Opening boxes is something I do almost every day. But this one was different. I was told they were unique jigs from a new designer named Gabe Hillebrand, owner of Hill Brand Tackle. As I caught a glimpse of the first one, zipped into an individual baggie with a name tag and Gabe's business card, I thought it looked like a steelhead streamer — one of the new styles designed for casting down and across then swinging it on a tight line.
I called the number on the card. Gabe answered. "Did you design these for swinging across rivers on a tight line for steelhead?" (Actually, there was a letter in the box explaining what they were designed for and, yes, some were for steelhead and built to swing. Gabe was nice enough not to mention it.)
"Yeah — my lures are inspired, largely, by fly fishing streamers," he said. "But they're tied to complement the unique action of a jig. They patterns are complex and dense, but tied to attract predators with life-like action."
The fly above is called the Swamp Donkey and it can be tied in any color you like. I told Gabe it looked a lot like the most popular fly for smallmouths around here, a pattern sold by Thorne Brothers (but the name of the fly escapes me at the moment), with its nylon "legs" and various textures.
"They breathe and move with every pump and twitch of the rod," Gabe said. "The fisherman has complete control. The Scoby has a wide profile that closely imitates both a goby and sculpin. Its wide profile pushes water aside to alert predators. Sends the message that something substantial is trying to swim past. A real meal. The Swamp Donkey, designed for bass and steelhead, has a deer hair head that makes a swooshing sound when pulled through the water column. It's articulated to amplify the fluid action."
We talked for quite a while about the theories behind tying hair jigs. We touched on tying hair jigs for salmon — something, I'm sure, we're going to be talking about in magazine pages real soon. And I wondered if he considered tying something designed to swim horizontally for bass. He later wrote back and said he's "been thinking through some of the possibilities for hair jigs we talked about. I've got some ideas you might be interested in. I'll have to work something up for you." (I didn't touch it, but what a lead in for a hair ball reference.)
Next up, we'll look at a couple more Hill Brand patterns and the kind of results people are reporting — for some surprising animals.