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Apr 17 , 2020

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Early Eyes

by Frank Ross
Early Eyes

Lindy rigging and walleye angling in the early weeks of spring, when water temperatures are still cold and fish are slow to respond, is an inseparable combination. Lindy rigs are one of the most basic presentations for walleye, and although it's a simple concept there are those who always seem to take its effectiveness to unheralded heights.

Veteran pro angler Leon Houle is one of those elite anglers who is tough to beat under any conditions, but when you put him into a finesse situation he really excels. On a recent outing with Leon, I studied the master who has won more tournaments than most anglers have entered.

It was a typical day on Lake Mille Lacs in early spring. The wind was blowing about 12 miles-per-hour and the temperature was about 42 degrees. More important, the water temperature was only 46 degrees. We were moving across a sandy area that was holding males staging to begin the spawning ritual, and the bite was about as subtle as a feather touching your line.

Leon Houle cranks in another walleye.
Leon Houle cranks in another walleye.

After missing two bites, Leon turned to me in his low-key, retired-teacher delivery and advised a count of 45 before setting the hook. "It seems like an awful long time, but sometimes you've just got to be patient," he said. I had been giving a 10 count, and nailed the next several fish after following Houle's direction.

We talked about the simplicity of the Lindy rig and here's Leon's recommendation for making it work for you. Making it work really well will require a lot of practice, but we've got a lot of fishing time coming up. Here are some of the things I learned from Leon.

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Although Lindy rigging is most often utilized for walleye, you can take panfish, bass, northern pike, trout or any bottom feeding fish in any type of water from reservoir to lake and river or stream using this same basic method. Lindy rigging is about presenting live bait such as a minnow, leech or crawler in a presentation that is difficult for the fish to detect.

A Lindy rig consists of a snell (monofilament leader and hook), slip sinker and swivel clip.

How to make a Lindy rig.
How to make a Lindy rig.

Use as light a weight of monofilament as possible, and in extremely pressured areas, snells of six to eight feet are not uncommon. Some anglers will even go to 10- to 12-foot snells, but that requires a bit of skill to manage unless you have a very long rod. It's a good idea to have about a dozen or so snells pre-tied at various lengths and stowed for ready access, so that you can change to longer or shorter lengths when you find that what you're currently using isn't working.

A good quality, low-visibility line is an excellent choice for Lindy rigging because its reflective qualities are identical to that of water and when fish are slow to respond and the bite is delicate its limpness and low-visibility qualities could make a big difference in your success.

Weight Selection
The next item in a Lindy rig is a walking slip sinker. Walking slip sinkers have the unique ability to allow the line to slide through, making it difficult for the fish to detect its weight or resistance on the bottom.

Selecting the right slip sinker will depend on fishing conditions and whether you find your fish shallow of deep. Boat control is also an issue as it relates to speed of the drift and wind velocity.

Conditions can and do vary throughout the day, so it's a good idea to have a wide selection of walking sinkers. Here are some general guidelines for a place to start, but you'll find that these will need to be adapted to your own water and conditions as they develop.

•1/8 oz. for 6-10 feet of water
•1/4 oz. for 10-15 feet of water
•1/2 oz. for 15-25 feet of water
•3/4 oz. for 25-35 feet of water
•1 oz. for 35 feet and deeper.

Pro angler Leon Houle shows off a nice Mille Lacs walleye.
Pro angler Leon Houle shows
off a nice Mille Lacs walleye.

When drifting a Lindy rig on the bottom you have to learn how to determine what is a hit and what is simply the walking sinker bumping over structure. You have to be ready to pay out line in a split second, when a bite is detected, and for this purpose open-faced spinning reels are excellent. After starting a drift, and paying out enough line to distance your rig from the boat, leave the bail open and position the line on your forefinger. When you detect a bite, release the line by straightening out your finger and start your count. When you reach the end of your count, close the bail, and wind up the slack with your rod tip low. Once your line is tight, raise the rod slowly and begin winding. When you load the rod, you'll set the hook.

Speaking of setting the hook, Lindy rig hooks should be selected based on the type of bait you're going to use. Use a small, tough hook, designed for minnows, or leech/crawlers in a size that matches the species you're going after.

Using a sturdy snap swivel when Lindy rigging makes it faster and easier to change snells when you break off or decide to change the length of snell you're fishing and also eliminates line twist that can be created by a twisting bait.

Hooking Live Bait
When drifting or trolling minnows, simply hook them through both lips, coming up from the bottom and just behind their lips. In this manner, the minnow will stay alive longer and is able to swim through the water darting freely and naturally on the long snell. For vertical presentations hooking minnows just below and behind the dorsal fin is a preferred method of most anglers.

Nightcrawlers should be hooked only once at the tip of the nose. Walleye seem to prefer whole, healthy crawlers that stretch out when pulled. Leeches should be hooked through the sucker end so that the leech will trail through the water in a natural undulating manner when trolled or drifted slowly. Pulling a leech too fast causes it to spin or straighten out very flat, losing its fish-attracting action.

When you lower your Lindy rig into the water, check to make sure that the snell is tangle free, that your sinker is sliding properly and your bait is lively. In most situations, you will want your sinker right on the bottom. When trolling or backtrolling along drop-offs, breaks, rocky areas or weedlines that qualify as walleye holding structure, start out by releasing your line until the sinker hits bottom. In very clear water it is best to fish at a considerable distance from the boat.

Once you've detected the bottom, adjust your line so that you can feel the sinker hit bottom each time you raise and lower your rod toward your bait. You should raise and lower your rod in this manner on a regular basis to make sure you are fishing on or within inches of the bottom.

Casting with Lindy Rigs
You don't have to limit Lindy rigs to dragging. Casting is another option for Lindy rigs that you don't want to overlook. When you locate a school of active fish it is often productive to anchor upwind at a distance from the area where they are feeding, cast your rig beyond the active area and retrieve slowly. Shorter snells are easier to work in this manner and often a retrieve interrupted with frequent stops triggers strikes. You can anchor the boat from both ends to eliminate movement, or anchor only from the bow and adjust the "swing" by paying out or retrieving anchor rope. Deciding on which anchoring method is generally driven by the amount of wind you have to deal with, and double anchoring is usually the choice on very windy days.

When you're thinking about walleye this spring, don't let those cold days keep you off the water. You can bet that Leon Houle will be out there somewhere working a Lindy rig and putting walleye in the boat. Lindy rigging is a great technique and one that has many applications that you can refine and improve as you develop experience using it.