Jig Fishing Specifics
The following is an interview on the specifics of jig fishing between Jeff "Yakfish" Little, and Craig "Earthworm77" DeFronzo.
Jeff: Why do you favor the jig more than any other lure?
Craig: I'm not so sure I favor the jig over other baits. I mean, I consider myself a versatile angler and can fish pretty much any type of bait. Like all other lures, a jig-n-pig is merely a tool. When I recognize a situation where this tool can be utilized, I surely tie one on. Despite being known as a light tackle angler, I built much of my fishing reputation by jig fishing, so I'd confess that it is a specialty of mine. I'm certainly at home fishing a jig-n-pig. I love setting the hook hard on a fish and then having the rod just bow over, due to the weight of a chunky bass. I feel the jig produces larger average sized fish than any other lure. That makes it exciting to know that you have a good shot at catching better fish on average.
Jeff: Rank the following jig attributes in importance when choosing a jig to tie onto your line: jig or trailer color, jig or trailer profile, weight, weed guard or not, type of material (silicone, hair, round rubber).
Craig: I'll throw you a curveball on this one. None of the choices you gave me is all that important to me. The one thing I'd rank the absolute most important characteristic of a good jig is the hook it is built on. When I set up my business, it happened quite by accident. I was making custom jigs for myself. That said, I was producing what at the time was a very high quality bait that I simply couldn't find anywhere else. My friends let the cat out of the bag and even though my business has grown tremendously since the late 1990's, I still go by the belief that I have to build them great because I fish them too.
After choosing your hook, which should be either a Gamakatsu or Owner Cutting point, I would say that weight of the bait and the overall profile are fairly important. The weight allows you to saturate your intended strike zone more efficiently and the profile is what may be the attracting factor to bass. Keep the bait in their interest zone as far as mimicking available forage. I'm really basic with color, normally black or RoadKill Camo. I prefer a weedguard but I certainly can't say either way that using one or not attributes to more strikes overall. It depends where you fish it. If you use it in heavy cover, you will obviously need a weedguard.
I always match my trailer color to the skirt color. Just a preference, no logic behind it. I don't think that bass avoid jigs because of their skirt material. I like Hydro Silk skirting. It is a round silicone similar to the older StarFlash skirts, minus the heavy glitter. The Hydro Silk is hollow and floats at rest. So here you have a material that when it is paused on the bottom, the skirt opens up slowly and this may be a factor in triggering strikes. I don't think a bass is sensitive enough to be able to discern rubber from silicone. Hair might be another story altogether. We'll leave it for another time.
Jeff: Pick your two favorite jigs and describe them. Then describe the perfect presentation and catch with each including the rod/reel setup you use, the line used, the rod angle on retrieve, the speed of retrieve, the hit, the hook set, and how you play and land the fish.
Craig: This is an interesting scenario because my options couldn't be more different from each other. The first would be a 1/16th ounce weedless jig like the original Micro Munch Jig that I built with the help of Charlie Nuckols of Float N Fly Fame. I wanted a light tackle jig-n-pig and this essentially became the bait I built my company on. I teamed it up with a 2 ½" 40 strand silicone skirt and a Zoom Skinny Chunk trailer. We opted to use a single strand wire weedguard rather than a large fiber guard. This bait was built for small stream smallmouth and largemouth and I've taken literal tons of fish on them. I started out using a 5-6 light action spinning rod with 6-pound mono. That worked well as this bait was really good when skipped into wood cover. I could put this thing places where most anglers were afraid to go. That was the beauty of it. This bait penetrated areas that were never hit with baits. The chunky profile and the light weight keep it in the strike zone longer.
The bait was really built because I was fishing a series of local streams that had immense overhead growth in the form of branches and vines. Skipping became the only real way to make a presentation to these fish. I toiled to learn to set the hook awkwardly as well. However, once I got the hang of it I started catching huge numbers of bass and some very big ones as well. I can skip a jig 20 feet behind an obstacle if I have to. You get really adept at these things when you are forced to do them all the time.
These days I use a 6-6 medium Kistler Helium LTA He66MS. I match that up with a Shimano Sustain 2500. You can fish this bait on lighter gear if you wish but I've found that you have the potential to catch some very big fish on it despite it being a small bait. Now that I'm in Florida I recognize that the potential to take a fish over 10lbs exists on a daily basis so I have upgraded my light tackle mentality to accommodate this reality. As far as line I go with Yo Zuri Hybrid 6 pound. It over tests a bit so anyone who appreciates braid might like this, plus it is relatively clear.
At the other end of the spectrum, I like to use a 3/8 ounce Grass Jig of my own design. I've found that this head comes through vegetation better than anything I've tried and it is more than capable of being used in wood and rocky areas. Like I said before, you have to have a good hook on any jig you throw. I built this head around a Gamakatsu Black Nickel Round bend. I like the round bend design and I feel the Gammie is such a step above the Mustad that you see on just about every jig out there now. It has a slimmer diameter carbon steel which allows better penetration and with jigs, it's all about getting good penetration for solid hook ups. I'm simple when it comes to color choices. I like Triple Black, RoadKill, Nuclear RoadKill, which has some green, black and orange thrown in and Black/Blue/Purple which is more of a largemouth color for me. For smallmouth, I've made some wicked colors that featured lots of bronze, orange and even chartreuse. They can get totally crazy in the fall and hit wacky colors like that.
I use a 7ft MH Helium LTA He70MHC teamed up with a Shimano Scorpion MG or Antares 101 with 15lb Vanish Fluorocarbon. I don't use braid when jig fishing, again, just my preference.
The Grass Jig is always pitched, not flipped by me. I don't often swim the jig but I don't let it simply sit there either. If anyone ever heard of a doodle rig, I fish it like that. The doodle rig is a finesse tactic where the angler fish' a small worm on an open hooked jighead. The bait is jiggled and banged into rocks and things. I do the same thing with my Jig-n-pig's. I jiggle the rod tip ever so slightly like when a rattle snake shakes its tail. It doesn't move much but the point is obvious. The typical strike signals a little voice in my head (one of many) that goes THUMP. Once I get the thump signal, I set the hook hard over my shoulder and I'm in business.
Jeff: For someone who is just starting out with jigs, what advice would you give them to speed up their learning process?
Craig: Avoid fishing a jig like you would a plastic worm. They are both very different. A jig is the quintessential contact bait. Bass react to it and hit it differently than a plastic worm or grub. Learn to know what the jig feels like. I call this weighing the line. If you know what a 1/2 ounce jig feels like as you are working the bait, any lighter or heavier sensation is a reason to swing on it.
I've written hundreds of articles and I get a ton of email from guys who consider themselves good anglers but don't know how to fish a jig. My opinion is that you need to learn a jig in order to be a complete angler. It absolutely is a bread and butter lure.
Jeff: When designing a jig, what inspires you? What gives you ideas? Do you try to match the hatch, or just come up with something that looks like it contains protein?
Craig: I can't say I've rocked the world with my jig designs. I have made three excellent jigs that a lot of guys are fishing. Generally for me, this genre of baits it is about putting together a total package rather than one unique facet or gimmick. In that sense I think I've done really well. This is a bait that essentially is made of a hook, weedguard, skirt and metal. I'm not so sure there can be any earth shattering designs left in it. You can tweak things but I like what I've got now. I would consider upgrading to an X-Point jig hook if they ever decide to make them for jigs. I'm always open to changing things up and improving my design but the truth is that I haven't changed anything on the Rock Assassin or Grass Jig and I have only changed the hook on the Micro Munch Jig. That is a testament to how secure I am with these designs.
I get ideas when I'm out on the water and I come across a problem that needs fixing. It may be something that I've thought about before but never could put together. Then one day you see that little extra piece of the puzzle and a light bulb goes off. It could be something like finding a way to better present a bait to fish deep inside cover or at a specific depth, maybe you observe a bait being chased and it moves a certain way that provokes a hard strike. I'm usually like Holy "S", why didn't I see that before. I'll tell you, if you go out on the water and think you have it all figured out, I mean go out and fish and not learn anything, you might as well give up because this sport must be very boring for you. It is amazing how much I learn each time I go out. That is the satisfaction of it, putting it all together and having it work.
I built the Micro Munch Jig because I saw a need to utilize a light tackle jig-n-pig. The Rock Assassin was merely a natural progression for fishing for smallmouth in rocky areas. The Grass jig came about because I wanted to build a jig that stood up when it hit the bottom. Despite being a weedless design, the grass head has a rounded back, which causes it to site perfectly upright. This causes it to rotate upward when it hits something, often the bottom. This puts the jig in that fighting crawdad position that seems to generate a lot of strikes for me if I fish it on the bottom.
Jeff: What kinds of water/weather conditions force you to put down the jig rod, and try different bait? In other words, even though a jig is one of the most versatile baits, are there situations when you will be more productive with a different type of lure? Give an example of such a situation.
Craig: I think the jig is a truly versatile bait and I could fish it all year long and experience some degree of success with it. For me here in Florida, the heat is the killer. I compare it with winter in the North. I don't want to be on the water for either. When it gets really hot, I put my jig rods down in favor of soft plastics. If I think I can catch them in the same places I throw a jig, I'd opt for a tube like the El Gordo. I fish a ton of gin clear rivers and normally won't throw a jig unless I'm targeting fish in deeper water on some type of structure. Normally I can see them, which is difficult to comprehend sometimes and surely intimidating when they won't bite. I throw some crankbaits and spinnerbaits as well. I've been on a swimbait kick too.
We do not have smallmouth in Florida but we do have Suwannee Bass and Shoal bass which are similar in behavior. I will jig for Suwannees despite the heat. They are very susceptible to a lead and chunk attack anytime of the year.
Like I said earlier, a jig is a tool. If the fish want something else and I recognize that, I'll switch up in a second. There are obvious signs that fish want something else such is when they are extremely active and busting the surface. Seeing that on a consistent basis should get the wheels turning to try either something on the top like a fluke or maybe a fast mover like a spinnerbait in a baitfish pattern.
Jeff: Describe your jig storage system. How are your jigs, trailers, or other components organized when you are on the water?
Craig: It is kind of funny, I'm sure your expecting some elaborate set up since I own a bait company but it is rather simple. I have a Plano 3600 series box in which I keep all of my heads separated by weight on the top. On the bottom I keep my skirts and allow them to be stored straight without bending. I don't store my jigs with the skirt affixed to the head. I use a jig and then get rid of it, like I'll give it away to someone. I very rarely keep the same jig tied on after a fishing trip. The only time I kept fishing with the same jig was when I was testing protos for my Grass Jig. I kept the same black jig on my rod for weeks. I was trying to roll the point of the hook over and couldn't do it. I caught probably a 100 fish over 2 pounds on this one jig before I lost it.
Jeff: Discuss the different angles of the eyelet. Are there different applications for 90 degree angles from 0, 45, or 60 degree angles?
Craig: I'm sure in the grand scheme of things the different anglers mean something. I'll be ****** if I know what they really are for. Certain angles are a bit more prone to hanging up. A 90 degree is the least snag friendly of the bunch. I prefer a flat eye on my jigs with a 45 to 60 degree angle. I feel this gives me a good mix of weedless capability and very good hook setting ability. I won't go into the science of it but I think the 45 or 60 degree angle just sticks fish better than say a 90 or 0.
Jeff: What about weed guards? Are you a bristle guy, a wire guy, or prefer to go without one? Again, are there different situational applications for each?
Craig: All big jigs get a fiber guard, small 1/16 ounce jigs get a wire guard. I don't normally fish a jig without a weed guard unless it is a hair jig or a head that I'm fishing plastics on like a Shakey head or Mushroom head. The consideration I make when picking a jig/weedguard is the tackle I'm using and the area I intend to fish. Heavy snags require a fiber guard and light cover or light line necessitate a wire guard. The old adage "Make love not war but be prepared for both" doesn't apply to my jig fishing. I use what is necessary to get by for the particular situation. If I'm jig fishing in water with few snags, I likely will either scale down totally or use a jig with a fiber guard that I clip some of the strands out of the "skinny it out". No need to use a beefy guard if you won't come in contact with serious cover. Going against this rationale, I often use a jig that may be under equipped in heavier cover. This was the story of my early fishing days as I solely used a small jig with a wire guard to throw into some of the nastiest cover around. It worked for me far more than it didn't so I kind of adopted this "against then normal thought process" way of fishing the bait. I think going outside the box is a big key in staying fresh and focused in your fishing approach. I learned very early on that there are no set rules in bass fishing and what may work for one guy won't work for the next guy. This is mind, I tried to kind of reinvent the wheel as it applies to my own bass fishing.
In my opinion, weedguards really don't protect you from weeds. If you fish in gak, you will get hung up no matter what you use to protect your jig. My consideration for a guard depends on the wood and hard snags I think I may encounter. This in my opinion is what a weedguard truly deflects.
Jeff: Talk a little bit about lead head design. Arkie, ball head, football head, darter, mushroom head, banana head, the one with the eyelet inside the lead, etc. What is the best design for standing a bait up? What is best for punching through grass? What is the least snaggy in rocks? What is best for swimming a jig? What about skipping under branches or docks? Are there hook set implications for different styles (i.e. do you set the same way regardless of head type, or is there a difference in hooksets?)
Craig: Each of the heads may have a specific application but many anglers simply use them because they work. I would argue that a Grass Head or Rocker Head stands up better than any other design. A Football head likely comes through the rocks better than any other head although I'm not sure snaggy is a word. It fits though kind of like my favorite "irregardless" which I'll use in a sentence later. I prefer the ball head for skipping and fishing in open water. I don't care to use Arkies or Banana heads. I think that you have to set the hook hard irregardless of choice of jig head (did you like that?). Your line will dictate how much pressure you put on it. With lighter tackle and fine diameter hooks, you don't need to wallop fish to achieve goodpenetration.
When you are trying to get through grass or mats, anything with a streamlined design will be more resistant to catching snags. This is why the grass head was developed.
Jeff: Talk about the differences in profile, color, material, trailer, and weight of a jig that you would use for river smallmouth compared to flat water largemouth.
Craig: I think too many people stress separation between smallmouth and largemouth bass lures. I don't feel you can be species specific with them and I am more apt to use the same baits for both. I mean what really separates them? The difference physically is their mouths and attitudes but tell those guys who are chucking 2 ounce swimbaits designed for largemouth that they should not be able to catch a smallmouth on a lure that big. You'll get laughed at. Besides, the fish you want to catch, the bigger ones, should have no problem eating something that was built with a green bass in mind. As this applies to my selection, starting out, the hook is the basis of all of my jigs no matter what I'm fishing for. With both a smallmouth jig and a typical flipping jig for largemouth, I would absolutely use the same Gamakatsu round bend hook. I like my jigs to be short and chunky whether I'm targeting brown or green bass. A slow moving mouthful is a better target and it also helps slow the fall of the bait down a bit. I don't like to get too flashy with my color options. I believe in keeping my colors natural and if I can match the hatch I will. This usually comes in the form of adding a contrasting hand poured chunk when fishing a RoadKill Camo jig for smallies. Maybe I'll throw in some purple flake to match a craw. Only in the fall will I stray and add something with a little orange or chart. We all know smallies seem to whack those good at the end of the year. For largemouth I simply kill on solid black with a solid black chunk. I rarely fish black and blue and I don't need pumpkin, watermelon and junebug. I know they work but black works best for me.
I prefer Hydro Silk skirt material as I said before. Rubber is ok but I don't tie it so I don't use it. I always opt for a plastic trailer over pork. Again just my preference. I don't like pork for what happens after you use it. To messy and difficult to store and get off the hook. I hand pour the Muscle Craw and use salt and Kick N Bass scent in it. It is a wide legged craw type trailer. I recently found out another bait company copied the name from me.
For river bass I match the weight of the head to the current flow and where I think the fish are. I even change the head style to a football whereas I solely use the Grass Jig design for lake and pond fishing, maybe even slow flows as well. In the current I start with a 3/8 ounce jig and try to figure out how quickly it gets down to the target. I'm looking for the quickest vertical fall that doesn't allow slack in the line, which is instrumental to successfully putting the jig on target in the current. You know, if there is a smallie behind that rock, he's going to let you know if he wants that jig. The current forces these fish to react quickly and he'll rap the jig pretty hard. This is why you can't have slack in the line.
For largemouth I normally start off with a 3/8 ounce and scale down to a 3/16 ounce jig if I can. Occasionally I'll go heavier with a 1/2 ounce model to get the jig a little deeper or make it fall faster. Overall though, a 3/8 ounce jig sees the most duty on my line.
Jeff: Discuss the different applications of a fine wire hook vs. a heavier gauge hook.
Craig: I prefer a fine wire hook on the lighter jigs that I make. Whether it be a Float N Fly, rabbit hair jig or a Micro Munch Jig, these light baits hang up if you fish them right, and on the right tackle, you won't always be able to muscle them free. A light wire hook allows the hook to straighten out to a degree and often it will be easier to get your bait back when you hang it up. A fine wire hook also penetrates much easier than a larger diameter model. This is essential when you are not using tackle with the beef to really lay into a fish. I would prefer a hook that won't bend like a fine wire hook will when I'm fishing jigs with heavier tackle. A heavier gauge hook is the preferred choice of flippers and pitchers. I don't necessarily believe that this equates to a stronger hook. Strength depends more on the carbon rating of steel rather than the wire diameter. You can cheat and utilize more steel but the end product is a hook that has a larger overall wire diameter, to me this is a disadvantage. Take a TTi X-Point for instance. Here is a hook that uses the highest carbon rating on the market at about 110. It is also the thinnest diameter when compared to Mustad, Owner and Gamakatsu of the same size. No doubt it is also the strongest. My point is that you don't need a thick diameter solely for strength. As I said earlier thinner diameter wire penetrates more efficiently than thicker wire. So this may be a little misleading. I think the Gamakatsu has a good diameter to strength ratio and it is readily available, X-Point doesn't make jig hooks. I recently took a 10-03 largemouth on my Grass Jig equipped with a Gamakatsu. I totally believe if I had been using a Mustad hook with a thick gauge wire hook, I likely wouldn't have been able to penetrate the fish's mouth.
Jeff: Talk about the different hook styles (round bend, O'Shaunnesy, Matzuo Sickle or Barbarian, deep bite, wide gap, etc.), which ones you prefer, and why.
Craig: I prefer a round bend wide gap as I feel bass are less likely to throw it. These types of hook like the Gamakatsu I like to use have a big bite. For me, I think it increases my hook up success and fish are less apt to throw it. I always say that a jig is a one bite, one fish in the boat lure. When you get dialed in to fishing them, it is almost mechanical. I don't care for the Sickle hook on a jig. I build the Rock Assassin football jig with an EWG Gamakatsu hook as I think it is even more rock proof than the round bend. This is the only jig I would use that hook on though. It has as slightly smaller gap than the roundbend and just doesn't hang up. I lose more of these because the head gets wedged in the rocks than I do with the hook hanging up.
Jeff: Do you use a different style or profile jig in the summer as opposed to spring or winter?
Craig: I pretty much stick with the Grass head all year. I change the head based on the cover I'm fishing, not the time of year. I'll throw a Rock Assassin Football jig when necessary. It started out as the cousin to the original Micro Munch Jig and evolved into a smallmouth only jig for me. I would have to say that my preference of the Muscle Craw chunk which is a wide profile trailer keeps all of my jigs looking similar in profile. I think is spring and winter, you need a fairly slow fall that maximizes the baits time in the strike zone and the chunky profile allows this to happen.
Jeff: Do you like to throw tubes at all, and are there situations when you would choose a tube over a jig?
Craig: (giggling) Tubes? Yeah, I throw a ton of tubes. I like tubes over jigs when the water is warmer. Up north, I likely would throw a tube before I'd sling a jig for smallmouth. Down here in Florida, I pitch a tube in the hotter weather rather than a jig. I use a Gambler Florida rig weight that essentially pegs the weight to the hook eyelet. Here, the plastic tube is just a better summertime bait. It's kind of funny but I can't go into a tackle store in my area and find a jig on the shelf. For whatever reason, it isn't a popular bait in my locale. Now, in September of this year I took a 10-03 on one of my jigs so I know the fish will hit them.
Jeff: Do you use scents or rattles on your jigs? If so, describe what kinds you use.
Craig: I almost never use rattles on my jigs. Occasionally, if I'm fishing some really dirty water I might choose a rattling jig. However, generally a jig wouldn't be my first option in dirty water. I'd prefer something with excessive vibration and flash like a spinnerbait. I always use a hand poured trailer that I pour called the Muscle Craw. It has salt and scent cooked into the plastic and then it is scented again before it is packaged. I like to believe that anything that gives me an extra second or two to set the hook is worth it and I feel scent may give me this advantage.
Jeff: Thanks Craig! I know your answers will provide plenty of insight and ideas to the bass fishing community.