Swimming Jigs with Jimmy Johnson
Bass fishing on the
Upper Mississippi River around Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota and
parts thereabouts, Tom Monsoor is the man to beat, or more
accurately stated, the man you can't beat.
A professional bass fisherman by trade, Tom
Monsoor has originated and perfected the art of swimming jigs
with devastating results.
David Snyder of the Wisconsin State B.A.S.S.
Federation says, "Many have tried to duplicate or discover
the secrets of swimming jigs from Tom Monsoor, but few have
learned all the pieces of the puzzle yet from Tom," says
Team Yamamoto's Jimmy Johnson is one who has
pursued this technique, learning some parts of it from Tom
Monsoor, and also working with David Snyder to hand-pour the
specialized jigs required for the swimming application.
Molding the Jig Heads
"I've had a mold machined along the lines of
what I believe to be representative of some of the earlier styles
of jigs used by Tom Monsoor. I can't say these are what Tom uses
now, but they are similar to some swimming jigs that Tom had used
along the way," says Dave Snyder.
There are two sizes of swimming jigs that work
for me, says Jimmy Johnson. The light model weighs just over
one-eighth and the heavy model weighs between three-sixteenths
and one-quarter ounce. A 2/0 is commonly molded into the light,
and a 3/0 in the heavy.
Not just any jig hook will do. A highly-desirable
component of the swimming jig is an Owner Needle Point hook. The
first step in making a swimming jig requires a special treatment
to heat and hand-bend the eye of each hook to the proper angle,
says Dave Snyder.
There seems to be a sweet spot when the line tie
eye gets to a low enough angle that ensures swimming action, but
not so low of an angle that the jig veers off on its side during
the steady swimming retrieve.
A certain jig is required. After all the effort
that goes into producing just one single jig, if the jig rolls
off to the side, fish don't want anything to do with them. In the
end, if the jig doesn't swim straight, I discard it, says Jimmy.
Needless to say, this means the jigmaker takes
great pains to ensure each jig comes out as perfect and
precisely-balanced as possible. The jigs are poured without the
fiber weedguard inserted yet, because it is unpredictable whether
the weedguard will come out of the mold straight or warped from
the heat, which will unbalance the swimming action. At a later
step in the jigmaking process, Jimmy will split a standard count
fiber weedguard in half and glue one half into the jig head,
ensuring it is seated perfectly straight.
One of the big things is that the fibers in the
fiberguard are softer than usual. Jimmy doesn't usually fan or
trim the fiberguard. For weeds, which is where the swimming jig
is used, the fiberguard as shown in the photos will come through
weeds without hook problems, plus the specially-bent hook eye
also deflects weeds and doesn't seem to get hung up in weeds.
Most important of all is to make sure the final
product comes through the water straight and upright. The soft
fiberguard and needle point hook are important. Due to the
softness of the fiberguard and the presence of the Owner Needle
Point hook, fish come up and grab it, swim off to the side and
are already hooked - no hookset per se. Most important is I do
not want line stretch once they grab the jig, says Jimmy. I don't
have to set the hook at all with the 16 lb. test Sugoi line I use
for swimming jigs.
I use a 6'6" medium/heavy St. Croix or
Loomis stick with a Shimano Chronarch. The bite can vary from
something that rips the rod out of your hand to just feeling
pressure as you swim the jig back, but it always seems the hook
gets stuck in the roof of the mouth...the part of your mouth you
always burn when you eat a steaming hot slice of pizza pie right
out of a brick oven.
Light Versus Heavy
I use the light size swimming jig around heavy
weeds, says Jimmy. Where there is dense grass, throw on top of
the mats and the light jig will not get hung up or bogged down on
top. I use it like other anglers may use a hollow soft grass frog
or mat rat, swimming the light jig across the surface of the mats
and pausing it, dropping it in sparse open pockets. The heavy jig
seems to embed in thick surface grass more than the light size.
I retrieve the swimming jig at the same speeds
you would use a spinnerbait. The main thing I like to target with
the light jig is matted-out grass beds growing to the surface and
laying over on top. I may use the heavy jig along the irregular
edges of a weed line or swimming over the tops of weeds that are
still submerged under the water.
I use the swimming jig by keeping it up in the
top two feet of the surface layer of water all the time. Even in
water down to 15 feet deep, fish will come off the bottom to take
the swimming jig up near the top.
On the retrieve, I keep the rod tip about ten
o'clock and simply wind line in with a steady
retrieve...typically a medium speed equivalent to using a
spinnerbait. As a trailer, I use a 4" or 5" Yamamoto
single tail grub depending on how fast I want to swim the jig,
and I always use fishing glue to attach the trailer to the hook.
The curly tail always goes down when I put on the trailer.
By varying the 4" or 5" single tail
grub trailers with light or heavy jigs, fish will tell you which
one of the four possible speed and depth variations they prefer
at any particular moment. These four presentations are possible
due to two jig head sizes and two trailer sizes.
This is a Casting Presentation
This is not a pitching or flipping approach. Long
casts are an essential part of the application, as far away from
the boat as possible. Retrieve through isolated clumps of grass,
usually within one foot of the surface. You'll get to see lots of
your strikes, and it's especially exciting to see the bulging
wakes of fish that are zeroing in on the swimming jig from 5-10-
feet away in the grass!
Swimming Jigs Work Better in Clearer Water
Grass often signifies clearer water than the
surrounding area. Now clear water is a relative term to Jimmy who
defines it to mean water with somewhat better visibility than
anything else around your surroundings. For example, if you have
an inch of water visibility within the main river, but in a
backwater or oxbow area you have one foot of visibility, that is
relatively clear water to Jimmy who feels bass may be able to
adapt their eyesight to become accustomed to seeing well even in
I would definitely not use it in muddy water
presentations, but for stained water that is not darkening in
color, fish indicate they can see the swimming jig quite well
because you'll spot them coming at it from great distances once
they sight it.
And it is mainly a sight presentation. Jimmy
believes that there's not a lot of noise or vibration that you
are accustomed to with other types of search baits or reaction
baits. A crankbait, topwater, spinnerbait, buzzbait...a school of
bass can get shy about hitting any of these lures after you make
3-4 casts through the school. Even hooks rattling against the
belly of a crankbait make noise that fish notice - and may shy
from after a couple of casts. They may attract positive attention
to start, but repeated casts can turn schools off. A swimming jig
It's a Reaction Bait
If bass are going to go for a reaction bait of
any kind, I can usually call them up on the swimming jig, says
Jimmy, and I can usually catch more bass out of a school on a
swimming jig than with any other types of reaction baits. The
swimming jig doesn't seem to spook school fish. You can catch
multiple fish out of an area.
Rubber and Tinsel
Jimmy hand-ties his jig skirts with flat body
color, using living rubber in dull matte finishes of either black
or brown tied over the top of various colors of tinsel. I
generally use 30-32 strands of rubber says Jimmy, which is
sparser than usual. I rarely use silicone skirt material since it
seems to react slower and stiffer than living rubber. The
square-cut strands of living rubber have a pulsating effect that
serves to breaks up the silhouette of man-made materials.
Suddenly, it's not simply rubber and tinsel anymore to the
fisherman or to the fish. As the rubber wriggles and pulsates, it
is constantly changing the look of the tinsel the fish sees
flashing underneath the wriggling rubber, which gives a non-stop
glittering illusion of life to the swimming jig.
I concentrate on the underlying tinsel to mimic
scales, add flash and provide specific seasonal coloration. By
that I mean I keep the rubber constant (black or brown), but use
the tinsel to add highlights of colors of specific baitfish I am
trying to imitate, or specific colors baitfish take on at certain
times of the year.
Most of the time, I am definitely copying a
juvenile bluegill, which I try to mimic by getting the color down
to a bluegill pattern of sorts, which may vary with the season.
Bluegill are the main baitfish forage for the spawning season and
into summer until shad start coming into the creeks to spawn, and
the young-of-year shad become big enough for bass to begin
targeting them in fall.
So, I'd say some people may do this in the fall
with white jigs keying on shad. However, I do this keying on
bluegill, and I definitely do my best with swimming jigs by
imitating bluegills from pre-spawn through post-spawn. I also use
it in summer when I require a quiet presentation to search out
and find schools of bass, as described above.
Some of my favorite seasonal color patterns to
imitate bluegill or shad are as follows:
213 Purple w/Emerald
Bluegill mimic. Awesome in gin clear water.
187 Clear w/Black
164 Purple w/Blue
Great bluegill pattern for prespawn and spawn
240 Smoke Blue Pearl
Right during the spawn, brown/blue works better
with spawning bass.
031 Blue Pearl w/Silver
Use for a fast-fleeing (heavy head, 4" grub)
or slow-moving (light head, 5" grub) shad presentation in
In closing, this is a different presentation that
no one else does. It is a way to cover water fast. It's not the
crawling, hopping, bottom-bumping approach taken with jigs. Quite
the opposite as the swimming jig is kept moving in the top of the
Most good tournament waters these days are
heavily pressured. When you have a bunch of guys in a pressure
situation, you just know that nobody else has been swimming this
jig over the fish the way you can use it instead of throwing a
spinnerbait or power bait or some type of searching lure for
schools of bass...or for spawning bass that are defending their
beds from marauding bluegill...or for post-spawn bass that are
marauding bluegill beds themselves.
As we've said, Tom Monsoor must get the credit,
and a lot of Mississippi River guys across Wisconsin, Minnesota
and Iowa are trying to get their hands on these jigs. However,
it's not only a river fishing application. It also applies to
lakes, ponds or anywhere there are weeds, bass and relatively
clear water. It's not just an Upper Mississippi tactic either, as
Tom Monsoor has used swimming jigs in major tournaments with
equally-good response from bass in places like New York, Florida,
Tennessee, and Alabama, says Dave Snyder.
And Jimmy Johnson used them to fish the 2002 Bass
Masters Classic on the New Orleans Louisiana Delta.
Want Even More Grub
This could easily turn into a diatribe if you try to digest it
all in one mind-meal. So pace yourself. There's a lot of grey
matter about grubs to absorb here. You may even spot some
dichotomy betwixt authors and articles, but that's fishing for
you! Make no mistake, grubs are universal fish-catching tools. If I had to pick only one lure to use the rest of
my life? It would be a grub! - Russ Bassdozer
All grubs shown from Gary
Yamamoto Custom Baits.
Big (really big) grub fishing :
Heavy (really heavy) grub fishing :
Topwater (really, no kidding) grub fishing :
Hula grub fishing :