Needless to say, your walleye tackle can make a big difference when trying to ferret out wily ‘eyes. Sure, you can catch walleye on most any old rig, but your chances go up big time with the right equipment. You’ll find a great chart at the bottom of this article summarizing the best combinations of bait, rod, reel and line.
It’s very important to achieve proper balance between the weight of your walleye lure or bait with the correct line recommended for your rod and reel. A rod designed for 6 pound test shouldn’t be used with the reel designed for 10 or 20 pound line. This combination results in too much weight near the handle and your wrist action will suffer on casting.
Okay, there are all kinds of rods (a.k.a.blanks) out there and choosing the right one can be a tough decision. It all depends on the situation. Are you fishing for walleye in deep water or shallow, current or calm, trolling or jigging, etc.? Let’s first consider rod construction. Ideally, graphite is the best material for a walleye rod because it is particularly sensitive to the light vibration of a tentative bite.
The length of the rod depends on the type of water your fishing and the bait you’re using. First, a longer rod gives you greater casting distance/less accuracy and a shorter rod will be more accurate, but won’t cast as far. So, for instance, if you’re fishing with crankbaits in deep water, the longer rod will allow you to cast far enough that your bait will reach its maximum diving depth.
A one-piece rod is often recommended because it is stronger and more sensitive. However, if space is an issue, a two-piece rod is easier to transport. The better two-piece rod connections (ferrules) are now made of graphite rather than metal, keeping the rod light and flexible.
The handle is also a factor in choosing a rod. Cork is often preferred because it’s lightweight, comfortable in the hand and has a better “feel”. Foam handles are fine for rods that spend their time sitting in holders because they are more durable and weight and sensitivity aren’t considerations. Some folks prefer the split handle grips, like the one shown on the left. The exposed blank lightens the weight of the rod and can increase sensitivity, though there’s a lot of debate as to how much advantage the split handle provides. Everyone has their own preference.
Rod Action vs Power
Next, and most important, there are two main characteristics when describing a rod, “action” and “power”. A rod’s action refers to where it bends under a load. There are different grades of action, from Fast to Medium or Slow, with more combinations between (ultra-fast, medium-fast, etc).
A fast action rod will bend closer to its tip, mainly in the upper-third. A medium action rod will bend mostly in the top half of the blank and a slow action rod will bow evenly along its entire length. The degree of action has a bearing on the distance and accuracy of your cast and the action of your bait. Your cast won’t get quite the distance with a faster action rod, but it will be more accurate. You’ll get a longer, less accurate cast with a slower action rod. The same holds true for bait action. Fast action rods give greater bait action and slower action less.
You can also think of action in terms of sensitivity: the faster the rod action, the more sensitive the tip and the more powerful the hookset. Walleyes are light biters, so you generally want a faster action rod to feel when they’re taking the bait and to fully set the hook.
Power refers to a blank’s resistance to bending under load. Rod power is rated as Ultra-Light, Light, Medium, Medium Heavy, Heavy, etc. You could also think of this as the heavier the rod, the less it will bend. This can be handy if you need to pull your catch through thick weeds. But generally, you wouldn’t want to fish for blue gill with a heavy rod because you’d barely feel it on the line, not much fun in that. And on the other hand, you don’t want to latch onto a big walleye with an ultra-light power rod because, unless you’re an experienced angler with lots of finesse, the stress could break it.
When fishing shallow waters, shorter, fast action, light power spinning rods in the five to 5 1/2 to 6 foot range are good for the lighter 1/16 to 3/8 ounce jigs. If you are trolling heavier crankbaits in deeper waters, a medium-fast action, medium-heavy power bait casting rod of 7 to 8 feet will match the more rigorous conditions. If you are going the live bait rigging route, a 6 to 7ft light power, fast action, medium power spinning rod is a good choice. But, rod selection also comes down to personal preference and experience, so take these suggestions with a grain of salt and do your homework before making a purchase. In the end, you may well have 3 or four rod/reel configurations, each to match a specific situation.
The spinning reel is a key component in your rod/reel/line combination. If you want to use it for jigging, a spool capacity of 125 yards should work just fine. Gear ratio is also an important factor. Again, when jigging, a higher ratio works well for landing fish relatively close to the boat. In this case a 4:1 or 5:1 ratio fits the bill. Don’t forget the drag. It should have a very smooth action that allows for fine adjustment. Also, note how many ball bearings it offers. Bearings insure smooth action, so in the case of a quality walleye reel, the more the better.
A baitcasting reel is generally employed when trolling with higher test line and heavier lures for bigger fish. They have larger capacity spools and often include a line counter to let you know how much line is out. The baitcasting reel also often has a lower gear ratio for the extra strength necessary to land the big ones.
Monofilament is the classic all-purpose fishing line. It’s been around forever, is reasonably strong and relatively invisible to fish. It’s also inexpensive and easy to tie. But it does have its drawbacks, including a tendency to get tangled up and perhaps a bit too much “stretch”, making it less sensitive to light bites.
Braided nylon line is much more sensitive to those tentative walleye bites. It’s exceptionally strong and doesn’t have the monofilament’s “memory”, so there is no twisting or tangling. It also has very little stretch, so when paired with the right rod, setting the hook is quick and strong. However, the braided line’s narrow diameter makes it more susceptible to abrasion, making it weaker and it’s easier to see underwater.
Fluorocarbon line is relatively new, so the jury is still out. Its biggest selling point is its invisibility. Considering the walleye’s exceptional eyesight in dark water, a visible line can serve as warning that something’s not right, so in those cases this line can work to the angler’s advantage.
Finally, lead core line is often the line of choice for deep water fishing. As the name suggests, it has an inner core of lead wire surrounded by a Dacron coat. The extra weight allows crankbaits to easily reach the depths where walleyes are holding.
Add It All Up…
This handy chart, courtesy of New York State’s Dept of Environmental Conservation, can help you choose the right gear for the right situation. (phones please view in landscape mode)
|Crank Baits||6 1/2 to 7 1/2 foot medium or medium heavy action||Baitcasting||10 to 12 pound Monofilament or Fluorocarbon|
|Blade Baits||6 to 7 1/2 foot medium heavy action||Spinning or Baitcasting||10 to 12 pound Monofilament, Fluorocarbon or Braid|
|Jigging||6 to 7 1/2 foot medium action||Spinning||6 to 10 pound Monofilament, Fluorocarbon or Braid|
|Stick Baits||6 to 7 foot medium action||Spinning||8 to 10 pound Monofilament or Fluorocarbon|
|Live Bait Rigs||6 to 7 foot medium action||Spinning||6 to 12 pound Monofilament, Fluorocarbon or Braid|
|Lead Core Trolling||7 1/2 to 9 foot medium heavy action||Baitcasting||Lead core with fluorocarbon leader|
|Trolling||7 to 9 foot medium heavy action||Baitcasting||10 to 12 pound Monofilament or Fluorocarbon|