IN A watery environment it can be a competitive world; missing an opportunity to feed can mean your mate beside you will beat you to devouring an edible morsel. Bass can be downright stubborn critters to catch sometimes, but there are those times when they almost jump into the boat to take the lure. Many bassers would have experienced hot bites fishing soft plastics to schooled fish. I’ve lost count of the sessions I’ve had when bass gulped down my plastic, cast after cast. It’s great fun catching these fish but it has to make you wonder – in such a competitive situation, is there a way to target bigger fish?
Tournament and recreational anglers alike love to hook and battle big bass as often as possible. So, when the fish are actively falling for soft plastic presentations, how do we do this?
Last year, during a pre-fish for the BASS Pro final at Bjelke Petersen Dam, I stumbled on a pattern I thought was a sure winner. I fished heavy skirted jigs to the suicidal bass population that were repeatedly hammering our soft plastic offerings. The skirted jigs excelled, pulling better quality fish than the plastics. Unfortunately, the lake rolled over and the pressured fish shut down but luckily I still managed to win the event rolling spinnerbaits over the shallow flats. Since then I’ve had more successful outings at other lakes using the same jig technique. I’ll take a risk and share the approach I’ve been using with those of you who are interested. It hasn’t yet proven successful in a tournament situation and after sharing my knowledge I hope that I can still be the one to do it.
Much has been written about small lures taking big fish. Known as the ‘jellybean theory’, it refers to fish being similar to people in that no matter how much you eat, you can always fit in a jellybean (or sweet) or two. Of course, bass love small to medium sized lures. The trouble is, the small fish as well as the larger ones like lures that fit this profile. In many cases it’s easy to play the numbers game and keep on catching fish until the bigger one comes along. Then, you could specifically target the bigger fish by using a different technique – working heavy skirted jigs.
The theory behind the use of heavy skirted jigs is simple: when bass are marauding a soft plastic, schooled fish can be trying to beat each other to it – first in, first served. Using a lure with a bigger profile, such as a skirted jig, helps to deter those smaller bass. I’ve caught undersized bass on jigs but believe that the smaller fish hesitate rather than rushing in to swallow it. This hesitation allows bigger bass to gorge themselves on what they think is a perfect sized meal.
Skirted jigs have been slow to gain wide acceptance, though there are a few brands floating around. Anglers using them have managed to score fish using various methods. Most of these have involved a slow presentation to bass that are holding close to the bottom or structure. I’ve had only limited success fishing skirted jigs in such a slow manner. On the other hand, I’ve used my heaviest jigs with great results just by applying some of my soft plastic knowledge.
Many of our bass lakes hold big schools of fish in the deeper water, and here in the open it’s easy to find them with a quality sounder.
The approach when using a skirted jig is the same as with a soft plastic. The weight of the jig should be the same as, or the next size up from, the jighead you’re using. A slight increase in jig weight will compensate for any depth lost while retrieving the bulkier bodied lure.
As with plastics, place a long cast over the fish and allow the jig to sink to the bottom. Work the jig through the fish with a series of winds (often between eight and 15). Vary the lure speed – use continuous steady retrieves or add twitches and pauses, just as if you were fishing a soft plastic. After the winds allow the lure to freefall back to the bottom, and then repeat the pattern. Using different methods will soon show you which one works best. You’ll usually find it will be the same technique you were catching fish on when using a soft plastic.
There are quite a few jigs on the market but few are suitable for this style of fishing. As mentioned earlier, you need to use the same weight jig or the next size up from the jighead you would use with a soft plastic. As a general rule, in bony bream lakes I opt for a 1/2oz or 5/8oz jig. In other lakes where fish feed on small baits like gudgeon, guppies and gar, I go for a jig between 1/4oz and 1/2oz, depending on the depth of the fish. As you can see, it pays to have a few sizes. My all-time favourite is a 5/8oz AusSpin which I use in bony bream lakes where this technique excels.
A fine cut silicon or rubber skirt with plenty of strands is important. Such skirts puff out in the water, adding bulkiness and movement to the lure. Skirt colours can vary extensively, just as soft plastic colours do. I have a preference for skirts with white, clear or pearl in them, my favourite being clear/gold and purple. Behind the head of the jig it’s best if there is a keeper barb in place to hold a plastic trailer in position.
For this style of fishing I prefer jigs with the tow point on top of the head rather than in front. With the tow point on top the jig is able to track more deeply, just as a soft plastic would.
Some jigs come with wire, mono or even silicon weedguards. These may be useful in weedy and snaggy situations but in open water scenarios they aren’t necessary. In fact, weedguards can actually hinder hook penetration when finicky bites occur.
One of the most critical things to do is to add a soft plastic trailer. Curl-tailed and paddle-tailed grubs seem to do the trick. Choose an appropriate size to match the jig. There should be enough of the plastic’s tail protruding behind the lure that its action is not impeded by the lure’s skirt. With a 3” or 4” grub in place, you’ve turned the jig into a deadly weapon.
Just like fishing plastics, it makes sense to add a catch scent to your lure. The advantage of adding scent to a skirted jig is that it has a huge surface area to hold your attractant. Each strand and the trailer coated in scent makes the lure carry an odour that will last for ages. Due to a jig’s bulky size, dip style scents aren’t the best option. You need to use something oily, but not pasty as this will make the skirt strands cling together and lose action. Spike It and Slime It spray on scents are ideal. These come in aerosol cans and can be applied easily with little mess. Although only a new product, Slime It has already helped anglers take out the honours at a number of bass tournaments.
You should fish skirted jigs on the same type of gear on which you fish plastics. I use Strudwick Sofbodz Finess rods in 6’ 6" or 7’ 0" (SBF664S and SBF704S) and find them ideal. These are 4kg spin rods and I complete the outfit with an Abu 502 spin reel. There is a cheaper rod that is suitable for the job and is excellent value for money. These are the Strudwick Sic Stik range. I’ve been using a 4kg 6’ 6" model (SIC664S) and think its quality exceeds similarly priced rods of other brands. These sensitive rods deliver long casts and have a fast recovery. The taper is ideal for handling and controlling big fish with plenty of grunt in the butt section.
When fishing jigs, I use 4 or 6 pound Berkley Fireline. This is the same line I use when fishing plastics so it makes sense to use it for jigs as well. I tie a short double at the end of the Fireline using a Bimini Twist. Then, using an Improved Albright I attach a two metre leader of 10 or 15 pound Vanish fluorocarbon.
Fishing jigs in this manner might not be how to do it according to the text book. But, as far as techniques go, there are no rules. We as fishermen need to be open minded, prepared to accept new ideas and willing to try them.
Breakdown of a jig
Skirted jigs consist of a lead head similar to that found on a jighead. The heads come in different colours, often have eyes and should have two keepers moulded to the hook (one for the skirt and one for a trailer). Skirts, similar to those found on spinnerbaits but of strands that are more finely cut and more numerous, fit behind the head of the lure. A plastic trailer – a 3" curl-tail such as the Berkley Gulp or paddle-tail like a Slider Grub – can be placed under the skirt with the tail protruding.
There are plenty of jigs available overseas that you can purchase via the internet. Most have heavy weedguards which can be removed to give better hook setting capability.
Stanley, Daiwa, Fina and Terminator can all be found in our stores. These lures are okay for fishing shallow water. However, when you need more weight to reach deeper fish, especially in our bony bream lakes, there is only one lure found in Australia that’s capable of doing it. Australian lure makers, AusSpin, have designed a full range of jigs that go right up to 5/8oz. These jigs have all the right qualities including a fine cut 40 strand silicon skirt.
1) A 5/8oz AusSpin jig fitted with a 3” curl-tail grub.
2) The author with two quality bass taken swimming a 5/8oz AusSpin skirted jig through bass schools at Lake Somerset.