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Darter Jigs

By Russ Bassdozer

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 early.

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 jigs."

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