Few people noticed that hair jigs anchored a second place finish for Aaron Martens at the 2002 Bassmaster Classic on Alabama's Lay Lake. Don't let Martens' accomplishment slip under your radar screen. Hair jigs were catching bass well before rubber and silicone skirts came along, and they continue to be effective.
Martens started casting hair jigs in his early teens at Castaic and Pyramid, two lakes near his California home. Though he was after stripers, many black bass nailed the jigs, including heavyweight largemouth up to 10 pounds. The "striper" jigs often put him in touch with 80 to 100 bass per day, and now they add pounds to his livewell when he fishes tournaments.
Why do these banal jigs appeal to bass?
"Hair jigs show bass a slim, minnow profile," says Martens. "It's stiffer than rubber or silicone and responds with a sharper action. It drops faster, which may trigger reflex strikes. Most bites come as the jig falls."
Hair jigs produce for Martens when the water clarity is 3 feet or more, as it was at the Lay Lake Classic. During practice rounds, he found schools of spotted bass upriver feeding on baitfish in 4 to 8 feet of water.
Initially, he caught Lay Lake's bass on topwater baits, but that bite soon died. When the bass refused to respond to jerkbaits and crankbaits, Martens tied on a hair jig and cleaned house. It's unlikely that any competitor caught more bass during the 2002 Classic than Martens did on hair jigs. His three culled limits of spotted bass totaled 39-9.
These days, Martens fishes 1/4- to 3/4-ounce jigs generally used for striped bass, such as Bass Pro Shops Striper Bucktail Jig. As for colors, Martens relies mainly on white, white-and-black, and white with chartreuse back. At Lay Lake, with a marking pen, he put a black dot on each side of a white jig to emulate shad.
"I was pumping the jig pretty fast with a high rod tip at the Classic," says Martens. "I bounced the bottom with it most of the time, but I also caught bass swimming it up high. Sometimes bass like it when you just crank the jig straight in."
Martens slings hair jigs with a 6 1/2- or 7-foot medium action Megabass Diablo baitcasting rod, 14- to 16-pound Sun fluorocarbon line, and a high speed Daiwa reel.
Though hair jigs produce for Martens throughout the year, they see more action in the summer and fall when bass feed on baitfish. Anytime Martens sees bass boiling the surface, or graphs them around suspended baitfish, he gives a hair jig an opportunity to strut its stuff.
"I've also caught a lot of California bass just casting jigs down the bank," says Martens. "The bottom has to be fairly clean, because that exposed hook is bad about snagging."
Hair and feathers
Over the past five years, tied jigs have duped countless trophy smallmouth for Dale Hollow bass guide Ralph Sandfer and his clients. Sandfer ties his own hair and feather fixin's on white, 1/4-ounce ball-head jigs adorned with lifelike eyes. In the cold months, when smallmouth dine on baitfish, Sandfer dresses his jigs with white hair on top, blue or chartreuse hair on the bottom and duck feathers on the sides. When the jig hits the water, the hair folds around the duck feathers and becomes an exquisite baitfish imitation.
Sandfer works his jigs down rock walls and points with spinning tackle and 8-pound line.
"When you get into a big smallmouth on that kind of tackle, you better take your time getting him in," says Sandfer. "I've hooked bass on that jig that I just couldn't stop."
When the water warms, Dale Hollow's smallmouth bass prefer crawfish. Sandfer takes advantage of their cravings by switching to a hair jig made by Punisher Lures. Punisher jigs feature a two prong, plastic coated wire weedguard and acrylic craft hair that does not absorb water. Steve Headrick, president of Punisher Lures, has a unique insight about this material because he was formerly a fabric trim lab technician for Oshkosh B'Gosh.
"The modicrylic and acrylic fibers in my jigs have more action than living rubber," claims Headrick. "It swells out and floats in the water. It looks alive."
Headrick claims that legendary smallmouth angler Billy Westmorland used jigs tied with this material for many years. In fact, it was Westmorland who put Headrick on to the synthetic hair and taught him the rudiments of jig fishing.
"I fished as often as I could with Billy the last three years of his life," says Headrick. "He used a variety of retrieves for different conditions."
Headrick scores especially well on one of Westmorland's presentations when the water begins to warm in the spring. He lets the jig fall to the bottom, holds the rod straight out in front of him, and moves the jig by cranking two times on the reel. This makes the jig dart ahead and drop back to the bottom like a crawfish.
"Cranking doesn't pull the jig as high off the bottom as lifting it with the rod tip," says Headrick. "It's a more realistic action. And when a bass taps the jig, the rod is in the perfect position to set the hook."
Kentucky angler Rick Craft usually has largemouth in mind when he fishes tournaments on the Ohio River and other bass waters close to home. When a jig is the ticket, he opts for the Hammerin' Hare Jig, which has a body and kicker legs cut from a rabbit pelt.
"You have to soak the jig in water for about three minutes before you can use it," says Craft. "The tail has all the action and durability of a pork frog without the hassle of pork. You can also trim it to any length you want."
Because the Hammerin' Hare Jig comes with a stout hook and a fiber weedguard, Craft can pitch it into heavy cover. Just don't apply an oil base scent to this hair, since it will mat the fibers.
"I make the Punisher jig in nine crawfish colors because God gave crawfish the ability to change colors to blend in with nature," says Headrick.
Three or four days before and after a full moon, Headrick fishes a brown-and-orange, or an olive-and-orange jig. As the moon gets farther past full, he opts for black-and-red. On dark, new moon nights, he goes with dark brown or black. As the new moon graduates to a sickle moon, black-and-blue is the hot color.
"Those jig colors match the hues of the crawfish at those times," says Headrick. "That's why you need them all."