Jig Head Basics
By Lance Valentine
Ask any good angler if there are any presentations they couldn’t live without and I’m willing to bet that a high percentage would say “jig fishing”. Jig fishing is effective no matter where you fish or what species you target. Jigs have caught crappie and bluegill on small inland lakes, tarpon and redfish in saltwater and everything in between. Jigs are versatile, easy to fish and effective. But successful jig fishing depends on selecting the right jig for the presentation you are using. Remember, there are no “bass” jigs or “walleye” jigs. Select the jig that is best for the location, bottom and presentation you are fishing and your catch rate will improve. Let’s look at some jig head basics that will help you catch more fish.
Jig shape is probably most important and has a lot to do with how a jig will perform. Each jigging condition calls for a very specific jig head design, shape and line tie position. For starters, we can quickly eliminate one jig, the round ball, since it is NEVER the right choice for any jigging application. Use a jig designed for how and where you are fishing, and you will be more successful.
For vertical jigging I like and jig with a pointed nose, line tie on top of the jig and most of the weight on the back and bottom of the jig. This jig design allows the jig to point into the current, eliminating any spinning and the position of the weight in the back and bottom of the jig head forces the jig down in the current and allows the jig to hit the bottom at a nose down angle, keeping the hook off the bottom.
Casting jigs has more variables, so I use a few different jig head styles. Remember, by changing the weight AND the shape of the jig head we can modify how fast or slow the jig falls, and the angle that it falls at; both keys to catching more fish. Jigs for casting should have the line tie at or very near the nose of the jig. One of my favorite casting jigs is what we call a “swim jig”. The pointed nose helps keeps the jig oriented in a “horizontal” position and the wider profile slows the fall rate down. It is one of my favorites when “swimming” a jig just over and along the bottom or over top of weeds and timber. A favorite for casting in current or “snap” jigging on clean bottom is a “wedge” jig. This simple shape cuts the current well, falls quickly and tends to “dart” on a snapping retrieve.
Football shaped jigs are a great choice for fishing a jig on the bottom, especially on sand or gravel bottoms. The wide profile slows the fall rate of the jig, and the wide shape makes it easy to slow roll the jig along the bottom without getting snagged.
Jigs designed to fish through wood or weed cover are often longer and thinner than other jigs to help them snake through cover without snagging. Recently “arrow” shaped jig heads have become popular for anglers chasing fish deep in thick weed beds. Add a plastic or wire weed guard and you can toss your jig into any cover the fish are using. “Stand Up” jigs are an overlooked choice, but angles should always have some in the boat. The unique shape is designed to let the jig be stopped while keeping the jig hook, and the bait on it, stay off the bottom and attract negative fish. Stand Up jigs are a great choice for fishing weed edges using live bait, dragging a plastic or live bait along the bottom or for letting a jig just sit and attract negative fish.
Line tie position is one of the first things you should consider when selecting the right jig for the job at hand. Think of how your presentation will move through the water and pick a jig with the line tie positioned the same. If you want to fish vertically, be sure the line tie is on the TOP of the jig, allowing it to hang horizontal in the water. Conversely, if you are casting and retrieving a jig in a horizontal presentation, the line tie should be much closer to the nose of the jig. Finally, if you are looking for a jig to horizontally sneak through weeds and timber, select a jig with the line tie on the end of the nose. Usually, selecting the proper line tie location will get you the proper jig shape for the chosen presentation.
Like everything else about jig selection, weight is important and should be chosen based on the presentation, location, bottom and fish activity level. For decades popular thought was to use “the lightest jig possible” but that thinking has change in the past decade or so.
Heavy jigs are great tools for walleye anglers vertical jigging in heavy current since they make it easier for the angler, especially the inexperienced, to stay vertical, reduce snags and feel light bites better. Bass anglers are moving to heavier jigs to fish current, deep structure and to more effectively penetrate cover, and as more anglers realize that faster presentations can be very effective, heavier jigs allow faster, more aggressive presentations than light jigs do.
But there is still places where lighter jigs catch more fish! Subtle presentations such as slowly swimming a jig, fishing a jig under a bobber, or “gliding” a jig in current call for lighter weights to allow the jig to look more natural and not fall to the bottom too quickly.
Where lead once was the only choice for jigs, modern materials have allowed jig manufacturers to manipulate jig performance. Tungsten first showed up on the bass fishing scene but has since made its way to all sorts of jig designs. Because it is denser than lead, we can fish jigs of the same weight as lead that have less bulk and a smaller profile, an application that has exploded in the ice fishing world! When it hits the bottom tungsten makes a much different sound than lead does, giving anglers one more fish attracting factor they can experiment with.
Jig fishing is one of the most fun ways to catch any species of fish wherever they swim, anytime of the year. Paying attention to the little details will help you pick the best jig for the presentation you choose and picking the right jig for the conditions will go a long way to catching more walleye on jigs this season!