Outdoors column: Live bait rig tips and tricks

As we anglers transition into the warmer summer months we need to change tactics and alter our presentations for catching walleyes. Things have changed since the opener and now we are faced with very warm water, algae water and still high water levels. July is the start of the live bait rigging portion of the summertime walleye bite.

July is when I begin to change over to live bait rigging for walleyes. This is a slow presentation for deeper water fishing that puts walleyes in the boat during the toughest time of the year.

Here are some tips and tactics that have worked for me over the years and many I still employ today.

Description of the rig

The live bait rig is essentially a long leader with a hook, small swivel and one-half ounce lead weight.

This rig is crawled along the bottom and when a bite is detected, the line is fed to the fish. The line goes through the sinker so the fish doesn’t feel the tension.

You close your bail and then set the hook.

This rig has been around since 1960 and there are many variations.

Length of the leader

The most critical part of the rig is the length of the leader. On very clear lakes I always go with eight- to 10-foot leaders to keep the bait away from the sinker.

Clear water walleyes can easily be spooked by a weight too close to the bait.

On dark and dirty water lakes, the best size is about four feet.

These are usually bottom-hugging fish and the short leader keeps the bait on the bottom where it can be seen. When I have clients in the boat I often tie on different leader lengths for everyone to see what works the best.

Oftentimes the shorter one will be better and there are days when the longer leaders out perform the short ones.

Experimentation is the best strategy.

Line diameter 

My rule of the thumb is to go with eight-pound test line for my regular line and then downsize to six-pound test on my leader line.

It pays dividends to go with lighter line on the leader as six-pound test is relatively unseen at deep depths. Always remember when using the lighter leader line to re-tie often as the knot around the swivel tends to weaken after time.

We don’t want to lose that trophy walleye to a bad knot.

Some anglers like to use four-pound test for their leader material, but I have found that four pounds just can’t take the abuse over rocks and gravel. Six pounds is definitely the best day in and day out.


Live bait rigs are best when coupled with a lively leech or night crawler.

These baits look very natural when displayed on light line with a small hook.

The idea is to allow those baits to free swim and present themselves naturally without incumbrances.

Steve Carney is a contributing writer to the Outdoors page.