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The Hair Jig, According to Keith Thompson

The Hair Jig, According to Keith Thompson

Keith Thompson's favorite brown-and-blue hair jig

On May 2, we published a gear guide that features Keith Thompson's insights about how, when, and where he employs a marabou jig to inveigle smallmouth bass in rivers. As we worked together on that gear guide, Thompson, who resides in Wiconisco, Pennsylvania, and regularly fishes the Susquehanna River, said that we should work on a similar piece about the effectiveness of the hair jig. He noted that the marabou jig's prime time stretches from Jan. 1 to April 30, and then the hair jig replaces its marabou brethren.

To substantiate his initial observations about the hair jig, Thompson emailed a report about his April 30 outing on the Susquehanna River with Josh Hartman of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Hartman is the proprietor of Hollywood Hairjigs. And Hartman is fond of saying: "Raised on the banks of the Susquehanna River in central Pennsylvania, we're a breed of fishermen bringing back the art of jigging."

And on Hartman's and Thompson's April 30 outing, the art of using a hair jig ultimately paid some handsome dividends.

In his report, Thompson wrote that their outing commenced at 2:00 p.m. The water temperature was 63 degrees.  The river level was about 5 1/2 feet.

The first area that they fished is a locale that Thompson and his friend Brent Wolfe of Lykens, Pennsylvania, call "Jerkbait Alley," which is an area that might yield one smallmouth bass, but on the next the next outing, it might yield nearly a hundred of them. Because the water temperature was 63 degrees, Thompson and Hartman thought the smallmouth bass would be extremely easy to catch on lipless crankbaits, jerkbaits, swimbaits, and billed crankbaits, but they were wrong.  In fact, they failed to catch a smallmouth bass.

Thompson caught the first smallmouth bass around 4:00 p.m., and it was caught on a Z-Man Fishingg Products' The Deal Finesse T.R.D. affixed to a black 1/15-ounce Z-Man's Finesse ShroomZ jig.

Shortly after that first donnybrook of the outing, Hartman began catching smallmouth bass on a 1/4-ounce Hollywood Hairjigs' Bedhead Ned rig with a Hollywood Hairjigs' green-pumpkin Wasp Tail as a trailer.  Hartman's catches provoked Thompson to switch to an 1/8-ounce Hollywood Hairjigs'  Bedhead Ned rig affixed to a Z-Man's The Deal Finesse T.R.D., and it paid immediate dividends.

Hollywood Hairjigs' BedHead Ned rig affixed to a Z-Man's The Deal Finesse T.R.D.

Hartman and Thompson consider the Hollywood Hairjigs' Bedhead Ned rig to be a hair jig, but it does not possess as much hair as the traditional hair jig, and it has a mushroom-style head rather than a ball or round head.  It has a hair collar that is situated behind the head of the jig and between the soft-plastic trailer that is affixed to the shank of the hook. Besides a Z-Man's Finesse T.R.D., Thompson will use a Hollywood Hairjigs' Wasp Tail as a soft-plastic trailer.  The Wasp Tail resembles the classic Mann Bait Company's Stingray Grub.

The smallmouth bass that they caught on the Bedhead Ned rigs were abiding in an area that Thompson described as "a small runoff of the main stem of the river created by a small island that is close to the shore." It is about 50 feet wide at its widest point, and it runs at a slower pace than the normal pace of the river. The depth of the water was about five feet.


He and Hartman fished about a 40-yard stretch of this area for about 30 minutes, and they caught smallmouth bass almost at a hand-over-fist pace. But to their chagrin, most of them were small specimens; he estimated that the biggest one might have weighed 2 1/2 pounds.

As the evening hours were waning, Thompson wanted to fish one more spot.  He described it as an area that most anglers "cruise right by not paying it much attention" to the flow of the river. It is a swell or an eddy that is created by three islands. It is unique because of all the different currents, and these currents actually cause the river to flow in an upstream direction, and that upstream flow seems to push baitfish into the swell.  Its geological terrain consists of a slate base, which Thompson says is his favorite underwater terrain.

When Thompson got his boat situated in the correct position, he made a cast with the 1/8-ounce Hollywood Hairjigs' Bedhead Ned rig and Z-Man's The Deal Finesse T.R.D. into about five feet of water.  And on that initial cast, he caught a 3 1/2-pound smallmouth bass.  But on his next cast, his Bedhead Ned rig became snagged, and he broke his line.  Instead of tying on another Bedhead Ned rig, he tied on an 1/8-ounce brown-and-blue hair jig, and Hartman tied on one, too.  During the next 30 minutes, they caught hefty smallmouth bass after hefty smallmouth bass, including a 3.14-pound smallmouth bass that Hartman caught.

Besides the 1/8-ounce brown-and-blue hair jig, they used a 1/4-ounce one, and they also used an 1/8- and a 1/4-ounce black-and-blue hair jig.

Thanks to the hair jig, Thompson said : "what started out as a very slow afternoon turned into an all-out giant slaying evening."

Several years ago, Thompson discovered the effectiveness of a brown-and-blue hair jig when he and Brent Wolfe of Lykens, Pennsylvania, were experimenting with different colors of hair jigs, and when Wolfe used the brown-and-blue one, he caught 75 percent of the smallmouth bass while Thompson caught only 25 percent of them with other jig colors. Immediately after the outing, Thompson spent a few hours creating some brown-and-blue hair jigs, and since then, it has been his principal jig.

Whenever Thompson has a problem eliciting strikes from the smallmouth bass in the rivers that he fishes, he says he will wield either "a classic hair jig or a Bedhead Ned rig." He never uses a trailer on a standard 1/8- or 1/4-ounce hair jig, but with the Bedhead Ned rig, he will use either a Z-Man's Finesse T.R.D. or one of Hollywood Hairjigs' soft-plastic trailers. He opts for the 1/8-ouncers when the river's level is at 3.5 feet or less.

Thompson uses four different G. Loomis spinning rods when he is using a hair jig: the six-foot, eight-inch NRX 802S  model; the seven-foot, one-inch GLX 852S JWR; the six-foot, eight-inch INX 802S JWR, and the six-foot, three-inch WJR  752S GLX.  He said there is no rhyme or reason to which rod he uses, but when he ventures into the smaller tributaries of the Susquehanna River, he prefers to use the WJR  752S GLX, and that is because it is shorter, which allows him to maneuver around the overhanging tree branches more gracefully than he can accomplish with a longer rod.

Thompson works with a Shimano Stradic ST2500HGFK spinning reel, which is spooled with six-pound-test, neon-lime Suffix 832 Advanced Superline and a leader made from eight-pound-test Seaguar Invizx 100% Fluorocarbon Line.  He uses an Alberto knot to attach the leader to the braided line.

Besides the brown-and-blue jig, He will employ five other colors of the hair jig: black, black and blue, black and olive, brown, and olive.

He presents the hair jig the same way that he presents the marabou jig.

He will cast it upstream at a 30-degree angle. His average casts are 30 to 40 feet long.  And around some swells or eddies, some of his casts will be as short as 15 feet. His casts are aimed at the rocks and boulders that the smallmouth bass abide around. And he uses a Garmin Striker 7sv to help pinpoint the exact whereabouts of the rocks and boulders.

When the jig reaches the bottom, he will deadstick it for 10 to 15 seconds. While he is deadsticking it, the tip of his rod will be pointed at the noon position, and at the end of the deadstick procedure, he shakes the tip of the rod, which will cause the jig to quiver and shake. After the shake, he will use the rod to drag the jig along the bottom for about 12 inches, and then he will deadstick it again for five to 10 seconds. As the second deadstick procedure comes to an end, he will shake the tip of the rod, and then he will drag the jig another 12 inches. The drag-deadstick-and-shake presentation will continue until the jig is nearly under the boat. As the jig gets closer to the boat, Thompson will drop the rod tip from the noon position to the five o'clock position.

Thompson says that being able to feel what the jig is doing as he is dragging, deadsticking, and shaking it along the bottom is a critical element to the retrieve. Also, the neon-green line helps him see where the jig is, and it will often help him to determine when a smallmouth bass has engulfed it.

Thompson says the bucktail skirt on the hair jig is more subtle than a marabou skirt on the marabou jig, and that subtleness is often a critical factor.

If he could only have one bait to use throughout an entire year, Thompson says, it would be -- hands down -- a bucktail hair jig. In the spring, summer, fall, and winter, it flat out catches smallmouth bass, and water clarity is typically not an issue with a hair jig.


(1) Here is the link to the gear guide about Thompson's ways with a marabou jig:

(2) Here is the link to Hollywood Hairjigs' website:

(3) Here are links to other In-Fisherman publications about hair jigs:

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