In the past few years the use of darter minnow lures, like the Northland Puppet Minnow, have really caught fire. It has become my favorite and trusted way to fish for walleyes. These lures that are a staple for ice fishing have emerged from the ice and become an essential piece of tackle for walleye fishing through the summer and fall.
These lures have actually turned fishing into a hunting expedition. We spend a lot of time finding the fish with our electronics before we ever put lures into the water. The newer electronics do a fantastic job of helping locate larger walleyes in the summer and fall. Down scan and side scan are very useful tools that most modern electronics are equipped with. They act as an x-ray of the water column. We search areas we think are holding larger fish by passing over them and studying our monitors. It could be a deep hole, rocky point or even a smaller area of boulders.
Once we locate our prey, we start fishing. My preference is to use the two larger sizes of puppet minnows when vertical jigging. The #4 is 9/16 oz. and 3 inches long while the #5 comes in at 1 oz. and 3 ½ inches in length. I’ll drop my lure to the bottom and reel down with my rod 6-12 inches off the water surface. I’ll work the lure with sharp 24-36 inch snaps of the rod. This makes the lure jump straight up and then dart off to the side in a looping spiral fashion. Sometimes I like to jig the lure in rapid succession, and other times I like to wait 30 to 60 seconds between snaps. Keep in mind that the lure will continuously move in a circle for about a minute before coming to rest. Each time I snap the lure, it will randomly dart in a different direction. Most of our strikes will come after the jigging motion. I typically end up setting the hook on the next jig stroke. When the fish are really hitting aggressively, you will feel that tell-tale walleye thump.
Using the right gear makes fishing these larger lures easier. A lot of anglers use longer rods, but when vertically jigging the heavy puppet minnows, I like to use a shorter rod like a 6’ M Scheels One or a 5’9” Scheels Walleye Series rod. Pair it up with a little heavier reel, like the model 6930 Pflueger President, to optimize the balance point and feel. The shorter rod offers more control and leverage while the bigger reel acts as counterbalance to the heavy baits. I spool these reels up with Crystal Fireline in either 10lb or 14lb test, depending if I am fishing snags or not. I like to use a 2’ leader of 15lb Trilene 100% Berkley Fluoro Professional Grade. Tying the leader to the main line using a small swivel will help to eliminate some twists. I do think it is very important to tie direct to the lure, without the use of any snaps. The reason for not using a snap is that a snap would allow the line to drape along the back of the lure when it falls, often catching on the rear hook. Heavier and stiffer fluorocarbon leader material helps minimize fouling by creating a bow in the line as the lure drops. It is important to use a knot that will not slip on the tie loop. I find that I get the best action when the knot to stays on the top center of the tie loop.
Landing big walleyes on puppet minnows can be a bit tricky. More times than not, big walleyes come loose once they hit the net. I think these big fish simply inhale the bait and clamp their mouths around them. We never seem to get a good hook set that’s hard enough for the hooks to penetrate the tough boney roof of a walleye’s mouth. So, the key to landing these fish using this tactic is to not play around. Get them into the net as soon as possible.