Live bait has long been a staple of the walleye trade. But anglers are quickly realizing the many benefits of switching to fish-catching artificial softbaits such as Berkley PowerBait, Gulp! and Gulp! Alive!
In fact, within these Berkley bait families you'll find an array of shapes, colors, sizes, profiles and actions to fit most any walleye-fishing situation. From cold-water jigging in early spring to open-water trolling during the heat of summer, and everything in between, there's a Berkley softbait perfect for the presentation.
"Berkley baits have totally changed the way I fish," says walleye expert and decorated tournament competitor Mark Courts. "I used to use live bait 80 percent of the time, and now I seldom do."
Kicking the live bait habit offers multiple rewards. "Artificial baits take the hassle-factor out of the equation," says fellow Berkley pro staffer and tournament champion Scott Glorvigen, who cut his teeth guiding on Minnesota's northern walleye factories such as Winnibigoshish and Cutfoot Sioux lakes.
"You don't have to drive miles out of your way to find a bait shop before heading to the lake, or worry about transporting harmful exotic species with your minnows or leeches," Glorvigen explains. "Plus, softbaits require no care, they're always ready to fish, and never go belly up in the bucket."
"And let's not forget, high-performance softbaits often outfish live bait," Courts adds. "As a tournament angler, this is the main reason I use them in the first place."
PowerBait led Berkley's charge onto the softbait scene back in 1988. It's created from a pliable, PVC-based plastic sweetened with natural, walleye-attracting scents and flavors derived during years of scientific research at the company's onsite laboratories in Spirit Lake, Iowa.
Because fish taste the attractants once they bite, PowerBait is ideal for presentations where walleyes are feeding by sense of sight and lateral line. "PowerBait has an uncanny ability to make a walleye hang on longer once it has the bait in its mouth," says Courts.
Gulp! is also fortified with fish-attracting compounds," says Glorvigen. "But it's made from water-based resins, which allow much greater scent dispersal into the surrounding water. So Gulp! baits typically shine in slow-moving presentations and wherever creating a scent trail is a factor."
Gulp! Alive! features the same scents, flavors and benefits of standard Gulp! Plus, it's packaged in natural juices that constantly recharge the bait's attractants. Of course, standard Gulp! can also be reinvigorated in Gulp! Alive! buckets, or in Gulp! Alive! Recharge! Liquid, which is available in 2- and 8-ounce bottles.
Courts trolls, drifts and throws a variety of PowerBaits, but one of his go-to tactics is pitching the Twitchtail Minnow, which he helped design. "The tail has so much action, it triggers walleyes into grabbing, it, and then the PowerBait flavor keeps them hanging on long enough for me to se the hook," he explains.
Pitching is a deadly tactic for catching walleyes relating to fish-holding structure such as rocky shoreline riprap, as well as open pockets and the edges of forage-rich weedbeds. Courts typically threads a Twitchtail onto a 1/16- to 1/8-ounce jighead, but notes he may bump up to weights as big as ½-ounce when vertical jigging current seams, the tips of wingdams and other river-run sweet spots. "Pearl-white is one of my favorite all-around colors, but I let the fish tell me what they want at the moment," he adds.
Glorvigen also sings the Twitchtail's praises. "The tail dances at the slightest twitch," he says. "It's one of the few plastics you can fish in a really subtle, bottom-dragging manner with a lot of finesse, almost like a shaky-head presentation.
Glorvigen rigs the Twitchtail weedless for pitching weedlines, and with the hook exposed in more open water. For the latter approach, he favors a 1/16- to 1/8-ounce Berkley Gulp! Heads! Minnow Jigghead. "The tapered, composite head is a great fit for the Twitchtail, and the Bait Keeper hook collar keeps softbaits in place," he explains.
Weedless rigging, which entails embedding the barb of the hook back into the bait, calls for a bit longer hook. "A long-shank, round-head jig works great," he says, noting that both styles of jigheads are fished on 6-pound Berkley Trilene Sensation.
In the Gulp! Alive! lineup, Glorvigen leans on the 3-inch black Leech for power rigging flats and other large expanses of walleye-holding structure. "The Gulp! Alive! Leech performs great at speeds of ½ to 1 mph, allowing me to cover water searching for fish," he says, adding that other gains include Gulp!'s ability to ride just off bottom and leave a scent trail hungry 'eyes can home in on. "Plus, the Leech's compact profile triggers reaction strikes from fish that aren't extremely aggressive," he says.
Glorvigen rigs the Gulp! Alive! Leech on a #2 or #4 upturned, snelled hook, on a 4-foot leader of 6-pound-test Berkley Professional Grade Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon. A swivel links the leader to his 10-pound Berkley FireLine Fused Crystal mainline, while a ¾- to 1-ounce egg or walking sinker keeps the rig in the strike zone.
A 4-inch Gulp! Crawler is one of Courts' favorite utility players. "It has great movement in the water and imitates a lot of different forage, so you can use it for jigging and on slow-death-style rigs," he says, adding that Berkley's 3-inch Gulp! Killer Crawler is another slow-death standout.
The slow-death presentation hinges on baits that spin like dying baitfish. Courts favors a #2 slow-death hook on an 8-pound Berkley Trilene XT leader, running behind a 1½-ounce bottom-bouncer sinker.
Though Glorvigen and Courts may sometimes choose different baits within the PowerBait, Gulp! and Gulp! Alive! families, they're in full agreement that the lineup offers everything the serious angler needs to kick the live bait habit and catch more walleyes in the process.