Rigging was made popular in Minnesota by a couple of Chicago boys named Ron and Al Lindner, two brothers with a knack for catching fish and teaching others how to catch fish. One of their favorite ways to catch walleyes, and especially fussy walleyes, was to use a slip-sinker and a plain hook baited with either a crawler or a minnow. Later, when leeches became popular, they too were used with excellent results on what had come to be known in these parts as a Lindy Rig.
“Rigging," as this technique is most often referred to, is an excellent method for presenting live bait as naturally as possible.
The secret is simple: the hole through the sinker. Walleyes are sensitive critters. When they are on the fussy side, which as any walleye fisherman knows is most of the time, the drag and weight of a sinker secured to the line would be enough to cause most fish to drop the bait before the hook could be set.
But because the line is threaded through a hole in the sinker, a fish can pick up that leech, crawler or minnow, move off with its prize and feel no extra weight. That gives you and me plenty of time to let the fish get the meal in its mouth before we set the hook.
You can fish a Lindy Rig on a baitcaster or closed-face spinning reel, but an open-faced spinning reel is much better suited to the job. Most anglers fish with the bail open and the line draped over the trigger finger of the right hand for a right-handed angler. When you feel a fish pick up the bait, you simply let the line fall from your trigger finger and feed off the spool. The fish can move off with the bait without ever feeling the weight of the sinker.
How long to let the fish run before setting the hook is a guessing game, but the most common mistake I see anglers make is setting the hook before they actually feel the weight of the fish on the end of their line. This leads to a lot of missed fish. To prevent this from happening, let the fish run for a few seconds and then close the bail on your reel and reel up your line until all of the slack is taken up. Then slowly raise your rod tip. When you feel resistance on the other end, set the hook.
If you do not feel the fish, don’t just assume that the fish has gotten the bait and left. Instead, open the bail on your reel, drape the line over your trigger finger and give it a minute of two. Often, a walleye will drop the bait, but come back to pick it up again, if you give it a chance. If you have not felt a fish after a minute or two, then reel in and check your bait.
Rigging is not well-suited to searching for fish. Done correctly, rigging is too slow for searching. You just can’t cover enough water. But once you know or at least suspect where the walleye are holding, rigging is one of the most effective methods there is for putting fish in the boat.
When walleye are on a good bite, you can catch plenty of fish with more aggressive techniques such as pitching jigs, casting or trolling crankbaits. But when walleyes are on the finicky side, you pretty much need to force feed the fish. That is where rigging really shines.
But rigging is not a cure-all for turned-off walleyes. Sometimes walleyes hang out in places where attempting to fish a slip-sinker rig will just lead to frustration. Weeds on the bottom of the lake, usually coontail or sand grass, make fishing a Lindy Rig more difficult, but not impossible. When faced with six inches to a foot of weeds on the bottom, I usually use a floating jig head instead of a plain hook and try to hold the sinker just above the tops of the weeds. This sounds more difficult than it really is.
A rock-strewn bottom creates challenges as well. If you drag the sinker through the rocks you are going to have frequent snags. The trick here is again, to hold the sinker off bottom, just dropping it down every minute or so to insure that you are not fishing too high above the rocks. It also helps to go with a Lindy No-Snag sinker instead of the more common egg sinker or shoe-style weight to cut down on the number of snags.
Rigging works with minnows, crawlers or leeches, but I would have to say that leeches have been the most productive for me over the last 30 years. The rigs I fish today are basically the same as those I fished when rigging first caught on. However, I have made a few positive changes to the rig over the years. A colored hook and a small glass bead or two ahead of the hook add just a touch of color, which I think enhances the rig. I mix colors by going with a red hook and a chartreuse bead or vice versa.
When there are three of us fishing in the boat, we each start out with a different color mix for hooks and beads. Many days it does not seem to matter what color hook or beads you use, but there have been days when the walleyes have shown a definite preference for a particular color theme.
For years, I used Berkely Trilene 6-pound monofilament when tying up my rigs. But the past few years I’ve gone with 6- or 8-pound Berkely Fluorocarbon leader material. The advantage to fluorocarbon is that it is virtually invisible under water. On lakes and river with dirty or bog-stained water, fluorocarbon is probably not important, but on lakes with clean clear water, it is one of those little things that can put a few more fish in the livewell.
Leader length is one thing that has changed dramatically the past few years. For decades, pre-tied Lindy Rigs were 36 inches long. Those of us who tied our own kept ours about the same length.
Then some anglers up on Mille Lacs began experimenting with rigs featuring longer and longer leaders. I can recall seeing anglers standing up on the elevated front deck of their boats, rods held high over their heads as their partner tried to net walleyes taken on slip-sinker rigs featuring 10-, 11- and 12- foot snells. You don’t see that much anymore. But there are times when a six-foot length of fluorocarbon leader material will work better than the standard three-foot rigs.
Don’t be afraid to experiment. Odds are good that there are still some refinements to be made to this very simple and extremely effective technique called rigging.
Gary Clancy has been a full-time freelance outdoor writer for 25 years. He writes for many national publications, is a long-standing columnist for the Outdoor News and has written eight books. For a list of titles, go to www.garyclancy.com.