There's so much thought and preparation that goes into a successful fishing trip, besides just the assembling and packing of all your gear. The most important part of a fishing trip is where and how you're going to approach the plan of attack. I wanted to touch --okay, extensively -- on one area I'm passionate about, and that's the area of jig fishing.
Rods: Most of the rods I use are termed medium-light. They need a fairly stiff butt with a soft tip. Also, I like a light-weight rod, not of glass but of good quality graphite. For quick, hook-setting power, I recommend at least a six-foot rod and even as long as seven feet. When using a jig-and-float rig, some anglers like an even longer rod of up to eight feet. But such a long rod needs to be specifically made lightweight with a long, stiff butt and mid section up to a soft tip. It would have to be very high quality to be that long and that light. Whether to choose a one-, two- or three-piece rod depends on you personally and how you travel. If you can stow a one piece, do it because it will be a lighter rod. Farrals add weight to a rod.
Reels: I've tried multiple reels and have found you don't have to spend a lot of money to get what works. I use and sell Shimano and Pflueger products. In the Shimano line I like the Sienna and the Sidestab reels, but I really love the Presidents Reel made by Pflueger.
Line: My go-to monofilament is Trilene XL green. The pound test depends on application. Four-pound test line works for most everything I do with a jig, but there are times that two-pound line works better. When our water grows really clear in late summer and fall, I switch to two-pound line. Also, when I throw smaller jigs, down to 1/32- ounce, and don't want to use a float or split shot, I gravitate to two-pound line. I can't think of any time I'd use six-pound line unless maybe when throwing one-fourth-ounce jigs during heavy generation. In flourocarbon, I like the Vanish brand. If I had to make a choice though between mono and flourocarbon, I'd use mono because its feel and stretch.
Jigs: For the purposes of this article, I'll only talk about marabou jigs. I don't think there are such things as bad jigs unless, of course, they're falling apart. I guess the color could be bad but I've seen fish caught on some pretty ugly jigs.
The shape of the heads can affect the action of the jig, especially when it drops. Here I have to make an important statement:
The drop of the jig is the most important part of its action -- but I'll expand that more later.
I have a good friend who had a mold custom made. The head was oblong, almost like an oval, but the shape was slanted to one side from top to bottom. This angle made the jig drift to the side while sinking. Does this invite more strikes? Ask Jerry and he'd say yes. He does catch fish, but he's also one of the best jig fisherman I know.
Most other jigs are round-headed with a collar. Some are painted, some not. Some have eyes painted on them. Now I could say that all this make a big difference. It might in some situations and not in others. When fishing for crappie, some swear by brightly-colored heads. Others testify to painted eyes on the heads, and I can see that that may make a little difference. But in my experience, I have not seen any difference in any of it, except the color of the head itself. A contrasting color does get bit at times or than a plain head.
The jigs we sell at Lilleys' Landing are oval and slanted like Jerry's jigs.
I'm not going to pick this apart too much. I usually use jigs with head color matching the marabou with a few exceptions. Orange-headed jigs work pretty well. Chrome heads on white and pink jigs also work good too. I've seen dark jigs like olive or brown used with brightly-colored heads, usually smaller jigs used for jig-and-float rigs.
Makeup and tying jigs: Since I'm doing a comprehensive article on jig fishing, I might as well cover this. We get quite a few people in our shop who tie their own jigs since it's very simple to do. All you need is a vise, jig heads, a bobbin and thread (6/0), scissors, marabou and a little head cement. A good light helps, too. Best marabou to use is called strung. It's bound together.
Tying a Marabou Jig from Phil Lilley on Vimeo
Note: This is a big video file. I would recommend hitting the play button and then hit the pause button and let the video load. Depending on how fast your broadband speed is, it may take 5-10 minutes. Then the video will play without stopping.
First secure the jig hook in the vise. Start the thread by wrapping over the top while holding the thread end in your off hand. Overlap the thread several times to secure the end and clip. Keep wrapping until you have a good foundation, about 12-15 wraps total. End the wrap close to the head. Now if you want a real strong product, put a drop of cement on this base. Now take the marabou in your off hand. Take a feather or two, pinch the marabou, allowing the desired length to stick out of your fingers. Practice because nothing else will teach you the right amount of feathers to use.
The next step is the toughest to explain. Watch the video for more details.
Cut the marabou at the length you want the feather to extend from the head to the tail, cutting it towards the base of the feather and not the tip. The tip or end of the feather extends to the back or end of the jig. The cut end should never extend to the back of the jig. I usually allow about one-and-a-half times the distance to the bend of the hook past the hook bend. You can always pinch the tail off shorter but you can't add feathers. While holding the feathers between your thumb and index finger, press them onto the collar or hook with the butt of the feathers up against the head, but not overlapping the head. Drop the tips of your fingers back while wrapping the thread around the collar and feathers, but don't wrap down the collar too far unless you're going to add a body to the jig. Body material mostly likely would be chenille but some tie in a squirrel zonker or hackle. (We won't for this recipe.)
If you need more marabou, take another feather and repeat this step. End with another dozen wraps really close to the head, and add four or five half hitches either with or without a half hitch tool. Add another drop of cement to seal the thread.
Enough tying . . . now let's fish.
Some of the most puzzling questions we guides hear about jig fishing on Taneycomo concern how deep to throw the jigs, with what color and what technique. Our answer for all is usually, "It depends." That's why I will now try to cover it all.
Situations and techniques: When I go fishing, I look at a couple of things before I decide whether I will throw a jig,or jig-and-float and in what size and color. So here are a few scenarios of what I consider when fishing with jigs.
Water running, four units full with no wind - In the winter, my first consideration is whether shad have been coming through Table Rock Dam. If that has happened within the last 60 days, the choice is easy - heavy, white jigs. One-eighth ounce is plenty big enough to do the job. My six-foot spin rod is fine and so is my four-pound line. I'll run to the dam in my boat and start my drift at the cable. I may pull up to the right or left side and stay in the eddies there and cast a few times, but then I'll drift sometimes all the way to Fall Creek before picking back up and heading back to the cable. I throw out to the side, not towards the dam, and let the jig sink. Count, 1-2-3-4-5-6 maybe 7. If I haven't had a tick or strike by then, I'll pop the rod tip upwards and reel a couple of turns, letting the rod tip back down slowly, feeling for the tap or for the line to go limp. If it's a trout I set the hook as hard and fast as possible and reel. The turbulence in the water can cause the line to curve and bend, so usually I don't have a tight line to the jig. I need all the hooking setting power necessary to get a good hook set.
In windy conditions I watch the current and try to keep the boat moving at the same speed as the water. I keep my rod lower so that there's not as much interference or bend in the line exposed in the air. Again, I watch the line, even more than with no wind because I may not be able to feel the bite as well. If anything that looks different, I set the hook.
I switch colors if they don't our quit biting on white. Sculpin is my second color choice, and olive is my third. Then I try black, sculpin/peach, purple, brown and brown/orange in that order.
Areas: This pretty much goes for any application and any speed or depth of water with a few exceptions. I tend to try several drifts, starting with the middle of the lake. It's hard to describe here exactly what I look for when drifting because there are ledges, holes and channels that only can be drawn or shown in person. Even then, it takes practice. If you know where a hole or drop off is, you either give it line, hit your trolling motor and slow the boat down or at least give it your rod tip, allowing the jig to drop off into the hole where most times you'll get a strike. The drop off at Big Hole is a major ledge, and then there's the one just above the MDC boat ramp.
I like working the banks on both sides. I especially like the bank from Lookout Island down. The downside is that there are a lot of snags that will cost some jigs, but I think that if you're not losing jigs and not catching fish, you're jig isn't getting into the right places deep enough. You can't be scared of losing jigs, but, at the same time, you can't throw into a brush pile and expect to come out with your lure intact, not to mention a fish. There's a balance.
If we enjoy a successful drift down one side of the other, or the middle, we drift it again until the well dries up. A good drift will produce two to three trout per person from the cable to the top of the former KOA campground.
Down below Fall Creek, I work both sides of the lake, but very seldom do I work the middle. Along the bluff banks there are lots of eddies and dead water. Trout like to hang in these areas with four units running. The key is to cast and let the jig sink long enough before the drift of the boat pulls the jig out. Casting downstream, below the boat, will help, but you have to keep up with your slack. Working the middle of the lake is not out of the question, but you don't need an eighth-ounce jig to reach the bottom in this bigger, deeper water. Be patient and use a smaller jig -- say 1/16th -ounce -- and let it drift behind the boat as you would bait. Jig it up every once in a while to make sure you still have a direct line between the rod tip and the lure.
Water running, two-three units, no wind -- Great conditions for working either an eighth-ounce or 16-ounce jig from the cable down. When the water is really cranked up with a lot of turbulence, the water is immediately funneled into a more narrow channel. With an island and varying depths of the bottom, too, it all combines to create big undulation of currents within the current which causes a jig and line to move in ways you can't see or feel. So the heavier the jig the better when four units are generating. But when generation is at less, down to three or even two units, the turbulence is reduced and the more even, smooth drift allows you to use a smaller jig. You also can work the jig slower, letting it float across the bottom instead of bouncing and hanging on the rocks. It also helps you to feel the strike better, especially if there's little or no wind.
You can add jig and float to the list if the water is slow enough. There are guides who successfully use this even with four units running, but it's tough. Someone has to stay on the trolling motor full time to keep the boat in the right place. That right place is even with the current and not drifting side to side, so the float stays positioned in relatively the same place as you drift downstream. The longer you can leave the jig or flies in the water and on the bottom the better, so it's best not to have to recast because the boat has moved out of position. That's why you have to keep someone on the trolling motor and NOT fishing.
Using a jig in this application is better than a fly simply because your weight is also the"fly." You don't have deal with a fly or flies plus a split shot weight, all three winding themselves around each other. One jig really close to the bottom on a drift looks great to a trout holding on the bottom, and its strikes are usually definite and clear.
In any jig-and-float technique, you need to think "long rod". Casting and handling long leaders below a float takes a longer rod than you'd usually use when just jig fishing. Seven feet is minimal. Some buy or make custom eight- to nine-foot rods just to jig and float. These rods have to be fairly stiff to get a good, strong hook set.
The size of the float is most important. It can't be too big or too small. The size of float is directly related to the size of your jig, and visa versa. Depending on the speed and depth of the water, you pick the size of the jig. Using an eighth-ounce jig under a float is pretty extreme. I would recommend starting with a 1/16-ounce and go from there.
Watch your slack. Because you may have 10 feet of line between your float and jig, you're going to need all the hook setting power you can muster. Slack robs you of power. By the time your rod is at the farthest distance in your set, it has to have made "contact" with your jig and hopefully fish- plus some. Add the distance that your rod tip travels and the length of your line and a 10 foot rod doesn't sound that extreme. The same principle applies when fly fishing and using the same length rod and the same rig.
Wind? Same as before. You'll have to go back to a heavier jig to compensate for the wind, but you still can work it slower and feel the bite better. When watching the speed of your drift compared to the current, I'd rather go slow in the current than fast. Throwing out to the side also plays into this thought. If you have your boat anchored in any current and you're throwing out and working the jig back to you, it drifts downstream and you're working it upstream, against the current. This is a natural look- a minnow holding or swimming upstream in current. It's the same with moving in current but slower than the current. Plus you keep a better handle on where the jig is and you have a more direct line to the lure.
Water running one to two units, no wind -- Now this is my favorite water to fish. The speed of the water is slow enough to eliminate most of the turbulence, so it's easier to work and feel the jig. Drop in jig size to 3/32- or 1/16-ounce and for a real challenge, spool up some two-pound line. Doing this increases the feel and control 100%. The downside is if the line is limp and it's at all windy, plus if you have a heavy hand, you will break off more fish on the set and/or on the fight.
Jig and float works great on slower water, too. If there's not chop on the water, you will earn more strikes if you give the float a twitch every 5 or 10 seconds. I've seen some anglers switch the float non-stop, but I'm just not sure how they see the bite. Again, you can drop in jig size as the water slows, but maybe not. I've seen people use an eighth-ounce jig under a float with no water and catch trout. Go figure.
Depth is very important when fishing a jig under a float. I have found trout, like many other game fish, will stay in certain levels of the water column. Not all the time. I know they move around, depending on generation, sunlight and other factors. Ever heard of the notion that a fish will rise to food but will not descend for it? Not sure if it's true but it rules my thought process on the subject. In current, trout tend to stay close to the bottom as a rule. But in eddies and slower current, they'll be almost anywhere because food will be swept up in the undulations of the swirling currents -- and trout want to be where the action is.
Bruce Johnson and I were jig and float fishing in a tournament years ago in what is now the trophy area. It was long before the regulations changed. We weren't doing very well, and he kept messing with the depth of his jig until all of a sudden he started catching trout. He told me to change the depth of my jig. I hesitated. I'd never heard of such a thing and really didn't want to admit he'd found something I didn't know about. So he kept hooking fish and I kept netting. I finally conceded, moved the float and started contributing to the team. I was amazed it made that much difference. To this day, I mess with depths and continue to notice improvements -- sometimes, and sometimes it doesn't make a difference.
So when the water is running hard, try to get to the bottom, if possible. The slower the water, the better the possibility that the trout are up off the bottom, and you should try to move your float accordingly. The key word is try! Nothing here is a science. Fishing is trial and error.
Be patient when working a small jig straight ( without a float). You need it close to or directly on the bottom. Keep it there as long as possible for best results. I've been known to throw a 1/32-ounce jig using two-pound line. My rule of thought is, "If you think it's on the bottom and you fear you're going to get snagged, wait a little longer. Let it sink farther: it's not on the bottom yet." Be patient. Dare the bottom to take your jig.
With one unit running, we like to fish from Lookout down to the Narrows, fishing the shallow side of the lake to the middle, and fishing a jig and float using micro jigs. Turner Micro Jigs are made of pewter, not lead, and are individually made made and painted in two sizes, 1/125th and 1/126 ounces . The hen hackle is not tied on but attached to the collar by a shrink process. They come in several colors. We mainly use olive, white and pink. But when the water is running, they seem to really like a pink with a chrome head micro jig. Fish it under a float at least the depth of the water you're fishing plus a foot. Most of the water in the middle of the lake will be fie to six-feet deep when the water is running one unit, so fish it six- to seven- feet deep. If you move to the shallow side, just move your float accordingly. If it's dragging the bottom too much, move it up.
Wind -- bascially the same thought as if the water is running hard. Nothing new here. If the water is moving really slowly, you could try anchoring the boat -- again, IN ONLY SLOW WATER. Anchoring a boat in moving water can be extremely dangerous and should be treated as folly. Only anchor by tying off to the very front of the boat and have a knife ready in case you need to break free in a hurry. You could use your trolling motor to do the same thing. Hold yourself in the current so that you can work a jig out and behind the boat. Depending on the speed and depth of the water you're fishing, you're probably going to chose a heavy jig, one-eighth ounce, casting it out into the current and letting it work down, then swinging behind the boat while jigging it. Try different retrieves and speeds. Most of the time the fish will take the jig on the swing. You can do this regardless of wind, but on windy days, this technique is pretty easy. The wind won't push the line, and you won't lose contact with the jig as badly.
No water running, zero units, no wind- throwing a jig, no float, with no wind can be a real treat. You don't necessarily have to work shallow or deep water,but both can be equally good. You basically have to adjust your jig size to the depth and how you want to (or better yet, how the fish want it) work the jig fast, slow, deep, shallow.
Say if you want to fish the shallows below Lookout or the shallows below the dam, you'd use a 1/32-ounce jig and probably two-pound line. You're fishing two feet of water or less, so it doesn't take the jig long to hit the bottom. Hopping, or "popping" it off the bottom is how I fish it. Also swimming it while slowly moving the rod tip up and down slightly. In most cases, I'm sight fishing in such shallow water, depending on light and surface conditions. A lot of the times I'lll see the trout flash as he takes it or picks it off the bottom. If not, I go by feel and watch the line.
I've found fishing a jig and float in shallow water works great, too. Fishing from a boat and sitting high off the water, you can see into the water as much as 20 feet from the boat in shallow water, such as on the flats below Lookout. I can actually see a trout swimming around looking for food or using its nose to dig around in the gravel trying to dislodge bugs there. When rainbows are freshly stocked in the lake, they tend to school together for several days and weeks. You'll see schools of these rainbows and can target them. They're pretty gullible, and when in packs, they'll fight each other for a jig.
Cast to or in front of rainbows you can see. Sometimes the jig and float will spook a fish. Be patient, they'll come back around. Set the jig's depth so that the jig sits right on the bottom when cast. Then either pop or jig the float, making the jig come up off the bottom and then back down. You can try several jig weights- 1/125th, 1/100th, 1/80th, 1/50th or even 1/32nd ounce. I like the 1/50th ounce for this application.
Depending on how aggressive the trout are feeling, it may be difficult to see the strike. If you can see into the water pretty well and can see the trout dig for and take the jig on the bottom or take the jig as it falls, go ahead and set the hook. If you're using a light color jig, you'll actually see the jig disappear into the fish's mouth. That's pretty cool! But most of the time you'll have to rely on watching the float. Set the hook when you see it move. Yes, you will miss a lot of bites. A trout will take a jig in its mouth and drop it quicker than our reaction time. Truth be told, we don't see 90% of the strikes when fishing. They go unnoticed and undetected because they're so subtle. Don't sweat it . . . the other 10% of strikes are plenty to keep us busy and entertained.
Most of our gravel is dark and covered with dark green moss. You will be able to see a light-colored jig much easier than a dark-colored jig. But don't lean towards a color that may not be working as well just so you can watch your jig. Most of the time, olive, sculpin, brown or black will work better than lighter colors.
In slightly deeper water, you may want to go with a 1/16-ounce jig. Just try the different applications and depths and see what works the best.
Sculpin- we have small fish in our lake called sculpins. These little guys are sought after by mainly brown trout, but rainbows eat them, too. They like dark places during the day but come out at night in the open to feed. They are hard to see while lying on the bottom because their skin changes like a chameleon to match their surroundings. So our moss green or olive jigs, as well as sculpin (olive/brown), brown and blacks match the color of sculpin quite well. The behavior of sculpins is worth noting. They tend to lay still on the bottom motionless for long periods of time. But when they move, they move quickly, almost with a jerk, and as quickly as they jump into action, they stop. They are not swimmers. They jerk from place to place. That's how I try to work jigs, especially when working a jig in areas where sclupin hang out. That can be anywhere.
Wind- "You will always catch more fish under a choppy surface verses a glassy surface." That goes for about any species of fish on any lake or river. It makes sense to me when you think about cover, motion and sunlight. If you put a fish in an open tank with clear water and wave a rag over it, the fish will spook and probably have nothing to do with eating anything. Even just sitting around with no action around him, he's going to be watching for that bird or predator. But if it's darker, and if he has some degree of protection such as cover, he's more apt to feel safe and thus EAT! That's what a choppy surface does. It breaks up light beams coming through the surface of the water. Wind also creates current which pushes food in one direction and, most of the time, to one side of the lake or stream. That's why you seek out a wind-driven bank or point on a lake in search of white bass or stripers.
On Lake Taneycomo, the lake bends, and the bluff changes sides of the lake, creating pockets of dead areas and areas of wind. Seek out the choppy water. If the wind changes and the water goes still where you are, pick up and head to the next bend where the wind is blowing again.
When fishing a jig and float, the waves on the surface work the jig below the float for you. Now in some cases, it's hard to actually see the strike from the float bobbing around. Don't throw the rig out too far away from you so that you can't see it, especially for this reason. Pay close attention to the float. I use a carrot float which is oblong. Because of its shape, it tends to float straight up and goes under slightly when a trout takes the jig. Again, this takes practice. You have to be very quick on the set and always watch your slack.
Helpful tip- If the trout are biting "short," meaning that you're getting strikes but not hooking the fish, pinch the tail on the jig to shorten it just a bit. DO NOT CUT the marabou. Take and pinch the marabou where you want to trim it and pull the ends off with the other hand/fingers. It'll take several "plucks," but you'll get it done.
Hope this helps you be more successful in your fishing. Of course, jigs are just not great for trout fishing. I fish with jigs for just about every species of fish there is. They're awesome for catching smallmouth in streams and lakes, blue gill, crappie, white bass, walleye... even big rainbows in Alaska! Even caught salmon on these marabou jigs. They're the best!!!
Good luck and God Bless!