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Painted jig heads versus unpainted ones

Painted jig heads versus unpainted ones


On April Fools' Day of 2006, Shinichi Fukae convinced me that painting the head of a jig red is a wise thing for Midwest finesse anglers to do.

Fukae is a professional bass tournament angler who hails from Osaka, Japan, and Palestine, Texas. After our outing on Beaver Lake, Arkansas, he continued to wield a four-inch Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits' green-pumpkin Shad Shape Worm affixed to a red 3/32-ounce Japanese-made shaky-head jig, which he painted with his wife's fingernail polish, and he won $200,000 and the first-place trophy at the FLW Tour's Wal-Mart Open at Beaver Lake on April 8.

Before Fukae opened my eyes about the effectiveness of a dab of red paint on a head of a jig, the heads of all of my jigs were unpainted. At times, I even pooh-poohed the idea that the color of the head of a jig would help allure the largemouth bass and smallmouth bass that I regularly pursued in Kansas and Missouri reservoirs. Yet, at the same time, I often dipped the tip of the tails of the soft-plastic finesse baits that I affixed to those unpainted jigs into a bottle of either chartreuse or red dye. I did that because I thought those dyed tails would allure largemouth bass and smallmouth bass that I that I fished for in Kansas and Missouri waterways.

Before Fukae's revelations, I also dismissed the opinions of Don Iovino of Burbank, California, who advocated using a colored eight-millimeter faceted glass bead in his renowned doodling rigs. Nowadays, Don Iovino's Bass Fishing Products sells these tiny glass beads in the following hues: black, blue, crawfish, green, purple, red, and silver. Moreover, the slip sinkers that he sells for the doodling rigs are painted black, blue, crawfish, green, purple, red, and silver, and if I were a doodling devotee, I would undoubtedly abide by Iovino's instructions to use a colored bead.

Fukae's insights about the effectiveness of a painted jig head became more relevant to me on Oct. 12, 2006, when I began using Strike King Lure Company's Zero and four-inch Super Finesse Worm. The tips of the tails of these baits could not be dyed. So to add that alluring tiny iota of color that Fukae and Iovino found to be an important element, I had to paint the head of the jigs. And ever since 2006, I have been affixing a variety of soft-plastic baits to a painted mushroom-style jig. I primarily use either a chartreuse or a red Gopher Tackle Mushroom Head jig, but there have been spells when I have used a blue one and an orange one. But I no longer have a bottle of Spike-It to dip the tail of a soft-plastic bait into.

There continues, however, to be several veteran and extremely talented Midwest finesse anglers who pooh-pooh the notion that a red head or a chartreuse head is more effective than an unpainted one.

Drew Reese of Rantoul, Kansas, is one of those veterans. Reese is one of the forefathers of Midwest finesse fishing, and he was tutored in the 1960s by Chuck Woods of Kansas City, Missouri, and Ray Fincke of Overland Park, Kansas, whom we deem to be the two creators of this finesse tactic.

Reese spends most of his days afloat in Ontario, Canada, in pursuit of smallmouth bass, and for a many years, his primary bait was a soft-plastic tube with the head of the jig inserted inside the tube. Thus, since the head of the jig is not visible, the color of the head is inconsequential.

During the past several years, however, he has switched from fishing a tube to fishing with several of Z-Man Fishing Products' soft-plastic finesse baits -- such as the Finesse T.R.D., Hula StickZ, or Finesse ShadZ. These baits are affixed to a jig with the head exposed, and the rocky terrains that he fishes in Canada quickly chips off the paint from the head of the jig, making it unpainted. Thus, he says to use a painted one quickly becomes meaningless and hopeless.

Moreover, when he fishes in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Tennessee, and other states around the nation, he has found that the lead-hue of an unpainted head of a jig is a very effective hue for alluring largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and spotted bass that abide in the reservoirs in those states.

(It is interesting to note that Fukae did not have a problem with the rocky terrain of Beaver Lake chipping the red fingernail polish off his jig, and that was because he never allowed it to touch the bottom. Instead, he executed a swim-and-incessant-shake retrieve, which allowed the Shad Shape Worm rig to swim about six to 12 inches above the bottom. He said, "If I allow it to touch the bottom, I am making a big mistake." See endnote No. 1 for more information about Reese and his jigs.)


Burton Bosley of Sutton, West Virginia, is another veteran and knowledgeable Midwest finesse angler who shuns painted heads of jigs for black bass fishing. Bosley was also tutored by Woods and Fincke in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Then he moved from the Kansas City metropolitan area to Florida, where he became a prominent freshwater and saltwater guide and angler. A few years ago, he retired and moved to West Virginia.

Even though Bosley uses unpainted jigs when he is pursuing largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and spotted bass, he does think that the color of the thread that he uses to affix the hair and feathers to the collar of a jig that he employs on his float-and-fly rig makes a difference. Bosley says he uses the jig that has red thread on cloudy days, and he opts for a jig that has chartreuse thread on sunny days. The width of thread around the collar of the jig is less than one-eighth of an inch wide, and the lead on the unpainted head of the jig is a quarter of an inch long and three-sixteenths of an inch wide.

We asked Bosley for more details, and in a March 7 email, he told us about some of his experiences with jigs.

Here is an edited and condensed version of his email:

The color of the head of a jig can be very decisive for some anglers. But in my experience with little jigs, I have not seen much difference. In fact, I think an unpainted head is a great neutral color.

In regard to the color of the thread on the collar of a hair jig, I like the subtlety of changing the thread color. I think of it as replicating the gill line or gill membrane on a small minnow or shad. I work with different thread colors on my 1/32-, 1/16-, and 1/8-ounce jigs. Sometimes I put eyes on the heads of the 1/32- and 1/16-ounce jigs, and I always put them on 1/8-ounce jigs.

These are two of Bosley's favorite float-and-fly jigs.  He uses the one with chartreuse thread on sunny days. The jig of the top with red thread is the one he works with on cloudy days.

For walleye, crappie and trout, I have found that the color of the head of the jig is important. Like all avid tackle tinkerers, I have experimented with all sorts of colors and combinations, and I have not seen that the color of the head of the jig is a critical factor in catching largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and spotted bass.

When I lived in the Florida Keys, I taught jig tying to Captain Hank Brown's commercial tiers in Islamorada, Florida, which is where they produced the famous jigs for Hookup Lures. Besides being the proprietor of Hookup Lures, Hank guided in the Keys for decades, and he was an excellent jig fisherman in the back country for snook, tarpon, and redfish. We used bucktail to make his jigs, and the color of the head of the jig was almost always the same color as the bucktail. Hank insisted that every jig had to have eyes, and I agreed with him — especially on saltwater jigs that are a quarter of an ounce and above. In my opinion, eyes are more important than the color of the head of the jig.

I am friends with many proficient bass fishermen who swear that the color of the head of a jig makes a difference. But I am convinced that it comes down to the confidence that the angler has in the lure and technique that he is employing rather than the color. I have great confidence in my unpainted little jigs, and when I fish with anglers who would not dream of using an unpainted jig, we both catch fish, and at times, my dull little jigs are more effective than their painted ones.

Also, to be perfectly truthful, I might be a tad too lazy to spend my time painting little jig heads — especially when I think it will not help me catch largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and spotted bass.

In our search for another viewpoint about the virtues of unpainted versus painted jigs, we garnered some of Travis Myers' opinions. Myers, who resides in Paw Paw, West Virginia, is a frequent contributor to the Finesse News Network and our In-Fisherman Midwest Finesse columns. He also spends his days afloat in pursuit of smallmouth bass and other species that inhabit the streams and rivers that course through the Appalachian Mountains near his home in eastern West Virginia. And to inveigle those species, he employs many of the same tactics and equipment that Midwest finesse anglers use, such as 1/32- and 1/16-ounce Gopher Tackle's Mushroom Head jigs. And those jigs are painted with bright colors.

On March 1, Myers emailed us a 1,950-word treatise about the jigs he uses, as well as his observations about how the color of the head of a jig helps him. He compiled many more words and insights in emails that he wrote on March 4 and March 8.

Here is an edited and condensed version of his extensive and impressive expositions:

When I lived in upstate New York, I fished a lot of clear-water venues and pursued a variety of species. But when my wife and I moved to West Virginia in May of 2006, we were introduced to the clearest water we have ever encountered in our pursuits of smallmouth bass. It is on a par with famed trout waters, such as Willowmeoc Creek, New York, and Beaverkill River, New York, which are near my childhood home. Since our move to West Virginia, I never once questioned my usage of brightly colored heads on my 1/32- and 1/16-ounce jigs, and the smallmouth bass seem to agree.

I use them for several reasons:

One reason is that a brightly colored head and a pair of state-of-the-art glasses allows me to track my presentation as it moves along the various elevations of the bottom of the river. This allows me to speed up or slow down the presentation.

The second reason revolves around freeing a jig that becomes snagged. The brightly colored head allows me to see where and how it is snagged, and once I hone in on it, I can then use my kayak's Yak Attack stakeout pole to liberate the jig from the snag.

Across all of the years that I have fished, I have never once thought at the end of an outing that I would have caught more fish if I had used a different colored head. Therefore, I do not think a river smallmouth bass is lying in wait for hours or even days to eat a 2 1/2-inch Z-Man Fishing Products' Dirt ZinkerZ affixed to a red 1/32-ounce Gopher Tackle's Mushroom Head jig rather than a 2 1/2-inch Z-Man Fishing Products' Dirt ZinkerZ affixed to a blue 1/32-ounce Gopher Tackle's Mushroom Head jig. Yet, I readily admit that there are certain months of the year when I will rig a particular Z-Man soft-plastic finesse bait on a specific color, and I have arrived at that color conclusion from chronicling all of my catches in my log books for years on end.

Traditionally, I have used fingernail polish to paint Gopher jigs, and I paint them in the following colors: bright blue, chartreuse, chartreuse/orange/blue, fire red, orange, orange/brown, and red. But for the first time, I recently purchased a supply of factory-painted 1/32- and 1/16-ouncers.

Gopher Tackles' 1/32-ounce and 1/16-ounce Mushroom Head jigs that Travis Myers uses.

At times during the seasons, there will be a color that is more effective than the others.

For instance, from late winter and early spring into the first week of May, I spend a lot of time wielding either a red or an orange jig. And these jigs are usually affixed to either a 2 1/2-inch Z-Man's Dirt ZinkerZ or a 2 1/2-inch Z-Man's green-pumpkin/orange ZinkerZ. This phenomenon seems to parallel the behavior and colors that crayfish exhibit during this time frame.

As spring turns to early summer and the juvenile bluegills and pumpkinseeds begin to inhabit the shallow-water environs, a shortened Z-Man's Dirt Finesse WormZ affixed to a chartreuse/orange/blue Gopher jig is a superb color when the smallmouth bass are foraging on the tiny bluegills and pumpkinseeds.

From the first week in October stretching into very late fall, a blue headed jig attached to a customized and shortened Z-Man's Blue Steel Finesse ShadZ has been a superb combination. I use this blue-jig combo when hundreds of three-inch chubs and shiners are abiding around the winter-time or cold-water haunts of the smallmouth bass. This also corresponds to the virtual disappearance of the juvenile bluegill and pumpkinseed.

Even though the smallmouth bass exhibit a preference for one color during a particular season, I typically have six spinning rods at the ready, and each one of them is sporting a different colored jig.

Another reason that I use brightly colored jigs is the element of confidence. After fishing for so many years with the bright heads, I developed such a sense of confidence in them that I never use an unpainted or even the more subtle finesse shades, such as black, brown green-pumpkin, or watermelon.

It is likely that this debate will continue forevermore. And as the days, months, and years unfold, we will attempt to publish other finesse anglers' insights about the effectiveness of painted versus unpainted jigs.


(1) For more information about Drew Reese and his jigs, please see this link:

Nowadays Reese uses Z-Man's Fishing Products' Finesse ShroomZ jigs, which he designed. Since Z-Man does not make an unpainted one, he primarily uses their green-pumpkin and black ones. But when the rocks chip off the paint, they are virtually paint-free.

(2)  Daniel Nussbaum of Ladson, South Carolina, is the president of Z-Man Fishing Products, and in a March 10 email, he wrote: "The green pumpkin and black Finesse ShroomZ [jigs] outsell the chartreuse and red [Finesse ShroomZ jigs] by a long shot.  The red and chartreuse [ones] aren't popular enough to justify offering them in the 1/20-ounce size, but we sell enough of them in the more popular sizes (1/15, 1/10, 1/6) to continue stocking them.  Neither Bass Pro nor Cabela's stock the red or chartreuse, so that's a big reason why the sales volume is so much lower for those colors." But anglers can purchase chartreuse and red ones from Tackle Warehouse or at

Z-Man's chartreuse and red 1/15-ounce Finesse ShroomZ jigs.

(3)  Like Gopher Tackle, Swing Oil Bait Company of Washington, Missouri, is one of the rare tackle manufacturers that produces jigs for black bass anglers in a variety of colors.  In fact, anglers can purchase 19 different colors of Swing Oil Baits' Shakey Head Jig. The photograph below is from Swing Oil Bait's web site.  Here is the link to Swing Oil Bait's web site:

 (4) For more information about Gopher Tackle's Mushroom Head jigs, see this Midwest Finesse column: Here is the link to Gopher's web site:

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