Three legendary jig kings, Denny Brauer, Dee Thomas, Mike
Iaconelli, talk temperatures, trailers and all things in between
by Dan Mathisen
Reprinted by permission of Bass
West USA Magazine.
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.
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
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
"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."
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
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.
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.
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
- 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.