Lake Erie Jigging
Written by Jerome Dorlack/Corey Miller - Educated Angler Field Staff   
Saturday, 31 March 2007 16:40

Every March as the ice breaks on Lake Erie and begins to move eastward taken by the natural lake current, a species of fish begins to make an opposite westward movement; Sander vitreus, or more commonly known as the Walleye.  They begin to gather in the Huron Basin late in the fall and are thought to “bulk up” on the generous supply of shad present in these waters at that time of year.  This large population then continues to move westward over the winter months and settles from the Erie Islands to West Sister by early February where they are believed to winter.  When triggered by longer days and warmer temperatures they begin their final move westward.  By late March, the majority of the large females will begin to stage on the east side of the reef complex located between Rattlesnake Island and Niagara Reef.  Another population of walleye will move even further westward to stage at the mouth of the Maumee River, and others will move to the mouth of the Sandusky River. 

Once the water temp moves into the high 30°’s, the females will begin to move shallow, followed by the males not long after.  On the reef complex, they begin to push up from the deep water and onto the top of the reefs, where the water warms faster.  In the rivers, they start the push up, and in the mouths, such as the Maumee River, a large population will move onto the humps and bumps at the river basin.  You can also locate fish directly off shore, as shallow as 8 feet of water when the conditions are correct.  The Walleye will spawn throughout the month of April when water temperatures are between 40 and 55° F.  It is during the spawn when jigging and snapping blade baits are most effective.

During the spring on Lake Erie, we prefer to use a 6’ medium action 1 piece rod with a fast tip, these rods have enough backbone to set the hook and create a solid hookup while maintaining enough sensitivity to feel the lure work and the light bites of the fish.  We spool our reels up with 8 lbs. Fireline, this no stretch line makes it easier for us to feel for bottom contact and achieve solid hookups.  We use a 24” 8 lbs. fluorocarbon leader attached by a small barrel swivel.  If we are fishing with jigs, we tie the leader directly to the jig with a loop knot, if fishing with blade baits we tie the leader to a small duolock snap and attach it to the lure to maximize lure movement and prevent fouling.

Blade Baits
Blade baits are our go-to bait during the spring for spawning walleye, the erratic movement and vibration of the bait drives the aggressive fish to annihilate the lure.   These types of lures come in a variety of brands, colors, and sizes; we generally work a 3/8 ounce Vibe”E”.  The best colors in this brand for us are the gold tiger and the silver and blue patterns (see figures 1.1 and 1.2).

Figure 1.1
Figure 1.2

The size of the bait can vary from day to day or even hour to hour on Lake Erie.  The lure should be heavy enough so that it can be cast upwind and still keep constant contact with the bottom during the retrieve.  Two methods can be used with this type of lure, either casting or vertical jigging.  Casting the lure seems to be a more effective way to fill coolers in our boat.  After making the cast, close the bail to minimize slack line as the lure drops to the bottom.  Make “snaps” of the rod by starting with the rod parallel to the water, raise the rod about two to three feet fast enough to feel the lure vibrate.  On the drop of the snap, drop it slow enough to where there is no slack in the line.  If the lure is dropped too fast, it will tangle the lure with the line often and lay on its side on the bottom.  When done properly, with the line tight, the lure will sit in an upright position on the bottom; make sure the lure hits the bottom on every snap and allow it to pause on the bottom.  Most of the strikes will occur on the drop of the lure or while resting on the bottom.  Fishing the upwind side of the boat is an advantage during this time of year while casting.  Also be very careful as the fish are usually in shallow water from 6 to 14 feet of water and can spook easily, even the shadow of the boat will scatter the fish.  Jigging a blade bait applies the same technique as casting, but the lure is just vertically snapped over the side of the boat. 

Using jigs is another very popular spring method for fishing the reef complex of Lake Erie.  Different types of jigs are used on Erie during the beginning months of the season, but three types of jig presentations are most common:

  • Regular fireball lead head jig with a large emerald shiner
  • Whistler jig with twister tail or Berkley Gulp
  • Buck tail hair jig with a large emerald shiner. 

Figure 1.3
It’s safe to say that the hair jig is the most popular and most commonly used on most boats.  Generally a 1/2 ounce jig will be plenty enough weight to get bottom contact, but ¾ (Figure 1.3) and1 ounce jigs have been needed when it gets rough.  We also prefer to attach a small trailer treble hook, or “stinger hook” to these setups, because of their larger size.  The stinger hook is either left unattached and hangs freely, or it is attached near the tail of the minnow.  Purple seems to be the most popular color, followed by chartreuse and blue.  The majority of the time with these jigs, we will just vertical jig over the side of the boat, but sometimes we will flip the jig out away from the boat and work it back as well.  Hopping the bait 6-18 inches off the bottom is not uncommon.  The same methods apply with the jigs as with the blade baits, always make bottom contact and let the jig fall on a tight line as most of these aggressive walleye will hit on the drop. 

In conclusion, jigging hair jigs and ripping blade baits can be an extremely effective presentation on the western basin of Lake Erie during the walleye spawning period.  While some patience may be required at first to understand and develop the “touch” required, in no time at all one can be filling coolers and hosting fish fry’s (Figure 1.4).


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