Many anglers have their preferred ways to catch open-water fish. From trolling to drifting, casting to still fishing with floats, and so on and so on. It is no secret, those different lakes can certainly have various cultures in the forms of fish species present, structure, food base, vegetation, bottom substrates, etc. In any case, there always seems to be a better way to catch fish depending on the time of year and target tactics. I should mention that this article is not going to single out any one species, as we love the multi-species fishing lifestyle.
In a world of so many diverse fishing techniques, one tactic that can be catered to any fishery is absolutely jig fishing. For those that know me, it is by far my absolute favorite way to catch a plethora of fish. And I am not talking about just a certain time of year. Jigging can be the most efficient way to catch fish at all times of the year. Make no mistake there is an art to jig fishing, and if you can spare a little bit of time to read this article, I think you may pick up a thing or two. Although I utilize several different types of jigs throughout the year, we will chat about one. Given the nature of so many jig articles over the years, I will just touch on a few ideas and attacks I often use while open water fishing. We are talking RZ Jig Fishing!
First off, let’s dive into the many ways to jig fish, and yes there are many. Jig selections are obviously endless, so where does one start? The first thing to do is acknowledge the time of year and weather conditions. Over the course of several decades,’ popular fishing industry anglers have published fish tendencies in relation to different times of year and weather patterns. So maybe a good prerequisite for applying this new “jigging” knowledge would be to dig into some old In-Fishermen magazines or other related cool media produced over the years. I could go into some of that in fine detail, but that will have to wait for another fishing column at a future date, plus let’s keep this learning opportunity in direct connection to the title of this particular article.
Most avid anglers will agree that jigging is almost the exclusive tactic to utilize in the spring and fall, but especially spring. During the early season, shallower roaming fish tend to have not been pressured for some time. Hence, they are shallow and can tend to be very aggressively feeding. When this is the case the best rod, line and jig combo includes 6-10” ML, 6# Monofilament, and a simple 1/8, 3/16 or 1/4 oz Northland RZ jig (this is a favorite go-to all open water season long).
Being it is early spring, vegetation is still not in full bloom, so you really do not have to be worried about getting snagged up in weeds. Matter of fact, in my opinion, fish seem to gravitate off the old vegetative shore areas. Colors of choice vary of course depending on watercolor and/or clarity. But there are a few universal colors that will work in any condition. My picks are chartreuse, parakeet, and sunrise. What about bait? I am not biased to any one type of bait whether it be live bait or plastics. I will say this though, during the spring and fall, I do help keep the bait dealers very busy. And in the spring of the year, my favorite bait to hook onto an RZ jig is going to be a large fathead or medium-sized shiner.
We could go round and round on what is the proper way to hook live bait onto a jig, but in all reality, the most efficient way is to just stick the hook up through the bottom of the minnow’s head. Will you lose minnows? Of course, you will. However, I am much more confident when I drive home a hook set with this application. Especially, when working the bait more vertical where I can pierce the upper lip, rather than side swipe a corner mouth hook set. One thing I like to tell my clients when jig fishing, is never to be in a hurry to retrieve your presentation, even after missing a bite. Make sure to touch every single grain of sand with your jig. Usually, the fish will tell us what kind of mood they are in. If they are going gangbusters, you can almost do no wrong. But when they are being a little finicky, slow and steady will win more bites. Furthermore, fish can often times slowly chase bait to the boat before striking, so more the reason to never be in a hurry to retrieve your jig.
Moving into later spring and early summer, my usual minnow tactic takes a back seat to a jig and worm, or jig and leech combo. If I had one choice of bait for the rest of my life it would most definitely be a jig and worm combo. All fish love worms. The best way to utilize a worm is to stick the hard tissued (purple colored end) head once through turn the worm and come back for another pierce. Then depending on what the fish are telling me. I may elect to pinch off 1/3 the crawler, or more. If they are biting well, less is more, and if they are not biting well, more is better. With that said, you never want to glob on a bunch of worms. So, it looks like a balled-up bait with a tail tangling (unless you’re still fishing for rough fish). You want to use your worm to resemble the most natural-looking presentation. The same goes for the jig and leech combo. Two piercings through the big sucker (tail end) of the specimen. This will allow the leech to reach out in a swimming motion. Making for a lot of action for your live bait. Depths to target here are going to be weed edges or drop-off transitions to deeper water. I like 12-22 feet of water. Also, do not be afraid to pitch into heavily covered vegetation. We often find that purposely pitching into weeds can turn some fish.
In the summer, we are peaking for biological life forms. Bugs are a constant, so are continuous natural fish hatches. This is the time of year that some consider the dog days of summer. Many anglers can now be glued to trolling deep basins and playing keep away, but again, jigging can turn good fish here too. The fact is fish are now bellied down in the deeper mud. Food is plentiful, so fish may not be super active. When targeting deeper fish, it is important to up your jig weight to get down. Also helps to change into a braid for better bite detection. This is the time of year when one can argue electronics are very important to mark out differing substrate thresholds. I prefer sand or rock to mud areas. Always good to cruise around and mark out pods of baitfish and predator fish. These are the areas where you want to try the first stab. My jig size is going to match my depth target. The less weight I can get away with the better, but not always going to be an option. Unless of course, you can seek out a sunken island, sand bar, or reef where you may work the top for active feeding fish. My take is you always going to mark fish in the deeper waters, but the more active feeding fish will certainly be shallower. RZ-sized jig choices will be the ¼ and 3/8 ounce.
After moving past the “dog days” of summer and past turnover, we often elect to get back to the spring tactics/techniques. When water temperatures are dropped back down into the lower 60’s and into the ’50s or cooler, fish will trigger the feed bag routine. This seems to be the common pre-winter fattening upstage. Fishing can be lights out all the way up until early ice and through the first stages of ice. So, on these select fall days, one can often get back to doing nothing wrong. In all honesty, Autumn is my favorite time of year to fish. Match that with my favorite tactic to utilize (jig fishing), and all is right in the world. If you can take one thing from this read that is worth re-mentioning in your own boat next time your jig fishing, use the slogan “be one with your jig”. See you out on the water.
Captain, Jarrid Houston
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