Panfish Hair Jigs

Back in the day, panfish fanatics relied on livebait to make the most of their trophy fishing, and to put fillets in the freezer. In the South, it was crickets, in the North, leeches. Elsewhere, baits of choice ranged from garden worms to maggots to waxworms.

But use of panfish hair jigs for big bluegills and crappies certainly isn’t new, and marabou jigs are classic lures for crappies. Novel ties in tiny sizes—replicates of panfish prey in amazingly small leadhead jigs tied with hair and synthetic fibers—are today’s news. High-tech panfishers now wield rods that can cast 1/80-ounce jigs to precise spots 50 feet away. And new 1- and 2-pound lines enable deliveries and deepwater success that weren’t possible before. As situations become tougher or fishing pressure puts big pans on edge, these specialized jigs can save the day.

California Cases

In southern California, a small group of bluegill anglers has been refining jigs and tactics for several years. They machine their own molds, custom paint the heads, and experiment to find the best options for the huge coppernose ‘gills that inhabit lakes Perris, Barrett, and Skinner. They manipulate colors and various synthetic and natural hair options. They fish deep, often below 20 feet, sometimes tipping with bait, and fishing with high-end 2-pound monos.

One of that crew is Sonny de la Torre, an expert jig-maker from Riverside. He began making micro jigs to save money. He also couldn’t find jigs he wanted; available ones were too big, wrong color, or didn’t have the action he was looking for. His efforts yielded a number of my favorites that aren’t available from mainstream jig companies. His current crop of “belly-spinners” and “chub-head” models are unfamiliar to pressured fish. His 1/48-ouncers excel throughout much of the season.

Panfish Hair JigsTop-quality hooks are key to de la Torre’s jigs. He likes VMC round bend or Matzuo sickle-style hooks from #12 to #6. Needle-sharp, they set easily in deep water with wispy monofilament. For his smallest jigs, 1/100- and 1/80-ounce, he uses #12 hooks. For his swim jigs, chub, and football styles in 1/48- and 1/24-ounce, he uses #6 and #8 hooks. Many of his jigs are ‘‘thread-bodied”—tied with 3/0 thread. Natural patterns are tied with peacock herl. His favorite material is marabou fluff with crystal flash or fluorescent red floss in the tail.

Jim Simkins of Chino is another SoCal bluegill fanatic. He and de la Torre are partners, often engaged in deep water ‘gilling at Lake Perris. Simkins has caught 10 bluegills over 2¼ pounds from Perris, with a 2-pound 12-ounce fish in October 2010, his biggest to date. He favors 2-pound mono and hair jigs, and finds trophy fish around sunken rockpiles from 15 to 25 feet deep.

“The biggest mistake people make when fishing these jigs is not paying attention to the bite,” Simkins says. “In almost every case, if you’re not closely watching your line, you never know you had a bite.”

Deep, clear water and heavy angling pressure complicate the bite at Perris. Fish go deep and exacting tactics are needed to catch them, particularly trophy specimens. Effective colors include black and silver, as well as natural browns and greens. Tipping jigs with a cricket or mealworm can be the trick when fish get fussy.

California anglers fish much of the same structures as western bass specialists—channels, points, and rockpiles. Vertical jigging or swimming jigs through fish marked on sonar can yield exceptional catches, and in these lakes there’s always potential for a 2-pounder.