July 19, 2012
To the untrained eye, there may be little difference between baits popular 25 years ago and today's models. Jigs are conservative lures, in terms of design changes. Some might say the jig is the perfect bait. But in the fine points, those points that put more bass in the boat, jig modifications have enabled skillful anglers to keep the jig the number-one lure in many repertories.
1. FINESSE JIGGIN'
Though bass jigging carries the image of a power-fishing approach, the hottest application today is downsized jigs designed to draw strikes from bass that shun other baits, including big jigs. Jim Eakins of Nixa, Missouri, has been dominating tournaments in the central United States, including Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma for much of the last decade. Lately, he's had to share the spotlight with his son Troy.
This father-and-son team has spread the gospel of the mini-jig across this region. As their success has grown on national tournament trails, the renown of the "Eakins Jig" has spread into bassdom from northern California to southern Maine.
Eakins comments: "In the mid-1980s, I recognized that I caught more bass with small jigs fished on light line. Even then, fishing pressure for bass was strong on the Ozark reservoirs, where the water also is clear. I went through ten molds before I was satisfied with the shape and balance of the jig. The keys to a good jig are balance, to create a natural fall, and the ability to hook and hold fish."
Eakins also had settled on the short-cut collar on the jig skirt, which has become a trademark of this style of finesse jig. The cut skirt gives a crawfishlike appearance and also helps parachute the jig to the bottom in a slow, even descent.
Backed by a small plastic craw, the package resembles the real thing. Eakins has worked with Gayle Julian of Jewel Baits to create this jig model, a round jighead weighing 5/16 ounce, with a turned eye. Jewel offers a variety of natural colors, along with the Eakins Craw, a salt-laden plastic craw that Jim and Troy Eakins also designed.
"The Eakins Jig is a system," Eakins continues, "and matching lure size and weight to a rod and line are critical. I fish the jig on 10-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon line, occasionally going to 12-pound in dingier water. I've designed a rod for Falcon Rods, a 6-foot 10-inch model they rate as a 5 power, on the light side of medium-heavy. You need a rod with a softer, more-tapered tip section than the typical pitching stick, but with a powerful midsection and butt. Bites on a finesse jig often are light, and you need to feel the bait and a light bite without being detected. A softer tip allows that."
As for the flat eye, Eakins has found far greater hooking success than with a straight eye, on his compact jig with its smaller hook. The eye protrudes at an angle slightly less than 60 degrees, which helps it pull through brush and dock posts easily. Eakins primarily pitches his little jig around brushpiles, docks, and along rocky terrain. For fishing grass, he selects Jewel's Eakins' Flip'n Jig, with its pointy nose and rattle skirt.
In fall, Eakins and other mini-jig specialists use the bait for largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass. For big Ozark spots, Eakins may work the jig on the bottom in 35 feet of water, catching spots holding beneath a floating dock. For a finesse approach, he tries to carefully place the lure in key spots, then lets it settle with minimal movement, followed by a few twitches or a series of short hops. If there are no takers within 15 or 20 seconds, he reels in and pitches again.
PJ's Lures, another Missouri company, offers the Lil Jig, a finesse model with a cut collar and a more angular head to probe brush. The Lil Jig is available in 1/8-, 1/4-, and 5/16-ounce sizes, with a 1/0 or 2/0 Mustad Needle Point hook. Alabama bass pro Terry Tucker favors these downsize jigs for most jig applications from the spawn through fall. For heavier duty, PJ's offers the Super Brush Lil Jig, available in 1/4-, 5/16-, and 7/16-ounce models.
Meanwhile, Terminator's jig line has been enhanced with the Finesse Jig, a downsized version weighing just 1/8, 3/16, and 1/4 ounce. Its Mustad light-wire hook ensures easy hookups, while Terminator's Titanium Weedguard holds plastic trailers neatly in place. Terminator's 3/16-ounce Tiny-T Jig also has won acclaim, along with numerous tournaments. Like the Eakins Jig, it has a turned eye, recessed in the head to smoothly pass through brush. Falcon Lures, known for their big grass jigs, also has entered the finesse market with the Falcon Finesse Jig. This fall, look for Uncle Josh's finesse model and the Booyah Jig series from PRADCO. These baits are deadly in fall, for probing fallen trees and stumps and where thinning grass beds allow you to pitch into pockets, let the jig settle, and give fish a chance to investigate and bite.
If you haven't tried these little jigs, we think you'll be pleasantly surprised.
2. JIGGIN' GRASS
By late summer and into fall, many lakes and reservoirs look like they need a mow--grass to the top, whether northern or Eurasian milfoil, hydrilla, or coontail. You know it holds fish, but the sheer extent of the vegetation and its stringy character make it a challenge to efficiently fish.
Louisiana jig maker Wayne Falcon lends a perspective on fishing dense grass. "To fish hydrilla and other dense weeds, nothing works like a jig," he says. "The density of a big jig, and we're talking 3/4 ounce at the minimum, punches down through the canopy. Then the tapered nose of a good grass jig allows you to pull it back up through the grass without hanging weeds. Efficiency is the name of the game, and you should be ready to immediately make another short pitch."
His Falcon Flipping Jig and Rattling Flipping Jig have a slim-profile head and 60-degree eye to penetrate weed stalks without catching. And they're backed by a big Gamakatsu hook to haul up a big bass.
To understand grass fishing, fish as though there were no grass above the structure. Bass still relate to stumps, ditches, rocks, creek channels, points, and other features. If you're familiar with the water, you may know where they lie. Otherwise, you have to tune your flasher or LCR to read through the grass.
Milfoil and other grasses rarely ruin a structurally attractive spot, and they may enhance a spot's appeal to bass. These long-stemmed grasses sport a massive canopy, but provide lots of room for fish to swim and feed below.
At some point in late summer or fall, bass move out of dense vegetation in some waters. This shift is associated with the onset of senescence of the plant--the gradual process whereby it dies back during winter. Whether the cause is changing cover conditions or reduction in oxygen, bass may evacuate Eurasian milfoil and hydrilla during this period. Northern milfoil and coontail are more persistent in fall and thus attract bass until winter sets in.
For big jigs in dense grass, most experts prefer 6 1/2- to 7 1/2-foot stout baitcasters and braided line. Make short pitches with the jig and allow it to free fall straight down through the canopy. Bites may come on the way down, as the jigs settle on the bottom, or after you give it a couple hops.
Falcon recommends "weighing" your jig to ascertain light bites. "Focus on the feel of your jig as you raise and lower it, whether it's a 5/8-ouncer or a 1 1/4-ounce model. If it suddenly feels heavier or lighter, set the hook."
3. SWIMMIN' JIGS
Most anglers regard jigs as vertical drop baits. In the applications discussed above, a balanced vertical fall is important in triggering bites. But the jig's combination of density, compact size, and alluring features also lend themselves to a horizontal presentation called swimming a jig. From the Upper Mississippi River to Alabama and Arkansas, jig swimmers have accounted for huge bass and have won many major tournaments.
Tom Monsoor, the man to beat in Upper Mississippi River tournaments, swims a jig throughout the summer season and into early fall, targeting weedy and wood-laden backwaters of the Mississippi where largemouths abide. "Swimming jigs work best in relatively clear water, since it gets reaction strikes from fish that see the bait passing overhead," Monsoor notes.
"Instead of dropping a jig into a hole in cover, you make long casts and move the bait over varied cover, calling bass out. Depending on water depth and the thickness of cover, pointy-nose jigs from 1/4 to 3/8 ounce work well." Monsoor crafts his own swimming jigs, as do many practitioners of this unusual technique.
Mitch Looper of Barling, Arkansas, a big-bass expert, swims a jig from the Prespawn Period until Thanksgiving. "The best jig-swimming days are cloudy and windy," he notes. "Bass are up and active and ready to hit a moving bait. Fish it wherever you find dense shallow vegetation or woodcover. The key is to keep the bait high in the water column, within a foot of the surface, swimming with a steady retrieve or with slight undulations imparted with the rod.
"Hold your rod at about the 10 o'clock position while winding the bait. When you get a strike, don't set right away, but lower the rod tip and retrieve slack, then set hard." Looper employs a flat swimming head that planes through the water. Like Monsoor, he uses a thin, light weedguard, since the bait passes above the densest cover, and the thin guard will not interfere with a long-distance hookset.
For most applications, jig swimmers favor a skirt of living rubber since it undulates as the lure moves, and puffs out when the retrieve is paused. Some anglers tie skirts with an underlayer of mylar to increase flash. Blues, browns, greens, and blacks work well where bluegills and perch are key forage. Where shad are the prime forage, white is popular, particularly in fall when bass feed heavily on the pale baitfish in tributary creeks.
A bulky trailer helps keep a swimming jig near the surface, and pork has been a traditional favorite, with the big Uncle Josh #1 chunk in brown, blue, or black to match darker jigs, and Uncle Josh's white Spring Lizard Pup popular on white jigs. Pork also resists tearing when passing through tough vegetation like bulrushes, alligator weed, and maidencane, or brushy cover. Stanley Jigs has designed a swimming head with a bladelike lip that creates a wide wobbling action for use over grassbeds and brush.
Since jig-swimming works best in heavy cover, medium-heavy to heavy baitcasting combos are the rule, with longer rods popular to increase casting distance, to keep the lure up in the water column, and to set hooks. Braided line is prime around thick vegetation, as it slices through the salad, maintaining contact with the fish and keeping its head up during the battle.
One further jig-swimming application involves big hair jigs known as Preacher Jigs. Where large shad are key forage, it's a deadly fall presentation. For more details, check the Hair Jigs section of this article.
4. DRAGGIN' A JIG
At the opposite end of the depth spectrum, dragging a jig is deadly from late summer into fall, and on into winter in milder regions. From the mesotrophic natural lakes of Wisconsin and Minnesota to the rocky impoundments of the western states, hefty football heads backed by twintail grubs or plastic craws are one of the deadliest ways to find and catch big bass.
The key is to locate horizontal rocky outcrops that extend beyond the edge of vegetation in natural lakes, or along an underwater point or hump in reservoirs. Bottom transitions from sand to gravel or gravel to cobble often hold bass. In natural lakes, spots in the 12- to 25-foot range typically are best, while rock as deep as 40 feet commonly holds bass in western reservoirs.
Jim Moynagh, a bass pro from Minnesota who helped design several football-style jigs for bottom dragging, or what he calls "rolling," discusses the merits of this presentation. "Like the jig-swimming approach, draggin' covers water fast, helpful in finding fish over expansive bottom areas. Make a long cast and wait for the jig to land. Then gradually pull it along with the rod tip held parallel to the water, with the rod at a 90-degree angle to the line and the lure.
"As you pull, the football head telegraphs bottom features through the line, down the rod, and to the attentive angler's hands. You can sense the difference between silt, sand, clay, gravel, and various sizes of rock. When you pull a football jig up against an object on the bottom, gradually pull the line a bit and barely shake it. That makes the plastic grub or craw wave up off bottom, an irresistible look for a marauding bass. No other jig style can produce that action."
Moynagh favors 20-pound monofilament for roller jigging with a 3/4-ounce All-Terrain Moynagh Rock Jig, making long casts with a 7 1/2-foot flippin' stick. He matches with a 5.3:1 ratio reel, to stymie any inclination to move the jig too fast.
On the West Coast, lunker hunter Mike Long also favors a football head for working deep flats and drops in the 12- to 40-foot range. He is credited with catching 27 bass over 13 pounds on jigs. Long likes pork trailers on his ProLine football jigs, and like Moynagh, he retrieves the jig at a painstakingly slow pace, particularly in cold water. In the tradition of "Lunker" Bill Murphy, Long stitches his jigs, retrieving just an inch or two of line a minute, interspersed with gentle shaking.
5. HAIR JIGS
Best not to be caught out in fall without a box of hair jigs. A smallmouth favorite in many regions, jigs sporting skirts of bucktail or fox hair are one of most overlooked fall largemouth lures. When the hair-jig bite is on, they outproduce soft plastics or standard jig designs.
Perhaps it's the compact look of the package, as many of the best coldwater baits tend to be small, or perhaps the subtle waving of the natural fibers or the hair's natural buoyancy. When bites get tough to come by in water below 50F, tie on a 1/4-ounce hair jig and slowly work the edges of persistent green weeds, letting the lure drop into holes and then sit for a minute or more before giving it a little shake.
Back hair jigs with a downsize craw like the 3-inch Berkley Power Craw with the last 1/2 inch of the tail bitten off, or a #101 Uncle Josh chunk. Both trailer types add buoyancy for a slow fall, to bulk up the package and to give bass something succulent to chew on while they wait for you to feel a bite. At times, there will be merely a feeling of weight on the end of your line. More eager fish, however, give the little lure a classic pop that's easy to feel or see.
Light line (10 or 12-pound-test mono) enhances the motion of small hair jigs and is sufficient to set hooks and land big bass in the thinning cover of fall, as they aren't nearly as sporty as just a month earlier. Fluorocarbon lines have shown great promise in hair jigging, as they have with finesse jigs. I prefer medium-power baitcasting tackle, but spinning rods also work fine in these conditions.
One last hair-jig technique deserves mention, though its application isn't as broad as some listed above. But wherever large gizzard shad are key forage, the Preacher Jig can be a deadly tool. It's a 5- to 6-inch, 1/2- to 3/4-ounce offering of bucktail and duck or chicken hackle that looks like something for striped bass. Mann's Bait Company has adopted the name, Preacher Jig, originally used to describe the lure designed by Reverend Bill Conine of Georgia, now a custom rod maker.
Cast the big white hair jig out over deep structure, such as channel bends or submerged humps, and retrieve like a crankbait, but with a subtle lifting and falling action, as you might impart to a marabou crappie jig. When a big bass inhales it, the rod just loads up and the battle is on. This, like all the jig tactics reviewed here, is a big-fish tactic.
NEW ERA FOR PORK
Just a few years ago, it seemed that new developments in soft plastic trailers might make the original pork rind baits an historical footnote in the story of jig fishing. Today, however, pork is back big-time propelled by new developments at the Uncle Josh Bait Company, originators of the pork chunk back in the 1920s. Many anglers still concede that in cold water and when fishing gets tough, pork draws more strikes than plastic craws or pork-shape trailers.
Innovations at Uncle Josh have made pork user-friendlier. In addition to offering several new cuts like the Porker and the Drop Shot Pork Worm, they have packaged their classic #11 Pork Frogs in a resealable 4-pack, requiring no jar. Jars of pork infused with garlic and crawfish now are available, along with many new colors.
Josh's new Pork Jig features a Fast Clip that skewers the frog behind the hook, eliminating the need to twist and turn to remove the bait from a barbed jig hook. The jigs, available in 1/4, 3/8, and 1/2 ounces in both a flippin' and conical weed style are armed with 5/0 Gamakatsu hooks.
SELECTED JIGGING STICKS
Pflueger has expanded their Trion Graphite Rod series with 32 new models, with several applicable to the jig techniques described here. The PTCA4766-1M is a good choice for jigs.
Fenwick has modified their Techna AV line, with its Aramid Veil technology, to include Finesse Telescopic Flippin' Stik for grass jigs and 6-foot medium-action models for hair jigs.
St. Croix's 6-foot 8-inch "extra-fast" rods, available in the Avid and Legend Elite Series, are superb jigging options. Spinning rod fans should try an Avid medium-light 6-foot 9-inch model for hair jigs.
Quantum's Tour Edition PT Series features several great actions for jigs, including the Heavy Flippin' model, an extra-fast 7-foot 4-inch model and a 6-foot 10-incher designed for heavy grass action.
Berkley, has a new line of Series One spinning and casting rods, featuring a precision lock-down skeletal reel seat and a multi-bias laminate layering system to enhance sensitivity.
Shimano has refined their IM8 Compre, IM7 Convergence, and IM6 Clarus series with Fuji Concept guides and Gudebrod wraps. Rods from each series apply to the jig techniques discussed here.
Daiwa has, due to popular demand, brought back the Light & Tough Series, featuring a Power Mesh Graphite outer weave for lightweight strength. For swimming jigs, check out the 6 1/2- and 7-foot models, rated for heavy duty in dense vegetation and wood.
Rapala has expanded their 5 rod lines with over 120 models for bass fishing. For jigging heavy grass, try the 7-foot 3-inch telescopic Signature Series rod rated for 1 1/2-ounce baits or the 6-foot 11-inch extra-heavy rod in the Long Cast Specialty Series.