Jonathan is an avid tournament bass fisherman. He currently fishes on the Penn State Bass Fishing team. He has placed in the top 15 in multiple FLW BFL tournaments as a co-angler. He competed on the United States Youth Fly Fishing Team, where he placed 11th in the world and was a part of two world championship team gold medals. Jonathan serves as an ANGLR expert to help the ANGLR community constantly improve.
Welcome to the world of bass fishing jigs. Brace yourselves if this is a new topic, it’s big. Now, kick your feet up, and let’s dive in!
There are many different types of jigs, for now we will focus on five types: flipping jigs, structure jigs, swim jigs, skipping jigs, and finesse jigs. All of these types have one thing in common, they get bigger bites. If a jig is known for one thing, it would be the quality of fish that they are known to catch.
The bulkiness of the skirt and the multitude of possible things a jig can imitate make them a perfect meal for big fish. One myth we’re going to get rid of right now is jigs only work for largemouth. False, just ask Elite Series pro Keith Combs, who was weighing in over 20 pounds of Smallmouth a day on Mille Lacs on a ¾-1 ounce football jig. Now, let’s discuss how to fish each type of jig.
One of the most under used jigs is a flipping jig. There’s just something about an avid bass guy that when they see thick cover, they just instinctively reach for a Texas rig with a big weight. That will get the job done, but one thing often overlooked is the hook-up to land ratio that flipping jigs have over the Texas rig.
The stiff weedguard acts to pin that hook in a fishes mouth from the pressure it applies on the roof of their mouth. This paired with the simplicity of the bait makes it a deadly option when looking to get a big fish out of heavy or thick cover.
Flipping jigs can be used in everything from thick matted vegetation, to lay-downs, to sparse cattails or tullies. There is no limit on where you can fish it, the only thing that differs is the weight that you are flipping. If you’re flipping heavy matted vegetation, you might want to reach for that 1 ½ ounce jig. When fishing thin lay-downs, you can safely reach for a ⅜ ounce or ½ ounce flipping jig. These jigs are defined by their slim pointed profile which allows them to slide in and out of cover with little resistance. The stiff weedguard keeps unwanted grass and wood from getting caught on the heavy wire hook.
To fish these jigs, you simply want to flip or pitch into matted or high percentage areas. Allowing the jig to fall freely is the key to this technique as the rate of fall sometimes triggers fish into eating the bait. To do this you either fade your rod toward the bait if you are flipping, or you don’t engaged your reel until the jig hits the bottom.
After letting the jig hit the bottom, you have to feel out how the fish want the bait moved, meaning you have to vary the action you give the bait. A solid starting point is a few semi-fast pops before i pull it out to make another pitch. Continue to play around with popping the jig in and around each structure until you feel it has been covered well.
Remember, fish can be picky and sometimes want it to sit there for a few seconds, or may need to see the jig ten times before they commit. This is a all a game of figuring the fish out.
One final note is to fish these jigs differently in matted vegetation. In matted vegetation, the fish may be suspended under the matts, so upon the initial pitch and few pops, raise your rod tip. This will bring the jig up to just below the mat. Then, pop your rod tip to give the jig some action to entice those possible suspended bass. This trick can also be implemented in lay downs when climbing over branches.
The name of these jigs really sums up what they are used for. This category of jig is most known for offshore fishing and catching fish that are holding on ledges, rock piles, grass edges, etc. Within this category, we have many different head styles.
For this breakdown, we will discuss two types to make things simple:
1. We will talk about football heads.
2. Then we will lump everything else into pointed heads.
These two types are used for the same thing, dragging them through rock to imitate crayfish. Football heads are the most commonly used offshore jigs. Looking at the head of the jig, it’s easy to know why it’s called a football head. This head is designed to rock back and forth and almost crawl through rock. The wider head helps it avoid getting hung up in small rock.
The other option, pointed head jigs, are meant for similar tasks. While they crawl through smaller rock, they are also made to crawl through wood or offshore grass as well. Football heads get hung up in grass and can struggle with going through and around wood. That wider head makes them prone to getting stuck in between limbs. This is why the pointed head jigs were designed, they are more of an all purpose offshore jig.
How To Fish A Structure Jig
When it comes to fishing these jigs, there really is only a few ways to go about using them.
The most common way to fish them is simply to drag them.
Plain and simple, drag them with a sweeping motion of your rod to feel it crawling over the bottom. This works well when fishing colder water, or when fish are in a lethargic state.
The other way, is to “stroke” a jig. This means you use hard pulsating motions to snap the jig off the bottom with one or two fast strokes of the rod. This imitates a crayfish or bottom dwelling fish as it tries to escape. If you have never scene a crayfish as it flees, they come off the bottom and make a few fast scutes in one direction. This causes a reaction in bass when they see this motion. So this can work well to trigger bass if they are not eating it when you are dragging it.
Another method is a combination of both, you can drag the jig until it hits something hard and then snap it up to climb it over the structure. This works well to avoid getting hung up in wood or bigger rock.
The gear to use for this depends on the size of the jig. The size varies from ⅜ ounce jigs around shallow rock, to 1 ounce jigs for hitting rock piles in deep water offshore. It’s important to match the power of your rod to the weight of the bait. A rod with a softer tip allows for a better feel of what the jig is doing, while also for detecting strikes. A stiff backbone is needed to back up the soft tip to make sure you drive the hook home even on a long cast. For offshore fishing, a longer rod, 7’ 6”, is nice for cast ability, though a 7’ rod will be more than sufficient. For ⅜ ounce – ½ ounce jigs, a medium heavy rod is a good start to be able to handle the weight while also maintaining a feel for what the bottom vs. fish bites feel like. As you start to get into that ¾-1 oz range, the need to bump up to a heavy rod becomes necessary to handle the weight of that jig.
Swim jigs can technically be any jig that you actively swim through the water, however, the industry has developed specific jigs designed for swimming. These jigs have a pointed head to allow them to come through grass and wood with minimized snagging. They have a keeled shape that keeps them upright as they swim.
These jigs have a slightly thinner weedguard, for the most part. This allows fish to get the hook point easier when swimming the jig. A swim jig is very versatile, pitch it into a pocket in the grass and fish it like a traditional jig, and then swim it out. It’s kind of a jig catch all.
Swim Jig Considerations
To swim it, there are a few different elements you need to consider. The trailers are important depending on what you plan on imitating. For example, if you are fishing a shad spawn, then you might want a swimbait trailer or a fluke style trailer to better imitate how shad swim. When around bluegill, you might want a trailer with more aggressive action to better imitate how bluegill act around bass.
You can add a lot of action to a swim jig by simple shaking the rod when swimming the jig.
What do you mean shake?
As you reel the jig in, shake the rod to give the bait a pulsating action. This can help trigger more strikes, making the bass think the bait is getting away. Again, like most techniques, you have to feel the fish out to see how they want it. As an example, sometimes, swimming a football head on the bottom by just slowly reeling it along the bottom is what it takes to trigger the fish. Other times, you have to burn it overtop of shallow grass. It all depends on the fish, but you can almost guarantee, it’s going to be different every time you go out on the water.
The gear to use is similar to a structure jig style rod. You’re always safe in the ballpark of a 7’ rod for castability, with a medium heavy action. A softer tip is important to allow the fish to get the bait. A rod that is too stiff is too reactive and will pull that jig out of a fishes mouth without letting them truly eat it. Depending on where you throw your swim jig will help you determine the perfect power of your rod. If you are fishing thick grass, or Lilly pads you want a heavier action rod, but all the while maintaining that softer tip.
Skipping jigs are a lot like swim jigs, other than the head style. You can fish them with the same equipment and fish them in a similar style. The one thing to note, is the head style. When you were a kid and were looking for a rock to skip across the water, what type of rock did you look for? Not the big round uneven ones, you looked for thin flat rocks that would skip for miles.
This is the same case for skipping jigs, the flatter the jig the easier it will be to slide it under docks, trees, or overhanging bushes. The same applies for the trailer, a flat trailer makes it easier to skip as well. To get this bait to skip, you want to make a side armed roll cast, making a C with your rod tip. A soft tip is key to allowing the proper transfer of energy from your rod to the bait. The bait needs to be fairly even with the water to allow it to slide across the surface. This goes back to skipping rocks, when you went to throw a rock you got down low with your arm to have a closer release point to the height of the water.
This puts less pressure on the surface of the water, allowing the jig to slide across instead of making a loud thud and going five feet, leaving you with a beautiful backlash. Anyone who has ever learned to skip a jig will tell you straight up, you’re going to backlash your reel. So throw that fear out the window because it’s going to happen. Tightening all the brake systems will only make things worse, but it’s recommended at first to get the motion down.
Selecting The Right Size Skipping Jig
To start out, you can never go wrong with a ⅜ ounce jig. This lighter jig is easier to skip because the lighter weight puts less stress on the surface tension of the water and less force is needed to get it to skip. It’s like trying to skip a small rock vs. a big rock. The small rock doesn’t require you to break you shoulder trying to skip it.
As you get a handle on skipping the ⅜ ounce jig, you can work up to a ½ ounce jig. This can play a role if you fish a heavily pressured lake. The faster fall of a ½ ounce jig can give the fish a different look after they have seen a million ⅜ ounce jigs.
Never be afraid to step outside the box when targeting bass!
After you get the skipping aspect down, now it’s time to focus on what do you do once it skips under your target. You have two options, you can either let it sink and hop it or drag it out. You can also swim it out to target suspended fish.
When people think about skipping docks, they think shallow along the banks. This is one area, but fish will also suspend under deeper docks. Thus a skipped jig that is swam out makes for a great presentation for those suspended fish. The shallower docks can be fished by skipping it and letting it sink and then dragging it out or hopping it a couple times and then moving on to your next cast.
There is a large category of jigs that are technically classified as “finesse jigs”. The term finesse is merely a simplification that is describing a less intrusive form of a jig. This means it could be a football jig, ball head jig, flipping jig, swim jig, etc. These are classified by a lighter wire hook, thinner weedguard, thinner skirt and lighter weight.
This category is defined by taking the big bites that jigs get, and downsizing that for situations when fish are finicky or very pressured. These jigs are often used in the winter when fish are extremely lethargic. They also play a role on super clear bodies of water where you want to throw something a little smaller on lighter line. Finally, finesse jigs work well on fisheries that are extremely pressured where you’ll want to downsize your presentation.
Make no mistake, these finesse jigs will still get big bites.
Fish a finesse jig the same way you’ll fish most jig techniques. You still want to use a medium heavy rod, paired with 10-16 pound line depending on water clarity. This will give the bait a more natural fall and allow light jigs to still sink at a fast rate. The way you fish these baits will remain the same, they are still jigs. This is just a presentation that is meant to show the fish a different look.
Possibly the most overlooked aspect of a jig, is the trailer that is put on the back of it.
People worry too much about matching the color of the trailer to the jig and making sure it pair up perfectly. When you look at a trailer, three things should be on your mind:
1. What is the water color and temperature? 2. What are you trying to imitate? 3. What fall rate are you looking for?
These three questions will help you limit how many different trailers you need to buy.
As far as water color is concerned, the trailer is the same concept as the jig. In off-color or dirty water, you want a darker, more solid color. In clear water, you’ll want a lighter, more translucent color. Water temperature is big as far as the action you want out of the trailer. In colder water everything is slower. This means you need to emulate that in your jig.
You won’t want an aggressively kicking trailer in 40 degree water. You want to look for something like a standard chunk style bait that has very little action. As the water warms up you can start adding more “extra” movement to the bait. Extra movement is the movement that comes outside of what you as the angler impart on the bait. This comes from ridged edges on the trailer that allow the water to push the legs on a bait around as it falls or the current moves it.
Focus On Imitating The Forage
When it comes to the what you are imitating, think about what each different bass food group looks like. Shad do not have a lot of action, they more or less rock side to side as they swim through the water column. This can be imitated with swimbaits or chunk style baits if you are swimming your jig. Bluegill have a more erratic movement, so a trailer that has more action usually has better results when targeting bass around bluegill. Crayfish can be imitated with both hard kicking trailers and soft action trailers, it just depends on what the fish want.
The action of the trailer also dictates how fast or slow a bait will fall. A bait that has a lot of movement will inhibit that bait from falling quickly. The water pressure and the edges on that bait will slow the fall of the bait through the water. This can be useful in grass or around wood to give fish more of a chance to pick the bait up as it sinks. This also goes for dirty water, a hard action trailer will put off more vibration for the fish to pick up the vibration in their lateral line.
A softer vibration or trailer with less movement will allow the bait to fall much faster through the water with little resistance. This can be useful in attempting to trigger a reaction strike out of finicky fish. If a fishery is heavily pressured then a fast fall can sometimes get more bites than a slow fall. This gives the fish only a split second to respond as the jig falls through the water. So, the choice in trailers can make a big difference in the effectiveness of the jig you are throwing.
You don’t need every single shade of green, black, blue, and brown. To start off, stick with three general color patterns, and have a few variations within each of these. The three colors to stick with day in and day out are green pumpkin, black and blue, and brown/orange.
Black and blue excels in dirty water, it stands out better against the colored water and allows the fish to find the baits profile easily. An option to add to a jig would be to attach rattles into the black and blue jigs. Rattles are often overlooked and add another element that allows fish to pick on that bait easier. You can also use any form of dip and glow that adds a little color to the bait. Chartreuse stands out very well in murky water.
For clear water situations, stick with the green pumpkins and brown/orange. These colors are the most natural and tend to be the least intrusive on the fish. Try to match the color of the bottom to the color of your jigs.
This is because the natural forages, crayfish, darters, gobies, and sculpins, all tend to be a very similar color to the bottom of that particular fishery.
All of these techniques require different equipment. The line for each of these techniques needs to be paired with the areas that you are fishing. Around wood, dirty water, big rocks, or thick grass, lean toward heavier line. Sometimes as heavy as 20-25 pound line when fishing jigs around heavy wood and rock cover.
When around thick grass and vegetation, never rule out 50-65 pound braided line!
If the water is clearer, or you’re around sparse cover, then you can go lighter and use 12-18 lb test. It all depend on the situation and what you feel comfortable throwing. Some anglers will even pitch jigs with 10 pound line in areas that others would use 18-20 pound line, it’s just a matter of personal preference.
That is something that everyone has to figure out on their own through time spent on the water, fishing. You’ll find baits, line, rods, and reels that you like more than the others. The more time you spend on the water, the more you’ll hone in on your personal preferences.