Sink Or Swim
Today’s pro anglers defy tradition by swimming jigs near the surface for big bass bites
Jigs have traditionally been lures you hop, skip or drag over the bottom. But many of the country’s most successful bass fishermen have thrown tradition out the window. They now swim jigs near the surface as much as they fish them on the bottom.
One of these anglers is bass pro Sam Newby of Pocola, Okla. I watched him swim a jig a few years ago while he was competing in a June FLW Tour bass tournament on the historic Potomac River. I was riding in an official camera boat, and we found Newby fishing a shallow flat lush with lily pads and patches of hydrilla.
We got close enough to see Newby was casting a black jig dressed with a blue, twin-curlytail grub. Newby quickly cranked in the jig the moment it hit the water. The lure zipped along only a few inches beneath the surface, and it appeared to be moving almost too fast for a bass to catch it.
When Newby swam the jig past small points and pockets in the vegetation, however, a hefty largemouth would pounce on it with a vengeance. Newby culled a nice limit of bass on all four tournament days and claimed sixth place.
Because the Potomac is a tidal river, Newby had to deal with water level fluctuations every day. He caught most of his bass during low tide, when the water on the flat was only about 18 inches deep. The bite slowed at high tide when the depth on the flat increased to 3 feet. This isn’t surprising because jig-swimming is generally at its best in shallow water.
A swimming jig normally won’t pull bass up from water much deeper than about 4 feet. That’s because it doesn’t vibrate like a crankbait, flash like a spinnerbait or make a commotion on the surface like a topwater plug. The latter lures call out to bass and draw them from greater distances. A swimming jig is essentially a “sight lure.” If it doesn’t pass within a bass’ range of vision, it goes unnoticed.
So, why swim a jig? Because today’s heavily pressured bass soon grow leery of lures that wiggle, flash and splash. A subtle swimming jig isn’t intimidating, yet it sparks reflex strikes because it moves so fast.
The Right Water At The Right Time
The flat bottom of Booyah's Swim'n Jig allows it to glide just under the surface, producing explosing topwater strikes.
Jig-swimming works best in clear water and in stained water that has at least 1 foot of visibility. It does poorly in muddy water.
Newby fares especially well swimming a jig soon after the bass spawn. This happens in May and June in much of the country.
“I’ve got that technique penciled in for that time of year,” Newby said. “When bass get back to feeding after they spawn, they’ll crush a swimming jig.”
A 7-foot, heavy-action Fenwick Techna AV bait-casting rod handles Newby’s jig-swimming chores. He matches the rod with a fast 6.4:1 gear ratio Abu Garcia Revo reel filled with 20-pound Berkley Trilene 100-percent fluorocarbon line.
Newby knots the line to a half-ounce homemade jig he uses for swimming, skipping and pitching applications. He calls it his all-purpose jig. It has an inset line eye, a brush-style hook guard, a silicone skirt and a 40 degree rise to its nose. He threads a soft-plastic bait onto the hook, such as the 4-inch twin curlytail he used at the Potomac. These days he favors Berkley’s 4-inch Chigger Craw, which has large pinchers that flap wildly back and forth behind a swimming jig.
As for colors, Newby tries to match what the bass are eating. If the forage is bluegills, he often goes with a black jig and a blue trailer. For crawfish, he might choose brown and red hues. If the bass are on shad, he opts for a white trailer.
“I usually go with contrasting colors, say, a black jig with a blue trailer,” Newby said. “At the Potomac River, I started by swimming a black on black jig. But, I didn’t start catching bass until I switched to a blue trailer.”
Evers’ Swim’n Jig Tactics
Several companies now make jigs specifically for swimming, such as the Booyah Swim’n Jig. Its arrowhead-shaped head features a flat bottom and a line tie that’s in line with the hook’s shank. This design glides through thick cover, and it lets you plane the jig on the surface, a ploy that sometimes produces explosive topwater bites.
The Swim’n Jig also has a weed guard, a silicone skirt, two rattles and a strong, XCalibur Tx3 point, triple-cutting-edge hook. It comes in one-quarter-, three-eighths- and one-half-ounce sizes. This is the jig Oklahoma’s Edwin Evers relies on when he fishes Bassmaster Elite Series tournaments. He goes with whatever size jig matches the speed the bass want on any given day. The heavier the jig, the faster he can retrieve the bait and keep it under the surface.
“Don’t be afraid to move it fast,” Evers said. “This is a speed deal. Faster is often better than slower. Jig-swimming will wear you out if you’re not used to doing it.”
Swimming a jig produces bass for Evers spring through fall, if he can find shallow bass. And, it pulls bass from any cover, including all types of aquatic vegetation, flooded trees and bushes, stumps, laydowns, brush piles, docks, rocks.
Savvy fishermen like Edwin Evers are breaking with tradition and swimming jigs up near the surface.
An exception to the shallow water rule is when shad spawn around floating docks in late spring. The shad swim up near the surface and scatter their eggs around the foam blocks that support the docks. This activity happens mainly during the first hour or two of daylight. The bass suspend a few feet under the docks. Here, they can pick off the shad, and you can pick off the bass with a swimming jig.
“Some of my best jig-swimming days have come on floating docks sitting over 40 to 60 feet of water,” Evers said. “The water’s deep, but the shad and the bass are up around the docks.”
Evers has won a pile of money by swimming jigs around floating docks when shad are spawning. He retrieves the jig parallel to the edges of the docks and just above the depth where the jig disappears from his sight. This is generally 1 to 2 feet deep. Although some fishermen claim they do well swimming jigs in especially clear water, Evers prefers stained water that has a visibility of 2 to 4 feet.
“I haven’t done that well swimming jigs in super-clear reservoirs like Table Rock,” Evers said.
When he’s not fishing floating docks, Evers rarely catches bass deeper than 5 feet with the jig-swimming tactic. Most of his bass come less than 3 feet deep. However, he remembers a February outing to Lake Amistad on the Texas-Mexico border. Amistad is known for producing heavyweight bass, and Evers found them in flooded scrub trees standing in 6 to 7 feet of water.
The bass were in the prespawn phase, and they were eager to feed. The water was deeper than Evers likes for jig-swimming, but he tried it anyway. This proved to be a wise decision. As he swam his jig through the tops of the scrub trees, 5- to 7-pound bass repeatedly pounced on it.
Because a swimming jig appeals to heavyweight bass in cover, Evers fishes it on a 7-foot, medium-heavy-action bait-casting rod with a high speed reel and 50-pound braided line. The jig moves so fast the line’s visibility isn’t a factor. And, the strong, no-stretch line helps Evers quickly wrestle bass away from the cover.
Evers dresses his swimming jigs with either a 4-inch Yum Muy Twintail Grub or a 3.75-inch Yum Craw Papi. The Craw Papi’s oversized pincers flap incessantly and increase the appeal of a swimming jig.
“I use a brown or a black-and-blue jig and trailer when I’m trying to imitate a bream or crawdad trying to get away,” Evers said. “If the bass are feeding on shad, I switch to white.”
Many fishermen swim jigs with a steady retrieve and let the trailer provide all the action. However, Evers shakes and pumps his jig throughout the retrieve. This makes the jig pulse up and down 3 to 5 inches and causes the skirt to constantly flare open and shut. Evers is convinced this kind of action catches more bass, provided you don’t set the hook too soon.
“If you jerk too soon, you’ll pull the jig right out of their mouths,” Evers said. “Hold off on the hook set until they turn. Then you’ll be in business.”
Jig Fishing Techniques
by Steve vonBrandt
Today's soft plastic lure market is booming with new styles and colors of baits, but when you are looking for the biggest bite of the day, the fish that consistently win tournaments; then anglers in the know go to the bait that has been proven over time to catch the biggest bass; the venerable jig-and-pig. 20 years ago, this bait was reserved for the sluggish bass, or for fishing in the heaviest cover, or for bottom fishing techniques. Today, this bait is being used at all times of the year, in a variety of different fashions.
This bait has remained relatively the same over the past 30 years. It has gone through some cosmetic changes, such as better hooks, livelier skirts, and a broader spectrum of colors and sizes, along with plastic trailers, which enable a wider variety of color options, but this bait, dressed with either plastic or pork, continues to catch bigger bass when other baits fail. Because of the popularity of the flipping technique used by most of the veteran anglers today, the jig has remained among the most popular baits in many anglers tackle boxes. Because of so many recreational anglers concentrating on the flipping technique, the jig's universal effectiveness has been overlooked. Many people have forgotten that casting a jig is an effective technique also.
The jig can be presented at a lot of different depths and around a variety of structure. You are really limiting yourself if you only focus on the flipping aspect of it. Many times during the summer months, we have come in behind other anglers flipping obvious targets, or casting more traditional summer lures, and we have caught bass making roll casts, looking for isolated pieces of cover that other anglers have missed.
Jig sizes have changed in recent years, along with skirt material and colors. The 3/8 ounce size remains the most popular, with smaller versions are being used more and more with great success. The smaller finesse type of jigs are much more effective in clear water, while the heavier, bulky versions are great for fishing stained to muddy water. Not that the heavier jig isn't effective in some shallower, open water, but a more compact 1/2 ounce bait is more effective.
This is especially true when fishing some of the finger lakes of New York State, or any of the waters where smallmouth bass are also present. The heavier jig is more effective when the bass are aggressive, as it allows you to fish it faster and cover more water
When the fish are suspended, or you need to keep it in the strike zone longer, the lighter jig is more effective. We always keep experimenting with several sizes, letting the bass tell us what they want. In the summer months, when we swim the jig around boat docks, we opt for the lighter 1/4 ounce size, with a plastic trailer, to imitate a crawfish or baitfish. Swimming the jig is a very effective technique that is overlooked by many weekend anglers. Most small jigs don't have a big enough hook to handle quality bass, which is why we use a Strike King Bitsy Bug. We have been using this bait since 1998, when we had great success with it in several local tournaments in cold water as well as in the summer
The Bitsy Bug has a bigger hook than most, and it handles larger bass well. In warmer, clear water, we like to use a grub or swimming worm as a trailer, this is very effective when you are trying to imitate a crawfish. In colder, or more stained to muddy waters, we like a bulkier trailer, as they displace more water and make it easier for the bass to home in on the bait. The design of the jighead is another thing you have to think about. They need to be matched to the type of cover you are fishing. A jig that has a head that is more pointed, with its eyelet coming out of the front rather than the top, is going to pull through weeds better than a broad shouldered jig. We like to use a Jungle Jig, by Northland for this. This is one of the jigs that helped us win the Big Bass World Championship several times. It was very effective here in the Northeast, in some of the heavier, weedy cover. When we fish around rocks and wood, we use a jig with more shoulders to help stop it sometimes.
Many companies make this type of football or stand up jig, which is great for these situations. When you pull it over an object, the jig tips, adding more action. We have used these jigs effectively on many of New Jersey's reservoirs such as Spruce Run. You must also match the size of the line to the size of the jig hook you are using. A heavy-duty jig hook requires a stronger hook set, so you need heavier line to handle it. Of course, it helps to know when you're getting a bite. Big bass really thump a jig with the same vigor they do a plastic worm, and many other strikes are felt simply as spongy sensation, or just like you're dragging weeds. That's why it is important to set the hook on anything that feels unnatural, it could be weeds, or it could be a 7 pounder!
While a black and blue jig seem to be the favorite, we like to match jig colors to the water conditions. A dark colored jig with a big crawfish trailer, moving on the bottom, does a great job imitating a crawfish, but a white jig swimming over cover and around boat docks does a good job of imitating a baitfish. This is great when bass want a slower presentation, or when you can't fish a crankbait or jerkbait with ease. Many times when bass are feeding on shad, but want a slower presentation than a spinnerbait, this is the best choice. It can also catch the bigger bass, that are ignoring the spinnerbait. We like the plastic trailers in the summer months, and the pork in the winter. Pork is more pliable in cold water, while plastic gets stiff. In places where many anglers cast tubes or small finesse worms, such as clear water flats, we cast jigs in neutral colors, and catch bigger bass. Many times when bass ignore other baits, the jig will trigger a strike. This is also a great bait for night fishing. You can view jig fishing videos on our YOUTUBE CHANNEL
I believe that all anglers have heard the term barometric pressure more then a few times in their lives. Many people say it's extremely important while many others ignore it and say that it really isn't an important factor when it comes to bass fishing (or any type of fishing for that matter). Before we discuss whether it is important or not, we have to know what it is. Without getting too technical: What the heck is the barometer and barometric pressure anyway? Barometric pressure is simply another term for atmospheric pressure (a.k.a. air pressure). It is the force that the air above us exerts on us and the environment around us.
The Barometer is simply the device used to measure the barometric pressure. Does it really matter to us? As bass fisherman, understanding the environmental conditions in and around the body of water we are fishing and their effect on the bass are crucial if we want to succeed. Temperature, time of year, fronts, cloudy/sunny days, wind, cover, structure, type of the body of water etc all tie together when figuring out bass. Whether you are a firm believer or not on the barometric pressure's effect on the fish, Through my years of bass fishing, I have noticed that the barometric pressure has a profound effect on bass and you may not even realize it. While you may not look at the actual measurements, observant anglers will notice the effects of the barometric pressure and it's changes. So what does it do? Stormy and non-stormy, bright sunny days both have a dramatic effect on the bass. When a storm or front is moving in ,THE BAROMETER DROPS (and the bass feel that change) and when you have a bright, sunny day, THE BAROMETER RISES (the bass obviously react to that too). In the summer, the warmer phases of the prespawn, the postspawn, and in early to mid fall, fishing right before or as a storm is rolling in will generally result in the bass going on a feeding rampage. Especially in the summer, (but also in the other warm parts of the year) as soon as I feel the weather/cloud cover change to more cloud cover and even better, if the temperature drops, I love to move shallow and break out my topwater and other moving baits. More times than not, they crush faster lures and topwaters (some days are weird so it's never a 100% guarantee this will happen).
These conditions indicate a DROP IN THE BAROMETER. They know that once the front passes they will not feed as much and hunker down in heavy cover because the conditions will be unfavorable. So in order to prepare for the bad conditions ahead, they go on a heavy feeding spre to stock up for the passing of the storm or front. Now when that storm or front passes and the sun is high and bright and THE BAROMETER RISES, they will hunker down and avoid the harsh UV rays. Bass do not have eyelids or a nice pair of Costas or Oakleys so they have to adapt (smallies generally prefer the sun in contrast to largemouths). So how about the colder parts of the year like winter, late fall, iceout, and the early stages of prespawn?
These times of the year I generally find to be a bit different. Regardless of the sun bothering their eyes, their first concern is getting into warmer water to feed and depending on if the spawn is a factor, to start making beds and go on the spawn migration. So a lot of times, I think in the coldest parts of the year the bass will feed more on those sunny, HIGH BAROMETRIC PRESSURE DAYS as the sun warms the body of water quicker and thus warming up these cold- blooded bass. Consistent weather (and especially warm, consistent weather and conditions) these times of the year really help the bass feed more. To conclude: While you may not look directly at the barometer, remember that the barometric pressure goes hand and hand with fronts and storms, both of which have a massive effect in bass behavior and movement.