On Jan. 20, we published our first of three Midwest Finesse columns that focus on how, when, and where smallmouth bass anglers in the north employ a small marabou jig. The first column featured Jeff Gustafson, and it also contained some historical aspects about the marabou jig. This one features Josh Douglas of Mound, Minnesota, and his ways with the marabou jig.
Douglas is 36 years old. He was introduced to the manifold merits of a marabou jig by Seth Feider of Bloomington, Minnesota, in 2010, who learned about it from Jeff Gustafson. And for the past six years, when Josh Douglas of Mound, Minnesota, is afloat and in pursuit of smallmouth bass on the natural lakes that grace the countrysides in our northern states and some of the provinces in Canada, he has always had a marabou jig at the ready. He heralds it as one of the great Canadian contributions to the world of smallmouth bass fishing, and he salutes its pioneers -- especially Joe Pritchett of Kenora, Ontario; Hiram Archibald of Sioux Narrows, Ontario; Norm Lindsay of Sioux Narrows; and Dave Lindsay of Kenora, who developed it at the Lake of the Woods and Rainy Lake in Ontario.
In Douglas' eyes, it has proven to be a stellar clear-water tactic on natural lakes similar to Lake Mille Lacs, Minnesota, where the visibility ranges from 10 to 15 feet at its clearest. The clarity, however, varies from section to section around the lake; it depends on the wind direction and velocity and the substrate, Consequently, there will be wind-blown spells when the visibility diminishes to five to seven feet .
Ninety percent of the time, Douglas uses an Outkast Tackle's Feider Fly, which is a 3/32-ounce marabou jig that is 2 1/4-inches long. It has a mushroom-style head. It sports a 1/0 light-wire Gamakatsu hook that has a bait-keeper on its shank, which allows Douglas to affix a tiny piece from a soft-plastic stickbait to the hook's shank and under the marabou skirt. He says the length of this piece of soft-plastic, which he amputates from a worn-out stickbait, is three-quarters of an inch long. The addition of this piece of a stickbait helps Douglas execute slightly longer casts than he can muster without it, and he has found that long casts are a critical ingredient for employing a marabou jig in the clear waterways that he fishes.
He uses the 3/32-ounce combo to ply smallmouth bass lairs that are as shallow as three feet and no deeper than 15 feet. Day in and day out, Douglas has found the most fruitful depths for employing a 3/32-ounce marabou jig ranges from three to 10 feet.
When the smallmouth bass are abiding around lairs that are covered with less than three feet of water, Douglas uses a 1/16-ounce marabou jig. He hand ties these marabou jigs on a 1/16-ounce Outkast Tackle's Money Jig, which sports a No. 1 light-wire Gamakatsu hook. Even though there is no baitkeeper on this No. 1 hook, he still affixes a short piece of a stickbait to the shank of the hook and under the marabou skirt, and he uses super glue to keep it affixed to the hook's shank. The Money Jig has a mushroom-style head.
To wield these jigs, Douglas uses it with a seven-foot, six-inch Diawa Cronos Series Spinning Rod that possesses a medium-light power and fast action with a 3012H Daiwa Steez Ex Spinning Reel. The reel is spooled with eight-pound-test Daiwa Chartreuse J-Braid Fishing Line. He uses an FG knot to affix an eight-pound-test Seaguar INVIZX fluorocarbon leader. The leader is about six feet long. He attaches the marabou jig to the leader with a jam knot.
Douglas has occasionally and inadvertently caught some smallmouth bass on a marabou jig around clumps of submersed aquatic vegetation. But he never intentionally probes submersed or emergent vegetation with a marabou jig. Instead, his focus is upon hard bottoms, and especially ones that are littered with boulders and rocks like the scores and scores of rock reefs that embellish portions of the underwater terrain at Lake Mille Lacs, which is where Douglas spends a lot of hours in chase of smallmouth bass.
He probes these rock-laden terrains by making 75-foot or longer casts. There will be times when he catches smallmouth bass on the initial drop of his 75-foot cast. But most of the strikes occur when he retrieves the marabou jig with a relatively slow swim-and-glide presentation that never touches the bottom. For example, if he is probing a rock-laden hump that is covered with 10 feet of water, he usually retrieves the marabou jig so that it is swimming about five to six feet below the surface. During the retrieve, he does not implement shakes, but at times he will execute a slight pause as he is swimming the marabou jig or he will create what he calls a pump by lifting and dropping his rod.
If he is plying water shallower than three feet with the 1/16-ounce marabou jig, he will often hold his rod up at the one o'clock position, which helps to keep the jig from touching the bottom.
During most retrieves, however, his rod and the tip of the rod are pointed directly at the marabou jig as it is swimming to the boat, which keeps the wind from creating a bow in his line and adversely affecting the retrieve.
He employs the swim-and-glide retrieve parallel to the bottom all of the way to the boat. When a smallmouth bass follows the jig all the way to the boat, Douglas will sometimes execute a pause near the end of the retrieve, and occasionally that smallmouth bass will engulf the jig during that pause, but there have been scores of times when the smallmouth bass disappears as the jig gets within a few feet of the hull of the boat. Douglas says, "It is one of the situations that you are dammed if you do and damned if you don't." But since Douglas has been employing a HydroWave H2 System, he has found that the smallmouth bass that follow the marabou jig to the boat seem to be more aggressive and ultimately a surprising number of those followers engulf the jig near the end of the retrieve.
During the mayfly hatch in June, his swimming presentation with the marabou jig is not parallel to the bottom. Instead, it begins when the initial drop of the marabou jig is about 12 inches from the bottom, and as Douglas swims it back to the boat, the marabou jig slowly climbs at an angle towards the surface. In Douglas' eyes, this tactic replicates the ways of a mayfly nymph before it hatches and becomes a dun and then a spinner. He notes that most anglers have a difficult time catching smallmouth bass during the mayfly hatch with traditional smallmouth bass tactics, but when he uses a marabou jig, he has found it can be a bountiful way for catching a significant array of humongous-size specimens.
He never makes a short cast with a marabou jig, but if his partner is engaged in a donnybrook with a smallmouth bass around the boat and there is another smallmouth bass or two milling around that hooked smallmouth bass, he might make a short pitch into that assembly with a marabou jig, but he would rather make that short pitch with another type of bait.
In addition to his cast-and-swim-and-glide presentation, Douglas also trolls, which he also calls towing, with a 3/32-ounce marabou jig. He described it as an excellent searching tacit. To tow, he uses his bow-mounted electric trolling motor to move the boat into the wind at 0.8 to 1.2 mph. He casts the marabou jig at a 45-degree angle behind the boat as far as he can cast, and once the jig hits the surface of the water, he allows more line to roll off the spool of his spinning reel. As he is towing, the jig is about 90 feet away from the boat. He tries to keep the jig swimming halfway between the bottom and the surface. Once the jig is directly behind the boat, he reels it in and makes another cast towing routine. By towing or trolling the jig, he can dissect vast stretches of smallmouth bass haunts at a quicker pace than he can accomplish by casting. It is possible for him to thoroughly probe a rock and boulder reef that is a quarter of a mile long in about 30 minutes. And when he catches a smallmouth bass, and the wind is not too intense, he will mark that particular lair, and then he will return to that spot to cast and retrieve the marabou jig around it in hopes that the one smallmouth bass that he caught trolling was abiding around a bevy of catchable smallmouth bass.
When Douglas is guiding other anglers, he finds that towing is an effective way for his clients, who have a difficult time executing long casts and implementing a straight and steady swimming presentation with the jig, to tangle with a respectable number of hefty smallmouth bass. But it is not the best way to catch vast numbers of them, and it is not an efficient way to mine a small and isolate lair that is entertaining a goodly number of smallmouth bass.
On the clear-water natural lakes that Douglas fishes, some wind and waves can be a great asset, and that is because the wind and waves seem to diminish the high-visibility factor that makes the smallmouth bass become wary and difficult to catch when there is no wind. When he is trolling or towing a marabou jig along a steep contour of a massive rocky point or a rock reef, he focuses on the side that the wind is blowing upon. But Douglas has also found that too much wind seems to be detrimental; it causes the boat and electric trolling motor to pound up and down into the waves and create noise, and Douglas has come to the conclusion that the noise seems to make the smallmouth bass wary and difficult to catch.
When he is focusing upon smallmouth bass that are foraging on either crayfish or mayflies, he uses a black marabou jig, a brown one, or a green-pumpkin one. And the black ones that he ties have some purple marabou mixed into the skirt. If he is fishing around smallmouth bass that are preying on gizzard shad, he works with either a white or a gray marabou jig, but he rarely fishes a waterway that possesses a bountiful population of gizzard shad.
Douglas says that many anglers assume that a small bait like a 1/16-ounce and 3/32-ounce marabou jig is aimed at catching 1 1/2 and two-pound smallmouth bass. But across the five years that Douglas has uses marabou jigs, he estimates that he has caught more four- and five-pound smallmouth bass on them than he has caught two-pounders.
Spring is Douglas' favorite time to wield a marabou jig. But throughout the summer, there will be numerous bright and sunny days when the smallmouth bass exhibit a yearning to mosey around the shallow water on the rock reefs or other kinds of rock-laden lairs, and when they are there, Douglas will catch them on a marabou jig. Fall is the least bountiful season for his marabou jig endeavors, and that stems from the fact that when the water temperature is in the upper 40s and lower 50s, the bulk of the smallmouth bass are abiding around lairs that are covered with more than 15 feet of water. Once that occurs, he will be hopping and dragging a Biovex Padas blade bait around and over the deep-water rock-laden lairs. He occasionally uses a vertical presentation with the Biovex Padas on the deep-water lairs, but he does not employ a vertical presentation with his 3/32-ounce marabou jig because, in his eyes, it does not fall fast enough to provoke the smallmouth bass to engulf it. Yet, there will be a fall outing or two when the marabou jig pays a few dividends, which is why he always has one at the ready.
(1) It is interesting to note that Douglas has never fished with a marabou jig on the Mississippi River, which is often heralded as a smallmouth bass nirvana in Minnesota. We are now in search of smallmouth bass anglers in the northern states who use marabou jigs in rivers. Please let us know if you use them or know of anglers who use them in rivers.
(2) Here is the link to Josh Douglas' website: http://www.joshdouglasfishing.com/. There are links to a number of videos and webinars at his website for anglers to examine, and some of them feature how and where he uses a marabou jig.
(3) Here is the link to the Midwest Finesse column about Jeff Gustafson and insights about the marabou jig: https://www.in-fisherman.com/gear-accessories/the-marabou-jig-according-to-jeff-gustafson/.