Swimming a jig

A few anglers have practically given up on standard jigging

Late spring on Lake Texoma — Oklahoma pro Jeff Kriet has tires on his mind. Not the rubber tires on his truck or trailer, but the reefs of floating tires that protect many of the marinas on this huge, open water lake. Post-spawn bass suspend and feed there while regaining their strength before heading to deeper summer structure. After fishing the various breakwaters for several days, Kriet has caught so many fish his arms are tired.

Midsummer on Lake Dardanelle in Arkansas — B.A.S.S. pro Alton Jones has located bass in the shoreline vegetation known as water willow. He's casting into the thick greenery, then quickly jerking his lure back out so that it literally skips and jumps through the weeds, never sinking more than a couple of inches into the water. In just an hour, he's nailed three fish in the 5-pound range.

Autumn on Texas' Sam Rayburn Reservoir — Well-known lure manufacturer Lonnie Stanley is catching staging bass around underwater brush in Sam Rayburn's Veach Basin. The bass are preparing to move into the shallows, but they're not quite there, so Stanley is concentrating in 8 to 12 feet of water along the edges of the Basin's ditches.

These three veteran anglers, each a former Tournament Trail winner, may be fishing different reservoirs at various times of the year, but all are catching their bass using the same lure and technique: They're swimming a jig. The fact they're fishing such diverse cover in three different seasons illustrates just how productive this tactic can be.

"It's absolutely deadly when bass are suspended," says Stanley, "but it works in other conditions, too. Even in winter, when bass aren't very active, swimming a jig is worth trying. I remember the 1991 BASSMASTER Oklahoma Invitational on Grand Lake, when it barely rose above freezing all week. Ron Shuffield won with nearly 50 pounds, all by swimming a jig off a 12-foot ledge."

"Actually, I'm surprised more fishermen don't swim a jig," adds Jones. "But I'm glad they don't. It's not the easiest technique to learn because it's strictly a feeling process, but when it works, it can be spectacular."

Both hair and silicone skirt jigs can be used, although among the pros, the larger silicone skirted jigs are preferred. Jig weights for this technique range from as light as 3/16 ounce to as heavy as 3/4 ounce, and most pros add a fairly large plastic crawfish trailer, too. The trailer slows the jig's fall, and the legs or pincers provide some extra action.

Both casting and pitching presentations are used, depending on the type of cover being fished.

Essentially, swimming a jig is about covering water below the surface but still around cover; swimming expands the jig's range tremendously but still takes advantage of its ability to attract big bass, because of where it can be used.

While Kriet's favorite time to swim a jig is during the post-spawn, he acknowledges that on lakes with heavy vegetation, swimming a jig can also be a valuable early spring tactic to try in place of ripping a lipless crankbait or spinnerbait over the greenery.

"Basically, you try to swim the lure just over the top of hydrilla, milfoil or other vegetation, just like you normally fish a crankbait or spinnerbait," he explains. "These lures are pretty loud, and after you've been through a particular area, strikes are often hard to get because the bass are alerted.

"Besides, by the time you hear that bass are hitting lipless crankbaits, they've probably already been doing it for two weeks and may be getting tired of it. A jig has a much softer presentation, and it doesn't spook the fish as much."

Fishing a jig over submerged vegetation is one of the hardest of all the swimming jig presentations — the reason the lure is not often used in these conditions, says Kriet. The idea is to keep the lure moving steadily while just barely touching the top of the grass. If you feel the vegetation starting to grab the jig, speed up your retrieve, but if you can't feel any vegetation, slow your retrieve until you do. It's a constant balancing act.

With this retrieve, a 3/8-ounce jig will be a good starting point, with lighter or heavier jigs used according to water depth. Normally, a slow but steady retrieve works best, so if you're continually having to reel faster to keep the jig from snagging in the grass, you should change to a lighter one.

After spawning, bass move to deeper water, generally spending time at an intermediate depth, where they hold for several weeks before relocating in even deeper water for the summer. On Texoma and other lakes, the bass are famous for suspending under the long, floating tire reefs marina owners install to break the wave action.

"All we do is cast, let the jig sink a foot or so below the tires, and reel it back," Kriet explains. "It's usually a fast retrieve right along the edge of the tires, although I'll occasionally pop the jig with my rod tip just to provide some variety.

"The real key to this technique is locating baitfish around the tires, because the bass are there to feed. If the baitfish don't show up on my depthfinder, I don't fish the spot very long, although I will revisit it several times during the day."

For this technique, Kriet lets the aggressiveness of the bass determine his jig size. His favorite sizes are 1/4 and 5/16 ounce, and he usually adds a 4-inch crawfish trailer (white for increased visibility) to slow the jig's fall.

A variation of this pattern that Kriet often employs on other lakes during the summer is concentrating around boat docks. You can swim a jig under both floating and permanent structures, and use the same swimming and popping presentation. In most instances, he won't be able to see baitfish in the vicinity, but Kriet fishes the docks anyway. An added advantage of using a jig around docks is that a jig can be skipped underneath the structures to reach water other lures can't get to.

Later in the summer, swimming a jig can be a very effective technique around shoreline vegetation, and also around logjams and even laydowns, particularly in the upper portions of a lake, where current may help position fish. Jones learned about jig fishing the vegetation at Lake Dardanelle, where he believes the technique may have originated.

"Around that lake, and in many other Southeastern lakes, the shorelines sometimes have a growth known as water willow," Jones explains. "It's not a tree, but a heavy emergent vegetation that grows to a height of as much as 18 inches and sometimes out to a depth of 4 or 5 feet. It's too thick for spinnerbaits, but you can fish a jig through it."

Jones prefers a 1/2-ounce jig for shoreline vegetation, which he casts toward the shore, then retrieves with a series of quick jerks with his rod tip.

"The jig isn't really swimming when you do this," notes Jones. "It's more like skipping, and I think it makes the jig look like something trying to escape. Whenever you find a hole in the vegetation, you can stop and let the jig sink, but overall, you're just trying for a fast reaction bite. This type of vegetation often holds big bass, and a jig is really the only lure you can use to get to them."

Another summer technique Jones enjoys is swimming a jig around logjams, which are common in the upper portions of many lakes. He and a friend once caught five bass weighing more than 28 pounds in half an hour of swimming jigs around a logjam in Lake Waco, where Jones lives in Texas. What makes this experience notable is that at the same time, another angler was fishing the same logjam by flipping jigs between the logs, and he never had a strike.

"What is important in fishing this type of cover is swimming your jig parallel to the longest trees and logs, and just below them," says the 2000 MegaBucks winner. "Many of these logjams have become lodged in the bottom and form permanent structure and cover so they attract some resident fish. A swimming jig really looks like another baitfish to them."

Kriet used the same presentation around the laydowns and fallen timber on the Red River to win an Anglers Choice tournament there several years ago, boating more than 40 pounds of bass in two days.

"On lakes and river systems, like the Red River, that receive heavy fishing pressure, bass see too many spinnerbaits," says the Oklahoma pro. "A spinnerbait is the natural selection for most bass fishermen in backwater sloughs, and it does catch fish. But a jig gives the bass more of a finesse-type appearance and action they don't see very often.

"In fact, I rarely ever fish a jig on the bottom anymore. I use Carolina rig plastics for that. When I fish a jig, and I fish it a lot, I'm nearly always swimming it."

When you swim a jig down a log, says Kriet, it's important to keep the lure close to the target, even touching periodically during the retrieve. As he does when he's fishing docks or tire reefs, Kriet also likes to impart an occasional rod pop to make the jig jump, but he doesn't ever want the lure to sink more than a foot below the cover. Overall, his retrieve is a fast one, too.

"You can swim a jig around logs and laydowns and over submerged brush virtually anytime of the year, but it really works well in the fall," notes Lonnie Stanley, who finished second (also by swimming a jig) behind Shuffield during that infamous cold weather tournament on Grand Lake. "A lot of times, the shoreline brush will continue underwater out from the shore, and it doesn't get fished that much.

"With a jig (5/16 to 1/2 ounce), you can cast to the visible cover, then just swim it out right over the bushes or stumps. I use a steady retrieve and impart several little hops or jumps, and I may even hit those underwater bushes. When I want to drop the jig at the base of a bush, all I have to do is stop retrieving.

"You can't fish this type of cover as effectively with any other lure."

Overall, concludes Jones, the secret to successfully swimming a jig in any type of cover or at any time of year is lure awareness. "You have to be in control of your jig and know where it is, and that takes a lot of concentration," he points out. "Becoming truly confident and efficient with this technique is not going to happen on a single fishing trip. It's one you really have to work on.

"Crawling on the bottom, a jig may look like a crawfish, but when you swim a jig, you're imitating a shad or other baitfish. A swimming jig really does this very well, too, because you can change your retrieve to make the jig do things you can never do with any other type of lure."

Senior Writer Steve Price's book, Best Bass Tips, describes more than three dozen lure fishing techniques used by the pros in tournament competition. All lure categories are included, along with photos and illustrations.

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