The Juice On Bass Jigs
June 26, 2014
There's no bad time to fish a jig, especially if you're after big fish. But they become particularly effective as mid-summer turns to early fall. With the water warm, bass need to feed to pack on weight. But with bait abundant, bass can afford to be choosy about when they bite and what they bite. Jigs score because, rigged right, they can combine power and finesse in one presentation. This package shows bass something that's both vulnerable and worth chasing, from an energetics perspective.
The Summer Scene
On natural lakes and reservoirs with abundant vegetation, bass occupy various zones within this lush cover. Some great habitat is obvious, while other locales, typically deeper, are hidden from view. Sonar reveals these deeper edges, pockets, and points of vegetation where bass feed all summer long.
From Canada to California to Florida, bass favor tall emergent vegetation that carries many common names — bulrushes, reeds, buggy whips, and tules to name a few. These plants grow on a harder bottom that often limits submerged vegetation. But dense stands with pockets and points are key feeding areas for big bass throughout the season. They can be challenging to fish, and to pull big fish out of. We will explore some new developments here shortly.
Casting, pitching, and flipping can all apply to bulrush fishing, depending on density of the plants and water depth. Active bass often move to the outer edges of stands or hold in open pockets where casting works. On the other hand, in the deepest, densest plots, you must proceed slowly and quietly, but you can catch fish within feet of the boat, with a near-vertical drop.
Vast vegetated flats are summer feeding grounds as well. For the highest-percentage fishing, focus on edges, particularly the deeper edge where vegetation tapers into the lake basin. In darker waters, this may occur in 6 to 8 feet of water, while in clear impoundments and lakes with hydrilla, edges may be out in 20 feet or even more. Active bass roam this outer edge throughout the day, but early in the morning, they often chase baitfish from open water toward the edge, which helps them trap their prey. As a school of shad or shiners approaches the weededge, it typically splits and smaller groups of baitfish scatter. When they do, bass attack, knowing they have an advantage over these small and swift swimmers.
Casting toward the edge with a weedless jig often takes the biggest fish of the day. Bass higher in the water column often eat the lure as it falls. At other times, you feel a thump and see the line jumps within seconds of bottom contact. Note where the strikes come and you can adjust the presentation. If fish are biting on the fall, switch to a lighter jig to give more drop time. If they're on bottom, go heavier to increase bottom thump and to get back down fast.
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Building a Better Weed Jig
Jigs are deadly in grass. They can imitate a crayfish or a small baitfish such as a darter, sculpin, or small sunfish. But in the stringiest or densest cover, they can hang, as stalks wrap around the line tie, break off, and cling to the lure. Anglers agree — bass don't eat salad. With even a small strand of weed, the cast is wasted.
Joe Medlock of Florida, a retired tool-and-die maker, had molded his own jigs since 1973, for himself and friends. Fishing in Florida's luxuriant aquatic vegetation can be a challenge, whether it's deep and dense hydrilla, rafts of floating hyacinths, fields of dollar pads, tall stands of clutching maindencane, or gnarly bulrushes more than 10 feet tall.
Dense stands of rushes present a special challenge, as a jig that tips sideways easily snags the stalks that can withstand the pull of 20-pound line and a flippin' stick.
"With the old, flexible plastic Y-guard jigs in mind, I bored an extra hole in some jigs with a dremel and inserted two small clusters of fiber to form a guard," Medlock told me. "Then I figured out how to pour them from molds and made them for friends. This weedguard worked better than anything in buggy whips. Where we fish, Okeechobee, Istokpoga, and other lunker factories of South Florida, big bass love those reeds. We build 'em with a 6/0 Gamakatsu hook to land those giants."
He kept this design out of the mainstream for some time, but when son Brandon Medlock started winning FLW Everstart events with the jig, the story got out. When Ish Monroe of California used his jig to win the FLW Tour event on Okeechobee, flipping dense bulrushes, its acclaim skyrocketed.
Medlock found himself in the jig business. "I make 'em by hand, from the pouring to the painting," he says. His Double-Guard Flipping Jig is trademarked and he sells them across the country, from the Cal Delta to Lake Champlain "It's strictly a flippin' jig," he adds. "It works okay around hydrilla, but it's not for flippin' mats. For that, you're better off with a Texas rig."
At Stanley Jigs of Huntington, Texas, John Hale and Lonnie Stanley have worked to keep their jig offerings at the forefront of the market. "We tweaked the heads of our Flipping Jig and Casting Jig a bit to help them pass through vegetation without hanging up, while maintaining the good balance our lures are known for," Hale says. "The nose of the Flipping Jig is a bit narrower and the eye of our new Casting Jig is at a 60-degree angle, which is optimal for getting good hook-sets and coming through cover."
Tommy Perry, owner of 4X4 Bass Jigs of Guin, Alabama, also has done some jig tweaking lately. For input, he's enlisted Randall Tharp, one of the hottest bass pros, having won the 2013 FLW Tour Cup and blazed his way through Bassmaster Elite tournaments as well. Bassfan.com places him 7th in their World Rankings. Their design is called the Randall Tharp Signature Series Flippin' Jig, and it's brought Tharp hundreds of thousands of dollars in winnings since its release last year.
While designed to fish grass, it also can be effectively flipped in bushes or skipped under docks. "As you go down a bank, this jig will fish whatever type of cover you come to," Tharp says. To create such versatility, its base is shaped like the keel of a boat, which gives balance on the fall, but also provides a planning surface for skipping, a tactic he thrives on.
"We moved the weedguard forward," Perry says, "so it rides at a lower angle to the hook point. That gives it great setting power. To prevent it from hanging up all the time, we used a thicker fiber in the guard, .028 mm instead of the usual .018 or .024. We also changed the angle of the head and placed about 65 percent of the jig's weight forward. And with its recessed line tie, it's remarkably snag-free."
This jig has another unique feature, a specialized keeper that holds the skirt on, a fixture Perry calls a "giraffe head." "You have to lubricate the skirt to get it on," he says. "Once it's on, it won't come off; you tear the silicone if you pull hard." That feature will be appreciated by jig skippers, as the torque of that cast typically loosens the skirts on most jigs.
Tharp uses the 1/2-ounce model for most applications around docks and timber, but goes to the 3/4- and 1-ounce models in thick vegetation. He receives many inquiries about favorite colors. "Golden Craw and Black/Blue are all you need," he says, "in water from stained to clear." Golden Craw is a unique and resplendent hue, with green pumpkin, along with black and brown, and a bit of gold flash.
Especially across the Midwest and Southeast, many top bass waters lack vegetation and especially where shad are present, bass occupy offshore ledges once the spawn is completed. A ledge may be defined loosely as an offshore drop-off associated with a creek or river channel. Typically, inundated channels feature a series of depth breaks from the river's adjacent floodplain to its deepest holes and outside bends. Moreover, in vegetated reservoirs and lakes, a portion of the bass population often lives offshore in summer, as long as open-water preyfish are present.
While deep-diving crankbaits, jigging spoons, umbrella rigs, and Carolina rigs can be effective in these spots, a bottom-hugging jig is highly efficient as it sinks fast, holds bottom, and works subtle bottom structure thoroughly and with an alluring look. Football jigs from 1/2- to 1-ounce work through rock outcrops, mussel beds, depth breaks, and other features. With its weight up front, a football head tends to roll forward as you tug on it, forcing the hook upward and waving the trailer in the face of nearby bass. Crawfish trailers, beaver-style baits, and twin-tails finish the look nicely.
Strike King recently added yet another jig to their lineup the DB Structure Jig, named for Denny Brauer. During its development, Brauer tested it extensively in his new home waters of Lake Amistad on the Texas-Mexico border, a clear reservoir known for its deep rocky structure and outsize bass.
"It fishes like a football jig," Brauer says, "but it's more versatile. Football jigs work fine on relatively flat bottoms with minor obstructions. But they hang up in timber and can wedge in chunk rock. We also wanted to make it harder for bass to throw this jig."
Brauer and the Strike King staff came up with what they call a "cobra head," with the line tie straight in front of the head like a snake's tongue. Its weight is centered well below the hook to keep solid bottom contact but the hook gap is wider than on a football jig.
"It provides an excellent hookup and landing ratio," Brauer says. "You can fish it in timber and grass, as well as over rock. On rocky structure at Amistad, I generally uses the 3/4-ounce model and make long casts, fishing it on 15-pound-test Seaguar Tatsu. Experiment with retrieve speeds, as bass can be finicky about how they want it. In general, it's got to move very slowly in cold water, and faster as the reservoir warms.
"They like to eat it on the drop as well. In summer, I use a Rage Craw trailer and rip it 5 or 6 feet off bottom. They bite as it falls back. For that I use a 7-foot 4-inch Ardent Football Jig Rod. When I get around brush, I go with 20-pound Tatsu," he says, "or to 25-pound for flippin' thick brush." He notes that the Structure Jig's ability to cope with brush and rock makes it a winner around his former home on the Ozark lakes, as well as many other waters. "When you look at a jig, it's hard to visualize how much blood, sweat, and tears go into its design. Balancing design aspects so they fish right is a challenge."
While jigheads with a loosely attached hook have been around, credit goes to Larew's Hardhead Jig and Biffle Bug for putting this system on national radar, with thanks to pro Tommy Biffle, a long-time flippin' expert and jigman. Since 2010 when he worked with Larew designers on the head and softbait, he's banked almost $400,000 on this combo.
Biffle calls it "bottom buggin'" and he does it on waters with extensive mid-depth flats and fewer prime flippin' targets. He also came to appreciate how hard it was for bass to "throw" a jig with a loosely attached hook.
When flippin', Biffle operates like a machine, mowing down shoreline targets with his long rod. He's methodical and extremely precise in his execution. "There's no trick to flippin'," he says, "and there is no trick to bottom buggin'." He even uses the same rod, his signature series Quantum EXO Flippin' Stick paired with a Quantum EXO Burner reel with 7.3:1 retrieve ratio, spooled with 20-pound-test Sunline fluorocarbon. He likes the sensitivity and toughness of the fluoro when retrieving over rough bottoms. "And because the bait is moving and the water is typically somewhat off-color, line thickness isn't a favor," he says. "The Bug has plenty of action, even on thicker line."
Gene Larew offers the Hardhead Jig, basically a football head with an off-set shank, wide-gap Owner hook that hangs on a wire loop, in five sizes from 3/16- to 1-ounce. Biffle favors heavier ones that work briskly along bottom. "I use a 5/16-ounce head in 3 feet of water or less, 7/16-ounce to about 12 feet deep, and 11/16- for the deepest situations. I adjust my retrieve speed to keep it right along the bottom because I want it to bump into rocks and sticks down there."
He typically makes long casts over potentially productive structure and works it like crankbait. But at times, such as in current, he makes shorter pitches to the bank or along island tailouts.
"When bass bite, they sometimes hit it and run," he says. "But other times they seem to overtake the lure and eat it. You don't feel anything. Set the hook immediately, and with a big swing like you'd use when jig fishing. And sometimes the rod just loads up as they eat it."
He emphasizes that it's not like swimming a jig in the traditional sense, but bumping it along bottom at a steady pace. The loose connection of head and hook gives extra action to the Biffle Bug.
Similar designs now are available: Dirty Jigs Tackle has the Pivot Point Football in five sizes from 1/4- to 1-ounce, and each weight has an option of two sizes of Gamakatsu EWG Superline hooks attached; Punisher Lures Hail Mary includes a split ring on the head so you can attach any hook you like, with weights from 3/8- to 1-ounce; and Freedom Lures offers the Rogue, which has a unique hook keeper that allows you to swap sizes and styles.
While Biffle Buggin' excels for bottom-oriented bass, swim jigs work best for fish riding higher in the water column, due to factors such as current, vegetation, or baitfish location. I like to consider it a substitute for a spinnerbait. It works in many of the same places and with a similar retrieve. A jig's combination of density, compact size, and high hooking percentage lends itself to a swimming presentation, especially when tipped with a curlytail grub or small swimbait. Swimming jigs work best in water that's clear or only somewhat stained, as fish generally see it from a few feet below.
In lakes and reservoirs, make long casts across weedy or brushy coves and flats and retrieve so the jig moves steadily in the upper portions of the cover, an action veteran jig swimmers call "floating." Holding the rod at about 10 o'clock adds lift to the lure. When a bass eats, drop your rod, remove slack and set the hook. While the retrieve may be similar to a spinnerbait or crankbait, a hard set is needed.
Swim jigs typically run 1/4- to 3/8-ounce, which helps keep them up. Because they're not fished through thick cover, only a thin weedguard is needed in most situations, which aids in hook-setting. Baitfish colors typically prevail, particularly where shad are key prey.
Outkast Tackle offers the Pro Swim Jig with a broad selection of custom colors imitating shad, herring, bluegills, and more. It has a 30-degree Mustad Round Bend Jig Hook with double-barb keeper to hold softbaits. Its tapered nose swims through cover and it's balanced to stay upright.
Due to the popularity of swimming jigs, and the various habitats anglers fish across the continent, Dirty Jigs Tackle offers three styles — the Swim Jig, which is called a Coosa River style, with full 50-strand skirt and 3X Mustad Ultrapoint hook in weights from 1/4- to 1/2-ounce; the Finesse Swim Jig with half-cut skirt and 1X Mustad for a slender profile; and the California Swim Jig, with X-tra heavy Gamakatsu hook and weights to 3/4-ounce, for working dense cover and battling monster bass. I've found swim jigs especially effective in rivers as their compact frame and subtle rolling, wiggling action is ideal in moderate current. Moreover, the weedguard lets you swim it through the upper branches of laydowns that adorn river backwaters.
Jig options expand the decision process. Compare new styles with old favorites. On the water, select the category that fits the type of water you're fishing. Pick a head style that keeps you in the fish zone and avoids snags as much as possible. Set the hook hard and have a good time!