The Juice on Bass Jigs
December 14, 2017
There's no bad time to fish a bass jig, especially if you're after big fish. Once largemouths move shallow in the Prespawn Period, they seek the best cover on the way toward shallow spawning flats and bays. Stumps and clumps of vegetation like lily pads and curlyleaf pondweed attract fish as they feed before the spawn. Jigs score because, rigged right, they can combine power and finesse in one presentation. This package shows bass something that's both vulnerable and worth chasing, from an energetics perspective.
Bass jigs remain a key lure for two reasons: versatility and the ability to make big bass bite. Today, the vast array of trailers increase further the versatility of jigs, as they can be used to bulk a presenatation to resemble larger prey or to slow the fall rate. Slim trailers speed the fall and help a jig slide into tight holes in cover.
Late Prespawn Scenario
Anglers who follow the pro bass scene recognize the name Randall Tharp, as the former Alabama resident, now living in Florida, has built a strong reputation on both the FLW Tour and Bassmaser Elite scene. His reputation is based in large part on his skill with a jig.
"A 1/2-ounce jig is my confidence bait and I can go down a bank dropping it into vegetation and brush or skipping it under docks," he says. Tharp helped design his signature jig for 4 X 4 Bass Jigs and he generally backs it with a Zoom Super Chunk, Jr., Super Chunk, or Big Salty Chunk, depending on conditons.
"Wherever I fish, I use that 4 X 4 jig," Tharp says, "and I generally choose one of two colors—golden craw, which is green pumpkin with a bit of gold and black flake, or black-blue.
"I feel it's important to limit your selection to some basics so you can focus your mind and your eyes on finding fish and making a careful and accurate presentation. That's critical in jig fishing and you start the day with a lot of confidence."
His formula was put to the test last spring when the Bassmaster Elite tour stopped at a pair of Ozark reservoirs where Tharp had never fished, Bull Shoals and Norfork in Arkansas. Following his own advice on jig tactics, he picked apart rocky banks and bulrush areas near channel swings, where the creek channel made a sharper turn, either along the bank or across a flat. "They're great spring spots because bass have access to shallow and deep water in a small area, which is important when they're getting ready to spawn," he says. Pitching to cover less than 5 feet deep, he sacked over 60 pounds of bass to win the event, pocketing $103,000.
"The bass I was catching were mostly prespawn fish, feeding on shad and crayfish," he adds. "But on the way back to the main lake after spawning, they might well use the same cover, as long as the water level is sufficient. I kept my boat in 8 to 12 feet of water and pitched the jig close to the bank, then worked it down the slope of the channel.
"It's important to focus on how bass are biting a jig. On the afternoon of the second day of the event, I sensed that bass were becoming more aggressive, sometimes even following the jig as I pulled it in. I switched from a 1/2- to a 5/8-ounce jig to encourage that quick reaction bite. With that bit of added weight, it fell faster and I could work it faster along the bottom, But when I started with the heavier lure the next morning, they wouldn't bite it. I had to go back to 1/2-ounce. These minor adjustments can make a big difference."
The Summer Scene
On natural lakes and reservoirs with abundant vegetation, bass occupy various zones within this lush cover. Some great habitat is obvious, while other locales, typically deeper, are hidden from view. Sonar reveals these deeper edges, pockets, and points of vegetation where bass feed all summer long.
From Canada to California to Florida, bass favor tall emergent vegetation that carries many common names—bulrushes, reeds, buggy whips, and tules to name a few. These plants grow on a harder bottom that often limits submerged vegetation. But dense stands with pockets and points are key feeding areas for big bass throughout the season. They can be challenging to fish, and to pull big fish out of.
Casting, pitching, and flipping can all apply to bulrush fishing, depending on density of the plants and water depth. Active bass often move to the outer edges of stands or hold in open pockets where casting works. On the other hand, in the deepest, densest plots, you must proceed slowly and quietly, but you can catch fish within feet of the boat, with a near-vertical drop.
Vast vegetated flats are summer feeding grounds as well. For the highest-percentage fishing, focus on edges, particularly the deeper edge where vegetation tapers into the lake basin. In darker waters, this may occur in 6 to 8 feet of water, while in clear impoundments and lakes with hydrilla, edges may be out in 20 feet or even more. Active bass roam this outer edge throughout the day, but early in the morning, they often chase baitfish from open water toward the edge, which helps them trap their prey. As a school of shad or shiners approaches the weededge, it typically splits and smaller groups of baitfish scatter. When they do, bass attack, knowing they have an advantage over these small and swift swimmers.
Casting toward the edge with a weedless jig often takes the biggest fish of the day. Bass higher in the water column often eat the lure as it falls. At other times, you feel a thump and see the line jump within seconds of bottom contact. Note where the strikes come and you can adjust the presentation. If fish are biting on the fall, switch to a lighter jig to give more drop time. If they're on bottom, go heavier to increase bottom thump and to get back down fast.
Building a Better Weed Jig
Jigs are deadly in grass. They can imitate a crayfish or a small baitfish such as a darter, sculpin, or small sunfish. Joe Medlock of Florida, a retired tool-and-die maker, had molded jigs since 1973 for himself and friends. Fishing in Florida's luxuriant aquatic vegetation can be a challenge, whether it's deep and dense hydrilla, rafts of floating hyacinths, fields of dollar pads, tall stands of clutching maindencane, or gnarly bulrushes more than 10 feet tall.
Dense stands of rushes present a special challenge, as a jig that tips sideways easily snags the stalks that can withstand the pull of 20-pound line and a flippin' stick.
"With the old, flexible plastic Y-guard jigs in mind, I bored an extra hole in some jigs with a dremel and inserted two small clusters of fiber to form a guard," Medlock told me.
"Then I figured out how to pour them from molds and made them for friends. This weedguard worked better than anything in buggy whips. Where we fish, Okeechobee, Istokpoga, and other lunker factories of South Florida, big bass love those reeds. We build 'em with a 6/0 Gamakatsu hook to land those giants."
He kept this design out of the mainstream for some time, but when son Brandon Medlock started winning major tournaments with the jig, the story got out. When Ish Monroe of California used his jig to win the FLW Tour event on Okeechobee, flipping dense bulrushes, its acclaim skyrocketed.
His Double-Guard Flipping Jig is trademarked and he sells them across the country, from the Cal Delta to Lake Champlain "It's strictly a flippin' jig," he adds. "It works okay around hydrilla, but it's not for flippin' mats. For that, you're better off with a Texas rig."
At Stanley Jigs of Huntington, Texas, John Hale and Lonnie Stanley have worked to keep their jig offerings at the forefront of the market. "We tweaked the heads of our Flipping Jig and Casting Jig a bit to help them pass through vegetation without hanging up, while maintaining the good balance our lures are known for," Hale says. "The nose of the Flipping Jig is a bit narrower and the eye of our new Casting Jig is at a 60-degree angle, which is optimal for getting good hook-sets and coming through cover."
Tommy Perry, owner of 4 X 4 Bass Jigs, says that the Randall Tharp Signature Series Jig was designed to fish grass, but also is effective in brush, as Tharp demonstrated in the Ozarks, and can be skipped under docks. "As you go down a bank, this jig fishes whatever type of cover you come to," Tharp says. To create such versatility, its base is shaped like the keel of a boat, which gives balance on the fall, but also provides a planning surface for skipping, a tactic he thrives on.
"We moved the weedguard forward," Perry says, "so it rides at a lower angle to the hook point. That gives it great setting power. We also changed the angle of the head and placed about 65 percent of the jig's weight forward. And with its recessed line-tie, it's remarkably snag-free."
Tharp goes to the 3/4- and 1-ounce models in thick vegetation. As for colors, "Golden Craw and Black/Blue are all you need," he says, "in water from stained to clear." Golden Craw is a unique and resplendent hue, with green pumpkin, along with black and brown, and a bit of gold flash.
Especially across the Midwest and Southeast, many top bass waters lack vegetation and especially where shad are present, bass occupy offshore ledges once the spawn is completed. Typically, inundated channels feature a series of depth breaks from the river's adjacent floodplain to its deepest holes and outside bends. Moreover, in vegetated reservoirs and lakes, a portion of the bass population often lives offshore in summer, as long as open-water preyfish are present.
While deep-diving crankbaits, jigging spoons, umbrella rigs, and Carolina rigs can be effective in these spots, a bottom-hugging jig is efficient as it sinks fast, holds bottom, and works subtle bottom structure thoroughly and with an alluring look. Football jigs from 1/2- to 1-ounce work through rock outcrops, mussel beds, depth breaks, and other features. With its weight up front, a football head tends to roll forward as you tug on it, forcing the hook upward and waving the trailer in the face of nearby bass.
Today, the loose connection between hook and head on jigs like Gene Larew's HardHead, Dirty Jigs' Pivot Point Fotball, VMC's Swingin' Rugby Jig, Freedon Lures jigs, and the new 401 Wobble Head from Outkast Tackle, helps the jig bump through cover and gives more action to the trailer. Crawfish trailers, beaver-style baits, and twin-tails finish the look nicely. While initially regarded as prime largemouth lures, smallmouth bass on rocky humps and shoals also respond well to this crawfish imitator.
Strike King recently added the DB Structure Jig, named for Denny Brauer. During its development, Brauer tested it extensively in his new home waters of Lake Amistad on the Texas-Mexico border, a clear reservoir known for its deep rocky structure and outsize bass.
"It fishes like a football jig," Brauer says, "but it's more versatile. Football jigs work fine on relatively flat bottoms with minor obstructions. But they hang up in timber and can wedge in chunk rock. The loose connection of hook and head makes it harder for bass to throw this jig." Brauer and the Strike King staff came up with what they call a "cobra head," with the line tie straight in front of the head. Its weight is centered well below the hook to keep solid bottom contact but the hook gap is wider than on a football jig.
"It hooks bass easily and keeps them pinned," Brauer says. "On rocky structure at Lake Amistad, I generally use the 3/4-ounce model and make long casts, fishing it on 15-pound-test Seaguar Tatsu. Experiment with retrieve speeds, as bass can be finicky about how they want it. In general, it's got to move very slowly in cold water, and faster as the reservoir warms.
"They like to eat it on the drop as well. In summer, I use a Rage Craw trailer and rip it 5 or 6 feet off bottom. They bite as it falls back. For that I use a 7-foot 4-inch Ardent Football Jig Rod. When I get around brush, I go with 20-pound Tatsu," he says, "or to 25-pound for flippin' thick brush." He notes that the Structure Jig's ability to cope with brush and rock makes it a winner around his former home on the Ozark lakes, as well as many other waters.
Oklahma pro Tommy Biffle calls his favorite technique "bottom buggin'" and he does it on waters with extensive mid-depth flats and fewer prime flippin' targets. He matches the HardHead with a Larew Biffle Bug, making long casts with 20-pound Sunline fluorocarbon and keeps it moving with a Quantum EXO Flippin' Stick paired with a EXO Burner reel with a 7.3:1 gear ratio.
"The Bug has plenty of action, even on thicker line," he notes. Biffle favors heavier heads that work briskly along bottom. "I use a 5/16-ounce head in 3 feet of water or less, 7/16-ounce to about 12 feet deep, and 11/16- for the deepest situations. I adjust my retrieve speed to keep it right along the bottom because I want it to bump into rocks and cover down there." He emphasizes that it's not like swimming a jig in the traditional sense, but bumping it along bottom at a steady pace. The loose connection of head and hook gives extra action to the Biffle Bug.
"When bass bite, they sometimes hit it and run," he says. "But other times they seem to overtake the lure and eat it. You don't feel anything. Set the hook immediately, and with a big swing like you'd use when jig fishing. And sometimes the rod just loads up as they eat it."
While bottom buggin' excels for bottom-oriented bass, swim jigs work best for fish riding higher in the water column, due to factors such as current, vegetation, or baitfish location. They work in many of the same places as spinnerbaits and with a similar retrieve. A jig's combination of density, compact size, and high hooking percentage lends itself to a swimming presentation, especially when tipped with a curlytail grub or small swimbait. Swim jigs work best in water that's clear or only somewhat stained, as fish generally see it from a few feet below.
In lakes and reservoirs, make long casts across weedy or brushy coves and flats and retrieve so the jig moves steadily in the upper portions of the cover, an action veteran jig swimmers call "floating." Holding the rod at about 10 o'clock adds lift to the lure. When a bass eats, drop your rod, remove slack and set the hook. While the retrieve may be similar to a spinnerbait or crankbait, a hard set is needed.
Swim jigs typically run 1/4- to 3/8-ounce, which helps keep them up. Because they're generally not fished through thick cover, only a thin weedguard is needed in most situations, which aids in hook-setting. Baitfish colors typically prevail where shad are key prey.
Eco Pro Tungsten's new Sick Boy Swim Jig is tungsten, so its profile is small, but it can work deeper and in current easily. Outkast Tackle offers the Pro Swim Jig in colors imitating shad, herring, bluegills, and more. It has a 30-degree Mustad Round Bend Jig Hook with double-barb keeper to hold softbaits.
Due to the popularity of swim jigs and the varied habitats anglers fish across the continent, Dirty Jigs Tackle offers three styles—the Swim Jig, called a Coosa River style, with full 50-strand skirt and 3X Mustad Ultrapoint hook in weights from 1/4- to 1/2-ounce; the Finesse Swim Jig with half-cut skirt and 1X Mustad for a slender profile; and the California Swim Jig, with a heavy Gamakatsu hook and weights to 3/4-ounce, for working dense cover and battling monster bass. I've found swim jigs especially effective in rivers as their compact frame and subtle rolling, wiggling action is ideal in moderate current. Moreover, the weedguard lets you swim it through the upper branches of laydowns that adorn river backwaters.
Jig styles expand the decision process. On the water, select the category that fits the type of water you're fishing. Pick a style that keeps you in the fish zone and avoids snags as much as possible. Be ready to set the hook hard and hang on!