Dancing a Jig (and Pig)
Why this classic combo is lethal on early spring bass.
You can’t argue the numbers: Over the past 35 years, I’ve caught more bass of 5 pounds or better with a jig-and-pig than with all other lures combined. Most of these fish have come at this time of year, when the water temperature ranges from 45 to 55 degrees.
Crayfish begin moving about in early spring, and they quickly become the main entrÂ¿Â¿e on a bass’ menu. When you hop a jig-and-pig slowly over the bottom, it mimics their backward darting movement. The flopping legs of the pork trailer-my favorite is Uncle Josh’s No. 11 Pork Frog-give the appearance of crayfish pincers. Sluggish, coldwater bass have ample time to respond and often do.
Most jigs have a bristle hook guard, which lets you work the bait over and through obstructions but folds back when a bass grabs hold. I improve its performance by splitting the bristles into two bunches on either side of the hook’s point. Then I press my thumb down firmly between the clusters. This results in a vee that extends past each side of the hook.
I prefer a jighead that has somewhat of an oval shape when viewed from the front and from the side. To allow a wide hook gap, the top of the oval is flattened, while the rounded bottom acts as a keel to hold the jig upright. The line eye should extend from the tip of the jighead’s narrow, blunt nose so that the bait can easily pop through and climb over cover.
A durable paint finish, such as a baked-on powder coat, does more than improve the jig’s appearance-its slick surface also helps the lure slide through abrasive cover that quickly chips off inferior paint. The hook must be a quality, wide-gap design that has been factory-sharpened to a needle point.
The first jigs I ever used were dressed with either bucktail or bear hair. I still like the subtle action of hair jigs in cold water (and when I’m fishing for smallmouth bass in any season). But these days, most are sold with silicone skirts, which I generally trim even with the hook’s bend to obtain a more compact profile.
I favor real pork trailers in waters below 60 degrees because they’re livelier than plastic in cold water. The salty brine used to preserve them provides an additional advantage of scent.
In warmer water, I often go with plastic “chunks” molded in the shape of pork frogs. I like Strike King’s new 3X plastic Denny Brauer Chunk, which is especially soft and durable and has pincer-shaped legs. Plastic craws also make excellent trailers; Yum’s detailed CrawBug is a good one. Many anglers break off an inch or so of the craw’s body before threading it onto the hook to give it a shorter and more realistic profile.
I stick with basic crayfish hues: black and blue in muddy to lightly stained water and brown in clear water. Trailers (and jigs) come in many shades and combinations, so you can closely match the craws in the waters you fish.
The presentation is straightforward. Position your boat over the deep side of a dropoff, cast up into shallow water, and slowly hop the jig downhill over the ledge. Most strikes come as the jig falls. Occasionally a take is merely a sense of weightlessness. I long for that, because it usually means another 5-plus-pound fish is on the line.
Pork on the Side
The biggest downside to a pork trailer is that it sometimes twists around in front of the jig’s hook when a bass inhales the bait, impeding or even preventing hook penetration. Uncle Josh’s new Pork Flippin’ Jig ($3.75; 866-244-2277; www.unclejosh.com) eliminates that problem with a “Fast Clip” wire holder that extends beyond the hook. This securely holds the pork trailer, keeping it from obstructing the hook, and also allows for the quick and easy removal of the trailer.