Jigs - The Number One Artificial
Even back before dirt, when I was a kid growing up in Orlando, jigs were the only lure I carried in my tackle box. For that matter, they were the only lure I could afford on my allowance. They helped me catch small bass and bluegill from lakes within bicycling distance. Later, as I became more mobile, I found they also worked on shad in the St. Johns River, trolling them in the deep bends near Lemon Bluff. Jigs were also my favorite when I started fishing saltwater and landed snapper, lady fish, pompano, snook and mackerel from “Red Shell” Beach on the East Coast. Don’t look for that spot on a map; it’s probably paved with condos by now. On offshore trips, jigs brought grouper and amberjack as well as dolphin to the boat. In short, anything that eats live baitfish or even crustaceans will hit a jig...if the angler makes it look frisky but easy to catch.
A trip to the tackle shop will show how many different materials, colors, sizes and designs are available. Luckily, materials offer just a few options. Jigs were originally made of lead heads with some fibers attached to hide the hook and give it volume as it slowed the fall. These days, those jigs still catch fish but plastic tails have taken over much of the market. Our own preference is for plastic tails in a shad tail design. Changing colors, designs, sizes or switching to scented or even live baits with a plastic tail is quick and easy compared to tying on a different hair jig for each change. Although colors like “electric chicken” catch fish, we usually try to “match the hatch” with more natural colors.
Jig heads vary in design and color. Older styles had the eye positioned back on the head and captured weeds on the retrieve. Newer styles have the eye at the front so weeds picked up by the line slide off the jig. The CAL jigs are an example of this type. These newer styles also have eyes that gamefish key on during the strike. Weight varies but for the flats where we kayak, a 16th ounce or 1/8th ounce size seems to work best. Heavier jigs dig too deep when worked slowly and end up tangled in the weeds during slower retrieves. As for head color the “ancient wisdom” of red on the flats and white on the beaches still works for me. Kimball likes chartreuse though and she out fishes me regularly. Much heavier jigs are needed for targeting snook in deep channels around bridges.
The action of the jig, when jig fishing, is where the angler gets involved. There are different retrieves used by experienced anglers but they are all variations of the “hop and drop” presentation that will work in most situations. The object is to quickly lift the jig from the bottom and then let it settle back down before the next jerk. Gamefish notice movement when you jerk the bait up from the bottom, which simulates a spooked baitfish. When the jig falls, it looks like an easy, disoriented meal and this is when most strikes occur. Just keep reeling to detect these subtle strikes. If the grass is thick on the flats, an alternate way to rig the jig tail is on a 2/0 wide gap hook with a bullet weight the way bass anglers rig a worm. The main concept to keep in mind is that you need to move the jig slower when the water is cold. That is why we use 1/16th ounce jigs in the winter.
So, as the water clears up and the red tide recedes into a bad memory, find some clean water and give the jig a try. Retrieve it faster if mackerel, lady fish or jacks are around and slower if you’re looking for trout, flounder, redfish or pompano.