We approached the Tweed Bar at a fast idle in the pre-dawn light and Kevin had a good look at the waves that were being pushed into steep peaks by the strong outgoing tide.
He clenched the wheel a bit harder and opened the throttles of the twin 200hp Yammies and we shot over the first wave, backed off to let the second one break and then punched through the wash. He turned the 7m Leisure Cat straight into the rising sun and smiled across at me. We were going out to the 50-fathom reefs for a morning’s jigging.
The run took us about 25 minutes in the big Cat and then Kev slowed down and started to concentrate on his GPS and sounder. I pulled the two Saltiga jigging rods out the cabin and rigged them with 400g Chaos Jigs.
“Hey Rod, check out the fish showing on the pinnacle,” Kev said. I looked across at the sounder and saw a red ball hanging off the side of the rock and my heart started to race.
Kevin put the motors in neutral and I handed him his rod. We dropped the big jigs over the side and free-spooled them to the bottom. My 80lb braid went slack, indicating that I was down. I gave a few quick winds to get the jig moving and then cracked the rod up, a few more quick cranks to take up the slack and as I went to crack the rod up again, everything came to a dead stop.
The fish pulled me up against the gunwale and the rod loaded up with the tip almost touching the water. Kevin gave a grunt and I turned to see his rod also bent double.
I hung on, desperately trying not to give the fish any line. If it pulled a few metres of drag it would bury me in the rough ground and all would be over. Everything held and I managed to turn its head. I would get it a few metres up and then it would give a few big headshakes which could clearly be felt on the braid and then pull a few metres back again.
I eventually had the fish beaten after 10 minutes and the big yellowtail king was boatside, a beautiful fish that would have gone 15kg. I lifted it in the boat with the Boga grip, my hand supporting the stomach. Kev had his fish boatside and it looked a similar size. We took a few photos and then released the fish to fight another day.
We looked at each other and after a few hoots and back slaps, we grabbed the rods and sent the jigs down for round two.
I moved to Australia two years ago and opened up a Mike’s Kitchen restaurant on the Gold Coast. I have always been a keen fisherman and one thing that Australia has is miles and miles of quality coastline. Fishing seems to be a language spoken all over the world and seems to make meeting other people who fish a lot easier.
I was amazed at the number of fish species the two countries share. They obviously have different names but they are the same fish, such as kingies, jewfish, tailor, teraglin and many more.
My good friend and business partner Kevin Smith had already purchased a 7m cat when I arrived and had done quite a bit of exploring on the offshore grounds. We did a few trips for the local reef fish and caught a few good size yellowtail (kingfish in Australia) as a by-catch. We also got smashed up by fish that we could not stop on the gear we were using.
It was at this time that we started hearing a lot spoken about a technique called vertical jigging. We visited a few of the local tackle shops and after acquiring some of the popular jigs we headed out to give it a go. We caught a few fish but with the tackle we had it was some of the most strenuous fishing we had done.
The night before one of our trips, Kevin rang me up to tell me that he had met a fisherman who was happy to come and show us how to jig properly. I was quite keen to meet him, as the quickest way to learn new techniques is to see them first-hand.
David arrived at the ramp and passed his gear up to me. I couldn’t believe it at first. He was a skinny little bloke that my kid sister probably wouldn’t have a problem beating up. The rod he handed me looked like a baitcasting outfit that I would use in the creeks to chase jacks.
His reel was a Daiwa Saltiga narrow-spool that didn’t look like it would be up to anything, let alone big yellowtail. He then passed me up a bag of 30cm-long lead jigs that weighed a ton. This was definitely going to be an interesting trip.
We headed out to the 50-fathom line, about 25km offshore. David rigged up one of his jigs on his little 6’ rod and when we stopped on the pinnacle, down it went. He hit the bottom and after jigging the lure about five metres off the bottom, his rod doubled over.
He piled on the pressure til I thought the rod was sure to break and in no time had a 10kg kingie flapping next to the boat. The fish didn’t even take a metre of line. I was amazed!
That was basically our introduction to jigging and we have spent the past year-and-a-half refining the techniques and tackle. We have learnt an enormous amount about this type of fishing and in this article I will hopefully be able to impart some of this. Jigging is an excellent way of landing big fish in very foul country that would normally be very tough to land on heavy stand-up gear.
What the angler tries to simulate is a fleeing baitfish darting from side to side. One basically whips the rod up quickly, recovering the slack line and then whipping the rod up again. When doing this you try to get into a motion of whip wind, whip wind that is comfortable to you. We always try a few variations to see what the fish prefer on the day, depending on how switched on they are. Sometimes a slower retrieve will work better than a fast one and vice-versa.
All the gear needed for jigging is pretty specialised but probably the most important is the use of braid. There has been much written about the use of braided lines versus mono so I won’t go into all the pros and cons except to say that you have to use it for jigging. The sensitivity you get when fishing with braid cannot be matched by mono and the no-stretch factor plays a very big role.
When you hook a good fish and you have to turn its head you don’t want stretch in the line. When you move your rod tip 5cm you have to be moving the fish the same distance. The fish taking the lure is also a factor; it hits the jig head-on and you need to have good contact with the lure to have the hook go in past the barb.
In this type of fishing there is no time to strike. One minute you are jigging and the next you are solidly hooked up. Try to stay away from the fused braids like Fireline for this type of fishing as there is a lot of wear and tear on the line. The original braids are a better option and stand up to the punishment better.
We use Tuna Terror braid because it is a reasonably priced product and it hasn’t failed. Braids like Jigger Man, Saltiga Braid and other Japanese products are excellent but they will break the bank. The diameter of the braid is also a big plus, meaning you can use a smaller reel and still load it with 300m of 80lb braid.
The rods and reels for jigging these heavy lures are made very tough. The blanks are built with extremely thick walls and are seldom longer than 5’6”.The shorter rod is designed to put less stress on the angler but put heaps of pressure on the fish. It is basically the same scenario as the short-stroker rods for big game fish.
There are some really good brands on the market, We use the Daiwa Saltiga and Shimano T-Curve heavy jigging rods. If you start checking out the Japanese websites on this type of fishing you will be amazed at the specialised gear and the prices.
The reels basically fall into two categories: Those used for serious jigging or those used for a jigging trip a few times a year. The reels take an absolute hammering when used a lot and we have blown a few up in the past 18 months. The main problem is the anti-reverse.
The use of braid and the constant banging of 300g to 400g jigs takes its toll on average reels and they just do not last. We have had brand-new top-line reels last three or four trips and then start making noises, followed by anti reverse failure. I now use a Saltiga Z40 overhead for all my jigging and Kevin uses an Ocea Jigger made by Shimano. We have been using them for more than a year and haven’t had a problem.
My Saltiga had a bit of a wobble when I hooked a 100kg black marlin while jigging for kingies. I had the drag screwed up to about 14kg and didn’t have any time to back it off with the marlin doing somersaults 40m from the side of the boat, my reel groaning in protest. It all came good in the end and the fish was boated 30 minutes later.
The other aspect of these reels that is very important is their drag capacity. They come out with drags over 15kg!
Some might say that it is impossible to put that amount of drag on a fish without a harness but it can be done and more. If you are just going to give it a go and are not going to hammer your tackle then the standard reels will work fine fished with short boat rods. We started like that and eventually, after getting blown away by some good fish, we upgraded.
Some of our mates have given it a go and decided that it was not for them so don’t go out there and spend a fortune on gear until you have tried it.
Jigging is basically a vertical form of lure fishing so as with most lure fishing you need a few different variations to cover all the bases. There are two types of jigs: Speed jigs and jigs that flutter. The speed jigs are normally short jigs that are diamond shaped with fatter sections towards the back. They are worked with a fast retrieve with slight or no pauses in between.
The jigs that flutter are made to do this so that they can be worked with a slower retrieve. The jigs actually flutter in the pauses, sending off flashes and vibrations. They are normally long, slender jigs.
Both designs have their times and places although I tend to use the long jigs more often as they are much easier to work. They have less resistance in the water and don’t require a mad flat-out retrieve.
The yellowtail kingie is probably the most common jig caught-fish on the Tweed Coast and they range from the deep reefs to the river mouths and shallow reefs. If we don’t find them in 90 metres then we keep working shallower until we do. Sometimes they are right in 10 metres of water just outside the river mouths.
Jigs therefore come in various weights. The most popular size is around 300g in the deeper water (75m to 110m) and 180g in the shallower water (10m to 60m).
The current also plays a big role in jig selection. When the current is really ripping you can go right up to a 600g jig just to get down to the fish. We rig these jigs with one single hook fished off the head of the lure. The fish that we target are mostly from the Seriola family including kingies, samson fish and amberjack. These fish attack the lure from the front and you always get a solid hook-up on the one single hook.
This type of rigging goes against all my previous thoughts of lure fishing but it works exceptionally well. We have caught numerous other species on jigs using the single hook including black marlin, wahoo, Spanish mackerel, a few types of tuna and various reef dwellers.
Once you get into this type of fishing it is a truly exciting way to fish and we find it hard to drop bait down instead of a jig. You also target larger predatory fish without the hassle of finding live bait.
We have been amazed at the size of some of the fish that we have caught on huge jigs – some of them smaller than the lures they are eating. Next time you are out on the water, give it a go and it might be the start of another technique you can add to your list.
The way we rig up is to tie the leader (usually 200lb fluorocarbon) straight to a solid ring. The hook is then run directly off the solid ring attached with a short piece of Kevlar about 10cm long. We put a split ring onto the solid ring, to which we attach the jig. This way there are no weak links in the connection to the hook.
We learnt this the hard way by having split rings opening on big fish. We also sometimes use a bit of heat shrink over the hook and Kevlar to keep the trace rigid. This stops the hook fouling on the main line or on the jig during the drop.