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Smallmouth Bass Bass Gear & Accessories Lures

Solutions for Smallmouth Bass Jigs

by Matt Straw   |  February 24th, 2014 1

This little jiggy falls too fast. This little jiggy falls too slow. And this little jiggy is just right. All there is to it? If so, Goldilocks could have solved any jigging problem for smallmouths before this old nursery rhyme could go wee, wee, wee all the way home. For more than 30 years I’ve been writing about jigs for bass, pike, trout, steelhead, salmon, panfish—even carp. Jigs are that wonderful mainstay, that everyday solution in the fishing world.

Every jig is a solution to a problem on the water. A cheap jig with a pot-metal hook is a lower-percentage solution. But around timber you can straighten those cheap hooks and get back to fishing without retying. Sometimes the only difference between two good anglers is efficiency, but the primary difference is in the details.

When somebody says, “We caught ‘em on 1/8-ounce jig-plastic combos,” I want to know more: The name and length of the softbait, the shape of the head; size of the hook; and whatever else I can learn. All 1/8-ounce jigs A) Do not weigh 1/8-ounce, and B) Every different shape or style of the head makes a difference.

Best in Swim
In every jigging situation, we’re looking for a jig that’s best for that presentation. Jigs can be designed to fall fast or slowly, swim horizontally, spiral on the drop, glide, shed cover, carry specific types of plastic, dart to the side—any number of things. Each situation calls for a specific technique, and each technique suggests fairly specific tools. The more specific we can make tools in meeting demands in each situation, the better off we are.

For the past few years I’ve been exploring the realm between ultralight and light tackle. Some may remember the Dr. Jekyl—Mr. Hyde analogy from past articles. Today’s unbelievably light-yet-powerful 3- to 5-pound braided lines are like an elixir, transforming light-power Dr. Jekyl rods into maniacal Mr. Hyde whuppin’ sticks. Tie in three feet of 6- to 8-pound fluorocarbon leader on your jig combo. It’s capable of casting 5-inch grubs, worms, other plastics, and light hair jigs farther than you’ve thrown them before, with the right reel.

Many jigs match this system, depending on conditions. Say you’re swimming 4-inch finesse worms horizontally, off bottom over rock fields and along the edges of shallow reefs. With 4-pound braid and a 1/16-ounce jig in water less than 6 feet deep, the package sinks too fast to swim at effective speeds. Despite braid’s lack of stretch, 4-pound will not drive home a stout hook when combined with a whippy rod.

Stout hooks are heavy. Most manufacturers weigh the head, not the whole package. For lightweight operations, the Gopher Tackle Mushroom Head Jig with Gamakatsu 1/0 and 2/0 hooks excel. Gopher offers options in hook style and size with each head. They vary in weight, gap, sharpness, and bendability.

The flat back of the Gopher and other mushroom-shape jigs creates a seamless profile between the head and the softbait for a natural appearance in shallow water, where visibility is best. The right shape, hook, and weight make this head ideal for swimming softbaits on spinning tackle with braid and a fluoro leader. But the vast “swim jig” category encompasses almost every style of jig and every kind of tackle. Go online to Tackle Warehouse and search for “bass swim jig.” Sixty models pop up. Most have skirts and weedguards.

In-Fisherman contributor Rich Zaleski told me a couple years ago he used Lunker City Football Heads to swim plastics for smallmouths. “I’m still a big fan of light football heads with wire weedguards for grub fishing,” he told me. “I fish grubs slowly, and often let them rest on bottom. The football head lies flat, making it more snag-resistant than a ballhead. I usually fish 1/16- to 1/4-ounce versions with a twin wire guard if there’s wood or rock cover to deal with.”

Why not? Football heads are stable. They resist turning sideways when a grub or action-tail worm gets torn. Based on Zaleski’s advice, I started using football heads to swim plastics in rivers, where current plays tricks with other styles, especially when forced to cast perpendicular to current. I like them.

Ballheads like the VooDoo Custom XX BallHead or Owner Ultrahead Round Head, otherwise the most stable, are great for swimming plastics, too. Every shape has its moments. But a balanced darter head, like the Gamakatsu Darter 26, actually flicks side-to-side slightly on a straight, swimming retrieve, adding a subtle ripple through the plastic, and a realistic swimming motion. Sometimes smallmouths prefer darter heads, sometimes not.

Some pros, like FLW veteran Tom Monsoor of Wisconsin, swim skirted jigs with single-tail grubs for smallmouths. “I always swim skirted jigs up high, and I’ve been doing it a long time,” he says. “I often swim them only 1 to 3 feet down over humps and reefs, and for bass suspended in 20 feet of water or more. In open water, I use a 1/4-ounce, homemade, Arkie-style head with no weedguard. If smallmouths go near it, they’re hooked. I tip it with a 4-inch white Yamamoto grub. I match skirts to shad, shiners, ciscoes—whatever the predominant forage fish in the lake is.”

The skirt not only adds movement, it adds bulk, which Monsoor counts on when asking smallmouths to rise 10 feet or more to intercept a jig. Visibility is critical in other situations, too, since smallies are notorious sight-feeders. I use a similar tactic over and through weedbeds and tangled wood with skirted Terminator Finesse Jigs and Booyah Baby Boo Jigs. With a single-tail grub slowing the drop speed, small skirted jigs with premium hooks provide more hang time. Smallmouths locate them faster. But no jig is efficient in cover without a vertical eye placed at the nose. With horizontal eyes or eyes on top of the head, cover catches and clings to the head.

Monsoor swims jigs in the near-surface zone all summer, but works them deeper in spring and fall. “I reel steadily,” he says, “for smallmouths, largemouths, and spots. Sometimes I cast and let it drop through them, but I usually keep it within 3 feet of the surface. I like to be able to see it. If I start to reel too fast and I recite my mantra: ‘Floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee.’”

When swimming plastics through wood, reeds, or cabbage, I use 10-pound line with Texas-style jigs like the Fin-tech Title SHot Jig, Charlie Brewer’s Slider Company Spider Head, or the Northland Jungle Jig-Loc. All have eyes right at the nose, perfect for shedding cover on a straight retrieve. The Spider Head has an offset hook. With the other two, twist or push the nose of the plastic onto the “worm collar,” or wire spike in the case of the Fin-tech jig, then run the hook through the plastic and texpose the point for a weedless dynamo. Treat these jigs like spinnerbaits—starting the retrieve just prior to splash down—and snags become rare, even in formidable cover.

“For most softbaits, I use the Title SHot about 90 percent of the time,” Zaleski says. “It’s virtually replaced the Texas rig for me. Fin-tech makes it in a variety of styles, but I use the standard streamlined version almost exclusively, typically in the 3/16- to 3/8-ounce sizes.”

Continued after gallery…


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