For those walleye fishing enthusiasts who can’t get enough jig fishing action, read on because November is second only to April when it comes to red-hot action. Everyone and his brother knows that the Detroit River is the place to be, and April is the month to plan a visit for those who love to catch walleye on jigs. No arguments; the Detroit River is a world-class destination for anyone who loves to catch them with the rod in their hand.
Believe it or not, for as good as April is in the “D,” November is a very close second. The biggest difference is that you won’t wait in line to launch a boat in November!
Actually, there are a few subtle differences between jigging in April and jigging in November. The jigging “cadence” or rhythm is something that walleye anglers need to pay very close attention to. The key is to understand how “cadence” changes as conditions change. Largely, this is driven by water temperature. The colder the water, the more subtle or slow the jigging cadence must be. The warmer the water, the more jigging cadence can be faster or more aggressive.
In April, especially early in April, water temperatures are largely in the low 40s, and the bite reflects that. It usually takes a slow jigging stroke to consistently catch walleye in that early April time frame. At Fishing 411, the jigging cadence we find most effective is something we call “tight line jigging,” as the jig is raised and lowered slowly enough that no slack ever occurs in the line. Concentrate on keeping the jig within six or eight inches of the bottom, which keeps the jig in the strike zone.
Ironically, in the fall of the year, November starts with the water temperatures in the mid to upper 50s and the fish are usually charged up and snapping. An aggressive jigging stroke early in November can be the best way to a quick limit. We call this faster and more aggressive jigging cadence “slack line jigging” because the jig is aggressively popped up off the bottom and allowed to sink on a slack line back to the bottom. In this case, the jig may be popped up off the bottom as far as a foot or more and allowed to sink quickly on slack line until it crashes the bottom.
As November wears on, the water temperature drops and by late November, the water temperature is at that low to mid-40s range experienced in early April. Not surprisingly, when the water gets cold, the fish become slightly more lethargic and catching them requires a more subtle and slower-moving jigging cadence.
More on Jigging Cadence
Understanding when to use “tight line” and “slack line” jigging cadences is a big part of putting the pieces of the river jigging puzzle together. Of course, there are endless variations of both these jig fishing cadences. The important thing is to pay close attention to cadence and experiment as necessary to see what the fish want on any given day.
A good rule of thumb to remember when jigging for river walleye is that in cold water, smaller and more subtle in action, jig/plastic combinations tend to work best. In warmer water jigging situations, larger plastics that have more action can and often do produce better results.
A three-inch split-tail minnow-style plastic is a very good starting point for cold water jigging. In warmer water conditions, a four or even five-inch paddle-tail soft plastic has more action bulk and will likely produce more bites.
Every successful walleye jig fisherman I know carries a wide assortment of lead head jig sizes and a host of different plastics in the three, four and five-inch sizes. The most popular plastics include split-tail minnows, paddle-tail grubs, finesse worms and action or twister-tail grubs. A good assortment of these plastics and plenty of lead head jigs, including 3/8, 1/2, 5/8, 3/4 and one-ounce sizes, are needed to succeed consistently.
The market is getting literally flooded with lead head jig designs. The shape of a lead head jig is typically not as important as how the jig rests in the water and the hook involved. In other words, walleye will likely respond positively to round heads, stand-up heads, darter-style heads and pancake heads. All work, but the best jig choices are baits with a 90-degree line tie and hang perfectly horizontally in the water.
Secondly, the hook featured in that jig is much more important than the head shape. A walleye jig hook needs to be made from thin enough wire that it can easily penetrate with a limited amount of pressure. The hook gap must also be wide enough to accept all the common soft plastic sizes ranging from three to four and including five-inch sizes. It’s also important that the hook is a long shank model that can support soft plastics. Short shank jig hooks are for live bait jigging, and they do a very poor job when teamed up with soft plastics.
How a jig shank is designed can also be a factor to consider. Jigs that feature a lead molded shank with a barbed design tend to hold plastics in place firmly against the head of the jig better than a simple round shank. Also, jig shanks with bent wire or molded plastic keepers are even better at holding soft plastics in place than a barb design simply molded into the shank.
As jig designs have become more sophisticated, many of these features are being implemented, giving consumers a much better jig than the typical ball jig sold at most retailers. You might call this new family of jigs “custom jigs” or perhaps “premium jigs” as they offer a better-performing product.
Does Color Matter?
Jigging is such a slow presentation compared to other means of catching walleye, so that color really does matter. Because fish have the opportunity to scrutinize baits more closely, subtle differences such as color can and do make a difference.
Most guys experiment with color using different plastics rather than changing the jig head color. One approach is having a few different combinations all rigged up and ready to tie on.
I like to rig up two or three different rods and switch colors by switching rods. This is a faster way of experimenting with color than cutting and retying, but of course, it’s way more expensive to have several identical jigging rod setups than simply cutting and retying to experiment with colors.
Some aspects of selecting color are common sense, and some are more intuitive. In clear water, colors that more closely resemble and replicate live bait typically work the best, in our opinion. When the water becomes stained with dirty water runoff or plankton, brighter colors produce better than subtle natural colors. When the water turns downright dirty, the brighter and bigger the plastic, the better.
The intuitive part of experimenting with color is much more difficult to pin down. Being that guy willing to switch colors even when you’re catching fish is something to consider. Who knows, maybe another color will produce even better? Not many guys will think outside the box and strive to improve things when the bite is already producing fish.
A Scent Strategy
Again, because jigging is a fairly slow presentation compared to trolling, subtle keys can and do make a difference in success. Adding scent to a river jigging scenario, is one of those subtle things an angler can do that often pays off big time.
At Fishing 411, it’s no secret that we believe very strongly in the power of scent triggering strikes. While the fishing world is flooded with scent products, we keep it simple using scents made from natural forage species walleye are already used to eating.
On the Detroit River, we use a lot of Pro Cure Super Gel in the Emerald Shiner formula. The logic here is that walleye in the Detroit River encounter emerald shiners constantly. The scent of an emerald shiner has to invoke a positive response when walleye encounter it.
Super Gel is a sticky paste that stays on jigs and soft plastics very well. One application will produce a productive scent stream in the water for about 30-40 minutes.
Super Gel can be added to any brand or style of soft plastics, and a few brands actually come factory-packaged with plastics treated with Super Gel. The Z-Man scented lineup of plastics features Super Gel, and the Wyandotte Worm products are infused with Pro Cure baitfish oils. More plastics will certainly feature these natural scent products as time goes on and anglers discover how deadly effective using natural scents can be.
Summing It Up
If you have never fished the Detroit River in November, you may be surprised just how good this fishery has quietly become. With the abundance of walleye in Lake Erie and nearby Lake St. Clair, more and more walleye seem to be using the Detroit River to gorge on emerald shiners in the fall.
Fish that are focused on eating and eating often are, to my way of thinking, what a good time is all about! Set aside a few days this November to sample the Detroit River’s fall walleye run, and you be the judge.