The manifold virtues of the small hair jig, according to Brian Waldman
November 17, 2011
Brian Waldman of Coatesville,Indiana, is a consummate finesse angler who uses a small hair jig and soft-plastic trailer to inveigle plethora of largemouth bass, as well as some smallmouth bass and spotted bass. In addition to his prowess with a hair jig, he has a website (bigindianabass.com) that is brimming with information about bass fishing.
On November 14, Waldman sent us of a long and fascinating e-mail in which he described his favorite small hair jigs and trailers. In addition, he explained where, how and when he uses them, and how many years that he has been wielding them.
Below is a copy of Waldman's e-mail:
I throw the 1/8-ounce hair jig 80% of the time. It has a No. 2 bronze
hook. I'll throw a 1/16-ounce jig with a No. 4 hook 15% of the time,
and the other 5% of the time I'll throw a 5/32-ounce. jig with a No.1
I use jigs made with two basic skirt materials. The first is standard
bucktail hair; the other is craft fur, such as Darice Craft Fur and
Westrim Craft Fur, which has been popularized most recently by
practitioners of the float-n-fly technique.
My favorite bucktail jig is the Cabela's hand tied bucktail jig, which
is available online. They discontinued making this bait about two
years ago, but just recently reintroduced it under the Wright and
McGill name, and it costs 87 cents. I've caught as many as 107 bass
on a single Cabela's hair jig this year before having to retire it,
which brings the cost of a caught bass down to less than a penny a
piece for your more frugal readers.
For craft fur jigs, local tier Don Dusanic of Pup's Jigworks in
Indianapolis is a real craftsman. He does a wonderful job of creating
all sorts of great patterns for me to test on local waters.
The key to a good tie is sparseness and length. In most cases, you
simply want less material or less bulk. As for the length of the
hair, it should be less than twice as long as the hook in most cases.
The catch is that you can't simply just cut off extra length of hair,
because that destroys the overall profile and the way the hair
undulates. It really has to be tied correctly right from the
beginning. You can get by with a little thicker tie because individual
hair pieces will break off or pull out as you use them to catch bass,
actually getting better with repeated use. That's simply not the case
with length though.
For trailers, I use a hand-poured custom trailer in the shape of a
mini-pork chunk made by Rick Vogelbacher of Maumee, Ohio, and Rick's
Ultimate Bass. It's 1.5" long and somewhat over a half-inch wide.
Custom pouring provides unique color combinations as well as a softer
piece of plastic. The closest production trailer to this that I
regularly use is the ISG Bambino Finesse Chunk, which is stiffer and
more limited in colors, though the fish don't seem to care much. I'm
more concerned with the overall profile of the combination than any
one particular shape. I don't need or want details like crawdad claws
-- the generic shape of a chunk gives the bass an illusion of
something it wants to eat.
I do not use these jigs with weed guards. In typical Midwest Finesse
fashion, I fish a majority of the time in more open waters where a
guard is unnecessary. I actually believe that in the colder water
times of the year when this bait is so effective, most bass prefer not
to inhabit heavy cover and instead select more open exposed areas
largely comprised of nothing more than isolated wood cover. This makes
the hookup percentage of the small hook and light line very high, and
I lose surprisingly few jigs over the course of the year.
The head style is just a simple ball head. I've toyed with some
specialized head shapes for swimming a jig in warmer water situations,
but day in and day out, a simple ball head gets the job done. A sphere
is the most compact shape you can have for any given amount of mass,
so a ball head keeps my jigs compact and efficient.
As for colors, the bucktail's color options are limited. Black and
brown/orange are my two primary colors, but I employ a black-and-blue
one and a black-and-chartreuse hue.
Craft fur ties are available in a plethora of colors, which allows me
to experiment with a variety of color combinations at times, such as
purple and chartreuse, which is commonly referred to as Table Rock
Shad. Additionally, since my craft furs are custom tied, additions of
small things like a little flashabou, or even a third color is easily attainable.
Craft fur is also good for minnow-like tieswhen swimming is the predominant
retrieve technique, or baitfish are the predominant forage.
As for trailer colors, you can't go wrong with either solid black or
some version of green pumpkin. I usually prefer to have a little color
contrast between my bait and trailer. In addition, I can use hand
poured color combinations with their wider range of diversity and
additions of glitter and flake to add complimentary color highlights
to the somewhat limited color selection of bucktail skirt material.
This often isn't necessary with craft fur ties.
The 1/8-ounce bucktail jig with the mini-trailer is my
standard-bearer. I almost always try it first in all conditions. If I
need more color, or a faster fall rate, I'll switch to a craft-fur jig
of the same size. If I need to fish deeper, or in the coldest water
temps, I'll frequently fish without the trailer to minimize resistance
or create a smaller profile. In super clear water or under liquid ice
conditions, I'll actually move to a 1/16-ounce black crappie or
kip-tailed jig and perhaps a 1/32-ouncer in some cases sans trailer.
Beyond that, heavier jigs (such as the 5/32-ounce ones) fish easier in
the wind, current or deeper water, and lighter jigs (such as the
1/16-ounce models) fish better in shallow water or when a slower fall
is needed. In sum, the smaller/lighter you can keep your presentation
within reason, the more bass you'll catch.
As for rods, reels, lines and leaders, I've spent a lot of time
altering setups over the years as technology changed what is available
in the way of lines. I originally started with regular monofilament.
From there I went through a fluorocarbon phase, and then more recently
a superline phase. Ultimately, I have settled on my current setup of a
superline (PowerPro, Fireline, NanoFil) main line with a fluorocarbon
(Toray, Seaguar) leader. I believe this is the best all-around setup
for fishing small hair jigs in most situations.
The first notion I'd like to dispel is that most people would assume
that I'm using the leader due to visibility issues with superlines,
but that isn't the case. I've fished extensively with these light jigs
tied directly to all kinds of braided line colors, including white,
smoke, green, red and yellow/flame green. In all cases, I have never
found a difference in the amount or size of bass I've caught relative
to what color superline I used or whether I tied direct to the
superline or used a leader. Initially, I preferred to tie direct to
the superline because it made rigging and fishing a more efficient
process. Often I could go all day, catching 50 to 60 bass, and never
However, there are several advantages I've come to like with using a
leader now. These include
1. Fluorocarbon, due to it's density, provides a little extra weight
at the end of the line to help the small jig stay down against the
inherent tendency of the superlines, which are lighter density and
2. The leader material also provides an inherent amount of stretch,
which provides two benefits. The first is that it cushions the direct
pressure of the almost no-stretch properties of the superline, which
allows for better playing ability with big bass and small hooks, as well
as overzealous hook sets. More importantly though, it allows you to use a
traditional bow-and-arrow snap to free lures that get hung in rocks or on
large limbs. This is a largely overlooked concept.
3. Fluorocarbon is a very tough material, and so a leader of
fluorocarbon holds up well to constant fishing around things like rocks
and dock poles.
4. A leader also saves main line. I can start with a four to seven
foot fluorocarbon leader and fish all day, retying as necessary and never
get into my superline mainline until it's time to replace the entire
leader. This helps save and maintain the original length of superline
spooled on your reel. You can easily fish an entire year or two on a
single spool of superline as long as you don't lose enough of it from
5. For anglers who are concerned about line visibility, a leader
does help mentally in clear water situations.
On line size, I've found that four-pound-test is too light, and
10-pound-test is too heavy. The lightest I'll throw is five-pound-test
PowerPro, and more commonly I'll use either six- or eight-pound-test
superlines. With the limited stretch factor of the superlines, an
angler can too easily exceed four pounds of pressure with a quick
snap, especially when trying to pop a bait off of a hang up. Using a
leader helps, but doesn't leave you a lot of room for error. On the
other hand, 10-pound-test line and above is simply unnecessary, and
starts to limit the action of the bait, as well as the efficiency of
presentations either in the wind, in current, or at deeper depths.
As for rods and reels, I've settled on 6-foot and seven-foot
medium-light-powered rods with a fast action and comprised of various
grades of graphite. I will also use a medium-power rod on occasion if
their action is more moderate. This seems to provide the perfect
balance of power and play. The lighter rods are easy to fish all day,
load and cast well with the tiny lightweight jigs, yet are powerful
enough to easily embed a small fine wire hook into the mouth of a bass
in combination with the low-stretch superline. They are also forgiving
enough to play a quality bass at the boat without fear of the little
hooks pulling out. My absolute favorites are a pair of custom built
Otterods by Matt Davis of Fergus Falls, Minnesota. They are incredibly
sensitive and incredibly light, and a joy to fish with all day. That
said, length and action are more important overall, so use what is
affordable and available to you for this type fishing. I still catch
loads of bass every year on these small jigs fished on an inexpensive
Berkley Lightning Rod.
On the subject of reels, my only requirement is to stick to a
mid-sized version of reel, typically considered to be a 2000 or 2500
size by today's nomenclature. You don't want a tiny reel, and you
don't want a giant reel. Beyond that, a smooth retrieve courtesy of
good ball bearings, along with an efficient drag are nice to have,
though not completely necessary, especially if you prefer to backreel
like I do. One of my most heavily used reels is a Bargain Cave $20
special I picked up a couple years back; so again, use whatever fits
your budget in the right size.
In regard to the waterways that I fish, the majority of the waters
available to me are flatland impoundments. A few lakes exhibit hill
land and highland characteristics. There are some mid-sized river
systems, too. The lakes are located in agricultural areas, and they
tend to be eutrophic to late-stage eutrophic in nature. The water
clarity ranges from one foot to four feet of visibility. The size of
the impoundments ranges from around 300 to 10,000 acres.
These waters tend to be dominated by largemouth bass as the primary
predators; bluegill and gizzard shad are the predominant prey base.
The lakes are embellished with boat docks and boat lifts along
shorelines, as well as rip-rap, breakwall, scattered laydowns, washed
in logs and American water willows.
As for the seasonal aspects of using a small hair jig, I have found
that they will work year round on these Indiana impoundments. However,
they really shine during the cold-water periods. I will typically pick
it up beginning in early October, and it never leaves the boat until
the first of April. I really key on water temps that are at or under
55 degrees. This coincides post-turnover in the fall, and usually also
means less plankton and hence clearer water. Our reservoirs tend to
freeze-up during the first or second week of December, and the ice is
on until the first or second week of March. But there are some larger
river systems and warm-water discharges that we can ply.
One thing I have learned is that there is no such thing as water that
is too cold for this bait to work. The only thing I haven't tried is
drilling a hole in the ice and vertical jigging it. Still, I have
caught plenty of bass on partially frozen waters where tossing the
little jig onto an ice shelf and pulling it off into the water
resulted in fish. On our rivers, it's not unusual to be dodging large
sheets of ice that float down the river like mini-icebergs, yet we still
catching plenty of bass in 36- to 38-degree water
When I used to spend a lot of time walking rip-rap shorelines, I
noticed that when crayfish are rustled from their lairs during the
cold-water period that they simply make a flick or two with their
tails, and then smoothly glide down into the depths and out of sight,
and as they move downward, they follow the contour of the bank. No
frantic movements. Therefore, the best jig presentation is to simply
give the jig a flick or two of the wrist, then hold the rod steady at
about 10:30 and let the jig pendulum until coming to rest. As soon as
it stops, I quickly give another flick or two and repeat this effort.
It's a simple presentation that catches lots of bass. We call it the
pop and drop.
When bass are aggressive, I'll frequently get a strike on the fall
immediately after the jig hits the surface of the water at the end of
the cast, and the strike often occurs about a foot under the surface.
When the bass are this active and shallow, I normally cast to the
water's edge. Often it is best to fish parallel to the shoreline,
focusing on the shallow water adjacent to the shoreline. Here, if I
don't get a strike on the initial fall, I execute a swimming retrieve
parallel to the shoreline, using steady repeated pulls and drops and
covering a total of three to six feet with each pull. This swimming
pattern also works well along flatter shorelines, especially those
with some type of emergent or submergent weeds or vegetation present.
As the water cools down into the low 40s and upper 30s, the
shallow-water pattern peters out, and until I can determine the most
productive depth, I employ a perpendicular presentation executed with
either a gentle lift-and-swim retrieve or a lift-and-drop retrieve. I
find that a subtle retrieve that is devoid of excessive pumps, shakes
and flicks generates most of my cold-water strikes with a jig. In
essence, it replicates a crawfish.
From mid-October into early December, I am afloat only on weekends,
and I fish from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. My goal is to catch 10 bass an hour,
and during that eight to nine week period, I normally catch 200 to 300
bass. I would catch more bass if I didn't spend so much time crappie
fishing. Then in the cold-water period, stretching from early March
into early April, I catch another 200 to 400 bass. I usually, I manage to catch between 30-62 bass a trip using hair jigs.
As of November 13, I have fished 180.7 hours and caught 1579 bass in 2011, which is an average of 8.7 bass an hour. Forty percent of those were caught on a small hair jig, and the biggest bass that the hair jig enticed weighed four pounds, 12 ounces.
It should be noted thatIndiana's waterways do not have bountiful populations of bass. In fact, a look at tournament results across the entireUnited States reveals that Indiana has the toughest bass fishing in the country. I frequently run into friends on the water, and usually they catch only one to 10 bass per trip using more traditional and popular bass-fishing techniques. What's more, these anglers often spend many more hours on the water than I do. Thus, they are often somewhat skeptical when I mention that I have caught 30, 40, or 50 bass in an afternoon on the same waters.
What I'm doing is nothing new. Small hair jigs have been around for a
long time, stretching back to 1952 when Elmer "Doll" Thompson of
Knoxville, Tennessee and founder of Thompson Fishing Tackle Company
created the Doll Fly, which was a jig bedecked with polar bear hair.
It has been reported that when the Doll Fly was at the peak of its
popularity, more of them were sold on a daily basis than any other
lure in the history of the tackle trade.
Billy Westmoreland of Celina, Tennessee, created the Hoss Fly, which
has an aspirin-style head and dressed with hair. It was commonly
called the fly 'n rind, and Westmorland and other used it to allure
untold numbers of smallmouth bass.
Eventually Charlie Nuckols developed the float-and-fly combination as
another way of catching smallmouth bass in the winter in Tennessee
Hereabouts in neighboring Ohio, several anglers, such as George
Polosky of Alliance, Ohio, and former Ohioan Ron Yurko, probed
shallow-water lairs and flipped and pitched small jigs adorned with
weed guards into piles of brush, laydowns, logjams and other obstacles,
and they caught a significant number of largemouth bass.
My first experience with a small hair jig occurred on a local
reservoir during the Thanksgiving weekend of 2001, and to my surprise
and delight, I quickly caught a limit of largemouth bass. Before that
initial eye-opening experience, I had been enamored with conventional
and popular bass fishing techniques that the professional tournament
anglers used. Then as soon as the ice disappeared in 2002, I
immediately started working with a small hair jig and catching a lot
of largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass from our rivers and
reservoirs. At that point I knew I had found a new and potentially
prolific and overlooked option to my bass fishing arsenal. I've been
tinkering and toying with it above ever since, and these small hair
jigs, which some anglers derisively call sissy jigs, have proven to
be as effective for largemouth bass in Indiana waters as anglers
elsewhere have found them to be for smallmouth and spotted bass.