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THE JIGGING DILEMMA
by Daryl Christensen
In an age of specialty jigs, too numerous to mention, choosing the right jig is no easy task. The problem is sometimes further complicated by an industry often focused more on appearance, than good design. Far too many writers and anglers alike are preoccupied with debating the merits of color, eye patterns, hook metallurgy, rigging style, and other considerations. While these are arguable important issues, they are all secondary when it comes time to select the right jig for the right job.
For many of you, the content of this article may be a real eye opener. For others, it may well put you to sleep. In a manner of speaking, there are no car chases in this movie. I will be addressing the subject of jigs from a point of fact seldom understood and almost never told. This road, less traveled, could put you on the path to becoming a significantly better jigging angler. Put to the test, the knowledge you gain from this article will give you a competitive edge and put more fish in your live well.
It has been my observation over the years, that jigging is fast becoming a lost art. Even at the professional level I see fewer and fewer fundamentally sound jig fisherman. I believe this decline is due in part to misunderstanding and confusion regarding the fundamentals of jigging. With the wide selection and subtle variations in jig styles available today, it is difficult to select the right jig for a given presentation. In this article I will make a concerted effort to get back tobasics, in an attempt to explain how to choose the right jig for the right job.
The first consideration when selecting a jig should always be its function. The important thing here is to develop an understanding of basic jig designs and what they do. To that end, we will be discussing jig designs that are used in two basic presentations, vertical and horizontal. While there are a variety of in-between presentations, most are basic variations of either vertical or horizontal jigging.
What determines the function of a jig, is its weight distribution or balance. Put another way, it's the head design that determines a jigs orientation, either vertical or horizontal, when in use in the water column. Understanding this simple principle, is one of the principle keys to successful jig fishing and the first order of business when selecting a jig head.
For the sake of clarity and illustration we will place all jigs into one of two categories, either weight forward (W.F.) or weight centered (W.C.). Weight forward jigs can be described as having the majority of it mass on the front portion of the hook closest to the eye. The classic example is the ball head jig where all the lead is directly under the eye. Weight centered jigs have the lead distributed more evenly along the shaft of the hook. The original Slo-Poke Jig is a good example of a weight centered jig. As you will come to know, each design, W.F. and W.C. is a different and important tool in your tool box. Knowing which one to use and when, is the secret to successful jig fishing. As we explore the virtues of each design, we will be viewing jig heads as if they were unpainted, stripping away all the glitter and concentrating solely on design and function.
Weight Forward Jigs, most commonly referred to as lead heads or ball jigs have been with us for decades. I can remember tying squirrel hair on ball heads back in the 60's. These classic W.F. jigs are by far the most used and abused jig in the industry. I have often marveled at anglers casting ball style jigs into weed, wood and rock structure, losing one jig after the other as if there were no better alternative. If you can take but one thing from this article, remember this. Ball jigs are not designed for casting. All W.F. jigs, including ball heads, power heads and the alike were designed to do one thing well and that's vertical jigging. Granted, you can pound a nail with a screwdriver, but using a ball jig for anything other than up and down is to severely limit your effectiveness as a jigger. To effectively cast and retrieve a jig requires a weight centered (W.C.) design, the virtues of which we will cover later in this article.
My personal favorite Weight Forward Jig is the Odd'Ball Jig from Bait Rigs Tackle Co. This performance W.F. jig has a counter balanced head that produces a unique teeter totter action when vertically jigged. Additionally, this head design will standup on bottom. I like the one, two punch of vertical jigging and a standup presentation over bottom. Testament to the effectiveness of the Odd'Ball is the number of huge Walleyes caught over the years by Dale Stoschein of Sturgeon Bay Wisconsin. Dale's world record ice Walleye was taken on an Odd'Ball Jig with a dead rigged shiner. According to Dale it's the "teeter totter" action that sets the Odd'Ball apart from other jigs and triggers strikes off big fish. I can personally attribute winning the PWT Super Pro Tournament to the effectiveness of the Odd'Ball Jig. I rigged Odd'Balls weedless, another unique feature, and tipped them with live bait to take home the first place trophy and over $50,000 in winnings.
Regardless of your choice of W.F. jig, it is important to understand the strengths and weaknesses inherent to this design. It is important to note that the major strength of W.F. jigs is that they hang in a horizontal position at rest. To gain a better picture in your mind see the illustration of the Odd'Ball Jig. Note that the long portion of the hook shank will come to rest in a horizontal position. This places the hook point in the ideal position for bait inhalation and hook setting. Conversely the W.F. jigs biggest weakness is that it
plunges head first on the fall, placing the hook point in a vertical position. This is a very poor position for hook setting. What happen here is you feel the fish, he feels you, but you don't have a good point of contact with the hook. The end result is you roll the jig in the fishes mouth and if your lucky, rip some lips on the way out. Unfortunately, as we all know, fish love to hit jigs on the fall and this is another major reason why W.F. jigs should be avoided for cast and retrieve presentations.
Weight Centered Jigs, commonly referred to as swimmer heads or slow fall jigs, have come of age as the preferred jig when used for casting, drifting or long lining over bottom. We recognize this family of jigs as having its weight distributed evenly along the length of the hook. The characteristics we are looking for in W.C. jigs, is their ability to both SWIM and FALL with the hook in a horizontal position. To gain a better perspective, view the illustration of the Slo-Poke Jig shown in this article. There are several distinct advantages to be gained with the use of weight centered jigs in horizontal presentations.
One major advantage of the W.C. jig is its inherent slow fall characteristics. Unlike W.F. jigs, like a ball head, that plunge rapidly head first, W.C. jigs fall more slowly. This phenomena occurs because the W.C. jig alls in a horizontal position, acting like a parachute, as it displaces more water on the fall. This all-important feature allows the bait to stay in the strike zone longer, making it easier for fish to target, pursue and inhale the bait. Actual tests comparing a 1/8 oz Slo-Poke Jig and a 1/8 oz ball head jig, identically rigged, showed the W.C. Slo-Poke falling 30% slower. This slow fall characteristic pays big dividends in shallow water or when working over weeds, wood or rock structure.
Another major advantage of W.C. jigs is that they provide positive hook sets. Because W.C. jigs swim and fall with the hook in a horizontal position, hook sets are almost always found in the roof of the mouth. This sweet spot is the best possible place to hook and hold a fish. Positive hook sets are of utmost importance to tournament anglers or anyone who wants to hook and hold big fish. I prefer the Slo-Poke Jig because it excels in its hook setting ability. The Slo-Poke's perfect balance and inline eye puts 100% of the hook setting force
directly at the point of the hook where it's most needed.
Weight centered jigs also provide an edge over W.F. jigs when used for long lining over bottom. This deadly big fish technique, calls for swimming, or dragging a jig over bottom a good distance behind the boat. While this technique can be accomplished with W.F. jigs the price to be paid is a significant loss of hardware and valuable fishing time spent tying on replacement jigs. Weight Centered jigs, like the improved flat bottomed Slo-Pokes, glide and drag horizontally along the bottom when long lined and are relatively snag resistant in the process. Slo-Poke jigs tend to walk up over bottom as opposed to W.F. jigs that wedge themselves into structure. This is a perfect example of the importance of understanding how weight distribution affects the performance of a jig. A simple way to evaluate how jigs perform is to observe what they do when you drag a jig in shallow water.
This is the long and short of the basic knowledge required in making the right choice when it comes to jig selection. Whether you're a Pro or an aspiring amateur, having the right tool for the right job will make you a better fisherman. For those of you interested in improving your skills, I have developed a jig kit that takes the mystery out of which jig to use and when. My OS-100 Walleye Kit is a simple and effective system that will help jig fisherman at all skill levels. I would hope that you have gained a new perspective on the use and selection of jigs. Perhaps the next time you reach into your jig box or walk down the isle of your favorite tackle store, you will look at jigs in a whole new way.