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Jig Kingdom
by Dan Mathisen
Reprinted by permission of Bass West USA Magazine.

Three legendary jig kings, Denny Brauer, Dee Thomas, Mike Iaconelli, talk temperatures, trailers and all things in between in.

Every fall, anglers across the country anticipate the coming jig bite. Happens every year when the water turns cold, and it's a steady bite that can sometimes last months. It's fun fishing, too--pitching and flipping jigs to the spot-on-the spot within heavy cover. Some anglers stick with the same jig, retrieve or color combination every year, and stubbornly refuse to switch when fish turn off. Other anglers switch too often, and never reach a true confidence level with any particular size or style.

Blue, red, black or brown? Pork or plastic? Beefy 3/4- to 1-ouncers, or the more subtle 3/8- to 1/2-ounce jigs? Swimming retrieves or hops? All questions we wrestle with every year. Eventually, most of us land upon a combination that works. Here, we talk to three legendary jig sticks: Mike Iaconelli, Denny Brauer and Dee Thomas. They cover the country from East to South to West, and offer insight on some enduring jig enigmas.

Fish Like Mike

For years, jig retrieves varied slightly, and were invariably some incarnation of hopping the bait in short, deliberate movements, imitating a crawfish hopping up and down in a forward motion. Using this technique requires multiple casts to the same area, moving the bait just two or three times before casting again. But as we've recently learned, swimming the jig--working it like a reaction bait--is also deadly.

A couple years back, Michael Iaconelli brought this technique to the forefront, as anglers from across the country watched him qualify for the 1999 BASS Masters Classic. It's an awesome, powerful technique, and watching Mike work his jig technique in Louisiana and Illinois leaves no doubt, he's one of the lure's true masters.

Iaconelli started developing this technique on a local lake in upstate New York, and has been using it to fool fish in a lot of highly pressured waters in the East. "Swimming the jig is a great technique," says Iaconelli. "I like to fish with power, and swimming jigs is a great power pattern. With this technique, I can target suspended fish outside weedlines, on wood edges or off rock banks. It involves slowly pumping the jig horizontally through the water column in a waving motion."

Because this is a swimming technique, Iaconelli likes a big-action trailer. When using two-tone trailers, he rigs the light side toward bottom.

Iaconelli developed a very effective flat jig, called the Stone Jig, that's perfect for this application. It's also great for skipcasting. "The specially designed flat head of the Stone Jig allows it to skip across the water just like skipping a flat stone. To achieve this cast, I use a combination of the traditional pitch cast and a sidearm skipcast. This allows me to present the bait further back under and into cover. By purposely allowing the bait to hit the water a few feet before your target, you give it a chance to use forward momentum to skip back under objects.

"Depending on the area, I often use black/blue combinations, but I try to match the forage. For example, I find different white combinations work the best when matching shad. I really swim these longer, slender jigs, often working them like a jerkbait or a slow-rolling blade. This is really a sleeper pattern that not many anglers are going to, but when the pressure's on, it works. While most anglers work their jigs vertically in the water column, these horizontal jig presentations trigger some violent strikes."

Brauer Talks Benefits

Denny Brauer is another modern jig master. He comments that in his seminars, the most-asked question is always: Do you prefer pork or plastic trailers behind jigs? "For years," says Brauer, "my first answer was I do prefer pork trailers. But now, with the advances in plastic trailers, plastic has really become my first choice."

Brauer adds, "I tend to use plastic consistently in water that is 55 degrees and warmer. When it is cooler, or the fish are less aggressive, I lean toward the pork. With all of these trailers, I try to match the jig color. For example, I will put a black trailer behind a Texas Craw or black-and-blue Strike King Pro Model jig. Also, I always hook my trailers through the thick side first."

Despite his preference for pork over the years, "The primary advantage of plastic trailers comes when it's more difficult to match the jig color with pork. One example is a pumpkin/green-flake jig. It's impossible to color pork in this way, so I use a plastic trailer. You're often matching forage, so matching the color is important, and it's not very often you see forage with split colors presented vertically.

"Although these are my rules-of-thumb for choosing a trailer, the most important rule of thumb is to always let the fish tell you what they want."

Dee Thomas: Technical Notes

In the West, one of the true jig masters is Fishing Hall of Famer Dee Thomas. With too many accomplishments to mention, this old dog can teach us some new tricks.

Plastic or pork? According to Thomas, "It depends on the time of the year. I'll start off using pork when the water temperature is in the high-40s to low-50s. I'll use pork as the water temperature continues to rise into the high-50s and low-60s before I switch to plastic trailers. Plastic won't dry out in the heat; plus, I can constantly change up and use different baits."

As the water continues to warm, Thomas says, "I'll take a jig, whether it's hair, rubber or even vinyl, and put a Yamamoto or Kalin grub on it and turn it into a swim-type bait. That's a jig you can use all summer long and into the fall, when the water temperature starts to drop." Then the cycle repeats itself.

Thomas adds, "When they get on the jig bite, a full-blown bite, it's generally when the water drops to the mid-50s to high-40s, and I'll go with the jig all the time. You'll catch bigger fish on a jig, and there is a lot of fish shallow when the water is cool."

What size when? For the fall, Thomas offers this guidance. "I'll use a small-body, 1/4-ounce jig with a large pork trailer, like a No. 10 Uncle Josh Big Daddy or Zoom Super Chunk. The large trailers help suspend the bait and give it a fluttering action. The presentation becomes much like a Senko, and other baits that float to the bottom fairly slowly. The fish will climb all over it pretty good then.

"In cooler water temperatures, I'll generally fish a 1/2-ounce jig paired with a No. 11 piece of pork."

As far as colors, Thomas keeps everything real simple. "It's either black or brown, or an occasional piece of purple. I learned a long time ago that lures catch fishermen. I keep it simple and stick with the basics."

In summary, when the water is cooler, it's best to try a pork trailer. It'll give the jig a slower, more seductive look, and bass will hold on a little longer. As the water warms up, try plastic for color variation, ease of change and a quicker retrieve. The size of the trailer also plays a part: use a larger trailer in dirtier water, for more displacement and vibration, or anytime the jig needs to linger in the strike zone. Plus, go horizontal. Change up your retrieve and try swimming jigs--the results will more than surprise you.

Trailering Tips

  • The trailer, along with the skirt and weight of the jig, plus the hook weight, all play a part in how fast the jig falls. In shallow water, a slower-falling jig will generate more strikes. yet, it's sometimes very tough in shallow water, with heavy cover, to find the right combination--the lighter jig will fall more slowly, but may not penetrate the cover. Find the right combination, and remember it.
  • Concerning the position of the trailer, contention abounds. Brauer believes in rigging the fat side down. "Always put the fat side of the trailer away from the point of the hook," he says. "When the jig is in the water, the fat side should be on bottom. This decreases the odds of the trailer flipping forward and getting caught on the hook." However, Thomas strings trailers with the thick side up, so both styles work. Find the rigging method you're most comfortable with.
  • When using two-tone trailers, rig the lighter side facing down. Most prey species have light bellies.
  • Some trailers will slide up the hook shank from time to time. Just put a piece of plastic worm, or surgical tubing, behind it to stop it from sliding. Match the color if possible.
  • Thick pork trailers sometimes pose problems with hooksets. Try to use a wide-gap hook. Also, don't be afraid to trim some pork.
  • Try to minimize splash. One tip from Dee Thomas, to help "glide" the jig into the water, is to raise the rod tip slightly just before the lure contacts the surface. Precision casting will improve your jig game tenfold.
  • Try using plastic craws, or worm/craw hybrids, for trailers. When resting on bottom, claws often float up, imitating a crawfish in the defensive position.

Reprinted by permission of Bass West USA Magazine.

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