Deadstick Presentations for Walleyes
By: Cole Karsky
Tink, tink, tink. The sound every angler loves to wake to while they are sleeping on the ice, the bells of a rattle reel. There is something special about those bells. They are a unique sound that triggers the natural reaction of the well-trained angler to go find the rattle reel that the fish is on before his buddies can. Using a deadstick has put many bonus fish on the ice for anglers for decades. In many instances, it can be one of the more effective methods for a day on the ice.
While the concept of the deadstick has not changed, the equipment has evolved to include some relatively high tech products. Rattle reels, tip ups, and specially designed rods all have their place in the deadstick game. A deadstick specific rod should have a soft tip so that a fish can take the bait without much resistance, however, a heavy enough power is required to drive the hook home. My deadstick rod of choice is a Della Bay Tip Dip. Pairing this set up with a properly sized reel and line is important as well. I rely on lines in the 4 to 6 pound class, and a baitfeeder style reel, like the Okuma Ceymar Baitfeeder, to eliminate resistance so the fish can pull the line freely. I use a slip knot to mark my depth so I can easily drop back down to the depth where I was catching the fish.
When using a rattle reel, I prefer to use fly line for the main line. The fly line doesn’t tangle and is easier to manage when fighting the fish. I also prefer to use a heavier leader on this setup. Generally, I am using the rattle reels at night. To mark my position on a rattle reel, I use a button. I can set this button at the same level as the floor, so it is easy to see if it has moved overnight. It also makes setting it back up easier, because you can see and feel a button in the dark easier than a slip knot. When using a hook or a light jig, often you will need to add some extra weight so the presentation will be able to get to the depth you are fishing. I like to avoid using a split shot. Split shots can crimp the line and create weak points. Instead I use what is called a Carolina Keeper. This was originally designed for bass fishing but works great in this application. I like to use the smallest bullet weights that I can find as my weight. You slide the bullet weight on the line then use a pliers to slide on the Carolina Keeper. It will be clamped down lightly on the line so that it will not slide around yet isn’t tight enough to put marks in your line.
On the business end of the deadstick, many anglers would tell you if it’s anything besides a plain red hook, then you are wrong. Yes, I still will pull out a plain hook because at times, this truly is all they will bite. However, I like to experiment with other hook colors and presentations of the minnow. One of the modifications of a plain hook I make is sliding a glow bead on the hook to add just a bit more glow for low light. Another light option to use is a number 6 treble hook. I like both plain trebles and the ones with the epoxy drop on them. When hooking the minnow on a plain hook or treble, there are two ways I like to hook it. The first is to hook it just under the skin, near the dorsal fin. I also will hook them by the tail just under the skin. If you hook them by the tail, they will put off more action, but will not stay alive as long.
I prefer to start with a jig on my deadsticks. My favorite is the Tungsten Soft-Lock from Eurotackle. Tungsten has so many advantages to it. I can have the weight I desire, while still having a small head size. This specific jig also has a larger hook gap than most other tungsten jigs, allowing them to be used for walleyes. When I hook a minnow on this jig, I hook it through the lips. Often times using a jig can eliminate the use of extra weights as well.
On a recent trip to Lake of the Woods, I was on a very tough bite. I started playing around with my tackle trying to find a presentation the fish would pick up. I stumbled upon a unique presentation that caught us the most fish, and biggest fish of the trip. I took an Eurotackle Y-Fry in a bright color, in this case pink, and threaded it on a Soft-Lock leaving as much of the hook gap open as possible. The Y-Fry added some color for the fish to lock in on and provided some extra movement when the minnow swims. It turned the fish from hanging onto the end of the minnow to taking the bait down whole!
Another thing I like to do is get a little crazy on the deadsticks. Sometimes taking baits and using them for something they were not designed for and using them in a different situation, creates another amazing fish catching presentation. For example, the original Eurotackle Z-Viber. It is well known as a panfish lure, however, I have been using it in the walleye world as well. Using the 1/16 oz Z-Viber and dorsal hooking a minnow allows the minnow to swim and causes the internal rattle chamber to be constantly making noise. Some of the color patterns have some shine to them and the minnow sets that off as well. This presentation has put a lot of fish on the ice for me recently and it should be one to step out of your comfort zone with!
With deadstick presentations, there are several different ways to rig a minnow, none of which are really incorrect. They all have a place and time. For example, you can lip hook them, hook them near the dorsal fin or tail, or you can just lightly skin hook them behind the head of the minnow. Many times, fish will try and take the minnow headfirst and this will allow the hook point to have a higher percentage chance of hooking up.
The beauty of set lines is there isn’t a wrong way to fish them. They can have variances in the presentations to make them more subtle and more active as you see fit. One piece of advice is, if you are with some buddies, make sure everyone is trying something a bit different. Make sure each person has a different lure, different color, and you run them at different depths. Once one lure, color, or depth starts to obviously outproduce others, then switch over to something similar and start adjusting how far off bottom the rest are. Don’t forget to have some fun with the lures you choose to try, you just never know when you will stumble across your new favorite presentation!