The manifold virtues of the small hair jig, according to Brian Waldman Ned Kehde November 17th, 2011 | More From Ned Kehde Share0 Tweet Email Share on Facebook.Share on Twitter.Share on Google+Brain Waldman of Coatesville, Indiana, and bigindianabass.com holds a largemouth bass that he caught on a small hair jig. Brian Waldman of Coatesville,Indiana, is a consummate finesse angler who uses a small hair jig and soft-plastic trailer to inveigle plethora of largemouth bass, as well as some smallmouth bass and spotted bass. In addition to his prowess with a hair jig, he has a website (bigindianabass.com) that is brimming with information about bass fishing. On November 14, Waldman sent us of a long and fascinating e-mail in which he described his favorite small hair jigs and trailers. In addition, he explained where, how and when he uses them, and how many years that he has been wielding them. Below is a copy of Waldman’s e-mail: I throw the 1/8-ounce hair jig 80% of the time. It has a No. 2 bronze hook. I’ll throw a 1/16-ounce jig with a No. 4 hook 15% of the time, and the other 5% of the time I’ll throw a 5/32-ounce. jig with a No.1 hook. I use jigs made with two basic skirt materials. The first is standard bucktail hair; the other is craft fur, such as Darice Craft Fur and Westrim Craft Fur, which has been popularized most recently by practitioners of the float-n-fly technique. My favorite bucktail jig is the Cabela’s hand tied bucktail jig, which is available online. They discontinued making this bait about two years ago, but just recently reintroduced it under the Wright and McGill name, and it costs 87 cents. I’ve caught as many as 107 bass on a single Cabela’s hair jig this year before having to retire it, which brings the cost of a caught bass down to less than a penny a piece for your more frugal readers. For craft fur jigs, local tier Don Dusanic of Pup’s Jigworks in Indianapolis is a real craftsman. He does a wonderful job of creating all sorts of great patterns for me to test on local waters. The key to a good tie is sparseness and length. In most cases, you simply want less material or less bulk. As for the length of the hair, it should be less than twice as long as the hook in most cases. The catch is that you can’t simply just cut off extra length of hair, because that destroys the overall profile and the way the hair undulates. It really has to be tied correctly right from the beginning. You can get by with a little thicker tie because individual hair pieces will break off or pull out as you use them to catch bass, actually getting better with repeated use. That’s simply not the case with length though. For trailers, I use a hand-poured custom trailer in the shape of a mini-pork chunk made by Rick Vogelbacher of Maumee, Ohio, and Rick’s Ultimate Bass. It’s 1.5″ long and somewhat over a half-inch wide. Custom pouring provides unique color combinations as well as a softer piece of plastic. The closest production trailer to this that I regularly use is the ISG Bambino Finesse Chunk, which is stiffer and more limited in colors, though the fish don’t seem to care much. I’m more concerned with the overall profile of the combination than any one particular shape. I don’t need or want details like crawdad claws — the generic shape of a chunk gives the bass an illusion of something it wants to eat. Two of the hand-poured custom trailers in the shape of a mini-pork chunk made by Rick Vogelbacher of Maumee, Ohio, I do not use these jigs with weed guards. In typical Midwest Finesse fashion, I fish a majority of the time in more open waters where a guard is unnecessary. I actually believe that in the colder water times of the year when this bait is so effective, most bass prefer not to inhabit heavy cover and instead select more open exposed areas largely comprised of nothing more than isolated wood cover. This makes the hookup percentage of the small hook and light line very high, and I lose surprisingly few jigs over the course of the year. The head style is just a simple ball head. I’ve toyed with some specialized head shapes for swimming a jig in warmer water situations, but day in and day out, a simple ball head gets the job done. A sphere is the most compact shape you can have for any given amount of mass, so a ball head keeps my jigs compact and efficient. As for colors, the bucktail’s color options are limited. Black and brown/orange are my two primary colors, but I employ a black-and-blue one and a black-and-chartreuse hue. Craft fur ties are available in a plethora of colors, which allows me to experiment with a variety of color combinations at times, such as purple and chartreuse, which is commonly referred to as Table Rock Shad. Additionally, since my craft furs are custom tied, additions of small things like a little flashabou, or even a third color is easily attainable. Craft fur is also good for minnow-like tieswhen swimming is the predominant retrieve technique, or baitfish are the predominant forage. As for trailer colors, you can’t go wrong with either solid black or some version of green pumpkin. I usually prefer to have a little color contrast between my bait and trailer. In addition, I can use hand poured color combinations with their wider range of diversity and additions of glitter and flake to add complimentary color highlights to the somewhat limited color selection of bucktail skirt material. This often isn’t necessary with craft fur ties. The 1/8-ounce bucktail jig with the mini-trailer is my standard-bearer. I almost always try it first in all conditions. If I need more color, or a faster fall rate, I’ll switch to a craft-fur jig of the same size. If I need to fish deeper, or in the coldest water temps, I’ll frequently fish without the trailer to minimize resistance or create a smaller profile. In super clear water or under liquid ice conditions, I’ll actually move to a 1/16-ounce black crappie or kip-tailed jig and perhaps a 1/32-ouncer in some cases sans trailer. Beyond that, heavier jigs (such as the 5/32-ounce ones) fish easier in the wind, current or deeper water, and lighter jigs (such as the 1/16-ounce models) fish better in shallow water or when a slower fall is needed. In sum, the smaller/lighter you can keep your presentation within reason, the more bass you’ll catch. As for rods, reels, lines and leaders, I’ve spent a lot of time altering setups over the years as technology changed what is available in the way of lines. I originally started with regular monofilament. From there I went through a fluorocarbon phase, and then more recently a superline phase. Ultimately, I have settled on my current setup of a superline (PowerPro, Fireline, NanoFil) main line with a fluorocarbon (Toray, Seaguar) leader. I believe this is the best all-around setup for fishing small hair jigs in most situations. The first notion I’d like to dispel is that most people would assume that I’m using the leader due to visibility issues with superlines, but that isn’t the case. I’ve fished extensively with these light jigs tied directly to all kinds of braided line colors, including white, smoke, green, red and yellow/flame green. In all cases, I have never found a difference in the amount or size of bass I’ve caught relative to what color superline I used or whether I tied direct to the superline or used a leader. Initially, I preferred to tie direct to the superline because it made rigging and fishing a more efficient process. Often I could go all day, catching 50 to 60 bass, and never retie. However, there are several advantages I’ve come to like with using a leader now. These include 1. Fluorocarbon, due to it’s density, provides a little extra weight at the end of the line to help the small jig stay down against the inherent tendency of the superlines, which are lighter density and actually float. 2. The leader material also provides an inherent amount of stretch, which provides two benefits. The first is that it cushions the direct pressure of the almost no-stretch properties of the superline, which allows for better playing ability with big bass and small hooks, as well as overzealous hook sets. More importantly though, it allows you to use a traditional bow-and-arrow snap to free lures that get hung in rocks or on large limbs. This is a largely overlooked concept. 3. Fluorocarbon is a very tough material, and so a leader of fluorocarbon holds up well to constant fishing around things like rocks and dock poles. 4. A leader also saves main line. I can start with a four to seven foot fluorocarbon leader and fish all day, retying as necessary and never get into my superline mainline until it’s time to replace the entire leader. This helps save and maintain the original length of superline spooled on your reel. You can easily fish an entire year or two on a single spool of superline as long as you don’t lose enough of it from retying. 5. For anglers who are concerned about line visibility, a leader does help mentally in clear water situations. On line size, I’ve found that four-pound-test is too light, and 10-pound-test is too heavy. The lightest I’ll throw is five-pound-test PowerPro, and more commonly I’ll use either six- or eight-pound-test superlines. With the limited stretch factor of the superlines, an angler can too easily exceed four pounds of pressure with a quick snap, especially when trying to pop a bait off of a hang up. Using a leader helps, but doesn’t leave you a lot of room for error. On the other hand, 10-pound-test line and above is simply unnecessary, and starts to limit the action of the bait, as well as the efficiency of presentations either in the wind, in current, or at deeper depths. As for rods and reels, I’ve settled on 6-foot and seven-foot medium-light-powered rods with a fast action and comprised of various grades of graphite. I will also use a medium-power rod on occasion if their action is more moderate. This seems to provide the perfect balance of power and play. The lighter rods are easy to fish all day, load and cast well with the tiny lightweight jigs, yet are powerful enough to easily embed a small fine wire hook into the mouth of a bass in combination with the low-stretch superline. They are also forgiving enough to play a quality bass at the boat without fear of the little hooks pulling out. My absolute favorites are a pair of custom built Otterods by Matt Davis of Fergus Falls, Minnesota. They are incredibly sensitive and incredibly light, and a joy to fish with all day. That said, length and action are more important overall, so use what is affordable and available to you for this type fishing. I still catch loads of bass every year on these small jigs fished on an inexpensive Berkley Lightning Rod. On the subject of reels, my only requirement is to stick to a mid-sized version of reel, typically considered to be a 2000 or 2500 size by today’s nomenclature. You don’t want a tiny reel, and you don’t want a giant reel. Beyond that, a smooth retrieve courtesy of good ball bearings, along with an efficient drag are nice to have, though not completely necessary, especially if you prefer to backreel like I do. One of my most heavily used reels is a Bargain Cave $20 special I picked up a couple years back; so again, use whatever fits your budget in the right size. In regard to the waterways that I fish, the majority of the waters available to me are flatland impoundments. A few lakes exhibit hill land and highland characteristics. There are some mid-sized river systems, too. The lakes are located in agricultural areas, and they tend to be eutrophic to late-stage eutrophic in nature. The water clarity ranges from one foot to four feet of visibility. The size of the impoundments ranges from around 300 to 10,000 acres. These waters tend to be dominated by largemouth bass as the primary predators; bluegill and gizzard shad are the predominant prey base. The lakes are embellished with boat docks and boat lifts along shorelines, as well as rip-rap, breakwall, scattered laydowns, washed in logs and American water willows. As for the seasonal aspects of using a small hair jig, I have found that they will work year round on these Indiana impoundments. However, they really shine during the cold-water periods. I will typically pick it up beginning in early October, and it never leaves the boat until the first of April. I really key on water temps that are at or under 55 degrees. This coincides post-turnover in the fall, and usually also means less plankton and hence clearer water. Our reservoirs tend to freeze-up during the first or second week of December, and the ice is on until the first or second week of March. But there are some larger river systems and warm-water discharges that we can ply. One thing I have learned is that there is no such thing as water that is too cold for this bait to work. The only thing I haven’t tried is drilling a hole in the ice and vertical jigging it. Still, I have caught plenty of bass on partially frozen waters where tossing the little jig onto an ice shelf and pulling it off into the water resulted in fish. On our rivers, it’s not unusual to be dodging large sheets of ice that float down the river like mini-icebergs, yet we still catching plenty of bass in 36- to 38-degree water When I used to spend a lot of time walking rip-rap shorelines, I noticed that when crayfish are rustled from their lairs during the cold-water period that they simply make a flick or two with their tails, and then smoothly glide down into the depths and out of sight, and as they move downward, they follow the contour of the bank. No frantic movements. Therefore, the best jig presentation is to simply give the jig a flick or two of the wrist, then hold the rod steady at about 10:30 and let the jig pendulum until coming to rest. As soon as it stops, I quickly give another flick or two and repeat this effort. It’s a simple presentation that catches lots of bass. We call it the pop and drop. When bass are aggressive, I’ll frequently get a strike on the fall immediately after the jig hits the surface of the water at the end of the cast, and the strike often occurs about a foot under the surface. When the bass are this active and shallow, I normally cast to the water’s edge. Often it is best to fish parallel to the shoreline, focusing on the shallow water adjacent to the shoreline. Here, if I don’t get a strike on the initial fall, I execute a swimming retrieve parallel to the shoreline, using steady repeated pulls and drops and covering a total of three to six feet with each pull. This swimming pattern also works well along flatter shorelines, especially those with some type of emergent or submergent weeds or vegetation present. As the water cools down into the low 40s and upper 30s, the shallow-water pattern peters out, and until I can determine the most productive depth, I employ a perpendicular presentation executed with either a gentle lift-and-swim retrieve or a lift-and-drop retrieve. I find that a subtle retrieve that is devoid of excessive pumps, shakes and flicks generates most of my cold-water strikes with a jig. In essence, it replicates a crawfish. From mid-October into early December, I am afloat only on weekends, and I fish from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. My goal is to catch 10 bass an hour, and during that eight to nine week period, I normally catch 200 to 300 bass. I would catch more bass if I didn’t spend so much time crappie fishing. Then in the cold-water period, stretching from early March into early April, I catch another 200 to 400 bass. I usually, I manage to catch between 30-62 bass a trip using hair jigs. As of November 13, I have fished 180.7 hours and caught 1579 bass in 2011, which is an average of 8.7 bass an hour. Forty percent of those were caught on a small hair jig, and the biggest bass that the hair jig enticed weighed four pounds, 12 ounces. It should be noted thatIndiana’s waterways do not have bountiful populations of bass. In fact, a look at tournament results across the entireUnited States reveals that Indiana has the toughest bass fishing in the country. I frequently run into friends on the water, and usually they catch only one to 10 bass per trip using more traditional and popular bass-fishing techniques. What’s more, these anglers often spend many more hours on the water than I do. Thus, they are often somewhat skeptical when I mention that I have caught 30, 40, or 50 bass in an afternoon on the same waters. What I’m doing is nothing new. Small hair jigs have been around for a long time, stretching back to 1952 when Elmer “Doll” Thompson of Knoxville, Tennessee and founder of Thompson Fishing Tackle Company created the Doll Fly, which was a jig bedecked with polar bear hair. It has been reported that when the Doll Fly was at the peak of its popularity, more of them were sold on a daily basis than any other lure in the history of the tackle trade. Billy Westmoreland of Celina, Tennessee, created the Hoss Fly, which has an aspirin-style head and dressed with hair. It was commonly called the fly ‘n rind, and Westmorland and other used it to allure untold numbers of smallmouth bass. Eventually Charlie Nuckols developed the float-and-fly combination as another way of catching smallmouth bass in the winter in Tennessee reservoirs. Hereabouts in neighboring Ohio, several anglers, such as George Polosky of Alliance, Ohio, and former Ohioan Ron Yurko, probed shallow-water lairs and flipped and pitched small jigs adorned with weed guards into piles of brush, laydowns, logjams and other obstacles, and they caught a significant number of largemouth bass. My first experience with a small hair jig occurred on a local reservoir during the Thanksgiving weekend of 2001, and to my surprise and delight, I quickly caught a limit of largemouth bass. Before that initial eye-opening experience, I had been enamored with conventional and popular bass fishing techniques that the professional tournament anglers used. Then as soon as the ice disappeared in 2002, I immediately started working with a small hair jig and catching a lot of largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass from our rivers and reservoirs. At that point I knew I had found a new and potentially prolific and overlooked option to my bass fishing arsenal. I’ve been tinkering and toying with it above ever since, and these small hair jigs, which some anglers derisively call sissy jigs, have proven to be as effective for largemouth bass in Indiana waters as anglers elsewhere have found them to be for smallmouth and spotted bass. Share on Facebook.Share on Twitter.Share on Google+ Share0 Tweet Email Load Comments ( ) Don’t forget to sign up! Get the Top Stories from In-Fisherman Delivered to Your Inbox Every Week Even More Midwest Finesse Show More Get the In-Fisherman Newsletter FREE! Get the top stories delivered right to your inbox every week. Best Fishing Times: Solunar CalendarRead Now! Advertisement LIKE WHAT YOU'RE READING? Get 8 issues for the low price of just $8! Subscribe!