Theresa Meade

Theresa Meade

Professional Walleye Angler

Professional Walleye Angler

The Fox Chain “O” Lakes is a body of water located in Northern Illinois on the Wisconsin border. What is unique to the Chain from other major bodies of water in the state is that it was formed by glaciers thousands of years ago. The Chain is composed of 9 major lakes interconnected by channels with the Fox River entering in the North and flowing out the South. The chain provides a perfect habitat for not only Walleye but HUGE Musky, Bass, Channel Cats, Crappie and many other species of fish. This waterway is fast becoming known for its number of walleye big and small including some double digit lunkers!

In this article, we will be targeting one of the most popular Chain fish; the Walleye. There's nothing a feeding walleye loves better than live bait, whether it's pitching the weeds, shores and bridges or "rigging" Chain Style! There are many ways to live bait rig but the majority of the most productive fisherman on the Fox Chain use a style particular to the system with great success. We call this the Chain "Rig" and I will go through the set up, presentation and techniques connected to this style of fishing.

Throughout most of the Chain, walleye can be found, moving as the seasons change and boating season begins. Fishing season for walleye is open all year with a daily creel limit of 4 fish per license with a minimum length of 14" to 18" with one of your fish allowed to be over 24". With the increased walleye population and slot limits, it has allowed many a fisherman to bring home their daily creel limit of eyes along with many other species of fish to fill out that basket. The over twenty-fours, which are becoming more and more abundant every year are usually released, allowing these fish to grow even larger for that day when you catch that over 30' beauty that will go on your wall!

"Rigging" for walleye on the Fox Chain of Lakes
By: Theresa Meade
Licensed Guide, Tournament fisherman, director and co-owner of the World Walleye Association

Walleye are usually structure orientated and often adopt a roaming lifestyle, following the bait throughout the system. Rocky areas, points, sand flats and weed beds are all considered prime walleye habitats. When just starting out, purchase a fishing Hot Spot map which will tell you in detail when and where those fish are apt to be at different times of the year.

There are two basic types of fishing; trolling and live baiting. I prefer live bait rigging over trolling because it allows me the versatility of getting my bait right in front of those feeding walleye and being able to feel even the lightest bite. An important but sometimes overlooked part of rigging is your line. I ALWAYS use 10 lb Flame Green Berkley Fireline as the base for my reels. Why? Because I need to FEEL the fish and see when they are biting! After using Fireline versus a mono, you will be amazed at the sensitivity versus the mono. After a time, you will be able to tell what species of fish are biting because of your line!

For making your rig, you will need two barrel swivels of the same size, 6 or 8 lb fluorocarbon for the Snell, what I call a "stinger" hook in a #6 or #8 and a jig. The fluorocarbon in extra tough works the best because of the presence of Zebra Mussels in the Chain, which can cut your line. The hooks I prefer are usually colored with orange, pink or black working the best. I use super strong, ultra sharp Octopus hooks which make for an awesome bait presentation. Last but not least my jig is one of the most important factors of my rig! Head shape can vary; ball, bullet, tapered, flat, etc. I prefer the ball design for the most part on the Chain but am never afraid to change it up when the bite is slow. Varying the size and color depends on conditions; heavier in current and wind, lighter on calm days. NOW, let's put this all together for the most effective and amazing rig you will ever use!

Let's work on the setup which at first will be confusing but after a while, will be second nature to you. We take our swivels, putting one on the Fireline loose, (not tied or connected) and the other, tied onto the end of your Fireline. From there, we take our first (one of two) Snell line and tie it to your free-moving swivel. For that line, you will want it approximately 1 foot long, more or less. On the end of this line, you will tie your jig. In choosing the right size of jig, conditions have to be considered; amount of current, wind and depth; I will even go to a 1/32 when possible. The key is keeping in contact with the bottom! With that in mind, always use the lightest possible jig allowed by the conditions. When fishing the Chain, colors vary but favorites tend to be orange and chartreuse. For the second line, you will connect it to the swivel which is tied to your Fireline. This line should be right around double the jig line or around 2 feet. The next step is to tie your stinger to the other end of this 2 foot line. When using this type of rig, it is always good to keep your tags fairly short to keep the line from twisting. Now that you have your "Rig" made, try to envision how it works. The line with the jig, or lead line, will move freely on your Fireline acting as a weight. The stinger line will trail behind your jig, gently waving and moving through the current and water column. Now we are ready to fish!

In my opinion, the most critical factor in being successful with this rig is the presentation or action imparted by you. Your bait will either drag across the bottom running in a straight line OR if some sort of action is added by you, your success will be greatly improved! This type of fishing needs constant attention to technique, it is not a laid back way of fishing...remember, it’s best to go as slow as conditions will allow; if you think you are going slow….go even slower! Your jig will ALWAYS need to be in close proximity to the bottom. Slow drifting, using your bow mount and keeping in constant contact with the bottom works wonders. A twitch of the wrist and a gentle sweep will allow the bait the movement it needs. When you feel that "bump" it signals that your bait has touched bottom. Vary your speed and height, trying different combos for short periods of time until you find what the fish want. FOR EXAMPLE: pull forward, slow drop back and for one second, rest the jig on the bottom. Lift up and start again.

When live baiting the Chain, crawlers, minnows and leeches work the best. In other words? ALWAYS have all three on the boat if possible because every day can bring a different bite. Boat control is ESSENTIAL, allowing the bait to be precisely positioned so that you as an angler can follow a weed line, drop off or other structure and bottom breaks.

Most amazing about this style of fishing is the versatility; you can catch almost ANY type of fish using this rig! At the Mineola piers using an eight lb. test rig, I caught a Muskie just short of 50’! When you get used to fishing with one rod, try using two rods (four baits) and bringing a walleye, catfish, striper and blue gill up at the same time for that added thrill!

Many anglers travel long distances to lakes and reservoirs to catch walleye. What I want to know is….Why? The Fox Chain of Lakes has it all!

Il. Dept. of Nat. Resources (847)608-3100 Fox Waterway Agency (847)587-8540