Tag-Teaming Hair Jigs and Swimbaits


Sometimes when you dial in a good bite for a favorite species, you’ll zero in on a presentation or two that just keeps catching fish. We’re lucky enough at MidWest Outdoors to be bouncing around some pretty dynamic fisheries across the region. And when we’re filming television segments, it’s best to watch the weather forecast, because TV cameras and thunderstorms don’t mix. When you combine a great fishery with ideal weather conditions and gamefish on the early summer chow, the results can be pretty spectacular!

Last June, calm conditions and bright sunshine greeted Scott Walsh and I one morning as we raced across Minnesota’s Rainy Lake on the hunt for walleyes and smallmouth bass. We’d resolved to start the day with a tag-team combo of VMC hair jigs and Rapala swimbaits to see if we could get some traction for a segment featuring these techniques. After fishing a couple of spots that looked promising but didn’t seem to be holding a lot of fish, we settled on a stretch of shoreline. Suddenly—it was thump-thump-thump. Despite the bright, calm conditions and shallow, clear water, walleyes reacted to the aggressive action of our lures.

Scott was throwing a chartreuse-and-white Crush City Mayor swimbait (3-inch) rigged on a 1/4-ounce chartreuse VMC Sleek Jig, making controlled casts with a 7’0”, medium-power, fast-action spinning rod at the shoreline break. He imparted an upward “pop” to his rod tip to make the jig dart upward and plummet back toward bottom. Small swimbaits are ideal for shallow walleyes and typically outproduce a jig tipped with live bait, for a couple of reasons: You can fish the jig much more aggressively to trigger strikes without fear of losing your minnow; when the bite is hot, you can make more casts without taking time to rebait your hook; and you can catch multiple fish on the same plastic trailer, rather than having to add new bait after every bite.


I rigged two St. Croix EyeCon “Jig N Rap” rods, one with a 3/8-ounce VMC Bucktail Jig and one with a 3/8-ounce Moontail Jig. This 7’1”, medium-power, moderate-fast-action blank is ideal for the aggressive “snap-up, fall back” cadence that’s the best way to impart a darting, plummeting action into these hair jigs, triggering strikes. Each jig has a different head design that causes them to fall vertically: The Bucktail has a weight-forward, pear-shaped head, and the Moontail has an aspirin-style head with a slim profile.

These jigs feature oversized holographic 3D eyes and some awesome colors, among them bright UV patterns. For many fishing applications, I generally choose bright colors for bright, sunny days, and darker or more natural colors on dark days. Sometimes, fishing with white or shad patterns is ideal when trying to predominant forage species.

Hair jigs have been around for decades, returning to popularity in recent years with many new premium products by various manufacturers. Even back in the 1990s when I fished for walleyes almost exclusively with leeches, minnows, and ‘crawlers on a variety of presentations (except for crankbait trolling), I had a small selection of hair jigs in a tackle box, having heard from some old-timers and river rats about how they could be a go-to option at times.

Rainy Lake is one of Minnesota’s top walleye lakes, and with the right lures in the water, it didn’t take long for us to see why it’s such a fish factory. Fishing with swimbaits and hair jigs is fun, not only because they can be such productive techniques, but also because of the aggressive “thumps” on the end of the rod when walleyes (and hungry smallmouth bass) smash these lures. There’s no “tap-tap-tap,” “Oh, I think I have a bite” going on here! Our TV segment started to come together in a hurry as some quality specimens came topside with both presentations.

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You actually can fish both swimbaits and hair jigs with two different retrieves for breakline walleyes and bass, experimenting to see if one strategy works better, or perhaps triggering bites from fish in different moods. While the Crush City Mayor has a great boot-tail action and enticing fall after being snapped, like all swimbaits, it also excels with a simple steady, slow retrieve, working it close to the bottom. In springtime and especially on windy, overcast days, and in cold-water conditions when walleyes may be extremely shallow after the spawn, dragging a swimbait slowly along the bottom also can be effective. By contrast, VMC Moontails and Bucktails generally are most effective when snapped to impart a lot of action, fished in much the same way as you might fish a Jigging Rap or a Rippin’ Rap. There are times when a slow, steady retrieve also works; the pulsating hair and enticing colors are hard for fish to resist.

Another walleye technique to try with the Moontail can be deadly for walleyes on deeper breaklines or when they congregate on mid-lake humps, which involves simply hovering vertically over the fish and suspending the jig above them. The hair is very thin and designed to pulsate. Using a natural pattern like black for leeches or white for shiners, shad or smelt is ideal for deep jigging. Try it sometime!

By late morning, we’d caught plenty of fish for a show, on a balanced mix of swimbaits (the Storm Largo Shad also was in play) and hair jigs. After catching fish as shallow as 3 feet and out to about 10 feet, the shallow bite started to taper off, and we could tell that the fish were sliding deeper. For the first time all day, Scott clipped off his Mayor and tied on a chartreuse/white Moontail. On his first cast to the breakline away from shore into deep water, he hooked into a good one. After a rod-bending tussle, we netted a 29-inch trophy walleye to close the segment! A few quick photos before the fish was released, and we wrapped things up by 11:55am. What a morning!

The fishing this day is typical of what you can encounter if you find the right pods of fish on good structure and employ tactics that trigger bites that particular day. If you’re planning to travel this way, including swimbaits and hair jigs in your arsenal will increase your chances for success.

To plan your fishing trip to spectacular Rainy Lake and Voyageur’s National Park—the nation’s only water-based park—go to rainylake.org or call 218-283-9401 for complete information.