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Very little has been written about fishing jigs with the fly rod because people refuse to say that they are fishing with jigs.
Once upon a time, before the world of cyberspace marketing was in place, everyone knew what a jig was.
The world was familiar- user friendly, so to speak. My father used jigs; he liked Uppermans. An Upperman was a lima bean headed jig that was red and white, and it caught stripers real well if you bounced it in three-foot hops on the retrieve. He used a spinning rod to do this. If you cast it out and retrieved it you never did as well. Jigs sink. That is a good thing. It's the sinking that makes them useful.
Very little has been written about fishing jigs with the fly rod because people refuse to say that they are fishing with jigs. They don't fish them as jigs but as if they were flies. This is unfortunate because there is a wealth of very useful information about how to fish jigs as jigs. A jig is a very deadly lure and will catch fish no matter what you think it is. If it is in the water you will catch fish with it no matter how you fish it. Still, there are some basic jig fishing principles that will increase your success rate with a fly rod if you become aware and incorporate and apply them.
|Open water techniques:|
|1||More fish are taken on jigs that are falling than are taken on jigs that are rising|
|2||Fish will often take a jig when it hesitates in its descent|
|3||The rate of fall is often the factor that will cause fish to strike|
When fishing in open water with jigs the best finesse jig fishermen use techniques that may be considered unusual to the salt water fly fisherman. They watch the end of their line where it enters the water and detect most of their strikes visually on the surface interface. If the line stops sinking they know that something stopped the jig's descent and sweep set. If the end of their line twitches they respond with a sweep set. If the line speeds up in its descent or slows or moves in any direction, they sweep set.
A sweep set is the preferred method of setting the hook because it works better than jerking does to set the hook, and it usually results in a better hookset. It is done by moving the rod smoothly away from the fish until the pressure from the fish is felt, then the rod is speeded up against the back pressure from the fish, and the hook is punched into the fish's mouth in a series of forceful jolts. The energy of this type of hookset is similar to what people do with circle hooks, at least in the beginning. The jig is never pulled away from the fish and they will often bear down on the jig when they feel the pressure from the rod. They hold on tighter. It is a good method and well worth learning how to do.
Retrieving a jig straight through the water can be effective. A straight retrieve has caught lots of fish but a straight retrieve is not a jig technique but rather a lure or fly technique that can be used with a fly rod with jigs. If you use this retrieve with a jig, realize that it is the retrieve and the depth of the retrieve that are the factors that you are using to catch the fish and not the weight of the lure that is important. If you were to use a line that sank to the depth that you are fishing, with a fly that looked similar to the jig you are using, you may have the same results. It is the presentation in terms of speed and depth that are operational and repeatable. Straight retrieves are not strictly jig fishing techniques.
When using a straight retrieve with pauses in open water you will find that most of the fish will take the jig as it pauses or stops between the strips. This is not as easily detectable as when the fish hits on the pull of the strip but experienced anglers all agree that ordinarily the ratio of hits on pauses between strips can be extremely high, often twenty or more to one. Those fishermen who do not look for these 'hits on the pauses' have no awareness of the fish they are missing.
When the jig is paused between strips it sinks. The rate of fall on these pauses is often the key to catching lots of fish on particular days. If you are using a heavy jig, the jig will fall faster than if you are using a light jig. The thickness of your leader will also affect the rate of fall dramatically. A light jig on a heavy leader will slow the rate of descent; a heavy jig on a light leader will not slow the descent to the same degree as a thick leader will. Often the speed that the jig is falling is the key to strikes. When fish are aggressive they seem to prefer fast sinking jigs. When they are less aggressive they will often respond to a slow falling jig. The speed of the fall can make the difference between a few fish taken at random moments and a steady succession of hookups that amazes and mystifies your friends. For instance: say you are fishing from a boat in 8' of water with two friends. All three of you are fishing with the same jig that weighs the same. You are using a floating line, #1 friend is using an intermediate and #2 friend is using a high-density line to get it down quick. All three of you are using 16 lb. leaders. All three of you cast and begin a retrieve.
Number three hooks a fish right away, as soon as his line hits the water. Number 2 hooks up right away but you have a loop around your reel and begin to take it off. Your jig is slowly sinking while you do this and you notice that the leader twitches. You set the hook and you are on, too. Everyone casts again and this time your two friends do not hook up. You don't start your retrieve right away because you are brilliant. As your jig sinks you notice that the leader twitches again and it is at the same depth that it was the first time. You do this over and over again until your friends are ready to throw you over-board. Then you tell them what you are doing. They believe you and the fellow with the intermediate line starts to pay attention to the fall rate of his jig and begins to catch a few fish but not nearly as many as you because he has no way of detecting a soft inhalation of his jig. If the fish doesn't move away with his jig he cannot detect a strike, but the fish do often enough that his catching improves. The fellow with the high-density line realizes that if what you are saying is true, then the only chance he has to catch a fish is when his line first hits the water and the jig is sinking unencumbered. He casts and tightens, then lets the whole line sink on a tiny bit of back-pressure so he remains tight to his jig. He begins to catch fish too. You catch fish till you arms are aching, and they have a somewhat satisfying day. Are you a better fisherman or is it the mechanics of the fall rate of the jig that makes the difference?
Another scenario: Same fishermen, same boat, same day, same jigs, same fish, same lines, but different technique: you cast and begin a retrieve. You pause, the jig starts to sink, you begin the retrieve and a fish is on. He is just on, no hit or pull, no twitch or hesitation. You do it again, this time no fish, but on the fifth pause between strips another fish takes it, but you don't hook him. It felt kind of mushy, and you didn't set up on him as if he was a fish because you weren't sure. You begin to experiment with striking just after a pause as if there was a fish, even though you don't know if there is one there. You find out that there often is one there, but only for a split second. You increase the length of the strips and in the pause that follows you determine that a two-foot strip works consistently if you set up right away following the strip. You start catching the fish real well and when you tell the others they begin to catch too. The fellow with the intermediate does almost as well as you at least for the first part of the retrieve. The high density begins to catch in the first part of his retrieve.
In the first scenario the fish are taking the jig as it is falling; the second is they are taking it as it pauses and begins to dive. This is normal jig fishing technique and it has been refined to a high art by fresh water tournament bass fishermen. Is it true? Yes, it is. Those people who know how to do it well have earned hundreds of thousands of dollars fishing against people who don't take pauses and rates of fall when fishing jigs in open water seriously. Retrieves are secondary to pauses and the high percentage times to hook fish are in the pauses and the falls. Sinking lines are a handicap for strike detection although they do work well with aggressive fish. This is finesse fishing.
Bottom fishing techniques with a jig with a fly rod (to be continued in a later article)© 2001