Well, not totally. Hang a minnow or a leech under a bobber and it might outperform scented plastics. For most other presentations, including jigging and slow death, the benefits of today’s artificials shine through.
The first gain comes from saving time. Save 15 minutes (and $10) by driving past the bait shop on the way to the lake. Save a few casts a day because soft plastics do not fly off the hook during a cast. Fish cannot steal the bait so no more fishing with a bare hook and no time spent re-baiting after a strike. Short strikes come back again (and again) until they eventually find the hook. Finally, plastics can be worked much more aggressively to cover more water.
The second gain is options. Brighter chartreuses and oranges stand out in darker water to visually tempt the fish. Sizes vary from the small Berkley Twitchtail to the larger Ripple Shads. Vibration choices run the gamut from straight-tails in the Gulp! minnow to curly tails on the Power Grub and Rib Worm and boot tails on the Power Swimmer. In addition, the profile of the bait can be chosen to match local forage.
Third, with proper storage, the baits can be kept in the boat all season. Even if live bait is a great option for a specific bite, scented plastics fill in when the bait runs out and serve as a staple set of lures when the going gets tough. The worry over invasive species might just be the final straw for the drawbacks of live bait for walleyes.
Not convinced yet? Here are some details that we have worked out over the years.
Colder water and certain times of the year walleye want bulked-up thicker baits. Finding live bait that mimics a thick shad profile can be tough but piggybacking a 3-inch Gulp! Minnow with a second 2.5-inch version (or a small live minnow) is now a classic option.
The Powerbait Rib Worm is another early-season presentation often used on the Mississippi. This is the most flexible type of worm bait followed by the similar-style Havoc Beat Shad, then the Powerbait Pro Jig Worm. Each of these products has a different color scheme, scent, and vibration option within the slender profile.
Our top bait is a Bass Pro Shops XPS Walleye Jig paired with a 2.5-inch to 4-inch Gulp! Minnow. The stand-up design of the jig combined with quicker lifts that we use with artificials really activates the straight-tail of the bait. In this case the faster fall with a 1/4 to 3/8-ounce jig kicks out the tail at the top of the stroke as well. Since the bait will not rip off the hook, we use Berkley Fireline Ultra 8-Carrier braid instead of monofilament so we can feel every twitch and touchdown of the jig even in deeper water. It is tough to find a jigging situation where a Gulp! minnow is not going to work.
If one angler in the boat is jigging a Gulp! Minnow, the other generally tries a 3 inch to 3.5-inch Berkley Ripple Shad. The tail on these lures activates even at slow speeds. This lure can be jigged or used with a straight retrieve like a crankbait. On many days, we find that one or the other works best.
The infinite quivering action of the Berkley Pro Twitchtail Minnow makes it the ultimate finesse walleye lure. Similar in size to the 3-inch Gulp! Minnow, the Twitchtail has a thinner back half that will not quit moving. When the fish do not need the full Gulp! scent and the vibration of the Ripple shad is too much, the Twitchtail often saves the day.
The new Berkley Powerbait MaxScent line of baits (especially the longnose minnow and flatworm) not only has a different scent than Gulp!, it is also much more durable. These lures can last all day and have shown to outfish other scents on some days.
Slow Death rigging has its own nuances when replacing live bait with scented plastics. Larger hooks are the rule (size 2 or larger) to handle larger offerings. Some hooks like the Berkley Fusion19 Slow-turn are specially designed