Casting Jigs: The Lost Art

Stacey King is old school, so he knows about fishing jigs the "old-fashioned way" — by casting them. The 56-year-old pro fished his first BASS event in 1986 and was tormenting Missouri bass long before pitching and flipping were fashionable."Casting jigs really has become a lost art," he says. "You don't see many anglers doing it, yet there are situations when it's absolutely the best way to catch fish."King says that flipping and pitching definitely belong in many shallow fishing situations, such as when bass are holding tight to heavy cover. But when the fish are roaming flats, in deep water, or when the water is clear, presenting jigs from afar is a technique that many anglers overlook.Mark Tucker, an Elite angler from Missouri who has scored high finishes on the Tour by casting jigs to structure, agrees wholeheartedly."Most people prefer to use soft plastics or crankbaits in those scenarios, so those fish don't see many jigs," explains Tucker. "With the pressure on today's lakes, a different presentation can give you an important edge."

 Jigs, say the pros, imitate crawfish; therefore they should be presented close to the bottom. There are times when swimming a jig through the water column produces, but dragging or hopping the lure over bottom is deadly year-round.

"I always prefer casting a jig where you find a lot of crawdads," adds Chad Brauer, another Missourian. "And if the water is clear or cold, that makes casting even more effective."Jig fishing is best suited for hard bottoms where crawfish are most prolific. Transitions, such as where the lake floor changes from clay to gravel or from boulders to sand can be even better, adds Tucker."That's why electronics are so important anytime you're fishing," he notes. "If you're graphing an area and the bottom suddenly changes, you're in the right area to fish a jig."The overhand cast enables anglers to keep their distance from fish in clear, shallow water, and provides a more natural presentation that won't spook them."If there is a lot of brush, then I might pitch the jig to the targets," says Brauer. "But if the cover is scattered, casting is my first choice when the water is clear."Tucker believes many anglers avoid casting jigs around cover for fear of snagging them. That's a mistake."The jig is as good of a bait for fishing around cover as anything," he explains. "With practice, you learn how to finesse the bait through cover. You might hang up occasionally, but the fish you can catch make it worth the hassle."This horizontal presentation can make a difference in how many fish bite, says King. During a Bassmaster event on Toledo Bend a few years ago, he found fish holding around stumps and root wads in 9 to 12 feet of water."I tried pitching a jig and letting it fall into the cover, but the fish wouldn't bite," he explains. "I backed off about 40 feet, began casting a 1/2-ounce jig with my flipping stick, and they ate it. I'd pull it around the cover and shake it, just like you might do in flipping, and that's what it took to trigger the bites."King also says spotted and smallmouth bass tend to be easier to catch with casting techniques rather than pitching."Back off and you'll get more bites," he insists. "You can't get over the top of those fish like you can largemouth."Most pros prefer casting jigs to deep structure such as bluff banks, rocky points, creek channel bends and grasslines.Brauer says casting a jig to bluff banks allows him to cover all depths. Although his boat may be sitting over 30 feet of water, he can fish the bait from 1 foot to 25."If you fish a crankbait, you're not going to keep the bait near bottom all the way to the boat," he describes. "You can crawl a jig on bottom all the way back to the boat by turning the reel handle slowly and shaking the rod tip periodically to give it a lifelike crawfish action."
Californian Skeet Reese says casting jigs to deep, outside weed edges also is a good alternative when the water is too deep to flip or pitch."Big bass will hold in sparse patches of grass that grow just off the main weed edge, and the jig is a good way to get them to bite," he explains. "That's where I cast a heavy jig that falls fast and triggers reactionary strikes when I hop it. That works great when the water is warm."The jig also is a good alternative to the Carolina rig when the bass are biting the sinker instead of the bait, a phenomenon that can drive anglers crazy."When getting sinker bites and missing fish on a Carolina rig, I'll go to a big jig and crawl it along the bottom just like I would the Carolina rig," offers Arkansas pro Stephen Browning. "I may hop it occasionally to make it look like a crawfish trying to escape, but most of the time I just drag it to make it look like a crawfish scooting on the bottom."Many pros say jig casting can be deadly for catching bass suspended around dropoffs or ledges.

At a Bassmaster event on Smith Lake, Ala., a few years ago, Tucker found spotted bass holding on stair-step ledges. He cast a 5/16-ounce jig on 10-pound line and used a "parachuting" technique that he says keeps the bait in the strike zone longer. It's deadly when the water is cold and the bass won't chase a bait to the bottom."I let the bait fall to a ledge, pulled it to the edge, held my rod tip upward and put tension on the line so I could control the fall," he describes. "I didn't want the jig to plummet to the next ledge because it would fall through the fish too quickly. By controlling the fall, I enticed the suspended fish into biting. It was the only way to get those fish to bite."Tucker says most fish hit jigs on the fall, yet many anglers don't know they've had a bite because they're not paying attention. He says you must know how deep the water is, watch the line where it enters the water, and make sure the bait makes it to the bottom."I rarely feel a bass hit my jig; I just notice that the line stops sinking before it should," he explains. "I hold the line between my fingers in front of the reel so that I can detect any change in tension that might indicate a bass has the bait."Brauer agrees that strikes are more subtle when casting jigs than they are when flipping jigs in shallow water."A lot of times your bait feels like it's picked up a leaf or a twig — just some very unusual weight that wasn't there before," he notes. "You should set the hook on anything that doesn't feel right, and don't be surprised if you hook a big fish. They often transmit the softest bites."

 THE RIGHT JIG FOR THE JOB

 
Lay a flipping jig next to a casting jig and you probably won't notice much difference.

 That is, until you try to fish them.

 Flipping jigs are armed with thick, strong hooks to withstand powerful hook sets and help horse bass out of heavy cover. That's ideal when making short line presentations to shallow water bass around cover.

 However, if you try to set the hook on that same jig with several feet of line between you and the lure, the hook may not penetrate properly.That's why casting jigs usually feature a lighter hook. "The hooks on flipping jigs are stronger, but that can work against you when there's a lot of line between you and the fish," ex­plains pro Stacey King, who designed Bass Pro Shops' Laser Eye Jig for casting. "There's more stretch in longer sections of line, especially with monofilament, so you need a hook that penetrates easily, but one that is not so small it bends on big fish."

If you're fishing finesse jigs on light line, you need a lighter wire hook. With fishing line 14-pound or heavier, a standard hook will suffice.Brushguards are another key issue. Thick brushguards found on most flipping jigs can interfere with the hook set on a casting jig. King often trims some of the strands out of a brushguard when fishing sparse cover.

 Head design is important, too. Most jigs are designed to pull through cover but some hang up less than others. Also, jigs with blunt heads that bounce through brush will hang up in grass. In the latter instance, a cone or bullet-shaped head with the line tie on the nose passes through grass more freely.Chad Brauer of Missouri prefers the Strike King Premier Jig, noting that the rattles built into the jig help fish locate the lure on deep bottoms."The best advice I can give jig casters is to find one jig they like and stick with it," he offers. "Every jig has a different feel when crawled over bottom, so if you fish the same model all the time, you become intimately familiar with its subtleties. That will help you detect bites better."Most pros dress their jigs with soft plastic crawfish-style trailers. Color choices are the same ones that they use for flipping and are chosen on the basis of water clarity and personal preference. And because the jig resembles a crawfish, browns and greens are good choices.

 PICKING LINE

Line is an issue because many pros believe smaller line imparts more action in the bait when fished along the bottom. It also helps the bait fall faster, yet too small of a line will result in break-offs when fishing around heavy cover.

Also, fluorocarbon is gaining popularity among jig casters because it has less stretch, more sensitivity and is less visible in clear water. Whichever you choose, cut and retie often because dragging it along a rough bottom will ­produce nicks and weaken the line.

 WHEN TO PULL OUT THE PIGSKIN

 The football head has become popular with jig casters dragging jigs over deep rocks. The broad head hugs the bottom and transmits any change in composition."It comes through rocks pretty well, and you can feel bottom changes better, such as when there's a transition from big rock to pea gravel or some other change," explains pro Mark Tucker. "By being able to feel what's down there, you know whether the spot has potential."Tucker believes the football's rocking action resembles that of a crankbait wobbling along the bottom — a feature that entices more strikes."The football head kicks up silt off the rocks and makes a lot of commotion," adds Tucker, who designed The Big Time Football Jig for Team Supreme.He throws a 3/8-ounce version for shallow gravel bottoms but increases to a 3/4 ounce in deep water.

 

 

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