April 15, 2017
Developments in jig design, along with new techniques for fishing this lure, raise questions about choosing trailers to match jig styles and applications. Such fine-tuning of the presentation can mean the difference between picking off a few fish and putting together a deadly pattern. Choosing the best trailer is an overlooked part of this challenge.
Jigs remain a key bass lure for two reasons: versatility and the ability to tempt outsize bass to bite. When I began jig fishing, the decision was simple—choose between a #11 or #10 Uncle Josh Pork Chunk. The jig'n' pig was the deal. And in many cases, it remains so today.
But multiple options in softbaits allow anglers to tailor the look and feel of the lure to the position and attitude of nearby bass. These run the gamut from slender tapered tails that quiver delicately to hard charging flappers that pulse your rod tip as they fall. With the variety of styles and applications today, it makes sense to view trailer selection according to categories.
When I first came upon Stanley and Arkie jigs in the early 1980s, the idea was to cast them into likely lairs with the 5½-foot pistol-grip rods we cherished. The one advantage of a short rod is casting accuracy, and I also find it easier to skip lures with a short stick. Firing the jig into pockets in thick vegetation, fallen trees, lily pads, and under docks was deadly. Pork rind matched this presentation.
Today, longer rods and longer casts are more often the deal, though in some situations (river backwaters, newly flooded shorelines, small impoundments), short-range pinpoint casting remains the best option. Randall Tharp, a veteran bass pro now living in Florida, has found considerable success with jigs and has designed a signature-series lure for 4 X 4 Bass Jigs of Alabama. His philosophy in jig fishing is to keep things simple. "Limit your selection to some basics and you can focus your mind and your attention on looking for fish and making a careful and accurate presentation," he says. "That's critical with jig fishing.
"Wherever I go, I fish two sizes of that jig (3/8- or 5/8-ounce), in two colors—golden craw, which is green pumpkin with a touch of gold and black flake, and black-blue. Depending on conditions, I choose among three trailers: a Zoom Super Chunk Jr. on a lighter jig and a Super Chunk or Big Salty Chunk on heavier ones. The Chunk has two tails that imitate a crawfish, while the Big Salty Chunk is shaped like Uncle Josh Pork. I used pork a lot, but find plastic more convenient.
"The thin flapping tails on these baits provide more action to a jig on the bottom, especially in current. When you hop it, the tails give a subtle flapping action. And they fall cleanly and fast through cover, unlike a jig with a big flapping trailer."
Tharp uses black with blue flake and green pumpkin chunks in most situations across the country. Sapphire blue is for murky water in summer. He finds that running the hook through the chunk gives the trailer more action than skewering it onto the shank, as with a crawbait.
As a writer, I feel it's my duty to give a fair test to as many trailers as I can, from new as well as classic companies, and in the numerous and colorfully named hues we see today. In some situations, I've found that trailers with flapping claws, such as Big Bite Baits' Swimming Craw, Berkley's PowerBait Chigger Craw, and Strike King's Rage Craw provide the added vibration to garner strikes. These occasions typically are in murky water where visibility is limited and more reliance placed on the fish's lateral line; at night, when similar conditions apply; and in cold water where a slow vertical fall sometimes means more bites from lethargic bass. In thick vegetation, a flatter bait such as a Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver helps the jig punch through and also adds a gliding action on the drop.
I agree with Tharp that the thin legs of chunks impart subtle action that's deadly in cold water. And when the hook goes through the chunk body, the gap is increased for better hook-ups, and jigs remain balanced on the fall.
Louisiana pro Greg Hackney also is a renowned jig fisherman and has a series of signature jigs as well, the Strike King Hack Attack Heavy Cover Jigs. When selecting a trailer for that jig or Strike King's Denny Brauer Structure Jig, he first looks at water temperature. "If the water is above 50°F, I've found nothing better than a Strike King Rage Craw," he says, "for flipping or pitching or casting jigs. In cold water, though, I go with a chunk-style, either Strike King's KVD Chunk or Uncle Josh chunks. In cold water, it seems like trailers that produce less action but have a larger profile work best. In those conditions, you fish the lure slowly, crawling it along bottom or slowly dragging it through the limbs of a tree."
Flippin' jigs in thick cover remains a key tactic where bass inhabit shallow woodcover or vegetation. For timber, jigs with a rounded head and stiff fiberguard help the lure move through the branches without snagging too much. The best grass jigs tend to be more pointed or bullet-shaped, as the thin nose helps part the plant stalks, allowing the jig and trailer to pop through the surface mat to bass below.
In trees with wide branches, big, bulky trailers excel as they slow the fall and present a good mouthful to bass huddled among the limbs. They enhance the big fish appeal that's inherent in weedless bass jigs. In dense wood, however, claws and appendages often catch twigs, foiling a cast or stalling the lure as it moves through the cover. Consider a compact, non-flapping crawfish bait or a chunk in those conditions.
Similarly, in dense vegetation, a broad-clawed craw or creature bait can catch the thin leaves of milfoil, hydrilla, and coontail, preventing the lure from falling through. For such vegetation, a slim trailer helps get the jig down to bass below without undue wiggling on the surface or launching the package high in the air to increase momentum to punch through.
Missile Baits offers the slender Missile Craw, designed to easily slip through thick vegetation. And Gene Larew's new Punch Out Craw is a 3.75-inch bait that's serrated in several areas so its large flapping claws can be removed to create a slim trailer that resembles a reaper. Indiana pro Jacob Wheeler wanted a versatile trailer that could match different types of cover. "It's built so you can customize it on the water," he says.
On the heavyweight side, Medlock's Double Guard Flipping Jig uses two clusters of nylon fibers to guard its massive hook. He designed this jig especially for fishing thick bulrushes or tules, where standard jigs can catch on the super-tough stalks when the jig turns sideways. With a pair of guards, the hook snags far less and the point has a clear passage into the fish's mouth. Recently, Outkast Jigs utilized this design in their new R. T. X. Jig. Both brands are available in weights to an ounce.
Over the last decade, swimming jigs has become a staple presentation, especially around thick shallow cover and in current. While a flipping jig is a vertical presentation, swimming one is a horizontal technique that excels for covering water to catch scattered bass or to locate groups of fish in a large area. Due to the mesmerizing effect of a grub, this category has been a favorite trailer for swim jigs, providing lift, color, and action. Match the jig to a 3-, 4-, or 5-inch model, depending on jig weight and skirt thickness. A 1/4-ounce jig with a thin skirt and 4-inch grub has comprised the standard finesse swim jig, and I've caught hundreds of bass on this setup.
Tharp prefers a Zoom Twin-Tail Grub for its added vibration as well as its balance. Small swimbaits are another good option. The thumping tail of a swimbait adds a strong pulse to the presentation as well as adding rolling action to the bait. The swimming, hunting action produced is deadly from spring through fall.
Hackney adds a Rage Craw to his swim jig almost 90 percent of the time, feeling that its vibration draws bass in thick cover. Moreover, the scooped claws of this lure create extra lift to keep the jig high in the water column at a slow retrieve, which is essential in thick shallow vegetation. "When it seems bass are feeding more on bluegills, I use a bluegill-color Rage Craw, such as Blue Bug," he says. "And I like a white one when shad are thick."
An exception comes when he works deeper brushpiles, standing timber, or rocks. In those situations he adds a 4-inch Strike King Swim-N-Shiner, a bait with a thin caudal peduncle (the connection between body and tail), which enables it to wiggle at the slowest speeds required when slow-rolling deep cover. When working hefty swim jigs with heavy hooks like the Dirty Jigs California Swim Jig or 4 X 4 Bass Jigs' Mag Swim Jig for big bass in the thick grassy cover of Florida, Texas' buckbrush, or Mexico's huisache, a 5-inch swimbait adds even more rock-and-roll action.
Still flying under the radar of mainstream bassland, hair jigs are the deal for big, shad-eating bass. Watch on YouTube as Kevin VanDam put on a magic show at Kentucky Lake last summer at Bassmaster's BassFest. He hauls in one 5-pounder after another as his amazed marshal nearly falls out of the boat, wildly high-fiving the bassin' superstar.
Some pro's get custom tiers to produce these special lures, but two excellent commercial editions hit this market late last year—Talon Lures' Pete's Preacher Jig, designed with input from Elite pro Pete Ponds, and Mann's Bait Company's Preacher's Jig. Their long, flowing bucktail imitates a large shad, as anglers jig them on deep structure. The Mann's version weights 1/2 ounce and comes in 4 colors, while Pete's Preacher Jig measures 8 inches and weighs 5/8 ounce, available in 8 colors.
On these jigs, the hair is the trailer as well as the skirt. Addition of soft plastics tends to slow the fast erratic cadence used to bounce these big baits along the offshore shelves of southeastern riverine reservoirs where bass move offshore to feed.
Levels of bass activity and aggression vary widely by season and throughout a day. Environmental factors, such as barometer, water temperature, and cloud cover can encourage or discourage active feeding. Angler activity affects bass behavior, too. Choice of jig trailers is influenced by these factors.
Clear, cold water: Jigs with a small profile, backed by subtle trailers, are the ticket. In moderately cold water (upper-40°F to mid-50°F range), choose a combo that falls fast. In the coldest water, a slow fall and ultra-slow movement works best in most situations. Top trailers are chunks and small craws.
Clear, warm water: Now's the time for heavy jigs with trailers the produce a lot of action and vibration on a fast fall. At times, a fluke-style trailer works well, particularly if the jig is snapped abruptly off bottom and allowed to zoom back down. On swim jigs, a grub excels since it matches well with quick pops and pauses that often cause followers to commit.
Warm, off-color water: In murky conditions, baits that move too fast may exit a bass' strike window before the fish can decide to bite. Try a helicoptering action with a medium-weight jig and a flapping trailer. Bulk is good here.
Cold, off-color water: In these tough conditions, work a jig slowly and methodically near cover, with slight pops, pauses, and shakes. Bulky trailers with scent and flavors put the odds in your favor.
Off-color water with current: This situation begs for a swim jig, worked high in the water column near current breaks and other cover objects. Bass feed upward since they see better toward sunlight. Light-color paddling swimbaits or double-tail grubs work best.
Warm, clear water with current: Fish jigs fast with a darting, popping action, focusing on eddies and current breaks. Craw baits, chunks, and fluke-style baits excel.
Large, action-tail trailers tend to work best in lightly fished waters or when bass are on a feed due to time of day or weather. Small, natural-color and less active setups score when a lake has been fished hard. They make a tempting package. Bass are present and they have to eat sometime.
Years ago, anglers would reply that they were jig fishing when asked about their approach. In today's terms, though, that isn't enough information. Jig style and weight, and the type of trailer are key components of the presentation that can make all the difference.