Baits, Lures & Flies photo
Dan Saelinger

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The world’s best lure is a jig. It is both simple and the most versatile in catching a wide array of fish. Happily in these hard times, it’s also among the least expensive.

A jig hops, darts, and sways underwater as if moving to a lively tune conducted by the rod tip, befitting the namesake of an equally enthusiastic Irish dance. The lure’s rhythm mesmerizes everything from bluegills to bass to bonefish. Although jigs designed for different species may differ in appearance, all jigs are basically the same: a weight molded near the eye of a hook with some sort of flexible, wiggly material that trails and waves behind the head as the jig moves in the water.

Dress for Success

Basic jigs that are commonly used for bass, walleyes, and many saltwater fish are bucktails in various colors. They range in size from 1⁄4 ounce for fishing your local lake to 6 ounces or more for deep jigging in the salt. Bucktail hair is too bulky for most tiny (1⁄100- to 1⁄16-ounce) trout and panfish jigs; either marabou feathers or a variety of miniature soft plastics provide wiggly appeal there.

Trailers are important. Bass jigs are often fished with a pork-rind or soft-plastic crawfish imitation on the hook, which contributes bulk and action. Walleye anglers add a live minnow, hooked through the head, to better entice finicky fish. In saltwater, a thin strip of cutbait or squid gives extra movement and fish-appealing scent.

While a jig is a jig is a jig, head designs also vary according to purpose. Round heads are ubiquitous, but narrow, arrow-shaped heads can achieve a faster sink rate. And although the hook eye normally points straight up from a jig’s head, the latest fad in bass fishing is the “swimming” jig, which has a forward-pointing hook eye so the jig can more easily be pulled horizontally-instead of simply up and down-through thick underwater weeds.

Jig Partners

You can fish just about any jig of the appropriate size with any tackle you happen to have, but certain elements of rod and line design will obtain better results. A rod with a relatively stiff tip and an overall fast action will give a sharper, more pronounced snap to the jig as you work it underwater.

By similar reasoning, low-stretch superlines bring your jig to life better than elastic nylon monofilament. With mono, the stretchy line-especially in lighter line sizes-dampens every rod twitch you make. Since much jig fishing is done along the bottom of a lake or river, the feel you have for bottom contact is critical, and superline substantially enhances that kind of sensitivity. If the water is clear and the fish are fussy, use a couple of feet of fluorocarbon leader between your superline and the jig.

Jigging, of course, doesn’t mean fishing the lure only straight up and down. When a jig is cast and retrieved, its darting and sinking motion perfectly imitates a baitfish. Dead-drifting is important, too, especially in trout or walleye rivers where a jig swinging in the current, and occasionally ticking bottom, is a top producer.

More than any other lure, the jig is widely adaptable to a broad range of fishing conditions and tactics. When other lures drop down the list of favorites because of indifferent results, what smart anglers almost invariably find is that the jig is up.