Hello! If you've been reading my other
articles, it's no surprise for you to hear me say, "I like
my jigs." Whether tube jigs, hula-skirted jigs, chunky
jig 'n pigs, hair jigs (always with thin pork strips), or single
tail grubs or worms, I like my jigs
One kind of jig I am especially
fond of is the darter jig. Not because it catches more
fish than other jigs (although at times it does catch more), but
because a good darter jig darts from side to side. To me, this is
a thing of beauty that belongs in a fine art museum!
No other jig does that! In fact,
even many so-called darter jig heads do NOT dart either! So
that's rule number one about darter jigs:
Rule #1: If it looks like a
darter jig, the package says it's a darter jig...but it doesn't
dart? Sorry, it's not really a darter jig.
If you want a true darter head
you must wade through the wanna-be's until you find one that is
"center-balanced". That is, if you hung it on the line,
it would hang as perfectly level as the scales of justice. To get
more of a darting action, you may also need to shear off the
collar behind the head and dispose of the trimmings properly.
Next, take time to test swim each head weight with different
brands/sizes of soft lures. You are looking for the head to
create a darting action. The best test lures are single tail
grubs from 3 to 5 inches. Some grub models require the tail
rigged down, some up. Sometimes, you've got to rig the grub on a
slant as you see in some of the photos. When you get the perfect
head and tail paired up right, these dogs will hunt in a zig-zag
manner on a slow, steady retrieve without any rod action! Now
you've got a true darter jig, and on a longer line billowing out
below the boat, the jig will also dart and sway with some of the
other lures mentioned below (such as tubes and thin "westie"
worms for example).
Usually thin 6 to 8 lb. test line is
required to bring out the best darting action, and a
loop knot darts best. You'll often need to superglue soft
plastics onto center-balanced darter heads or they'll slip off.
Just tie a bare head on the line with a Uni-knot. Do not cinch it
down all the way. Leave a loop. Then rig your choice of soft
plastic on the collar-less hook. Secure the bait with a little
shot of superglue, and also smear some glue on the loop knot to
secure it too. Also, if you want to dart tube baits, you will get
a far superior dart from an external rigging (with glue) than
internally. Keep in mind, you are responsible to use glue
products accordingly with the precautions that come on the side
of the package. The two brands I prefer for plastics are
Zap-A-Gap or Krazy Glue.
Use cut tails or
fairly inactive baits early.
Ice out or late winter bass.
Western pros have been using darter jigs effectively for years as
finesse baits by shaking and hovering them for fish suspended in
mid-water or right over deep bottom. When you get into the
shaking aspect of things, either with grubs or with the western
worms - thin mono with a Lamiglas S-Glass blank is best for me.
The jig is often kept dancing with shaky rod tip motion like you
are shivering, including frequent pauses. Softness in the lure is
required to generate subtle body flex as the shake goes down the
line. Shaking sideways can be better than up and down. Shaking is
done with the wrist, like you would shake ice that's been sitting
too long in a cocktail drink. After a few seconds of shaking, let
the lure come to rest for a few more seconds. Expect the resting
lure to get bit. A fish will often only feel like slight tension
or movement in the line. Sometimes you won't even know one is on
until you go to shake the rod tip again. This same tactic can be
used across the country for suspended smallies in deep water
right after ice out. Use cut tails or fairly inactive baits
First, you must find the smallies.
Where to find them? I can't honestly tell you. No one can, unless
they are out in the same boat with you. Each body of water is
different, as is each season and even every day. But here's one
thing I will say - find the depth where fish are at, then find an
edge at that depth - any edge. Fish will stage on any natural
boundaries as they emerge from winter-over haunts. These staging
spots may be ledges, channel lips, ridges, the far sides of
flooded stump, tree or brush fields, or the deep end of a gravel
bed that tops out a rise. They will start out along the very
deepest edges, then broach the next natural break-line closer in,
and so on until the smallies finally reclaim the shallows and
Spring is born again. It's not so important what these edges are,
so long as you find them - any edges - coming out of deep water.
These fish will still be fairly inactive, and darter jigs hovered
in front of their faces will get you some bites. Use small sizes
of less active baits like cut tail worms, cut tail grubs, Slim
Baby Senkos and tubes. Shake 'em a little (or just shiver if
you're cold) and wait for the imperceptible bite that will come
on the pause.
Add more tail
action to slowly swimming the flats.
Once fish start filtering into the shallows to
look for food and mates in pre-spawn spring, add more tail action
for slowly swimming the flats. swim a 5 inch fat-bodied,
broad-tailed grub slowly on a darter head. Early spring is one
time of the year when a larger grub can produce better fishing
than a smaller version. For both smallies and bigmouths, white or
chartreuse are awesome colors for this early season action. Try
to make it down to the water on a mild day at first blush of
spring. Use a medium light rod with ultra-thin 8 pound test line.
A one thirty-second or sixteenth ounce jighead with a thin wire
3/0 hook is essential for producing the winning lure motion.
Loop-knotted on a center-balanced darter jig, a 5 inch grub
tracks in a tight zigzag pattern as it swims. Cast up onto the
cold flats. often right onto shore, and swim the grub back over
the tops of logs, rocks, snags and remnants of last year's
weedbeds. Keep the rod tip at ten o'clock and reel in slow and
straight. Shake the wrist to produce an alluring flutter and
hesitation every so often. As the grub comes into the clear past
the edges of weeds or snags, quickly vibrate the rod tip a few
times to make the lure dart and hesitate. Then abruptly drop the
rod tip to mend some slack into the line so the grub spirals down
onto clear bottom. Let it lay there, then shake it a bit on the
bottom for the bite that will surely follow. You'll stand a good
chance to stick your biggest cow bass or two of the season on
this light tackle approach. Have you ever heard thin mono sing
sweetly yet perilously tight as your light rod's doubled over,
your pulse pounds, and a beauty bulls it out on the other end?
You'll never forget that fight or that fish if you land her.
Please release her, it will make a better memory for you to know
that you did.
Some 1/4 to 3/8 oz
darters for ripping soft stickbaits.
Ripping the flats and coves. When
new moss beds and weed patches start to grow fuzz over the
sunnier cove bottoms, slowly swim the big grubs to tick the tops
of the fuzz. Lots of bass food lives in this sun-warmed fuzz,
even if it is only an inch high. You'll be amazed at the bass
that seem to materialize out from behind every stick or rock to
whack your big grubs! As water weeds begin to take hold and
bloom, switch over to big soft stickbaits and start
"ripping" them back. Use slightly heavier darter jig
heads that allow a bit faster pace. These are used with a stout
S-Glass shaking stick and 15 lb. mono to dart large soft
stickbaits for bigger fish on long expanses of bare banks.
Northwest coves are notorious for this in early spring! Cast
across the cove or way down the bank. Hold the rod tip up and
reel slowly. After a few turns of the reel handle, shake the rod
tip back and to the side a few inches. Let the bait pause now and
then after you rip it. Bass will often strike as the lure pauses.
With each day you fish forward into the new spring, you'll reach
a magic peak when everything's right with these large soft
stickbaits. A few days when the water temps are perfect and the
big bass are cruising across the flats in record numbers looking
for action! You can really "whamp" the darter jigs
along at a good pace then. The rod action is not unlike the
skillful walking of a Zara Spook, and the lunging hits are
equally as thrilling!
That's about it for this week. I'll be darting along now. I
hope I've shared some of the early season excitement of darter
jigging with you. Please join me in saying, "I like my