There gets a red blooded bass angler more excited than a lit up sounder. All those solid lines darting around the display like fighter jets sends images of buckled rods and screaming drags straight to the brain. Most presentations will be snaffled, however on those days when fish are showing up everywhere but are reluctant to eat, the angler can go from hero to zero in a matter of minutes.
It’s times like these when our regular cast and retrieve presentations like spinnerbaits, soft plastics and lipless crankbaits fail that we look to our predecessors for a few ‘old school’ techniques. There is nothing new about vertically jigging various lures, but it seems that we’ve forgotten just how effective it can be.
The best thing about vertically jigging is you can present your offering to the fish. Use your sounder to locate schooling fish so you can drop your rig right on their noses. You can even let the lure sink down through the transducer beam and select an individual fish if you can read your sounder correctly!
There are a few different lures to choose from for this style of fishing. They include metal profile lures (slugs for tuna and mackerel), ice jigs, willowblades and tailspinners. Fishing the modern trend of bass lures like rattling and soft lipless crankbaits this way can be deadly, so don’t be afraid to mix it up until you find what the fish want.
Who would have thought that a little weighted lure with a hole cut in ice would be so effective for catching bass?
These nifty little jigs with hooks hanging off left, right and centre have resurged over the last few months after their successful use at a few major tournaments.
Ice jigs are relatively heavy for their size. They have a tie point in the centre of the body, a hook either end of the jig and one directly below the tie point. The lure is given action when jigged by a perspex fin on the tail. This tail causes the ice jig to dart off in a different direction on each lift of the rod. With an action like this, it’s only a matter of time until a bass slams it.
There are various brands and sizes to choose from, but the Nils Master Jiggers seem to do the job superbly. The two most popular sizes are the Jigger-2 (15g) and the Jigger-3 (25g). Depth of water, wind conditions and bait size will determine the size that best suits, but I really like the little Jigger-2. It takes a little longer to get down to the fish, but I like the extra hang time you get as the jig flutters down under slack line.
As for tackle, you just need a 6’6”-7’ rod with a 1000-2500 sized reel loaded with 6lb braid and a 10-20lb leader.
Even with all their hooks ice jigs have a very poor hook-up rate and a few fish are often dropped during the fight. To help reduce this, fish a relatively light drag, just enough to set the hook. I also replace the middle treble with a high quality single hook. For the Jigger-2 use a Mustad Aberdeen in size 4, and for the Jigger-3 a Gamakatsu SL12 in size 2.
Fishing ice jigs is easy. Once the fish have been located, lower the jig down to where they are. The lure can then be jigged in numerous ways, but try several short, sharp flicks followed by a pause for a few seconds. Take a few turns of the handle, raise the lure a few feet and repeat until you get a hit. Be warned most hits come on the drop so keep a close eye on your slack line.
Another technique to use is a long, slow single lift of the rod then allow the jig to sink slowly all the way back through the school. Lastly, you can try holding your rod out horizontally and tapping the butt of the rod. This method jiggles the jig in front of the fish and can be deadly when all else fails.
Just remember to mix it up until you crack a pattern, and don’t be afraid to dead stick the jig (not move the lure at all) in the middle of the school as this can sometimes result in a bone rattling strike from a shutdown bass.
Most anglers will be more comfortable dropping metal lures to the bottom of a beacon than jigging them for bass, however they can be absolutely deadly. My first introduction into this style of fishing was with Garry Fitzgerald. I was stunned when, after finding an active school of bass, he produced a 40g Raider and hooked a solid fish before the slug had even hit the bottom!
There is nothing hard about fishing this type of lure. Simply freespool the lure down to the level the fish are holding making sure to monitor your slack line. Once the slug has reached the depth you require simply lift and drop the rod. Vary the speed you “rip” the lure up until you find what is working on that school.
A general rule is the more active the bass look on your sounder the better they will respond to a faster jig. So if the bass are slow or shutdown, slow the jigging right down or even dead stick as sometimes this can cause a strike. When the fish are a little more scattered, try casting the slug out and, using fast aggressive rips or burns, hop it back to the boat.
When jigging, a slightly heavier spin or baitcast outfit is recommended. The reason for this is so the rod doesn’t fold in half every time you jig your slug - the jig barely moves through the water column.
While all slugs will work there are a couple of favourites. The Raiders and SureCatch Knights are the most popular, and a few in the 10-40g range will have you soon filling your well. The silver chromes seem to be great in most dams, however if heading to Wivenhoe make sure you grab a few in gold as well.
If the fish are being fussy, going to a lure with a little more action can make the difference. A couple of Halco Twisties or SureCatch Rooks can be a well-earned addition to your tackle box.
One technique I have been playing with a little bit lately is drop shotting. In the US and Japan it’s huge, but is rarely practised in Australia. With all of the specialised drop shotting gear we adapt to our style of fishing it’s a wonder more people aren’t giving it a go.
Drop shots generally have a tear-shaped sinker with a swivel moulded into it and a standard suicide type hook. The rig is similar to single hook paternosters used for offshore bottom fishing.
The rigging of the plastic in a drop shot makes all the difference. You pass the hook through the nose of the plastic. It seems strange at first but if you place the rig in the water and give the rod tip a shake you will see the plastic in action.
Getting the hook to sit out 90 degrees from your leader can be tricky when setting up your rig. To do this, tie the drop shot weight onto a piece of leader, then get another length of leader (this one tied to your braid) and pass both through opposite sides of the hook eye. Both pieces of leader will crossover one another so tie a double uni knot. When pulled down tight the two knots come together and cause the hook to stand out 90 degrees to the leader.
As for fishing a drop shot, pitch the rig a meter or so from the boat and let it freefall to the bottom. Then lift your rod tip to take out the slack and lightly shake it when in direct contact with the weight of the sinker. Drop a little slack back into the line and let it sit for a few seconds. Repeat this a few times or until you have drifted over the patch of fish. When you get a bite it may feel unusual. There will be a little more weight then expected when picking up the slack between shakes, so wind up and strike. Unlike most bass bites, there is rarely a definite “clunk” so be aware of this between shakes.
The set up for ice jigging is also suited for a drop shot. The standout plastics have been the 3”/4” range of Berkley Power Minnows (formerly the Dropshot minnows) with pearl watermelon the colour of choice. Various drop shot worms and Senko-type plastics would also be deadly. For hooks, Gamakatsu do a range of drop shot hooks that are fantastic and the Mojo range of drop shot weights are tops too.
There are a number of sinking type lures that will work, so if you’re out on a hot bite one day or just cant get a hit, try something different. You may crack a new pattern or even develop a whole new technique. One particular offering that caught my attention is the nose spinner lure. It’s basically an enlarged spinnerbait head and skirt without the arm and a Colorado blade spinning round on its nose.
I hope the techniques outlined above broaden your options the next time you sneak up on a school of bass. Remember to continually monitor your slack line between lifts- this is when most fish will strike!Reads: 1961