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Panfish Gear & Accessories Lures

Balancing Acts for Panfish Jigs

by Matt Straw   |  October 30th, 2012 0

A jig is weight on a hook. The weight takes the hook down to fish. To allow the bait more freedom of movement, use split shot. Any questions? Class dismissed. Look at the pictures and flip to the muskie article.

Strict bait fishermen might do just that, without any apologies. They determine the depth of the fish, select the appropriate jig weight with the right hook, and cut, slice, or apply the bait just so to create a realistic profile. Done deal.
So how is it we find about two bazillion different panfish jigs cluttering up our shops, catalogs, and department stores? Truth is, anglers are getting better at panfishing. Bait isn’t always required, and sometimes it’s actually a nuisance. Aggressive jigging tactics provide moments worth remembering.

As a result, ranks are thinning within the once-massive bait and bobber brigade. Not that anything’s wrong with a worm on a hook under a float. But anglers who fished that way to the exclusion of all else are changing. Walleye and bass fishermen learned long ago to go to the fish. Finding them generally is quicker than anchoring and waiting for them to find you. Find the motherlode, then anchor, maybe.

On ice or open water, mobility is the difference between fishing and waiting. And jigs are critical to the mobile approach. In a recent ­panfish article, we detailed the ­effectiveness of tiny crankbaits for panfish. That’s just the aggressive end of the ­spectrum of techniques every panfisherman should know. Jig pres­entations run the gamut from aggressive to subtle, from ripping a darter head with a Twister Tail to dangling a tiny 1/250-ounce unpainted jig with a tiny piece of bait under a small float.

Under the ice, aggressive takes on new meaning, but the process of selecting a jig follows the same progression.

Experienced fishermen choose aggressive presentations for active fish high off bottom, moving progressively smaller and more subtle as activity levels taper. And they might arrange their tackle accordingly, from highly active swimming jigs, to small swimming jigs, to large teardrops, to small ballheads, to subtle brown tiny tears, and finally, mini ballheads. Jig assortments are arranged by activity modes, or by size and type, or by some other logical system.

To get there requires a selection process that takes into account a bazillion variables on the waters you fish. Panfishermen need a reason for reconsidering jigs they’ve scorned. We all have that one jig that just slobberknocks pansies even when the fish pucker up and hug bottom, saying no to everything else. But that’s not enough. The bazillions beckon.

At any rate, after one little jig article last year, I got “What about my stuff?” letters from the ­Australian Outback. There may be more panfish jigs than stars in the heavens, and sorting through even one bazillion requires a logical process.
We’ve categorized jigs before. Beyond (again) categorizing panfish jigs, our emphasis turns to a balanced selection. Hook size, eye placement, head shape, collars, and options like hair, feathers, and plastic determine where, when, and how a jig should be fished.

Many panfish jigs are dressed with a little hair, feathers, or synthetic material, often perfect for locating aggressive panfish without bait. Bare jigs are designed for tipping with plastic or bait, and on rare occasions a little flicker of pork. Deciding whether that chunk-of-something you just skewered on a tiny hook balances and fishes properly is also a critical part of the selection process. In other words, select jigs to match depth, wind, cover—prevailing conditions.

Select for balance, both within your arsenal and within individual jigs. To balance the universe and become one with the bazillion, select jigs to harmonize with the nature of the fish, and the nature of the season.

When articles like this are scheduled, lots of new little toys appear. Staff members wander past, look in, and ask, “What’s this? I like this one. Perfect for maggies under a float. This one has a nice gap. Good crappie jig.” When an ­In-Fisherman staff member picks up a jig, it becomes a job-specific tool. Qualities that make it just right stand out, and the jig is instantly categorized. Sometimes our categories clash, but usually we see jigs the same way.

Eye placement, head shape, hook size, and several other factors are instantly analyzed. One of the first things evident to a seasoned eye is the main functional category of the jig, whether it’s designed for vertical jigging or for casting.

Eye Placement
The Fle-Fly Nikki Spin Fly and some of the McKala “Match The Hatch” Reel Jigs are instantly categorized as horizontal tools, because the eye exits the jighead at a 45-degree angle to the hook shank, as opposed to a 90-degree angle on a standard ballhead such as a Lindy Fuzz-E-Grub. Fishing it vertically causes it to hang at an odd angle, while casting and retrieving it provides a more natural profile.

At first glance, then, the McKala and the Fle-Fly might look like the same tool. But the McKala head is round, and the Fle-Fly head has flatter sides, making it easier to extract from crevices in rocks. The Fle-Fly becomes a good choice for casting to panfish feeding on rock or gravel, while the McKala might be a better choice over sand or silt, and both should fare equally well in weeds.

The differences don’t end there. Hook size is comparable, but the Fle-Fly hook points up, in the traditional manner. The McKala hook points down. The Fle Fly has a chenille body and a hackle-feather tail, while the McKala comes plain and undressed with a collar for plastics, or tied up like a nymph with a hackle collar and synthetic body. These various options perform differently, not to mention the difference in hooking. Both jigs catch fish without bait, but adding a small piece of bait to the Fle-Fly would be feasible, while bait imbalances the down-point Mc­Kala.

These differences between two rather similar jigs are evident without being nit-picky, like pointing out that these forward-eye jigs, which also includes the Bait Rigs Slo Poke, fish ever so slightly slower than standard designs of equal weight. The forward eye placement keeps the fishing line in front of the jig, as opposed to pulling it straight down from above, apparently producing a slightly accentuated drag effect that seems to work best on an elongated head.

Eye placement and type can be critical around weeds. The most weedfree position is snubbed tight to the nose with the eye turned vertical, up and down, as on Bobby Garland’s Crappie TR head, which has no neck to catch weeds. A perfect weed jig, but take the same design and turn the eye horizontal, and weed resistance is reduced dramatically. Add an extended neck to the horizontal eye design and it transforms from practically weed-free into a weed harvester.

Head Shape
Head shape is critical to the jig selection process. For a slow drop through the water column with bait, the Slo Poke is a good choice, but the slowest jig is completely flattened, like the Comet Shiner or Turner Jones’ Micro Jig Mino. Remember trying to drop a quarter through a huge jar of water into a shot glass to win something at the old five-and-dime? The quarter dances, flutters, and misses the shot glass.

Even on 2-pound line, the Mino or Shiner falls in a sliding spiral that always catches light and flash at some point during the descent—absolutely deadly for crappies at times. That these jigs have natural and realistic minnowlike profiles certainly doesn’t hurt. Truly flat-sided jigs that fish balanced are rare, however.

The fastest-dropping jigs display a more aqua-dynamic shape, pointed at the nose, like the Blue Fox Foxee Jig. Paired with the Foxee plastic body, with its tentacles, flippers, and marabou tail, this is not a fast-dropping jig. Remove the body, however, or clip off all the tentacles, as the packaging suggests, for “a rapid, lifelike swimming action.” When searching for a few highly active fish, a bullet head with an action-plastic tail fishes faster, covers water more efficiently, and locates fish quicker than slow presentations.

Most jigs are simple ballheads, the first jig shape that could do it all and still does. Ballheads are essentially a compromise between the fastest and the slowest heads, between active and subtle, and between snag-­resistant and snaggy. A ballhead can be dressed to fish slow or quite fast.

The Lindy Little-Joe Crappie Queen, for example, is a ballhead that falls in a zig-zag pattern because of its mylar wings. It stays in the strike zone longer when fished on heavy enough monofilament. Dressed with sparse hair, marabou, or straight-tail plastic, ballheads can be fished aggressively with a quick dart-stop motion. A ballhead is rarely the wrong head to use, but it isn’t always the perfect head, either.

As mentioned, round heads that are narrower side-to-side or slightly flattened, like the Fle-Fly and Northland’s Buck Shot Jig, slide through rocks better than a ballhead. But a ballhead snags less in rock than a wedge head. The Bobby Garland TR Crappie jig is a wedge head—great in weeds, not so great in rocks. Any sinker, lure, or jig with a pointed or narrow snout that widens out can wedge itself into a crevice. Aspirin heads are best for rocks, with the Buck Shot probably coming closest to that design in a panfish jig.

Blunt-end bullet heads that narrow or taper back toward the hook shank, such as the Lindy Little Joe Quiver Jig, are slightly more efficient in rocks, too. The first portion of the head to hit a crevice is the widest. If it goes in, it can generally come out. Well-balanced bullet heads with the eye centered, such as the Quiver Jig or Foxee, also make fine swimming jigs, for casting to suspended fish or for working over the top of brush piles and other snaggy spots. Ballheads also make good swimming jigs.

Under floats or through the ice, where flutter and slow drop speed are critical, teardrop shapes, such as the Thunderhawk Talon Tear or Apex Tear Drop, shine. This flat shape in a vertical package rises slightly higher than a standard jig when the float is moved or popped, and drops slowly back into place. Jiggling this head shape in place causes it to dance a little more, raising and lowering the bait slightly, for a different triggering effect.

Ballheads or specialty heads like the HT Enterprises Mamushka might be the next logical choice under the ice, while a horizontal profile like the Northland Jig-Let offers a realistic package under a float. The flat bottom causes it to glide as the float is pulled through the water.

A piece of crawler or a small minnow appears natural, flowing behind this horizontal head, while a smaller bait, like a maggot or grub, looks more natural behind a smaller head, like the bullet-shaped Turner Jones Original Micro Jig.
But shape isn’t the main consideration. Given no other options, various-size ballheads work just fine.

Seems too simple, but weight is really the primary factor in choosing a jig. Depth, desired drop speed, wind, current, and casting distance determine which weight to choose. For panfish, having infinitesimally incremental choices in weight is preferable, but few manufacturers offer more than 1/16-, 1/32-, and sometimes 1/64-ounce sizes.

Custom Jigs and Spins, however, produces six different panfish sizes of their Rat Finkee Jig, from about 1/200 ounce up to 1/32 ounce. Having an assortment of sizes in the same jig appeals to the convenience and confidence factors. If a wind comes up or the fish move deeper, just step up a size in the same color, style, and jig type. But even more critical is the opportunity to conduct serious experiments with drop speed.

Whether you fish a jig under a float, vertically jig, or cast it, most strikes occur as the jig drops on a slack or semi-slack line. Say you’re catching nice panfish, but only one every ten minutes. You’re doing something right, but maybe not right enough. Tinkering with the pres­entation can sometimes turn around a slow bite. I might try the same jig with the same bait or dressing in a slightly lighter weight, to slow drop speed. I also might experiment with color. Being able to make size changes in small increments is important when drop speed is the key to triggering more strikes.

Continued – click on page link below.

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