June 15, 2021
The summer months represent an intriguing period for the walleye angler. It’s a time when walleyes can be found in a whole host of locations ranging from shallow and mid-depth weeds to main-lake humps or scattered about in deeper water. By the same token, several popular presentations are also available to, and effective for, anglers over the course of these months.
In earlier parts of the summer, when fish are still quite shallow, a slip-bobber rig or a jig-and-minnow/jig-and-soft plastic combo might be the name of the game. A spinner rig or crawler harness, on the other hand, often produces well throughout this season.
Aggressively snapping jigging rap-style baits is a hot ticket when fish are concentrated around structure and highly active. And when 'eyes disperse widely in mid-summer, covering water by pulling crankbaits with or without planer boards (and with or without lead-core line, depending on the depth) can be the fastest way to boat limits.
In short, summer walleye anglers have lots of choices available. And with manufacturers constantly improving their products, there are always new baits and rigging options to explore.
Here are some great summer walleye baits to keep in mind when you hit the water.
Hot New Summer Walleye Baits
Whether you call them spinner rigs, crawler harnesses, or something else, these are without question one of the most popular presentations walleye anglers can fish throughout the summer months. Much like trolling crankbaits, pulling spinners is an excellent way to cover large sections of water, and the color, flash, vibration and scent of this rig works wonders on walleyes. Nowadays, manufacturers also offer a stunning array of different spinner rig variations to suit different situations.
JB Lures Montana Rig
Officially launched in 2020, the JB Lures Montana Rig features a unique ultra-lightweight plastic blade that makes it well adapted for finesse spinner rigging applications, where metal-bladed rigs aren't getting it done. Think tough fishing conditions, such as recent cold fronts or calm water, or in areas where fishing pressure is heavy and fish are looking for something different and are less aggressive. The Montana Rig works at trolling speeds from 0.8 to 3.0 mph. Available in Mustad Slow Death versions and two-hook crawler harnesses. New two-tone colors for 2021 include chartreuse/orange, chartreuse/lime, gold/orange and silver/pink. ($3.29-$3.49; jblures.com)
Northland Tackle Butterfly Blade Float’n Harness
Northland Tackle's Butterfly Blade system has been around for several years now, and it has many different iterations that have become go-to patterns for anglers throughout walleye country. One of the more recent variants is the Float’n Harness. This unit has the standard butterfly blade, but it also has a float placed between the blade and the hooks that helps keep the bait away from snags on bottom and above actively feeding fish. Available in two sizes and twelve different colors. ($4.99; northlandtackle.com)
Gamakatsu Spin Bait Hook
While not technically a spinner rig in and of itself, Gamakatsu’s new Spin Bait Hook can definitely serve as a part of one. Slow death rigs, which utilize specially shaped hooks that spin, have become a bread-and-butter tactic for stubborn or negative walleyes. This hook—which has been several years in development—features a unique bend and a swivel that allow it to spin even at the incredibly slow speeds needed for finesse presentations. You can fish it behind spinner blades, prop-style blades or by itself behind a simple bead. The hook’s Nano Smooth Coat finish offers reduced resistance for improved penetration on even the lightest-biting fish while an integrated bait keeper ensures live or soft plastic baits stay on the hook. Available in four sizes: 4, 2, 1 and 1/0. ($4.80/4 per pack; gamakatsu.com)
Crankbaits and summer walleyes go together pretty much like PB&J. When fish are widely dispersed in mid- to late-summer, trolling cranks and stickbaits is often the best way to cover wide expanses of water and find active eaters. If fish are deeper than lures can get on their own, fishing lead-core line might be required, but if not, standard trolling setups work well. Many anglers employ planer boards to throw out more options and hit more water. A variety of shapes and sizes serve well here, ranging from long and slender, minnow-style profiles to wider and shorter, shad-type baits. Luckily, manufacturers offer more and more great new options each year.
Berkley Hit Stick
The folks at Berkley do an incredible amount of research with all of the baits they produce and ultimately bring to market, and the recently introduced Hit Stick is no exception. After 15 years of combined research, this new stickbait has been engineered to deliver an action on par with lures made from balsa, while providing more consistency and durability. The Hit Stick offers 364-percent relative toughness compared to balsa, casts 60-percent farther than similar balsa lures thanks to integrated Flash Discs and produces a dependable fish-enticing action. These baits can be trolled fast or slow (down to 1 mph), or they can be cast out and worked as a finesse jerkbait. Lots of options here. ($6.99; berkley-fishing.com)
Modeled after Bandit’s popular Walleye Shallow and Walleye Deep jerkbaits, the new B-Rotan offers a more aggressive action with a wide wobble and roll, and it features a loud rattle courtesy of four nickel-steel rattles in two chambers. The lure is 4 3/4 inches long and weighs 5/8 ounce. On the cast, it dives down to 8 feet deep. Trolled, it will reach depths of 16 feet. This is a great casting option for fish that are shallow or a solid trolling lure for mid-depth fish, or even deeper if paired with lead core or additional weights. ($7.99; lurenet.com)
Northland Tackle Rumble Series
The new Rumble Series from Northland Tackle technically consists of five baits, but two are geared more toward pike and musky hunters. The remaining three, however, are prime walleye picks. All three baits are manufactured from heat compression molded balsa and feature welded-through wire construction from the tie eye to the tail, which helps ensure that the skeleton of this bait holds up to even the toughest abuse. Balsa’s durability has been an issue for some anglers in the past, but the heat compression molding process and the wire construction here alleviates these concerns. The Rumble Stick, which offers diving depths of 18 to 32 feet, is a classic deep diver for mid- and late-summer when ’eyes are hanging deep in open basins. The Rumble Shiner, meanwhile, is a shallow-water offering, with models running from 4 to 10 feet deep. It’s a great option for the spring on into early summer. Last but not least is the Rumble Shad, a nice shad-profile bait that can be cast or trolled. Diving depths on models range from 5 to 21 feet, with the smaller, shallower-diving No. 5 lure being a perfect choice for spring and early summer and the deeper-diving No. 8 being more suited to trolling in middle and late summer. ($9.99; northlandtackle.com)
SPRO Madeye Diver
One of currently two baits in SPRO's Madeye Series designed for walleyes, the Diver features a classic "banana" profile that has proven to attract ’eyes time and time again. The bait’s design produces a tight wobbling action and unpredictable side-to-side movement that entices walleyes into striking, particularly when fish are aggressive in the summer. It also creates a loud rattling sound to call fish in from a distance. Built for trolling at speeds of 1.5 to 2.5 mph, and diving down to 17 feet deep, it’s a go-to hot-weather option when fish are dispersed but highly active. ($9.50; spro.com)
JIGS AND JIGGING RAPS
Jigs are an almost universal choice for walleyes during the spring months of March, April and even early May some places when slow, subtle presentations get the nod. Traditionally, these have been tipped with minnows, leeches and other live bait, though soft plastics have also come on stronger in recent years. However, while jigs do excel in spring, they also catch plenty of fish throughout the summer. And this is true whether you’re talking about snap jigging in early summer, ripping jigging raps in middle and late summer or vertical jigging with live bait in the dog days.
Eagle Claw Pro V Eagle Eye Jig
"Aspirin-style" jigheads are popular options for walleyes, as these types of heads do pretty well around rocks, which is often where you’ll find fish congregating if they’re not relating to weeds. Incidentally, this jig, which was first introduced in 2019, also got a weedless configuration last year, so if you are fishing the weeds early in the summer, or deeper weeds toward the middle of the summer, that's something to consider. The Pro-V bend in the hook and the "aspirin-style" head present a fairly streamlined profile when falling through the water, or when being dragged through weeds. Both the 1/8- and 1/4-ounce jigs are solid choices for snap or pop jigging early to mid-summer, with the 1/4-ouncer being a better option in deeper water or windy conditions. Those two options should work for shallow to intermediate water, but if you’re jigging a bit deeper, think about stepping up to a 3/8-ounce jig. Unfortunately, because this one’s only offered in 1/8 and 1/4 ounces, you’ll need to look elsewhere, but most round ball or "aspirin-style" jigheads will suffice. For soft plastics, consider Berkley’s Gulp Minnow, Kalin’s Sizmic Jerk Minnow or another similar option. ($3.99-$4.49/5 per pack; eagleclaw.com)
VMC Hybrid Swimbait Jig
Snapping swimbaits is another productive technique for early to mid-summer ’eyes. A slightly heavier jighead in the 3/8-ounce range paired with a soft-plastic swimbait like a Kalin’s Sizmic Shad or a Keitech Swing Impact and an aggressive jigging retrieve can be killer on highly active fish. VMC's new Hybrid Swimbait Jig is one such jig option available in five popular sizes: 3/16, 1/4, 5/16, 3/8 and 1/2 ounce. The jig has a wider gap to maximize hooksets, a hybrid bend for extra strength and utilizes a wide-diameter spring keeper to secure soft plastics on the hook. ($4.99/3 or 4 per pack; rapala.com)
Clam Pro Tackle Tikka Mino
One of the biggest trends in walleye fishing in recent years has been the widespread adoption of using jigging minnow or jigging rap-style lures—historically deployed under the ice—in open water. Think lures such as the classic Rapala Jigging Rap, Moonshine Lures Shiver Minnow, Northland Tackle Puppet Minnow, Acme Tackle Hyper-Rattle and the like. The general approach to fishing these baits—which some have called rip jigging, power jigging or speed jigging—is to find active fish concentrated on or around intermediate to deeper structure (15 to 30 feet is probably a decent range, though you can go deeper) and then aggressively snap these baits up off bottom and let them fall back down. Action can be, and often is, very fast paced. This year, Clam Pro Tackle introduced its Tikka Mino into the fray. Designed and intended for vertical presentations under the ice, it too is well suited for this style of open-water fishing. One of the other really cool things about this lure is that it features an environmentally friendly Zinc-Alloy construction, including the fins. Often, jigging minnow type lures take a beating if they’re fished around rocks, and fins on other lures in the past have not stood up to the punishment, breaking off at times. Thankfully, this should not be the case with the Tikka Mino. It’s available in a variety of sizes and color options, including UV Glow colors and has molded 3D eyes. ($6.99; clamoutdoors.com)
Northland Tackle Rippin’ Minnow
Introduced in 2020, the new Rippin’ Minnow is a great bait for spring and summer walleyes. Northland describes it as kind of a hybrid that combines the side-to-side darting action of their Puppet Minnow with a smaller, more subtle plastic profile. In basic appearance, it looks similar to Berkley’s relatively new Snap Jig winged jighead. Like that one, the Rippin’ Minnow is perfectly suited for snap jigging over shallow and intermediate cover in the summer months. Due to its single-hook design, it’s perfect for fishing over weeds without snagging. Later in the summer, you can fish it similarly to jigging raps, though the action will differ slightly. In colder water, you’re typically using a more subtle hopping jigging cadence; as the temperatures warm, you can get more aggressive with snapping and ripping. Available in four sizes (3/16, 1/4, 5/16 and 1/2 ounce) and a host of colors. ($7.99/1 pre-rigged bait, 2 tails; northlandtackle.com)