From a distance, it looks like Mark Menendez has lost his mind.
Coming around a corner to find the Kentucky pro jerking on his rod more often than an orchestra conductor flails the air is a little unnerving. Yet, there he was in one of the widest spots in massive Kentucky Lake seemingly setting the hook every few seconds.
In reality, Menendez will only set the hook about 40 times on this day.
There is a method in all of his thrashing around. At the bottom of the 22-foot water column lies a series of humps harboring bass. And Menendez was using the locally named "stroking" technique to trigger strikes with a rubber-skirted jig.
Stroking is just one tactic that will entice a reaction bite from bass relating to deep structure — and illustrates that jigs are more than just shallow water, heavy-cover tools.
"Deep water jig fishing is not a lost art, but it's not as easy as a Carolina rig," veteran North Carolina pro Marty Stone says. "But it works in some of the same places and actually, in my opinion, it can work faster and you can catch bigger fish."
Former Classic champion Ken Cook, another devotee of deep jigging, has a theory on why this is such a productive approach.
"Something about the quick motion triggers bass to strike," the Oklahoma pro notes. "I don't think you're fooling the fish into foraging; they simply react."
Proponents of this tactic most often practice it during the summer and early fall months. But Stone and Menendez look for it beginning immediately after the spawn, and throughout the summer and fall. Cook emphasizes that he routinely gets reaction strikes in the winter, but without the ultra-aggressive retrieves used during the warmer months — instead, he simply bangs the heavy jig around rocks and cover while keeping it closer to the bottom.
Here is a look at four ways of presenting a jig to get a positive response from deep water bass.
Don't be shy with this presentation. Rip the jig off the bottom for a reaction strike.
This technique, first popularized in the Kentucky Lake region, is the best-known method of violently fishing a jig to get a finny response.
"What the hopping or stroking of a jig does is get a reaction bite, which is exactly the same bite that you get in the springtime when you pitch a spinnerbait and roll it by a willow bush," Menendez explains. "An unsuspecting bass sees the spinnerbait and runs out there and gets it."
It begins with properly matched tackle. For Menendez, that includes a 1/2-ounce Strike King jig, 3X Craw or Chunk, 10-pound-test Shakespeare Supreme fluorocarbon line, high-speed Shakespeare President reel and 7-foot heavy action All Star rod.
"Being familiar with your drops, knowing where the bare spots are on the drops, current breaks, structure, cover — it's all important," he continues. "But this is all about getting the jig to fall and knowing what the jig is doing on every hop and every cast.
"I make a cast and let the jig go all the way to the bottom. After the jig hits bottom, I'll pick up on it just to see if a bass grabbed it on the initial fall. Then I drop my rod without reeling any line to about 10 o'clock and stroke it hard up over my shoulder. I'll have it actually behind my head —watching that line as it falls to the bottom again."
Menendez hardly ever feels a bite. Most often, he'll see his line jump as the bait settles back to the bottom.
For stroking, Menendez's color choices are black-and-blue in most situations, black-and-brown in clear water and straight brown in super-clear conditions. In the fall, when shad are especially prevalent, he occasionally presents an all-white offering.
Instead of stroking a bait off the bottom, try cutting the motion in half and using a bigger bait.
BIG JIG, LESS VIGOROUS
Marty Stone's adaptation of stroking includes a big 3/4- to 1-ounce jig (with a twin-tail type trailer), but usually doesn't come close to matching the vigorous rod action of Menendez.
"When my jig hits bottom, I want dirt flying everywhere," the two-time BASS winner says.
"When I work the jig, I'm probably going from 2 o'clock up to 12, and sometimes all the way to 11.
There's nothing finesse about the presentation.
"The best time to try this technique is when the water heats up. You get to predict or see the mood of the fish. Again, it usually involves water temp. When the water is in the 80s and they've been out there for a couple of weeks, you can catch them jerking."
Mike Auten is another Kentucky Lake angler who has gotten caught up in the stroking craze. But he has also worked other methods into his deep structure game plan.
"The other bite that is sometimes overlooked, especially on a place like Kentucky Lake where we hop a jig so much, is actually crawling a jig like a Carolina rig," he says.
"It depends on the mood of the fish. There are definitely times when they do not want it hopped up and snapped in front of their face."
Auten was taught this lesson by an amateur angler during an August tournament on his home lake. He has never forgotten it.
For crawling a jig in search of reaction bites, Auten utilizes a 3/8- to 1/2-ounce version with a Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits Double Tail Grub. It is important that the trailer offers a swimming action as it's dragged across the bottom because there is less opportunity for any sort of leg-kicking movement than when hopping.