A to Z of offshore deepwater jigging
  |  First Published: June 2004

AMBERJACK are one of the primary target species of the bluewater jigging scene off the Queensland coast. Renowned as tough fighters, these fish prefer to inhabit the deeper water around the reefs. Occasionally they school up near the surface when attacking baitfish, often accompanied by yellowtail kingfish.

Braid is the line used for deepwater jigging; I’ve never seen mono lines used for this application. The braided lines preferred for this type of fishing predominantly come from the Japanese market. The lines are given a PE rating (one PE equals approximately 10lb breaking strain) and are colour coded so that there is a different colour every 10 metres.

Cobia are one of the tastiest fish in the sea so they’re a popular target for jiggers. These fish are caught from both shallow and deep reefs, but are less common at the deeper locations.

Deepwater jigging – this is what it’s all about. Many techniques, tackle and lure styles will work in the shallows, but it takes the most refined methods to perform in depths over 80m.

Electronic equipment like colour sounders, GPS and plotters are essential for locating reefs, bait schools and predatory fish. The sounder determines the presence of fish and the GPS is used to mark the school’s position on an electronic map (so you can find it again). The plotter is then used to determine the drift pattern so that the boat can be positioned to drift over the school on consecutive passes.

Fashion isn’t directly related to catching fish but it’s part of the Japanese indulgence in this energetic sport. Anglers wear clothing with the logo of their favourite or sponsored tackle, along with gloves, special jigging shoes or sandals and bandannas. The look is very trendy – sort of like a gym class on the water.

Gear ratios of the reels are normally in the high-speed end of the bracket; six to one gears are ideal in both spin and overhead reels. Certain brands offer up to 8:1 ratios in overhead models.

Hooks and hook lengths used with these jigs are different from those used by most old-school Australian anglers. In deepwater jigging the hooks are often tied to the front eyelet of the lure by a heavy Kevlar/Dacron loop. Two hooks can be attached by separate loops to the front eyelet and, in situations where you’re unlikely to be snagged, a single hook can be connected to the rear eyelet by a heavy-duty split ring. The use of loops increases the hook-up ratio and will help you to stay connected. The length of the loop is relative to the style and profile of the lure. Generally, the hook size is chosen so that the hook gape is greater than the diameter of the jig (thus the hook is less likely to foul on the jig).

Irons were the original jig that East Coast anglers used in the 1970s. Although the Irons caught many fish and are very productive on the shallow reefs, the deep jigs of the 1990s and beyond are radically different so they can get into deep country.

Jigs used in today’s deep jigging scene can weigh up to 400g and be up to 35cm long. Even these jigs are radical modifications to the jigs that we saw 12 months ago. When hanging out with a recent group of visiting anglers I didn’t see a jig less than 25cm long. The short stuff seems to be old fashioned now. I’m not saying shorter lures don’t work, but this is a sport of changing trends, and the long knife-blade-like lures are the ‘in’ thing right now. A $50 price tag is not uncommon on the most fashionable of metal jigs from Japan.

Kingfish can be taken in inshore fisheries, but the pursuit of XOS specimens from the depths is what the deep challenge is all about. Often found alongside amberjack, yellowtail kingfish are top quality tablefish.

Leaders are an integral part of the deep jigging system; do a little jigging and it won’t be long before a rampaging member of the kingfish clan tries to drag your line around part of the reef, wreck or ledge. Braided line has almost zero stretch, so using a 200lb length of mono leader puts some shock absorption into the system, providing stretch and cushioning. The mono also protects the braid from some of the abrasion.

Mixed reefies are the by-catch of the deep jigging technique. Jigs that are meant for cobia, kings and ambos can be snaffled by snapper, squire, pearl perch, cod and other tasty reefies. Anyone who likes a feed of fish has to be happy with a by-catch like this.

Night is as good a time as any to go deep jigging. When you think about it, there can’t be any light down at 180-200m, whether it’s day or night. Lumo lures are favoured at night, if only because you can see them as they near the surface before you try to crank them through the tip eyelet on your rod.

Overhead tackle is what I was first introduced to when heavy jigging but it’s been facing stiff opposition from top quality threadline spin tackle in recent months.

Physical fitness is an important factor, especially on extended trips. There’s no point waking up tomorrow with back or arm muscles so stiff and sore that you can’t get stuck into it on day two. A great way to pace yourself is to work a rotation aboard the boat so that each angler gets a break to recover.

Quiver (i.e. the selection of tackle that you take) should consist of three rods – one for lures up to 200g, one for heavy lures of around 300-400g and a backup outfit that covers the middle ground.

Rods used to measure in at around 2m plus for jigging but they are now most commonly around 1.8m. Shorter rods are said to be less tiring and allow the angler to apply more power on the fish when fighting for longer periods.

Samsonfish are the fourth member of the prime target group. They don’t come as often from the reefs out from Brisbane but they are available from the Gold Coast south and also on the west coast.

Threadline or spin tackle is the ‘in’ deal in the 2004 jigging scene. Nearly all the outfits toted by recent jigging groups are spin sticks – serious spin sticks that are able to handle 60lb braided lines, 400g jigs and 30kg fish. The fact that the threadline sits under the rod is believed to provide a better balanced outfit with fewer torque/twisting issues than an overhead reel. Highly geared ‘eggbeaters’ also give greater retrieve speeds so that the maximum can be gained from the slim profiled lures that are today’s fashion.

Underwater structure is what you are looking for when deep jigging – wrecks, reefs, ledges, gravel patches and the like. Back in the old days you could target any sort of structure for your jigging, but more and more these days fishing is being banned from the shallower (did someone say diveable?) locations so you have to go wider and deeper.

Vertical jigging is nearly always the desired result when deep jigging. The more vertical your line is the more the lure will respond to the action imparted by the rod tip. Injecting rod tip action into the jig is a science, with retrieves individually tailored to replicate the actions of distinct baitfish such as sauries, squid, prawns, yakkas, slimy mackerel and others.

Windward side and lee side – this is a basic consideration when you approach each spot. You need to work out how the boat will drift, as the current and wind may vary from location to location. Once the boat’s drift is confirmed no angler should drop a lure out the lee side (the direction in which the boat is drifting). If you drop a lure on the lee side you risk that your line will go under the boat and foul the propeller. At worst, this could ruin everybody’s fishing day – and even in the best case scenario it makes it difficult for the boat skipper.

X-treme is what this sport is to some. The die-hards target large versions of special fish using special tackle and special lures, even wearing special clothing. Some might see it as a fad, but dry flyfishing for trout is still around. Fishing is fun, so give all the options a go.

Yoyo jigging is a great way to conserve energy. Instead of retrieving the lure all the way to the boat on every drop you can just work around the bottom (or through the strike zone at whatever depth the sounder tells you the fish are holding). After your lure has cleared the strike zone (you can tell this by determining the depth at which your lure is by counting the 10m sections of coloured line) you can freespool back down and start the zigzag jig again.

Zigzag is the basic way to describe the path of the lure as it jigged up through the strike zone. Fast lifts of the rod, sometimes accompanied by a few turns of the reel handle, and pauses are the general ingredients. Varying the amount of rod action, from short sharp stabs to long over-the-shoulder strokes, and differing the length of the pauses is the way to create the various retrieves and mimic the different bait species.


1) Check out the length of the jig hanging from the rod in the background of this photo, the Amberjack shown in this photo is another of the popular target species.

2) Kingfish are one of the main quarries for deep-water jiggers off the east coast of Australia.

3) Japanese anglers are flocking to the charter boats along the east coast of Australia to catch and release fish like our Amberjack. The techniques they prefer to use are now rubbing off on Aussie anglers.
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