August 08, 2015
At the time of my introduction to skirted jigs in the 1970s, only a couple brands were available. They "featured" a skirt that melted in sunlight or in contact with soft-plastic lures, a stiff weedguard that frequently fell out, and a thick-wire hook dull as a knitting needle.
Today, walk down the aisle of any tackle department or glance at a catalog to see how the bass jigs landscape has changed — not just improvements in design and components, but the myriad ways jigs are fished today.
This jig revolution largely resulted from generations of competitive anglers looking for ways to catch more bass. For example, Pennsylvania pro Dave Lefebre has built his tournament fortune on the flip of a jig.
Fishing pro circuits since 2001, Lefebre notes that all his wins at the regional and national level involved a jig as either the primary or secondary lure, and he used a jig at every top-10 finish.
"In my first Stren Series win on the Mississippi River, I caught smallmouths in a backwater on my custom 5/32-ounce Super Finesse Jig with an Uncle Josh #11 Pork Frog. While my first FLW Tour win, on Old Hickory in Tennessee, was all about cranking for the first three days, I sealed the win on the last day by flipping a green pumpkin-orange 5/16-ounce heavy cover jig with a Yamamoto Double Tail.
"All 6 of my Potomac River wins came on jigs, though they were of 5 different types." His list of tournament accomplishments with jigs goes on and on, including his most recent win at the Texas Toyota Bass Championship in 2009, which involved swimming a Tabu Open Water Series jig around docks and sea walls.
Lefebre's affection for jigs started during his teens. "The first time I got on a jig-n-pig bite, I knew I was hooked. I pulled a 4-pound largemouth out of dense brush on the edge of a flooded island in a small lake near my home. I'd been fishing that lake for years, and when I used a jig for the first time that day, I caught more bass over 3 pounds than I'd caught the previous two years.
"What I'd been reading about jigs in fishing magazines was true! That's when I started studying the techniques of pros like Denny Brauer, Tommy Biffle, Gary Klein, and Basil Bacon as they talked about
flipping and pitching jigs."
When pros started talking about skipping jigs, Lefebre began practicing on the only dock on the lake — in a swimming area. He practiced flipping, pitching, and skipping for hours. "I never caught a bass off the dock, but by the end of summer, I could drop a jig on a dime anywhere around or under it."
His education continued as he realized the effectiveness of swimming a jig, first in vegetation, then down deep on structure. Jigs, he stresses, are not limited to a vertical drop or bottom bouncing. "You can swim a jig like a spinnerbait in the shallows or swim it deeper than any crankbait in open water. I can cover water faster with a jig than any other lure."
Lefebre says that in his quest to become a pro, he wanted to master every bassin' technique but whenever someone asked him to pick just one lure to fish, his answer was always, "a jig." From his perspective, the positive attributes of jigs outdistance all other baits:
– Jigs catch bass all year long.
– They produce bass of a larger average size than other lures.
– Hook-up ratio is better than most lures.
– You can cast a jig into almost anything and get it back.
– Jigs can be fished at a variety of speeds and depths.
When asked about negatives of jigs, he says there aren't any . . . unless you consider it a negative that no single jig can do it all. Gone are the days of the jack-of-all-trades jig. Manufacturers now offer many types to address angler needs.
Special Purpose Jigs
Lefebre has settled on 5 types of jigs to effectively target bass under every circumstance. He refers to them as Super Finesse; Open Water; Heavy Cover; Grass Swim; and Vegetation Mat. The first three categories include jigs he designed for the Tabu label.
His Super Finesse Jig is designed for shallow water and skittish bass. "It's built in one size — 5/32-ounce, which is not too heavy and not too light, in my experience. It has a modified ball head and 3/0 Owner hook with a slightly inward point."
This is his go-to jig for shallow isolated cover and docks. Its small profile makes it a good choice for extra-tough conditions, especially in clear water. Rigged with a trailer, it's balanced for a slow fall, giving bass a lingering view. He uses a variety of trailers, including plastic chunks, small craws, and pork frogs.
Lefebre says his Open Water Jig (available in 5/16-, 9/16-, 3/4-, and 1-ounce) has unique features. The broad, flattened head is for open-water swimming and dragging on deep structure. It won't roll over like a narrower pointed head, or hang on rocks and deep brush as much as a football head. The tied-skirt can't be pulled down by short-striking deepwater bass and this jig also skips nicely.
Lefebre stresses that every feature on his Open Water jig is matched to light-line fishing. The length and angle of the fiberguard as well as the number of strands in it and the thin but strong hook allow easy hook-ups on line as light as 8-pound test. "You don't need a heavy-handed hook-set with this jig," he says. "Just let the rod load when the fish bites, then sweep it upward."
The third jig in his lineup is a Heavy Cover Jig, intended for traditional flipping and pitching to heavy cover — stumps, logs, buckbrush, and other visible cover. Many manufacturers offer a jig in this category with a large, strong hook to be fished on heavy line. Lefebre fishes it on 14- to 17-pound fluorocarbon.
Next on his list is a Grass Swim Jig for shallow vegetation. "For this application, I prefer a torpedo-shape head," notes Lefebre, "as it easily swims through shallow grass and sparse vegetation. Everything should be in line with the line-tie. I typically fish braid around grass so it needs a hook that won't bend." He uses 1/4- and 3/8-ounce Yamamoto jigs in this category, though several other good cone-shaped swim jigs are available.
Lefebre's final category is a Vegetation Mat Jig for penetrating grass matted on the surface. "You need a 3/4- or 1-ounce compact jig and trailer, streamlined so it breaks through the thick stuff, then drops straight down. The jig must have a stout hook that stands up to the heaviest line without bending. I never go heavier than 50-pound braid; nothing is going to break that stuff."
Skirting the Issue
The details of a jig skirt are important to Lefebre. "I've been tying my own for 15 years, and every color and cut of silicone material known to man can be found my 60-pound skirt-making bag. Whenever something new comes out, I get it even if I don't generally use it. Subtleties in shade, texture, or thickness can have a dramatic impact on the number of bass caught in hard-fished waters."
He believes color also plays a vital role in generating bites. Carrying many shades of shad colors, smokes, blues, greens, and browns, he experiments more with color than any angler I've met. One of his tips for pressured bass: Create a skirt and trailer combination that's barely visible to the human eye in the prevailing water color.
"I often trim jig skirts as short and thin as possible, he adds. "But when the bite is extremely slow, I like long strands and a lot of them." Instead of changing a jig to alter sink rate, Lefebre often adjusts the length and thickness of skirts to slow or speed the drop. In cold water, for example, he prefers fuller, longer skirts that fall slower.
But he's found that reducing skirt material can bring better control in deep water. "At a PAA tournament on Cherokee Lake in Tennessee, I was using a 7/16-ounce Open Water Jig in 30 to 40 feet to catch spotted bass. Spots are hard to hook at that depth.
"The wind came up strong on the last day. Rather than switching to a heavier head and perhaps sacrificing hook-up ratio, I reduced the 45-strand skirt to about 25 strands and trimmed my trailer. That made all the difference."
When you want a skirt to flare as the jig hits bottom or when you stop it suddenly during a swimming retrieve, a tied skirt has an advantage over one with a slip-on collar. And the tighter the material is tied, the more it flares.
"I sometimes favor living rubber skirts, particularly when fishing for smallmouth," he continues. "It seems to breathe more than silicone in cold water. It's old school, but at times you can't beat living rubber and a pork chunk."
For swim jigs, he usually rigs a 4-inch Yamamoto Double Tail or Single Tail Grub, whether he's fishing shallow weeds or deep in open water. He uses Berkley's PowerBait Chigger Craws or Chunk Trailers when pitching and flipping. And Uncle Josh Pork Frogs come out when he's ripping jigs in vegetation or stroking jigs down deep because they aren't torn off by sharp rips with the rod. But while fishing, he continually experiments with different chunk and craw trailers.
And he uses few "out of the pack." Sometimes alterations involve merely cutting a trailer to match the hook and skirt length. But he may shave a chunk to make it thinner or make slices in the plastic or pork to give it more action. Dye markers also add an accent color on the tips.
"I know that I'm picky when it comes to jig-fishing," Lefebre admits. I wish I could keep it simple, but there's too much going on in my head when it comes to jigs. I'd love nothing more than to carry a couple 1/2-ounce black-blue and green pumpkin jigs. But that wouldn't be as much fun as striving to create the perfect jig combination for a situation." And given the sophistication of anglers today, standard colors and designs likely wouldn't yield the impressive catches that Lefebre's become famous for.
Darl Black, Cochranton, Pennsylvania, is a freelance writer and photographer, and frequent contributor to Bass Guide.