Jigging might sound like the latest dance craze, but it’s really a style of fishing. Far from a new trend, jigging began well before the patent of the first bucktail jig lure, which was in the early 1940s. It’s a broad term that essentially means fishing with a jig style lure. It actually has more in common with dancing than you might think. A jig is a lively old dance commonly associated with sea shanties and Irish dancers. It typically involves a lot of kicking and up and down movement. When you fish with a jig, you pop the lure up and down in much the same way, making the lure dance for the fish, so to speak.
So, to discover what jigging when fishing is, we need to first explore what a jig lure is. There are several styles and types of jigs to choose from and most of them are fished in slightly different ways. You could use a bucktail jig, a swim jig, a casting jig, a flipping jig, a grass jig, a football jig, or a finesse jig. Fish with any of these, using the right technique, and you’re effectively “jigging.”
At this point, you might be thinking that they’re all just “flipping jigs” and you might as well have done with it and move to another style of fishing. But, learning to fish a jig will allow you to catch fish under nearly any conditions.
Jig lures are an essential part of any fishing arsenal and learning to fish them opens up a lot of fun opportunities.
In its most basic form, a jig is a hook with a lead head molded onto it. The shape of the jig head changes the way it moves through the water and acts around obstacles like weeds and rocks. You can break down the different head styles by where the line eyelet is located. Jigs with the eyelet on top of the head are designed to be fished vertically. Jigs with the eyelet on the tip of the nose are designed to be fished horizontally through the water.
Starting with the basic jighead, there are a few directions you can go. You can add a softbait to the hook and fish the lure that way, or you can add a skirt to the jighead, or you can do both. A skirt is a way to decorate the head so that it moves more convincingly in the water. Early skirts were made from animal fur, specifically deer fur. Jigs with this kind of skirt are called, appropriately, bucktail jigs. Now, you can find them in a myriad of different materials. Some have fur and feathers, some have only feathers, some have rubber strings, and others have tinsel and flash. The variety is practically endless.
Whether you choose to dress the jighead with a skirt or not, you can still attach some softbait to the hook. This can be strips of squid, pork rind, or worms if you like. You can also use something like the Berkely Gulp! series of lures that come in a soft multipack or floating in a jar with attractant juice.
If one jig isn’t enough, or you’re trying to mimic a school of baitfish, you can use an umbrella rig. This rig has three or more jigs on the same line. You’ll need hefty gear for this style, because it’s much heavier than a single jig, especially if you have five fish on the line! These are more commonly fished in saltwater, but not exclusively.
One form of jigging that’s been around much, much longer than bucktail lures is shore jigging. This style originated in Japan centuries ago. As you can guess from the name, shore jigging is done from the shore, usually around cliffs and jetties. You want deep water, heavy lures, and a spinning rod. Instead of going for distance when you cast, you only need to get far enough to clear the edge of whatever you’re standing on. Let the lure sink to the bottom, draw it up about two-thirds of the way, and drop it down again. Repeat the process until you hook a fish! This technique can land some pretty heavy fish like groupers, snappers, and bonito.
Jigging for bass is another story entirely. Most bass anglers use what’s called a baitcasting rig. These are heavy-duty poles equipped with a special style of reel. Baitcasting reels sit on top of the rod and have a window so you can control the speed of the line with your thumb. It takes more getting used to than fishing with a standard spinning reel, but it results in more accurate casts. The jigs used can be some of the largest lures around, upwards of nine ounces. Some are quite expensive too as several models cost in the hundreds.
There are many, many more jigging techniques out there. The point, with all of them, is to mimic the motions of a dying prey animal, whether that’s another fish, a squid, a crawfish, or even a duckling. Most anglers use a jerk, jerk, pause cadence, moving faster in warmer water and slower in cold water. Since fish can see the lure well in clear water, you can either go with a super-realistic lure or move it faster in the water so the fish don’t get a good look at it before they strike.
Making a Jig
Making your own jig can be just as fun as tying your own flies. You can handpick the materials you want, choose the head shape, and add modifications. If you’re just starting to tie jigs, there are kits available that come with all the materials you need, as well as instructions. Once you have the basics down, you can play with the different features until you end up with something that works.
To begin, you can either buy naked jigheads or pour your own from molten lead. If you go the latter route, be sure you’re taking precautions against lead poisoning and burns. You’ll start with a mold. It’s a good idea to heat up the mold by pouring a few hookless heads first. Once the lead has cooled, you can dip it in paint and add reflective eyes. You can also buy blank jigheads already cast and paint them yourself. The DIY jigging scene allows for creativity at all levels of the process.
After the head is ready, you can fish it the way it is, or add a skirt. Here’s where you can get really fancy with your materials. Fur, rubber, feathers, and dioptric strips of plastic can all be used (though maybe not on the same lure). You can also tie on a weed guard that will help keep your lure from getting snagged on underwater vegetation. Some outfitters are dedicated exclusively to jig-making materials and they’re easy to find online. YouTube offers a ton of tying videos so you can watch different wrapping methods and knots.
Catching Fish with Jigs
What kinds of fish can you catch with jigs? Nearly all of them. They’re such a versatile lure that you can fish everything from the smallest minnow to a monster tuna. You can fish in cold water, warm water, salt water, brackish water, and freshwater. It doesn’t matter if you’re in crystal clear water, or the muddy Mississippi. Now, can you fish all of these conditions with the same jig? Absolutely not. That’s why it’s a good idea to carry a few styles with you for different situations.
To get an idea of what to use where let’s take a look at that long list of jig styles we mentioned in the intro. Here are common jig types and where to fish them:
- Flipping style: The head of a flipping jig comes to a point. The line attaches to it through an eyelet at the point. It has a short, compact skirt and a heavy hook. These are great to use around grass and laydowns close to shore. They require a heavy rod and baitcaster reel.
- Football style: The head of a football jig is shaped like a football (and easy to remember). The head sits perpendicular to the hook shank. These are good over hard dropoffs further offshore. This shape makes it ideal for dragging across the bottom. Pair these with a long, flexible rod.
- Finesse style: This style of jig has a small profile with a round head, short skirt, and lighter hook. These are good in cold conditions or when the fish are feeling lazy. You can also use a lighter line and rod with this style lure.
- Grass style: Grass jigs have pointed, bullet-shaped heads. They’re also fairly compact and have the eyelet in the tip of the nose. All of them come with a weed guard because they’re meant to be dragged through the grass. These are good when the fish are sticking to heavy cover. Use heavy tackle and a stout hook.
- Casting style: The head of a casting jig is sloped upward like the prow of a boat. They have short, compact skirts and weed guards. As the name implies, they’re designed for long casts and slow retrieves.
- Swim style: These jigs have smaller, elongated heads with weed guards. Since they’re some of the lightest jigs, you can get away with using much lighter tackle. These guys move quickly through the water because of their streamlined profile.
Those are the ins and outs of fishing jigs. Variety and experimentation are your friends when it comes to figuring out the ideal jig for the right situations. So, go out there and have fun with it!
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