April 27, 2017
By Dan Johnson
Cranks, topwaters, worms, and spinnerbaits are deadly bassin' tools, but if forced to leave the dock with only one lure for a variety of situations, many anglers would be hard-pressed to put anything but jig rod in the boat.
Who could blame them? Jigs work from the abyss to the bank—whether you're fishing thick cover, rocky bottom, or open water—and they're particularly good for triggering takes when bass play hard to catch. Manufacturers continue to produce an array of fine-quality designs that allow savvy anglers to put more fish in the boat.
Minnesota bass ace Scott Bonnema factors jigs into his game plans for green and brown bass, and keeps tabs on the jigging scene. "The expansion in jig styles and improvements in quality may seem subtle to casual observers," he says, "but the latest crop has raised the bar in performance and arguably changed the game. Today's jigs look better, work better in a wider variety of scenarios, and catch more bass."
Bonnema believes gains in raw materials deserve credit. "Take skirted jigs, for example," he says. "Today's silicone skirting, along with live rubber options that are making a comeback, breathes and moves more freely than what we fished just a few years ago. When the jig lands, the skirt flares and comes alive.
"Tungsten heads add a new dimension as well," he continues. "They're heavier for their size so you can quickly get to the bottom in deep water or heavy cover, so you don't need big leadheads. Dense tungsten also transmits bottom information better than lead, making it easier to detect slight changes in bottom composition that can affect bass location."
Color schemes and paint jobs have likewise come of age. Where custom creations used to be the answer, jig manufacturers have broadened the commercial palette, allowing anglers to get amazingly picky with color choices. Expansions in skirt and trailer colors boost options even further. "If you pay attention to what bass are eating and are experiment with colors until you match that forage, you can dial in combinations that catch more fish," Bonnema says.
"Hook options and quality are phenomenal, too," he adds. "Instead of worrying about losing bass on light hooks with too much flex, or missing strikes with under-sized hooks, you can choose heavy-duty, high-performance hooks on more sizes and jig styles than ever. For example, I often have a 5/0 hook on 1/2- and 3/4-ounce jigs, for better hooking and fewer lost fish."
Success By Design
Options in jig styles have made great strides as well. "A vast selection of head styles—from football to finesse, Arkiestyle, grass jigs, and more—allows you to tailor shape and function to the cover, structure, and situation like never before," he says. One of his favorite new designs is VMC's Gliding Jig. Created by coupling a jig and flattened spoon, it's available in 1/8- and 3/16-ounce weights, with Oklahoma and willowleaf configurations.
He learned about it from lure designer Mark Fisher, a friend and tournament partner, who serves as VMC and Rapala's field promotions director. Each season, the pair fish several major tournaments across the Upper Midwest, where they put the Gliding Jig to the test.
"It's part jig, part spoon, and generates a great fluttering action. It can be fished anywhere you'd throw a ball-head, mushroom, or shaky head," Fisher says. "It can be fished alone or with any sort of trailer, as long as the trailer doesn't overpower it and impede the action." His top tippings include a Zoom Super Fluke Jr. or 3- to 4-inch straight-tail worm.
Fisher says he loves such combos for finesse fishing, whether in shallow water or along weedlines. "Fish fast, slow, or anywhere in between," he says. "You can also vertically jig in shallow situations and take advantage of the fluttering death spiral on the drop. There's virtually no wrong way to fish this thing."
"The Gliding Jig is so new, it hasn't taken off yet," Bonnema says. "But I think once guys fish it, its potential will be realized." He experimented most with the willowleaf model, and says it shines on spinning gear with 10- to 20-pound superline such as Sufix 832 or NanoBraid, with a 36-inch leader of 7-pound fluorocarbon.
He believes trailer selection is a matter of taste, and says any 3-inch section of plastic worm you'd use with shaky-heads or drop-shot rigs works with a Gliding Jig. "I had good results with this setup for smallmouths last summer," he says. One of his favorite ways to fish it was a slow yo-yo approach along bottom. "I fished it in 7 to 10 feet of water, letting it fall to the bottom, then making a slow and subtle lift-fall retrieve. Cast out, let the jig settle until the line goes slack, then pop it up and begin swimming it along bottom, periodically giving it a subtle jerk so it flares upward in the water column. Let it flutter back down and continue the retrieve."
While Bonnema put the willow version of the Gliding Jig to the test, he's anxious to spend more time fishing its Oklahoma counterpart. "It should be a knockout for largemouths," he says, adding that he's particularly excited about using it in cold water, where the ability to fish slowly yet with a wide wobble should work well.
For Fisher, the 1/8-ounce option excels when targeting tentative bass in shallow water early in the season, while the 3/16-ounce size comes into play later on, as bass become more aggressive and move deeper. "My favorite way to fish the Gliding Jig is making long casts over shallow flats and along rocky shorelines for smallmouths," he says. "But I also like swimming it along both the inside and outside edges of cabbage, milfoil, coontail, and other vegetation."
While the Gliding Jig is versatile, he favors two sleights of hand. "One is popping the rod tip from the three o'clock position up to one o'clock, then taking up slack while dropping the rod as the jig flutters back down," he explains. "The other is a plain and simple, slow-and-steady swim back to the boat." He uses a spinning rod spooled with 10-pound Sufix NanoBraid, tipped with a 12-inch Sufix 100% Fluorocarbon leader.
Bonnema also appreciates articulated designs, also called wobble- or swing-head jigs, which use a split ring or wire loop to link hook to head. "Free-swinging heads like the Gene Larew HardHead Jig and VMC Swinging Rugby Head are easy to fish and bass can't resist them," he says. Such designs bring a couple of benefits. They offer a unique side-to-side movement, which enhances softbait action. The trailer's gyrations are amplified by the free-wheeling connection between head and hook, which offers more freedom for the softbait to swim and flutter than a fixed-position hook.
Gene Larew's football-shaped HardHead broke the ice on swing-style heads as Oklahoma bass pro Tommy Biffle matched it with a Biffle Bug to win Bassmaster tournaments across the country. Heads weigh 3/16 to 1 ounce, but most experts opt for the heftiest jigs to maintain bottom contact. Biffle Bugs come in 3½-, 4¼- and 5-inch sizes, with a solid head that grips the hook. I've fished it in many situations, on both standard hooks and as a jig trailer. Even on long casts it resists sliding down the shank.
The Swinging Rugby Head is available in weights from 1/4 through 3/4 ounces, so you can fish it at a variety of depths, with tippings ranging from finesse softies and tubes to larger creatures and worms. The Swinging Rugby has a recessed line tie for reduced hang-ups and a wide-gap, surgically sharpened hook with extra-long Z-bend, which helps keep trailers in place without hindering the head's rocking action. The head is a hybrid between round and football shapes, with a flattened belly for grinding bottom.
The HardHead and Biffle Bug are standouts in a variety of settings, as Biffle intended. They excel as deep threats, ticked quickly across bottom much like a crankbait. The combo is especially effective at finding and fishing isolated patches of hard bottom such as gravel or rock. Under Biffle's tutelage, I used the setup to boat a 10-pound Lake Fork lunker, my biggest bass from U.S. waters.
"I focused on becoming a jig fisherman long ago because it's a high-percentage presentation that tends to produce larger fish than other techniques," he told me several years ago, while teaching me the finer points of "bugging" for bass. "In lakes north to south, I can always find areas where jigs are a threat."
On the non-articulated front, Bonnema says that Outkast Tackle's 401Kraw Jig is another of his new favorites. "I'm impressed with it," he says. "It fishes similar to a football head, but is shaped more like a crayfish tail and produces a lot of erratic action, thanks to the unique lip up front." The 401Kraw digs into sand, gravel, and rocky bottoms, skittering along with the trailer raised at a 45-degree angle. Designed by FLW Tour pro Troy Morrow, it works with a number of craw-style softbaits. Outkast also released the R.T.X. Double Guard Flippin' Jig, with pair of fiber guards on each side of the hook, instead of one larger bundle. This allows the jig to work through vertical cover, such as bulrushes and timber with great ease, yet hook-sets are sure as the hook is not covered by the guard.
Bladed designs continue to come on strong, with new options including the Picasso Shock Blade, Castaic Shakin' Head, Strike King Tour Grade Rage Blade, and Z-Man's ProjectZ Chatterbait. The Viberator from Revenge Jigs has a couple of special features that help it work through thick cover and hook bass well. First, the jighead is set further from the blade, allowing wider freedom of movement, and a screw-style keeper holds the trailer, allowing it to cover the hook in Texas-rig fashion.
Bonnema sees them as great picks, particularly in tough conditions on offshore structure, such as when an active school of bass suddenly shuts down. "Cast out a magnum bladed jig and get it slowly moving side to side," he says. "Its wild action often triggers the biggest fish in the group, encouraging the rest to start biting again." Smaller versions also are deadly for largemouths when worked across grassy flats, and for smallmouths scattered across shallow reefs or sandy areas, often shortly before or after the Spawn Period.
Punch rigs represent a cross between a Texas rig and a jig. They sport a silicone skirt around a flippin'-style weight. This rig penetrates thick mats of algae and vegetation more easily than a jig, as the weight leads a Texas-rigged softbaits straight down once it penetrates the surface. New setups include Eco Pro Tungsten's Punch Rig, with a hand-tied skirt on the elongated tungsten head, and Strike King's Tour Grade Tungsten Slither Rig, available from 1/2 to 1¼ ounces.
"Punching is enjoying a resurgence," Bonnema says. "We used the tactic many years ago with heavy jigs or pegged Texas rigs, dialing in the weight to match the thickness of vegetation we're facing. But these new rigs are easy to use and work more smoothly." He feels punching is another tool in the hands of bass fans serious about taking their game to new heights. "It hasn't caught on in many areas, but remains a great way to quickly work thick cover with precise vertical drops," he says. "Make sure to rig it with a heavy-power rod and braided line from 40- to 65-pound-test. And watch the line closely as it falls through the grass, as bites can be subtle, even with that hefty rig."
While all avid bassers have oodles of jigs, there's ample reason to try new designs. They offer a new look and actions that can put more bass in the boat in various types of smallmouth and largemouth bass habitat.