July 21, 2023
Few presentations have taken the walleye world by storm to the extent that glide baits have. Not to be confused with the jointed swimbaits used for bass, these hard-bodied jigging lures—like the classic Rapala Jigging Rap—have successfully navigated the challenging leap from cold- or frozen-water favorites to warm-water essentials. In recent years, they’ve proven highly effective at converting walleyes in lakes, rivers and reservoirs into fish in the tank.
That said, inducing strikes with glide baits is not without its own learning curve and supporting tackle needs. The presentation tips and recommendations below will help you target walleyes using glide baits throughout the warm-water season.
A NEW WRINKLE
While lures like the Jigging Rap may have earned their keep as hardwater staples fished vertically through a watery cylinder in the ice, most open-water glide bait aficionados present these lures horizontally. They cast and retrieve the baits, typically with a near-constant rhythm of sharp snaps, or they pull them behind the boat, aggressively snapping the lure along the bottom as the boat proceeds under trolling-motor power. Indeed, the only time that I fish a glide bait vertically during the summer or fall is when I observe several fish directly beneath the boat, bathing in the acoustic beam from my Humminbird 2D sonar.
Consider a situation in which you’ve identified a group of walleyes foraging along a mid-lake hump, or a main-channel edge in a river or reservoir. From a stationary position, fire a medium- to long-distance cast beyond those fish. Once the lure hits the water, keep the reel’s spool open so that the glide bait falls vertically to the bottom. Pick up your slack, establish contact with the lure as it rests on the bottom and give the rod tip a sharp upward snap—say from the 10 o’clock to the 12 o’clock position. The lure will pop quickly off the bottom and then almost immediately roll over and plunge erratically back down until it contacts the bottom again.
As the lure falls, resist the temptation to follow it back to the bottom on a tight line. Allowing the lure to fall quickly is key to triggering reaction strikes from warm-water walleyes. We want everything about the glide bait’s action to be quick—very quick—so that walleyes don’t have time to think about color or profile or action. We just want them to identify a potential meal and then kill it.
Repeat this snapping retrieve, picking up any slack line between snaps, all the way back to the boat. Warm-water bites will occur as the lure falls or immediately after it contacts the bottom, as nearby walleyes will often pin the glide bait to the bottom to prevent its escape. When you proceed to the next sharp snap in your jigging rhythm and are met with considerable weight, drive the hook home and enjoy the battle.
The retrieve is similar when pulling glide baits behind the boat with help from your bow-mount trolling motor. Get the boat moving along a productive contour or structural edge at a speed below 1 mph. Make a long cast behind the boat, allow the bait to fall to the bottom, then start snapping with a forward (rather than a purely upward) rod motion. In this presentation, however, you’ll likely have little slack to pick up with your reel between snaps. The boat’s forward motion will remove that slack line while the lure remains at a relatively fixed distance behind the boat.
WHERE AND WHEN
Glide baits are incredibly versatile. There are very few times during the calendar year—and even fewer common walleye habitats—where snapping a glide bait would be a poor choice. In general terms, glide baits shine as mid- to late-season favorites, with peak activity beginning in mid-summer and continuing through the fall.
Recognize, however, that those months cover a staggering range of water temperatures—from as high as the upper 70s or low 80s to as low as the 30s. Anglers must be prepared to adjust their retrieve cadence and aggressiveness accordingly. When waters are at their peak temperature, feel free to snap those lures with reckless abandon. As waters cool in the fall, the most productive lure actions will be less aggressive and more methodical. At any time or water temperature, the key to success is to keep the bait moving. Where will you find success snapping glide baits? Truly, in almost any place that you find walleyes swimming.
The easiest habitats to fish glide baits through are frequently hard-bottom areas with sand or gravel, the top or bottom edges of breaklines and at a reasonable distance away from outside weed edges. Fishing glide baits close to or within weeds is virtually impossible given the array of vegetation-ensnaring hooks that most glide baits feature. Likewise, fishing glide baits within sunken wood or timber, or in rocks or boulders, presents significant challenges associated with getting snagged up and breaking lures off. But, sometimes, the risk of fishing those areas is well worth the reward.
Aggressively snap-jigging glide baits for hours at a time can be a taxing experience without the right rod in hand. Leave stiff rods with extreme sensitivity designed for finesse live-bait or soft-plastic presentations in the locker. Rather, select spinning rods between 6 feet 8 inches and 7 feet 4 inches in length, with medium or medium-light power and fast or moderate-fast action.
The technique-specific Jig-N-Rap rod in St. Croix’s Legend Tournament Walleye series is an outstanding choice. The rod’s medium power means it’s forgiving enough to use with braided line. Meanwhile, its moderate-fast action ensures that its sensitive tip transitions quickly to hook-setting backbone when walleyes attack—all while still providing the shock absorption needed to keep big fish pinned securely. Add a 2500- or 3000-series spinning reel to complete your tackle configuration.
While some fans profess the benefits of old-school monofilament for snapping glide baits, it can be difficult to justify a single mono combo swimming in a sea of 21st-century braids. If you build in a little shock absorption somewhere in your tackle system, though—such as a forgiving medium-power, moderate-fast-action rod—you can certainly present glide baits successfully with braided line. Select a smooth, long-casting, eight-carrier braid to bomb glide baits way out there, feel every nuance in the bottom and drive the hook home when walleyes connect.
Add an 18-inch leader of 15-pound-test fluorocarbon, too. Using a relatively heavy leader helps to prevent the lure from fouling the line during the cast or when snapping aggressively in the water. Join the braided line to the fluorocarbon leader with a high-quality ball-bearing swivel to eliminate line twist that might otherwise occur as the glide bait helicopters while airborne.
Attach the glide bait to the leader using a cross-lock snap to make lure changes quick and easy. While glide baits come in many shapes and sizes, most anglers gravitate toward a classic 7-centimeter-long lure—like the No. 7 Jigging Rap—in the summer. They’ll occasionally upsize to a 9-centimeter option later in the fall or when targeting supersized fish used to chasing larger forage.
Glide baits are so effective in summer and fall—calendar periods when the food web is in full bloom and prey is abundant—because of their ability to trigger impulsive reaction strikes. Nevertheless, lure color and appearance can be the difference between slow days and epic trips.
When dealing with extreme water clarity or heavily pressured fish, select lure colors that mimic those of natural finned forage, especially perch patterns on inland bodies of water and goby patterns on the Great Lakes. When crawfish are abundant, mix in some red, brown and orange colors. On turbid or tannin-stained waters, brighter patterns like the classic fire tiger often outperform other options. When dealing with bluebird skies and bright sun, metallic finishes that disperse flash into the water column work well. Meanwhile, the prime-time bites at first and last light can often be extended by using glow finishes.
Glide baits are extremely effective at triggering walleyes during late summer and fall, and snapping these versatile lures can produce when the bite otherwise seems to be at its worst. You’d be wise to add them to your bag of tricks this season.