It’s always amazed me how a lure as simple as a lead-headed jig could be so tricky to fish effectively. Other types of fishing, such as crankbait or spinner trolling, are easily taught and mastered by those who put in some effort. However, that is simply not the case for jigging, which is part technique and part feel.
Developing anything remotely considered “skill” while fishing a jig only comes through extensive on the water experience. Even among those anglers lucky enough to fish often, jig fishing becomes a perishable skill. The sad truth is, unless you practice the craft of jig fishing regularly, chances are your skills could be classified as a little rusty.
Thankfully, there are some steps anglers can take to keep their jig fishing skills as sharp as a freshly honed fish hook.
Not long ago, a noteworthy angler mentioned to me he preferred jigging using monofilament lines. While I trust this particular angler’s skills, there is no question in my mind that using low stretch super lines ranks as the single most important step any fisherman can make towards becoming efficient at jigging. The lack of stretch in these super lines makes it significantly easier to feel the jig and detect subtle strikes. Because super lines have exceptional linear strength, I rarely jig with anything other than 10-pound test, which is approximately the diameter of 2-4 pound test monofilament.
In my mind, there are three super line options available to anglers, and they rank as good, better, and best. In the good category, I would rate fused lines like Berkley’s famous Fireline as a noteworthy choice for jig fishing applications. Fireline has good knot strength, very low stretch, and comes available in high visibility and low visibility colors.
The downside of fused lines is they don’t spool up tightly on a spinning or baitcasting reel. This goes double if the entire reel spool is filled with fused line.
To get the best results from fused lines, I recommend spooling first on about 1/3 of the spool using monofilament as a backing line and then top dressing with 75 to 100 yards of fused line.
The “better” category of super line are the four carrier braids on the market. Unlike fused lines that are flat in shape, four carrier braids are round like monofilament, and they tend to spool more tightly on both spinning and baitcasting reels.
While four carrier braids are the most affordable of all the super lines, that doesn’t mean they are not high quality. Four carrier lines enjoy excellent abrasion resistance, near zero stretch, they come in all sorts of color options, and they have more body than fused lines, which means they are not nearly as likely to loop and twist as readily as a fused line.
The downside and only a minor issue is that four carrier braids tend to make an abrasive sound as the line slides through the guides. This is especially noticeable when fighting a fish.
My optimum line choice for jigging are the premium eight carrier braids on the market. An eight carrier braid is created by wrapping twice as many fibers under much higher pressure to produce a line that is near zero stretch, very thin in diameter, and silky smooth for casting and also fighting fish.
Like the other super lines, eight carrier braids come in different colors for different fishing applications.
Line color is important
As mentioned, all the fused lines on the market come in various colors. All my jigging reels tend to be loaded with high visibility colors such as bright green, yellow or orange. Because all my jigging rods are terminated with a length of fluorocarbon line as a leader, the line’s color has nothing to do with being stealthy and everything to do with being easy to see.
No matter if I’m casting or vertical jigging, the ability to see the line easily makes the process of jigging easier to master. It’s very common in a casting application to see the line twitch or move, indicating a strike the angler may not have actually felt. This happens so regularly, I would feel handicapped fishing a dark color super line that is hard to see against the water.
Even when vertical jigging, a brightly colored line makes it easier to ensure your jigs are directly below the boat and not dragging.
Jig size and design
The typical guy who spends time jigging on the Detroit or St. Clair Rivers in the spring will probably buy the cheapest ball head jig he can find. I realize that these rivers have a habit of claiming lots of jigs, but I still feel strongly that using a premium jig that features a premium hook is critically important.
My personal preference is for stand up style jigs as they keep the hook point upright and ready for action even when the jig crashes bottom. I also like jigs that feature hooks large enough to fish soft plastics and jigs dressed with plastics and tipped with live minnows. To accomplish this requires a jig with at least a 3/0 or 4/0 size hook.
I’m also a firm believer that many anglers struggle with vertical jigging because they don’t fish a jig that’s heavy enough to be easily felt in the water they are fishing. I carry jigs in my box that range in size from 1/8 ounce to a full ounce. Day in and day out, I find that the larger, 1/2, 5/8, 3/4, and even one-ounce jigs produce the best results.
I classify walleye jigging rods into two categories, including rods suitable for casting and rods suitable for vertical jigging. My casting jig rods tend to be either 7 foot long medium action or 7 1/2 foot long with a medium/light power or action. The 7-foot medium action rod is ideal for pitching heavier jigs/swimbaits, glide baits or lipless crankbaits. The 7 1/2 foot long medium/light action rods are ideal for pitching smaller jigs.
My vertical jigging rods are unique, to say the least. I’m a firm believer that to adequately feel light strikes, a vertical jigging rod must be extra stiff. My rule of thumb is very simple. Tie on the jig you plan to fish with and see if the weight of the jig alone causes the rod tip to flex. A vertical jigging rod should be stiff enough that the jig’s weight (even heavy 3/4 and 1-ounce jigs) should not cause the rod tip to flex. If the rod tip is flexing, the rod is absorbing sensitivity, not telegraphing it.
I’d say that 9 out 10 walleye anglers equip themselves with rods too soft for effective vertical jigging. Some of these anglers compensate by fishing often and developing a good skill set at detecting bites. Still, no matter how much practice an angler gets at vertical jigging, stiffer rods help anglers feel and hook more fish.
To be fair, there are not a lot of commercially available rods on the market stiff enough for vertical jigging. Daiwa makes a 5’9” and a 6 foot medium-heavy action jigging rod in their RG lineup that is very affordable. Another option is simply to use an arrow saw to cut off a few inches off the tip of a medium action 6 1/2 foot or 7 foot rod you’re willing to experiment with. My garage is full of such experiments, and as a result, I’ve found several that are ideal in my mind for vertical jigging.
Love them or hate them, a stinger hook that is properly employed will help anglers catch a lot more walleye. While I don’t always use a stinger hook for casting applications, I rarely vertical jig without using a stinger hook.
The problem, as I see it with stinger hooks, is most are tied too short to be effective. The stinger hook needs to be positioned near the tail of the minnow or soft plastic lure being used. If the stinger hook is too short, many short biting fish will still be missed completely.
About half the anglers I know who are good jig fishermen use stinger hooks pricked into the minnow or soft plastic grub. The other half let their stinger hook lay free, simply dangling out there above the minnow or grub body.
For years I was convinced that the stinger needed to be stuck into the minnow or grub to be effective. These days, I’m more of the opinion that the free-floating stinger catches more fish.
Here’s why I think the free-floating stinger is more effective. When a fish strikes at a jig, it is actually trying to suck it into the mouth by flaring the gills and creating a mini vacuum effect. In this case, the lightest part of the presentation, the stinger hook, is going to be impacted most by this modest vacuum and is also most likely to find its way into the fish’s mouth.
Certainly, if the fish is aggressive and physically grabs the bait, both stinger hook rigging methods will work. The problem is many vertical jigging strikes are not aggressive enough to get the whole jig into the fish’s mouth.
For walleye jigging, I’m convinced that most anglers use stinger hooks that are too small. Most commercially available stingers are tied on No. 12 or No. 10 treble hooks. I’ve concluded that a somewhat larger No. 8 or even No. 6 treble hook is better suited to sticking light biting walleye.
Off Color Water
One of the biggest hurdles to jig fishing comes down to water clarity. The murkier the water becomes and the more visibility is hampered, generally, the poorer the jigging results an angler can expect. Dirty water can be the kiss of death, but there are some ways to compensate for water clarity that isn’t ideal for jig fishing.
Some years ago, I watched what was a great bite on the Detroit River dwindle to nothing as dirty water rolled into the stretch I was fishing. When the dirty water hit us, it was like a light switch was turned off—the bite went from excellent to zero in a matter of only a few minutes.
I had a bottle of Pro Cure Bad Azz Bait Dye in the boat. I took a few shiner minnows, put them in the cup from my thermos bottle, and squirted a few drops of this dye onto the minnows. The dye quickly turned these silvery emerald shiners into a bright chartreuse/lime color.
The next drift, I started catching fish again, and no one else in the boat was getting even a bump. After I caught several fish in a row, the rest of my fishing party also started using the dyed minnows. To say this simple trick changed our day would be an understatement. These days, I never go river jig fishing without some of this bait dye handy should the water clarity turn ugly.
Another trick that will help generate more bites when the water clarity starts getting dirty is to use plastics with more contrast in the water. The color most visible in stained to muddy water is actually black. Using dark color plastics and larger size plastics can help scratch out a few bonus bites.
Lots of anglers scoff at the idea of using fishing scent products. This lack of confidence in fishing scent stems from using scent products that are better described as “cover scents” than “attractor scents.”
A cover scent is designed to mask unnatural odors, while a natural scent product is designed to create a natural scent stream in the water. My experience suggests that fishing scents work best when unnatural scents are first eliminated, and then natural scents are applied.
It sounds crazy, but before we fish with jigs and soft plastics that may have potentially become contaminated with unnatural odors, we give them a quick bath in a scent-free dishwashing soap such as Joy Dishwashing Liquid. Once the baits have been cleaned and rinsed, we apply natural scent products such as Pro Cure Super Gel.
Super Gel comes in a host of formulas made from specific forage species. For walleye fishing, our favorites have become emerald shiner, gizzard shad, and smelt as these are some of the most common forage minnows walleye come in contact with.
Wrapping it up
No matter if you prefer casting or vertical jigging, mastering the lead-head jig is a skill every walleye angler should take seriously. My family loves jigging so much we find other species to target when the spring walleye run is over.
An angler serious about becoming proficient with a jig will find that targeting smallmouth water for casting applications and lake trout for vertical jigging applications goes a long way towards refining those respective skill sets. I’ve even been known to vertical jig for channel catfish simply because they eat a jig the same way a walleye does! For those of us who love to jig-fish walleyes, there simply aren’t enough days in the year to satisfy this burning desire.