stiff fluorocarbon leader with a swivel attaching it to your main line to help reduce fouling.

13) Reef Runner Cicada

With a willow-shaped blade, the body of the Cicada has different curves than other blade baits, and it makes a big difference. Unlike similar lures that require an aggressive snap of the rod tip to put out maximum vibration, the Cicada sends out strong vibes with a less heavy-handed presentation. In fact, many anglers have a tendency to overwork a Cicada, when a gentler lift is all it takes. Because this lure can be worked with more finesse, it’s a better choice in cleaner water. Always use a snap to connect this lure to your main line or leader, as the sharp blade can actually cut your line if you tie direct.

14) Hair Jig

A lead head and some natural bucktail is one of the oldest (and most proven) combinations in angling, and yes, a simple hair jig works wonders on giant walleyes. While some of the more popular walleye hair jigs are made out a synthetic material, don’t overlook tried-and-true natural bucktail in colors like black, white, or chartreuse. Hair is so effective because it flares and pulses even at rest. In cold water, this is highly useful, because it means you can do minimal rod work for a slow presentation, but the lure is still “fishing.” Hair, be it natural or synthetic, also holds scents well, and you can tip these jigs with countless styles of trailer to alter the weight, vibration, and visual appeal.

15) Ring Worm

While several lure companies produce versions of what are collectively known as “ring worms,” the common trait among them is a series of thin ribs or “rings” around the body, and short curly tails. The rings on these baits trap air, causing them to release bubbles as they’re hopped or swam. The ribs and the tail also combine to produce more vibration than other soft plastics. Four- to 6-inch ring worms are most popular for walleyes, and they’re usually rigged on a jighead. Veteran river anglers, however, often bite an inch or two off the head to make their ring worms more compact if the fish are snubbing full-size baits.

16) Big Bite Baits Jerk Minnow

Much like a ring worm, this 3.75-inch fork-tail minnow excels when fishing in current. While this soft-plastic puts out plenty of vibration thanks to its slender tail, I’ve found that it produces more bites in clean water than stained or dirty water. I think that’s because its action is fairly subtle, helping this bait to mimic natural forage movement instead of just working as a reaction bait. In clean water where walleyes have lots of look time, the Jerk Minnow’s subtle swagger can trip a discerning trigger. These lures can be rigged on a jighead, but don’t overlook a traditional bass style drop-shot rig if you’re marking walleyes hovering just off the bottom.
17) Rapala Jigging Rap

While originally designed for ice fishing, the Jigging Rap has become a not-so-secret open-water destroyer. This lure swims in circles when jigged with controlled slack, and this action drives walleyes bonkers, particularly in chilly early-season water. Best worked as perfectly vertical as possible, the only modification you should make for using a Jigging Rap in open water is swapping out the stock center treble for a treble one or two sizes larger. While this lure crushes fish by itself, many anglers like to tip the center treble hook with a minnow head for added scent appeal.

18) Swedish Pimple

This Swedish Pimple is another legendary walleye lure that ultimately made its mark on the ice. But don’t rule this hardwater producer out on open water, either. Unlike other ice jigs, Pimples are available in sizes large enough to be fished in current and in very deep water. The signature plastic fluorescent “flapper” on the lure’s split ring is what many anglers swear triggers the bite when fished slowly in clear water. While a Swedish Pimple can be deadly solo, most anglers tip these metals with several small minnows or a single large minnow head.

19) Big Bite Baits Suicide Shad

This 4-inch soft-plastic swimbait puts off intense vibration thanks to the super-thin section between the body and boot tail. In dirty water, the Suicide Shad can be downright unstoppable, yet the wider profile and ability to maintain stellar action at slower retrieve speeds make it equally effective in clear water. In cold water fall rate is key, and when the water is clear on top of being frosty, I often bite an inch off the front of this bait before rigging it on a jighead. Doing so makes the bait a more bite-sized morsel, but it will still maintain a slow fall rate thanks to that wide boot tail.

20) Plain Round Jighead

While most people think of a jighead as part of a lure rather than a lure itself, consider that these simple weighted hooks have probably caught more walleyes than any other lure on this list. The caveat, of course, is that they have to be paired with a natural bait. Pin a live shiner, crawler, or leech on a jighead, and suddenly you’ve got the perfect delivery system that perks up a live bait bouncing across the bottom. There are also countless color options to match any conditions. The jig-and-bait combo is just as effective for anglers standing on a riverbank as it is for boat guys in the middle of a Great Lake. My best piece of advice for this simple presentation is to make sure there’s plenty of gap between the hook point and your bait of choice after it’s pinned. If that gap is too small, and I promise you’ll miss lots of fish.

Article Credit: Ross Robertson Field and Stream Magazine.

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