Whether imitation or real, worms work
for catching walleye in open water
They wiggle; they squiggle; they’re soft and smell funny. They’re worms. And all that holds true whether they are modern-day fake baits or the real deal.
The best thing about worms? They work wonders when it comes to catching walleye in open water. But not all worms are created equal. Not even the live ones.
Dive Right In
What is it about worms that work so well for catching walleye? Well, you don’t have to dive too deeply in thought to figure it out. Like all fish, walleye are opportunistic feeders. In other words, they’ll eat whatever passes by when they are in the mood to eat.
What about all those minnows and bugs walleyes feasting on all summer long, you ask? Well, yeah, they are still feeding on those, too. But the cool thing about worms is you can easily change their appearance by adding a little bling to your rig, or even just doubling them up or nipping them in half. And you can fish them fast, slow, and all speeds in between. To boot, the fish like the way they taste.
You’d be hard pressed not to find live night crawlers in my boat anytime I’m on the water. But lethargic, lifeless crawlers won’t cut it. In fact, dying worms skewered onto a hook will repel fish rather than entice them to taking a bite.
Crawlers must be kept cool and moist… not wet. When purchased, most night crawlers are packed in rich, black dirt. They should be kept in this natural mixture for long term storage, say, over a period of months, as they get nourishment from it. And they need to be kept cool; somewhere in the mid-40 degree mark is about right. For shorter term use, however, a pre-mixed worm bedding is ideal. Best if it comes pre-moistened with just the right amount of water already added. Night crawlers don’t do well if their surroundings are too clammy. Keep their bedding moist, not wet.
When bringing along worms aboard my Lund for the day, I keep them in an insulated container. A foam liner does two things, actually: It keeps the temperature inside the container constant and cool, and acts as a shock absorber during travel in my vehicle and boat. The latter of the two is often overlooked by anglers. Worms, no matter the type, will perish quickly if jostled around too much.
And when onboard, I keep my night crawlers in a cooler rather than adding ice to the container itself. As the ice melts it will saturate the bedding and eventually kill the critters.
Real VS imitation
Whether I use live crawlers or softbaits that imitate the real thing is up to the fish. And knowing when to use one over the other comes from many years of trial and error while on the water.
Seeing as I have confidence equally in live and fake baits, I rarely start using one over another. Instead, I base my choice on the environment of the waterway I’m fishing, my technique, as well the other species of fish that reside in it.
Take, for example, when perch are present and pecking away at my live crawlers on a crawler harness, nipping away at the meat until it’s completely ripped from the hook. This is when I’ll change up and use Gulp! Night Crawlers instead of live ones. Gulp! is soft, yet tough enough that small fish can’t tear it apart before walleyes get a chance to take a poke at it. And Gulp! expels scent that predator fish love.
When casting and jigging, on the other hand, I’ll often start out with softbaits as they stay on the hook better when being ripped through structure such as weeds, wood and rock. Berkley’s 4-inch PowerBait worm, for example, as well their Jigworm are two of my go-to baits when walleyes are in vegetation. I skewer them onto a 1/8- to 1/4-ounce Metallic Eye-Ball Jigs as this particular model has a BarbWire worm and grub barb on it that holds the bait in place, snug to the head.
As I mentioned, worms work wonders on walleyes that are focused in on eating other forage. After all, rarely do fish feed on worms, anyway, because they don’t live in water. They are a natural forage for fish, however, as a heavy rain will wash worms into the drink.
A spinner blade above a night crawlers, such as on a crawler harness, give off the flash and vibration that attracts walleyes. Anytime I’m pulling harnesses, whether high in the water column behind Church Tackle in-line planer boards, or, near bottom behind bottom-bouncers, I’ll rig a night crawler onto a Northland Baitfish Spinner Harness. The blade on this rig has life-like images of minnows and small fishes imprinted on them and look like the real thing.
If walleyes are feeding on insects, such as mayfly nymphs, I’ll use smaller blades and only half a worm on a single hook spinner rig such as Crawler Hauler Speed Spinner. Walleyes are more likely to take a bite at my bait if it’s been shrunk down when they are feasting on bugs.
Worms, too, imitate the small lampreys that walleyes often eat during the midsummer period. In rivers for example, I’ll just nip the nose of a night crawler onto a razor sharp Diichi single hook without any spinner ahead of it. If the water’s dirt and I feel a little color’s needed to attract attention, I’ll slip one to three small brightly colored beads ahead of the hook. Just pinch a couple split-shot a few feet above the hook, or tie up a slip-sinker rig and hang on.
The only problem I know of when it comes to using worms, whether live or imitation, is the endless ways in which to rig them for the fishing situation at hand. Above were only a mere few, just to get you thinking. When it comes to using worms, let your imagination run wild.
Just remember to keep your live ones lively, and use softbaits that smell like the real thing. Do so and you’ll catch fish on them all summer long, I promise. After all, the best thing about worms is they work wonders when it comes to hoodwinking walleye in open water.
Mark Martin is a touring walleye tournament professional and instructor with the Fishing Vacations/Schools, who lives in southwestern corner of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Check out his website at markmartins.net for more information.n