Have you tried the fluff?

If you’ve watched Bassmaster LIVE when the summer smallmouth tournaments are going on over the past several seasons, it’s not uncommon to see anglers quickly unhook their big smallmouth and flip their bait back into the water as you’re trying to make out exactly what tricked the fish into biting. If it’s something small and black, I can almost guarantee you it’s a small marabou hair jig, one of the best smallmouth baits of all-time.

Growing up fishing Lake of the Woods in Northern Ontario, I was introduced the marabou jig, or the fluff as it is now often referred to, as a kid. While our season is short, we have a number of good tournaments throughout the summer months, which is where I caught the bug for competitive fishing at an early age. As a youngster, maybe some of the competition felt the need to help me out, but I was shown the marabou jig and its effectiveness for shallow-water smallmouth when I was around 13 or 14 years old. All these years later, I have probably caught more 4 pound-plus fish on a fluff than any other bait.

When I mention the marabou jig’s effectiveness in shallow water, I’m talking 12 feet and less. Sure, you can catch fish using it in deeper water, but shallow is where it shines. For the most part, three sizes are used the most — 1/16, 3/32 and 1/8 ounce. I use the 3/32 the most, relying on the 1/16 if fish are higher in the water column or I’m fishing under 5 feet. I’ll go up to the 1/8 if I want to get down a little deeper or I’m battling wind and current.

The key with fishing these small finesse jigs is to never let them hit the bottom. The effectiveness comes from simply gliding or swimming them through the water column. As you fish with them, you’ll start to get a feel for where they are in the water column. As a general rule, I like to keep them in the middle. What I mean is if the water is 6 feet deep, I want to run my jig around 3 feet. If it’s 10 feet deep, I’ll try and run it around 5 feet.

Since most smallmouth water in the North features clear water, you can often see things as they are happening. These jigs are great for casting at smallmouth holding around cover like boulders, logs, grass clumps and even docks. Cast past the cover and swim the jig near it. If there is a smallmouth hiding around it, you’ll probably get their attention very quickly. These jigs are easy to fish because you simply reel them slowly, similar to a spy bait, making them great for covering water on vast flats, which is how we see anglers using them on the Great Lakes.

One of the questions I’m asked the most is, “What do you think the bass think that jig is?” Obviously, it could be a small bug or a leech, but I like to use the analogy that these marabou jigs are like an after-dinner mint, where a spinnerbait or a topwater might be more like a steak. My experience is, if you put these little jigs in front of them and they don’t know you’re there, you’re going to get a bite.

While these jigs can be found in many colors, 90% of my selection is black. Black just seems to work everywhere, and I’ve never really experienced another color working better. That being said, I have caught fish on white and brown, and olive-colored jigs can be effective when the mayfly hatches are going on.

These jigs do require some specific equipment to get the most out of them. You want to use a longer, softer-action rod that will give you the ability to launch these jigs out there and then not tear the small hooks out of the fish’s mouth as you battle them. The G. Loomis NRX+ 901 (7-foot, 6-inch light action) is my go-to rod for this technique. I like a 3000 sized reel like a Shimano Exsence that can hold a good amount of line. I’ll spool up with 8-pound Power Pro Braid and then use an FG knot to attach an 8-pound Mastiff fluorocarbon leader.

As far as jigs go, the guys at Northland Fishing Tackle have crafted up what I think is the best marabou jig you can buy. I have made my own for years, but I just use the Northland ones now, which come two to a pack, feature a Gamakatsu hook and are tied with premium marabou feathers.

If you are fishing in smallmouth country this summer, give these little after-dinner mints a try.