Guide To Fishing Jigs For Bass
Jigs used to be thought of as big-fish baits in cold water. Now pro anglers are using them all year.
My love affair with lead-headed, rubber or hair-skirted lures known as jigs started in 1987 when my girlfriend at the time gave me a jig-head mold for Christmas. Teresa is now my wife, and hundreds of thousands of jigs later there are times when she wishes she had not given me that original mold due to the hours I spend putting these bass-catching morsels together. Nonetheless, over the last two decades I have seen jigs move from an oddity lure with a cult following to a standard lure that few anglers are without.
The expansion of jigs into the mainstream has come about over the years because more and more anglers are learning the intricacies of when, where and how to fish these effective lures. Whereas in the past they were considered just a big-fish lure, they have proven they will fool bass from coast to coast.
A recent B.A.S.S. Southern Tour tournament on Lake Wheeler exemplifies the versatility of jigs and one of the new ways anglers are using them. Frank Ippoliti of Mercersburg, Pa. earned his first B.A.S.S. victory by using an unorthodox jig retrieve.
“During practice I hung my jig on some chunk rock, and when I was able to pop it free a big bass slammed it,” Frank said.
He quickly recognized this pattern and won the tourney by “stroking” a jig, a retrieve that involves snatching the lure hard after the initial fall, thus triggering a reflex strike. Stroking is just one example of the new jig techniques that were virtually unheard of a decade ago.
Jared Lintner, B.A.S.S. Elite Series professional angler from Arroyo Grande, Calif., used jigs throughout the year to finish fifth in B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year standings in 2007.
“Jigs are one of the best bass baits, as a whole. You can go out and throw a regular Arkie-head jig and catch fish, but you will definitely catch more fish by taking advantage of today’s different head styles available for different situations you face. One of the things I like most about them is that you don’t lose many fish on jigs once they’re stuck,” Jared said.
Series professional from Gainesville, Fla., and Patrick Pierce, professional bass angler from Jacksonville, Fla., consider jigs a go-to bait.
“Jigs work well in the cooler months as well as the heat of summer. They are worth trying just about any time because they are extremely versa- tile,” Bernie said.
“When I’m on tour, I’m always looking for that jig bite because a jig can win on any body of water,” Patrick said.
Tony Beck, tournament angler and 2007 Skeeter Eliminator Series competitor from Social Circle drags his ProCraft all over Georgia and Alabama competing in regional events.
“There is no question that a jig is one of the best big-fish baits you can use. When I want to swing for the fence, a jig is my lure of choice. I may not get as many bites as with other lures, but the ones I do get will be well worth the patience,” Tony said.
Understanding jig basics will allow you to choose the right jig for the situations you face on your home lake or river. If you understand which head style works best for various cover, how to effectively retrieve different jigs and how to choose colors, you are well on your way to becoming a jig aficionado. Jigs are arguably one of the lures that take the most patience to master, but if you are willing to put in the time, you will be rewarded handsomely with large sacks of fish at weigh-in.
One of the original head styles is a broad head, some refer to as an Arkie head, named for the manufacturer which claims to have made the first jig. The hook eye exits on the top of the head. This is a versatile style, which has a large following. Many would argue it comes through wood cover well, but does not do as well in rocks or weeds as some of the newer styles.
“I throw an Arkie-style head most of the time I’m fishing wood,” Patrick noted. “I have mine custom built with a flat-eye hook. With this hook, I can pull it through some really thick brush without hanging.”
Round heads with weedguards have been around for years but have just recently gained a huge following since the advent of the Eakin’s Jig. The hook eye exits the head at a 60-degree angle to the hook shank, and this jig is usually fitted with a flat-eye hook.
Barry Hooper, tournament angler from Monticello who is a Lake Oconee and Sinclair expert, swears by this style head. He pitches this style jig to docks and shoreline cover.
“This head style comes through the dock pilings and crosspieces great, and fish eat this compact jig better for me than other styles,” Barry shared.
Other compact head styles are common, with sizes as small as 1/16- oz. hitting the market. New superfine cut silicone and tiny 2-inch plastic trailers are perfectly matched to these miniscule offerings. These bitty offerings work when sight fishing or on heavily pressured waters where a finesse presentation is needed. Many of these smaller jigs are better delivered using spinning gear. An advantage of these small offerings is that on spinning tackle you can skip them under docks or overhanging vegetation.
Teardrop heads like Oldham’s Jig have their place and come through wood well. They are usually construct- ed with eyes and can do a good job of imitating sunfish or crayfish as they bounce through wood cover.
Bernie said, “The Oldham’s Jig is my favorite for working through wood cover. The unique teardrop head has been very effective for me all across the Southeast.”
Football heads look just like you would expect based on their name — a football-shaped hunk of lead situated perpendicularly to the shank of the hook. The advantage of this head style is that the wide profile rolls over rocks better without getting wedged in the crevices. On a tapering, rocky point, there is no better choice than a football head. When the head bumps against a rock, you can put a little tension on the line, thus rolling the hook up and making the trailer tip up like a crayfish on the defense. This is a deadly presentation when bass are keying on crayfish.
Bullet heads are a relatively new addition to the mainstream bass mar- ket. As the name describes, this head is tapered like a bullet. The hook eye exits the head directly at the front. The smaller sizes are excellent swimming jigs, and the large sizes up to 1 1/2 ounces work well for punching through matted vegetation.
“Swimming a jig is one of my favorite techniques,” Bernie said. “Swimming a jig can work any time fish are reasonably shallow — holding in brush, docks, sparse shoreline grass or submerged vegetation. It’s a fun way to fish.”
Tony likes to swim a jig along the edges of shoreline vegetation, such as water willow. If the wind is blowing into the shoreline, the fish get aggressive and use the edge of the vegetation as an ambush point for baitfish. Swimming a jig along the edge of a dock is another application where he uses a swimming jig. If bass are keying on bream or shad, swimming a jig along a dock shade line can be a deadly presentation.
Look for a new bullet-shaped head by Picasso this season. Jared helped design the company’s Finesse Spider Jig, and it is named after him. He has used his prototypes for light flipping applications with excellent success.
Color is a factor that can become as simple or complex as you would like to make it. Every jig junkie has their favorite hue, but basic patterns will work consistently. A stroll through your favorite tackle shop will reveal that dark colors are the usual choice, with blacks and greens (green pumpkin and watermelon) leading the pack.
Jared carries four 3700-size boxes filled with jigs on his boat at all times. The colors center around three primary schemes with varying head styles of each combination. His three confidence colors are green pumpkin (some- times with a few strands of orange), black/blue, and watermelon (some- times with a few strands of purple).
“If you can’t get bit with these three colors, bass are probably not biting jigs well,” Jared shared.
This same pattern emerged from all the anglers I talked with and those I have tied jigs for over the years. Anglers have colors that work for their waters, and they stick with them. If the bass do not hit those few confidence colors, they probably are not eating jigs that day. Darker colors generally work in stained water. Lighter, more translucent colors, such as watermelons and pumpkins generally work best in clear- er water, and green pumpkins work in a variety of conditions.
Some anglers get scientific about colors, collecting samples of crayfish and analyzing their hue. For instance, some crayfish will be olive colored with red tips on their claws at certain times of year. A green pumpkin with a couple strands of red will produce well if that is the predominant color the bass are used to keying on. Sometimes cray- fish have bluish hues to them, probably one of the reasons that black/blue is such a good producer in so many locations. Find out the traditionally effective color patterns on the lake you are fishing, use your knowledge of prey in the system you are fishing, make a color selection, and then let the bass tell you what color they will eat.
The anomaly in color selection is swimming jigs. With this presentation, the forage you are imitating is usually some sort of baitfish, so colors typically found on spinnerbaits are the norm. Whites and pearls are standard when mimicking shad, while greens, blues and chartreuse are usually used to imitate bluegills or perch.
The jig ’n pig got the second half of its name from the pork-rind trailer hanging off the hook. Today, plastic crayfish come in a staggering selection of colors and styles. Most anglers opt for the more versatile plastic trailers, but a few anglers cannot break tradition and select pork rinds, especially during the coldest part of winter. All of the anglers I interviewed for this article use plastic trailers. Double-tailed plastic grubs like the ZOOM Fat Albert or Yamamoto double-tail grubs are the prime choice for casting and swimming, while plastic crayfish imitations get the nod for flipping and pitching.
“I match the color of my trailer to the primary jig color in clear to slightly stained water,” Jared said. “If the water is dingy, I dip the tips of the claws in a bright color to trigger a few more strikes.”
When choosing equipment, each angler has his own brand preference, but all agree that a jig rod should be of the highest modulus graphite possible to maximize sensitivity. Longer rods are the norm, with most jig anglers preferring 7- or 7 1/2-foot models of medium-heavy or heavy action. The longer and heavier-action rods are for larger, heavier jig choices. Heavy-action flip- ping sticks are the norm for punching jigs through grass. High-speed reels are a good option for taking up slack or retrieving a jig for the next cast. A quick-retrieve reel can add a few dozen extra casts per day over a slow reel.
Line is an extremely important component of any jig presentation. Monofilament gets the nod for many occasions, but braided and fluorocarbon lines have their place.
“I use fluorocarbon in 15- to 25-lb. test for much of my jig fishing, the lighter in clearer water or sparse cover and the heavier in stained water or heavy cover,” said Tony. “When punching mats of vegetation, I use 50- to 60-lb. test braid because it will slice through vegetation on the hookset and helps me land more fish.”
Bernie concurred on line choice.
“I use up to 80-lb. test braid when fishing extremely heavy cover,” he said.
Rarely is line lighter than 14-lb. test thrown with jigs, as there is usual- ly some type of cover around that can sever lighter offerings. Fluorocarbon line is gaining popularity because of its lower visibility, higher abrasion resist- ance and lower stretch than monofilament. Still, today’s high-quality monofilament lines are the most frequent choice because of angler familiarity and lower price.
Jared rarely uses a jig right from the package. His customization includes trimming the skirt even with the bend of the hook to make it flare out. He then shortens the weedguard so it barely covers the hook, and then opens the gap of the hook slightly with a pair of pliers.
“If you bend the hook point out slightly, when a bass swallows your jig it will penetrate the roof of its mouth better,” Jared said.
Patrick suggests paying constant attention to details, such as line abrasion and hook sharpness.
“With mono and fluorocarbon, you will want to retie often when fishing heavy cover. Check your line frequently for weak spots or nicks. Most of today’s jig hooks are sharp when new, but after banging docks, brushpiles and rocks, you need to touch up the point with a sharpening stone every now and then. Small details, such as these, will put more fish in the boat,” Patrick noted.
Bites on jigs can vary from a hard thump to a spongy feeling and your line moving off to the side. Line watching is critical, as you can frequently see the “tick” of your line even if you can- not feel the telltale “tap-tap.” A strong, quick hookset is a must to drive the hook home. When I get a jig bite, I typically drop my rod tip a few inches and immediately snap up (most jig styles) or sweep it to the side (swimming jigs) to get good hook penetration.
Keep an open mind when choosing the right jig for the lake you are fishing, as there are usually several different combinations that will work on any given lake. That being said, there are definitely high-percentage choices for certain lakes. Jigs take quality bass each year on every lake in the state, but these few are some of the top options.
Lake Lanier was mentioned by several pros as one of the better jig lakes in Georgia. Largemouth bass frequent the shallow upper ends of coves and creeks, and spotted bass will gobble up jigs on deeper points and brush- piles. Bernie believes Lanier is one of the best jig lakes in the South.
“I scale down to smaller jigs, and nearly won a tournament by pitching a jig to shallow cover in the upper end of the lake. During cold snaps, this slow, methodical technique will catch some nice largemouths,” Bernie shared.
Patrick concurs with Lanier’s standing as a great jig lake. He has had success by skipping 1/4-oz. brown fine-rubber jigs under docks to coerce suspended spotted bass into biting. “When the magnum spots get under docks at Lanier, I grab my spinning rod and small rubber jig. I skip it as far under the dock as possible and let it flutter down. The big ones will wallop it,” Patrick said.
Tony shared a cold-water pattern for big spotted bass on Lanier. When the water temperature drops below the mid 50s and the spots suspend over standing timber, he swims a jig over the top of the timber to score.
“This technique requires some patience and good electronics to find the prime areas, but the dividends can be awesome,” Tony exclaimed.
Oconee and Sinclair are toward the top of several anglers’ lists. Barry kills the bass on round-head jigs pitched to the myriad wooden docks on both lakes. His best colors for dock fishing have been green pumpkin, black/blue and junebug. Tony concurs with the dock patterns and offers a tip to refining this presentation.
“The key to being successful on these two lakes is finding the depth that the fish are using. When you catch a fish on a dock, pay attention to whether the fish was on an outside piling, inside piling, dock on the main lake, dock on a secondary point, and then try to duplicate that pattern. Often keying on the pattern within the pattern is the way to efficiently catch a large sack of bass on a jig,” Tony explained.
Barry has also scored big on Oconee by dragging 1/2-oz. football- head jigs down rocky points, especially when Georgia Power is generating and moving water. Green pumpkin and black/blue are the two colors he has used most successfully.
Eufaula is one of Patrick’s favorite jig lakes. He likes to run up the river flipping and pitching Arkie-style jigs to shoreline cover — both wood and grass. For this approach, he chooses a black/blue or brown jig with matching trailer. From prespawn through early summer, he has also scored big by swimming a white jig among the shore- line grass.
Tips offered by these expert anglers will help you get more bites on this incredibly effective lure. To gain confidence in fishing with jigs, hit the water with a half-dozen rods rigged with various jigs and several jig boxes. With the confidence gained on this one-bait outing, you too will quickly realize that jigs are not just for winter anymore.
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