October 22, 2019
Back in “the day,” we’d hang a #11 Uncle Josh Pork Frog on the back of a jig and call it good. I caught an awful lot of big fish with Arkie and Stanley jigs rigged that way. And I still do.
Today, though, we have an array of options, with various forms of soft plastic, as well as pork. The variety of shapes can be overwhelming when anglers search for the best option. Even top pros often stumble over their words, reaching for clichés like “draws a reaction strike,” when asked about the optimal trailer for a multitude of on-water situations.
The world of science offers a classification system, set forward in its earliest form by ancient Greek biologists. We continue to fine-tune categories of organisms today, using new tools like mitochondrial DNA to discern meaningful differences.
Our beloved largemouth bass is technically known as Micropterus salmoides, following the binomial system of classification devised by Swedish botanist, physician, and zoologist Dr. Carl Linnaeus, once a student at Lund University. While biological classification is based on shared descent from the nearest common ancestor, we define jig trailers generally based on form and function.
Development of the boot-tail swimbait category has brought many trailers that add naturalistic movement and an enticing vibration cadence to a moving jig. Solid swimmers and small hollow-bellies make fine trailers for swim jigs as the tail beat and rolling body motion shake the jig.
They also provide lift, allowing a slow retrieve even in shallow spots. Where a fast retrieve is preferred, use a grub or a fluke-style bait for a trailer. As with swimbaits, slow and steady, with the occasional twitch or pause, generally works best with swim jigs backed by swimmers. Examples of this style include: Reaction Innovations Skinny Dipper and Little Dipper; Strike King’s Caffeine Shad; Berkley’s Grass Pig and Flatback Shad; Zoom’s Swimmin’ Fluke; Big Bite Baits’ Cane Thumper; and Trigger X’s Slop Hopper.
An overlooked option is to rig the bait sideways (flat), a style devised by In-Fisherman Editor In Chief Doug Stange. “Rigging the bait on its side yields a greater gap on a jig hook or swimbait hook,” he says, “so your hookups are better. Moreover, the tail and body movement are just as good, which adds a nice rolling motion to the presentation.”
Cuttail or buzztail baits are a related category that also works well as a trailer. The tail shape provides a flapping motion instead of a steady beat, an alternative look and feel that bass prefer at times. Consider Berkley’s Havoc Subwoofer, Strikezone Lure’s Buzzsaw Shad, and the Cherokee Ripper from Tuscaroran Pro-Lures.
A paddletail worm adds maximum thump to a jig. Try a cut-down Zetabait Ding-A-Ling Worm or Lake Fork Tackle’s Hyper Freak in murky or weedy waters where vision is limited and vibration is key to calling out bass.
As soon as bass anglers spied Larew’s Salt Craw, Berkley’s Power Craw, Hale’s Craw Worm and others, they affixed them to jigs. Big bass caught and tournaments won with this setup are too numerous to recount. The craw’s claws add a lifelike look, whether cast or flipped into cover. On the fall, the claws rise and the skirt shakes. On bottom, the pincers move at the slightest shake or pop. Craws bring bulk, color options, and subtle vibration. I continue to use them, though not as often as in the past, with so many new options available.
Perhaps the most prevalent jig trailer today is the wide-clawed crawfish style, one that adds bulk and vibration as the paired claws flap back and forth, creating a thump you can easily feel through the rod. I recall Netbait’s Paca Craw as the first of this genre, followed soon by Berkley’s Chigger Craw. The flapping action creates vibration when paired with a swim jig and also draws savage strikes when matched with a big flippin’ jig and punched through grass mats to lunkers below.
Once the hefty jig (5/8- to a full ounce) finds a hole, it drops rapidly to the bottom, with claws flapping. Bass sometimes engulf it on the fall, or sometimes once the lure lands. At times, too, shaking it after it settles causes bass to strike. I visualize some less-than-active fish, swimming over as the lure lands, inspecting it and finally biting as it shows signs of life. Other notable baits in this category include: Trigger X Flappin’ Craw, Yum Craw Chunk, PowerTeam Lures’ Conviction Craw, and Strike King’s Rage Craw. The cupped claws on the Rage Craw create the most powerful pulse I’ve seen in these baits. This one is Kevin VanDam’s favorite trailer on a swim jig. When I fished with him last summer on the Mississippi River at LaCrosse, he threw nothing else.
Flappers also slow a jig’s fall. Drop speed is one of the variables that can be critical in getting bass to bite. But it’s overlooked by many anglers, perhaps because it often is so ethereal. I’ve seen bass preference change from hour to hour when fishing the same depth and type of cover. It’s best determined when two anglers in a boat use jigs and trailers that fall at contrasting speeds.
Uncle Josh Bait Company traces its roots back more than 90 years, though their earliest baits were not designed as jig trailers. But the #160 Eel and #11 Pork Chunk were the trailers bass jig originators hung on the back of their bucktails in the 1960s. Pork’s supple action and durability contributed to historic strings of bass.
As the array of soft plastics ballooned in the 1990s, many anglers switched to plastisol versions of the chunk, including Berkley’s Power Trailer, Zoom’s Chunk, and Lunker City’s Piggy Backs. Versions with stylized claws like Zoom’s Super Chunk soon arrived, which added some of the flutter that was lost in translation from pork rind to plastisol.
Beyond the multitude of colors available in softbaits, some anglers rejected pork because it quickly dries out in air, particularly on hot sunny days. Moreover, it can roll on the hook and block a hook-set when it gets positioned on the hook point.
Two years ago, Uncle Josh addressed these issues with their Meat Series. Unlike traditional pork baits, composed of fat and rind, Meat baits are fat, no hide attached. While this feature means you lose a few more trailers, hooks can be set through it. Meat baits also resist drying, since it’s the hide that first shrinks. Their soft texture also allows anglers to thread a chunk onto the hook for a compact package. They come in a resealable bag for storage, so the bulk of jars is avoided. I’m among a large cadre of anglers who never abandoned traditional pork, as I’ve found its action deadly in many situations and always admired its durability when banging baits around boat docks or skipping under trees. Meat baits are highly effective when pitched into thick weedcover.
Chunks are at their best for bottom-fishing, when bites come on the drop or as the jig lands. When it hits bottom, the tails flare, but do little else until the lure’s moved. Like other anglers, I rely on pork more in colder water. And their salty flavor encourages bass to hold the lure in any season.
There’s the oddest array of shapes built to shake and pulse in many directions. We called the early versions “creature baits.” Gambler’s Bacon Rind, Zoom’s Brush Hog, and Berkley’s Power Hawg come to mind. They soon grew even more appendages—flappers, claws, antennae, tentacles, fins, and more—intended to fill bass with hunger, anger, or at least curiosity.
Some models have built off Reaction Innovations’ Beaver, while others remain elongated. The original Beaver was a breakthrough, as the flattened, ribbed body has a groove to house the hook. On the fall, beavers impart a gliding action. I often shorten them, however, for use on a jig. Their bulk and rather subtle action entice big bass.
High-action trailers shine when matched with football jigs fished in a dragging mode along the bottom. These heads work best when dragging across a substrate with scattered rocks and wood of moderate size. With a slow drag, the angler detects cover objects and can work the jig with a shaking action, tipping the head forward as it contacts high-percentage targets. Heavy footballs work well across deep flats and trailer appendages add to the alive look. Light football heads also work well with beaver-style baits, slowly pulled across sandy or silty “nothing-looking” flats in rivers where bass location often is influenced more by current and baitfish than cover.
Swim Jigs: Unlike traditional jigging, swim jigs operate on a horizontal plane, covering water fast as they skirt by vegetation and cover objects. Quick drops or changes of direction sometimes draw strikes. Match with swimming trailers, such as grubs and swimbaits.
Flippin’ Jigs: Hefty jigs with big hooks tempt lunkers from their lairs. A flappin’ trailer adds vibration and slows the fall, while a craw or beaver falls faster, with a slight glide. Experiment to see what bass prefer. If no bite comes on the drop, shake and pop the jig to encourage tentative fish to give it a try.
Casting Jigs: Casting a jig to a weedline or into a brushpile has been a successful big bass presentation for decades. Trailer choice depends on bass attitude and cover, as well as water clarity and temperature. Lean toward vibration in darker water using wiggly trailers and flappers. Increase speed in clear conditions with pork and plastic chunks and craws.
Football Jigs: Footballs shine for fishing across large areas of potentially productive bottom. Their shape and weight tell the angler about bottom type, cover objects, and depth. Trailers that shake and wave when the jig stumbles across rocks or pivots against stumps enhance this look. Top choices include beavers, creature baits, and craws.
Classifying the vast array of trailers available today provides a starting point for picking the best categories for conditions. As with selecting jig weights, or deciphering whether to cast a wide-wobbling crankbait and one with a tight wiggle, rules are general suggestions. We often see anglers report a great catch on a particular setup, but upon reaching the tournament weigh-in, find that others were more astute in their lure selection.
Levels of bass activity and aggression vary widely by season and during a day. Environmental factors including barometric pressure, water temperature, oxygen and pH, current, baitfish presence, and human activity all affect their likelihood of biting. Moreover, recent scientific studies have documented that individual bass vary in their catchability. In some situations, less is more; smaller size and less action are best. Trailer choice is influenced by environmental factors:
Clear, cold water: Jigs with a smaller profile, backed by subtle trailers, are the ticket. In moderately cold water (upper-40°F range), choose a jig that falls fast. In the coldest water, a slow fall and ultra-slow movement works best in most situations. Top trailers include chunks and craws.
Clear, warm water: Now’s the time for heavy jigs with trailers that offer maximum movement and vibration. In clear water, attraction is primarily visual, but wild action usually is a plus. One further option is a straight trailer, maybe a fluke-style bait, that works well for snapping a jig off bottom, sometimes called “stroking.” For swim jigs, a grub is hard to beat, as it allows 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 strike. Helicoptering action with a medium-weight jig and a flapping trailer is hard to beat. Bulky jigs worked slowly in cover are the way to go.
Cold, off-color water: This is a challenge, but a spinnerbait, squarebill crankbait, or a jig generally are the best options. Work shallow cover slowly and methodically, with slight pops, pauses, and shakes. Bulky trailers enhanced 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 or cover objects. Bass feed upward in these conditions, where vision is maximized. Choose either bright colors (white, chartreuse) or contrast like black-blue, with high-vibration trailers that enhance a slow retrieve.
Clear water with current: Though this is more typical of smallmouth fisheries, fish jigs fast with a darting, popping action, focusing on eddies and current breaks. Craw chunks, grubs, or fluke-style baits excel.
Biological factors also count. Bed-fishing expert Joe Everett typically selects an Uncle Josh #900 Spring Lizard or a Lake Fork Live Magic Shad to back his 1/4-ounce football jig. By popping his rod and rolling the jig forward slightly, he keeps those big trailers shaking and fluttering as the jig moves across the bed toward the defending female bass.
When bass bury below hydrilla mats, it can take a heavy jig to bust through the canopy. A narrow trailer with minimal appendages helps it punch through. And once through, a fast fall often keys a bite, on the fall or when it lands.
Fishing pressure plays a role, too. Large, action trailers seem to work best in lightly fished waters or when bass are on a feed, due to time of day, weather, or other factors. Smaller, more natural-colored and less active setups typically work best during adverse conditions.
For years, anglers reported, “I was jig-fishing.” In today’s terms, though, that isn’t much information. Jigs in some ways are carriers for the trailers on their hooks. The head provides weight to create movement, hence action. Selecting a trailer that matches fishing conditions often makes all the difference.