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So It Begins

by Matt Straw   |  December 31st, 2012 0

Over the Big Lake—a final glimmering of stars. To the East—the first brushstrokes of color paint the sky. Another day begins with the sound of drift boats sliding into the medium of their genesis. Rods are ready. Extra gloves stuffed into pockets. Five layers of clothes.

The man with all the hair is jig artist Gabe Hillebrand, owner of Hill Brand Tackle. The guy with his hand out is Indigo guide Steve Martinez—Gabe’s main sounding board for tactics and design for steelhead in 2012. They’ve sized up the river level and the available light. They’ve considered the wind, the water color, and recent results to make the first selections of the day. Both choose 1/4-ounce jigs combining various types of fur, hair, synthetics, and feathers.

But (what else is new?) Mary strikes first, drifting a spawn bag on bottom. Mary and I decided to keep everybody honest the first day. I split time pitching hair and drifting beads under floats, while she pitched hair and drifted bait on bottom. Good friend and owner of Indigo Guide Service, Kevin Morlock, along with Martinez and Hillebrand, pitched hair for two solid days. With fascinating results:

Over that two days, everybody hooked up at least once with a hair jig. Which may not sound “fascinating” to you, but the river was low and clear. And fishing (as mentioned in previous posts) was very slow no matter which tactics were in play. We were finding maybe one active fish every couple miles. And that might be an exaggeration.

Nothing new about using hair-and-feather jigs for steelhead. But almost all previous versions have been designed for float fishing. And Hillebrand’s jigs were actually designed to improve on a tactic that took fly fishing for steelhead by storm over the past few years—swinging relatively big streamers tied with a variety of materials through holding water in fall and winter. The weight of the jig replaces the need for a sink-tip line. Getting a jig out there with spinning gear, and getting it to the right spot, is more efficient and far easier. Getting the jig to swing is a matter of rod and line position—after matching weight and bulk to the current, of course. But a jig has other advantages, too.

“Rod action is critical,” Martinez said. “A dead sweep works, but giving the jig action works better.
Every day you have to develop a cadence for twitching or snapping the rod tip that’s going to trigger the most fish. Sometimes it’s pretty subtle, and sometimes it’s pretty radical.”

“I get better hookups with Gabe’s articulated versions (shown above),” Kevin said. “Extending the hook out behind the head not only ensures they’ll find it, but that they can’t twist free as easily. And it creates a livelier swimming action.”

More on swinging hair for steel in 2013. (Happy New Year!)









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