Jig Time

New materials are taking these baits into uncharted waters.

Imagine if you had to pick only one lure type to fish with for the rest of your life. A tough decision, I know, but my choice would be easy-a jig. As long as I could select the weight, color, and type to fit the situation, I feel confident that I could catch almost anything with a jig. I've asked other experienced anglers this same question many times; rare is the individual who doesn't agree.

The great thing about jigs is they can do so much. You can fish them vertically and horizontally and use them to cover vast amounts of water in a way no other lure can. They even work effectively as trolling lures. And now that we have the so-called superbraid fishing lines that come in extremely thin diameters and have as little stretch as wire, it is possible to fish these jigs at extreme depths where an otherwise untapped resource of big fish awaits.

Pick the Jig
The original basic jig design was a hook with a round chunk of lead as a head and some feathers or animal hair attached behind as the body. The early designs didn't even have paint on the lead. Today, however, you can get them in a wide variety of head shapes and weights, colors, and tail materials, including animal and synthetic hair.

The soft-bodied jig is a more recent design, with a replaceable plastic body and a painted lead head. These bodies come in various shapes, from grubs to shad and curly tails. A completely new jig design that has emerged over the last few years looks like a soft-bodied small minnow jerkbait with bright reflective eyes. There is no visible heavy metal head, but it has a lead cylinder located between the eyes. Thus, it sinks like a jig and is designed to be fished like a jig. The version I've been using so effectively for the last few years is called the TerrorEyz (D.O.A. Fishing Lures, Palm City, Florida; 561-287-5001).

Getting Vertical
Jigs can be cast to breaking fish or structure, but most often they're fished vertically. Either the jig is dropped straight down or it's cast a short distance and then allowed to sink to the bottom before the retrieve. Generally you should use the lightest jig that will get to the bottom without excessive delay, although there are a few exceptions. For example, species like snook, striped bass, and grouper often respond to the noisy thump of a heavy jig hitting bottom and the puffs of sand or mud the jig stirs up, while they ignore smaller and lighter jigs. I've used 2- to 3-ounce jigs this way in just a few feet of water with great success.

Once the jig touches bottom, it is fished by jerking the rod tip up anywhere from a few inches to several feet, then letting it fall again. How fast and how long for each upward lift depends on the species. Striped bass and snook seem to prefer rapid jigging motion, whereas redfish, tarpon, and seatrout like things a bit slower and gentler. But this is not written in stone; as is so often the case in fishing, it pays to experiment with your retrieve to see how the fish are reacting on that day.

Another way to fish the jig is to let it drop to the bottom and then bump it along softly with the drift of the boat. You may have to let out a little more line from time to time to keep contact with the bottom, but this quiet approach often works when nothing else does.

**Feeling Sensitive **
Line sensitivity plays a big role in jigging success, because many fish species strike as the lure free-falls toward the bottom, and the take can be so soft that you could miss it-even with big fish. This is especially true if there's too much slack in the line or if you're jigging in deep water. To solve this problem, more and more anglers are now using the new superbraid lines when jigging.

Because superbraids are about one-third the diameter of the equivalent strength in monofilament, they also allow the jig to sink faster. That means you can often get by with aa tad less weight. This helps keep some of the belly out of the line, and because superbraids don't stretch, it is easier to tell when you hit bottom or get a strike.

These lines are so sensitive that sometimes I can even identify the fish species by the way I feel the strike.

Going Deep
Where the superbraids have really changed jigging is in deep water. With Dacron or monofilament lines, jigging deeper than 150 feet was very difficult. Because of its rougher exterior, Dacron line sinks slowly and requires a lot of weight to get deep. Monofilament of the same diameter goes down a little faster, but it stretches as much as 25 to 35 percent, meaning if the jig is at 200 feet or more, you'd have to move the rod tip up and down 4 or 5 feet just to get the jig to move a few inches. That is a lot of work and will wear you out quickly.

Because of their fine diameter and lack of stretch, superbraids are almost no work at all in depths of 350 feet or more; move the rod tip up 6 inches, and the jig covers the same distance.

There's also a lot less belly in the line with superbraids in heavy current or during a fast drift. Even a very light strike is easy to detect, and setting the hook requires far less effort. With mono it's necessary to crank many yards back on the reel just to get the line tight enough to set the hook. That's assuming you could even tell if you had a strike in the first place.

Capt. Ralph Delph in Key West tells me he and his clients have used superbraids to jig successfully in depths up to 600 feet, catching a wide variety of big groupers, snappers, and other species that are not encountered in shallower water.

Going deeper than 350 feet is a matter of how much jig weight you're willing to put up with. Generally it takes 9 to 10 ounces to go past 500 feet with superbraids. With mono or Dacron you would have to measure that weight in pounds.

Most of the anglers I've talked to who are fishing so deep are using surprisingly light lines: 10- to 15-pound-test is considered ideal; anything over 20 is "too heavy."

Typically a foot or two of monofilament or fluorocarbon leader of 20- to 40-pound-test is tied to the end of the superbraid. To maintain full line strength, a Bimini twist (a.k.a. the 20-times-around knot) is tied at the end of the superbraid (use at least 30 to 40 turns for these lines). The leader can be connected with a Uni knot.