By M.L. Anderson
Right now we are being blessed with an abundance, even an over-abundance, of water out west. In Arizona, most of our central lakes are filled to the brim, and some are even going over the spillways. Our hope is that the powers that be will let the water stay up for the spawn. Meanwhile, fishing can be tough – all that inflow has muddied up the lakes, and most of the incoming water is cold. The spawn is still a ways off, but some fish are already starting to move up. This means that the best thing to use is something that you can fish fast or slow, shallow or deep; in other words, a jig.
We went up to Pleasant recently and the wind was unbelievable. The water in the river arms was mostly muddy, but we found some clear water in Goose Bay and started throwing 1/2 –ounce football head jigs (the kind with the brush guard) right to shore. We decided to treat Goose Bay like it was a lake unto itself, so we began clear in the back and started fishing. We’d throw the jigs to shore and sort of hop/drag/swim them back, all the way down to about 20 feet or just a little more, since that’s where we were seeing shad.
About halfway back toward the main lake, we started catching them up shallow on the little points inside the cove. They were pretty nice fish, too – just because it’s cold and windy doesn’t mean the bass don’t get hungry. We were using 5-inch twin-tail Hula Grubs – our favorites since they give plenty of action when you’re swimming them – and they’re perfect for mimicking crawdads on the bottom. This particular day we were using a dark smoke color with hologram glitter. The fish were killing it. Over the years I’ve fished with a lot of different pros who love Hula Grubs and I’ve learned a lot from all of them.
One of the key things to look for in spring is a good flat, and it’s important that the flat have channels in it. Out here we look at the shore and you can see that there are little cuts in the shoreline. Those cuts continue out into the flat and they make a superhighway for bass looking to move up and eat or spawn. Swimming a jig across flats like this is a fantastic spring technique. Just cast the jig to shore and crank steadily, keeping the jig just off the bottom. Bumping a rock now and then is perfect. You can feel when the bottom drops out under your bait and you can slow it up or even kill it and let it find the bottom again. You could be in a ditch or you could be falling off the edge. Either way, that’s a likely time to get bit.
When they aren’t aggressive enough to chase a swimming jig, just tie on a football head and drag it across the flats. Work it slow, just crawling it. Move it with your rod, then take up the slack. Drag it a little, then give it a hop now and then. Let the structure dictate the action. If you hit a rock, drag up onto it, and when you feel it start to come down the side, push the rod out and give it some slack so it can fall straight down. Otherwise it will pendulum away from the rock and possibly away from any big fish hanging out under it. If it’s a really big rock you may have to click your reel into free spool to give it enough line to fall straight down. Keeping your finger in front of the reel so the line passes over it will help you detect subtle bites. Some people keep two fingers in front and hold the line lightly.
When the fish are still deep, a jig is a great way to get to them. A lot of guys miss fish because they don’t keep an eye on the line while the jig is falling. You need to cast it out or drop it, then let it free spool until it hits bottom. Keep an eye on that line the whole time and watch for a twitch or a bounce before it goes slack. That would be a fish taking the jig. Once it hits bottom the line will go slack and you can reel up the slack and do your thing. You can drag it, hop it, crank it – whatever. The more aggressive the fish are, the faster you can move it. Sometimes a fish will just grab it and run, other times you won’t even know he’s there until you start to move the jig and it feels heavy. Or you may go to drag it, only to have it feel like somebody cut the line. This happens to me all the time -- a fish takes the jig, then swims toward you. In this case, you need to reel up until the slack is out, then hit it hard.
When the water is really high like it is now, the fish will move right up into the submerged trees and flipping a jig in there is almost the only way to get to them. I actually use the same rig for flipping that I do for swimming big jigs or even bouncing them on the bottom. It’s a long heavy action Phenix rod with a fairly fast tip. You need a little give in the tip to be able to cast, but you need some serious backbone to set the big hooks on jigs. For the lighter swimming heads, a lighter, more limber rod will do, but make sure you have enough power to get a good hookset. A stout reel with a high gear ratio is helpful because it lets you take up line quickly. If a bass gets ahead of you and gets some slack, it’s easy for him to throw the jig – that big weight gives him lots of leverage. So don’t let the line go slack once you’ve got him on.
One of the best jig fishermen I’ve ever fished with is an Arizona guy named Jerry Loughran. He told me that the secret to tournament fishing isn’t baits or spots – it’s time on the water. If you don’t fish, practice, and keep your mind on fishing, you’ll never do well. A heavy jig with a 5-inch Hula Grub on it was his favorite bait. He used a lot of 5-inch twin tails too, and that way he could mix and match with the skirts. He’d combine colors to mimic the craws and baitfish. When Jerry threw a jig out he’d hold the rod down and watch the line. Most fish will take the jig and turn, he said, but sometimes they’ll suck it in and head right at you. You won’t get anything but line movement to tell you you’ve got a fish on.
Jerry loves those football head jigs with the double rings on them instead of barbs, because the Yamamoto grubs are so soft. The rings do a lot less damage than the barbs. One time at a tournament on Alamo lake, the fishing was really tough. The water had come up fast and there was a lot of debris floating on the surface. He and his partner started flipping big jigs into the debris in pockets. Suddenly, he looked at his watch, and it was time to be there. They were seven minutes late to weigh-in and even with a 1 lb per minute penalty they still won the tournament.
One day at Pleasant we got on an incredible bite with Laughran. We’d been fishing jigs, and Jerry picked up a rod and started throwing a big 5- or 6-inch white single tail Yamamoto grub, unweighted. He rigged it so the tail was down the same side as the bend of the hook, and threw it right to shore. The bait was heavy enough to make this fairly easy. Then he just reeled it back fast enough to keep it on top and let that tail churn the water. We must have caught a hundred fish on those grubs that morning.
One of the best pieces of advice Jerry ever gave me was this: if you get hung up fishing a jig, just go back and get it. Once you get over it, or just past where it is, it usually comes right off. You’re usually fishing heavy line so it’s no use pulling on it. Besides, if you pull hard enough to break it off every time, buy the end of the day your 15-pound-test has gone to 8 pound from being stretched and damaged.
Spawn, pre-spawn, post-spawn – it’s what spring is all about. The fish could still be deep, they could be staging, moving up, or actually making beds. No matter where they are or how deep or shallow, you can get a jig to them. Match the baitfish or the crawdads or both. Swim, drag, hop, crawl – no matter what you do with it, a jig is going to catch fish this time of year.
Switching Out Weights
There are times when you wish you could switch out the jigs really quickly – maybe you’re banging a heavy jig around deep structure and suddenly you come across a nice flat covered with vegetation and you’d like to swim a light jig over the top of the weeds. Rather than have multiple rods tied on and cluttering up the deck, try having multiple jig weights instead.
Fanatik Baits, a Russian company, has a line of demountable jigs in a huge variety of weights. They have both tungsten and lead. The weights are round, and come with a clever wire device. Slip the hook onto one end, slide the weight on, then clip the other end to a snap or snap swivel on the end of your line. When you want to change weights, just unsnap it, slide the weight off and a new one on, and you’re ready to go, with the same hook and bait you’ve been using.
Besides the obvious advantage of being able to change weights quickly, with these jigs the weight isn’t fastened to the hook, which gives the bait a lot more movement. You have to order them by grams, but a little bit of math let me order them in sizes that are just a hair different from ¼-, ½-, and 1-ounce. You can check them out at fanatikbaits.com.
One caveat: if you tie the rig directly to your line, you can’t switch them out without cutting the knot, which defeats the purpose. So get yourself some quality snaps and give them a try.