I hate fishing crankbaits. There is nothing about them I enjoy. I don’t like the constant chunking-and-winding. I don’t like the amount of fish that are lost due to the design of treble hooks. I HATE getting a treble hook in my hand while a fish is flopping around (fish may come off a crank, but cranks do NOT come out of your hand!). But most of all, I hate having to retrieve the bait every five cast from submerged structure.
All of this has lead me to find an alternate technique to catch feeding fish. The most productive method I have found, bar none, is swimming a jig. There is no depth that this method is not effective; be it two feet or twenty. Equipped with the proper trailer, I feel that a jig can represent any forage that the bass may be feeding on. With the proper tackle, I feel that there is a much better hook-up to landing ratio. But most importantly, in my experiences, a jig produces bigger fish more consistently than a crankbait. As the saying goes, “the proof is in the puddin’!”
From pre-spawn to late fall, swimming a jig can and will produce when used properly. The first step is to match the forage that the bass are feeding on. For bluegill, I prefer a green pumpkin pattern, with a few orange strands mixed in towards the bottom of the bait. When the fish are keying in on shad, white is usually a safe bet no matter the water clarity. If crayfish are on the menu then a black and blue jig is money in the bank. As far as size, my main choices are ¼ oz., 3/8 oz., and ½ oz. Early on in the season, I generally go with the ¼ oz. because most of the baitfish are just hatching. Early summer, 3/8 oz. As the season goes on, the ½ oz. bait gets the call 90% of the time. These are not set in stone. If I catch a two pound fish with a 6 inch bluegill sticking out of his throat, then I will bump up to a ½ oz bait; and if there are a ton of 3 inch shad swimming around, then I will drop to a ¼ oz.. Just like any other natural presentation, the key is to match the hatch.
As far as trailers, baits like the Strike King Rage Craw, or NetBait Paca Chunk are my go to baits. These baits not only have tremendous action, but they add bulk to the bait. This gives the jig a more full, natural profile. I feel that this is crucial; when the skirt flairs out, there is not a gap between it and the trailer.
For tackle, I prefer a 7’0 rod all around. For the smaller, ¼ oz. bait I will use a MH rod. For the 3/8 and ½ oz. jigs, a heavy-action rod is a better choice. With quality rod that has a fast or extra-fast action, these rods allow you to feel everything the bait does, and also provides you with the power to drive the hook home and muscle a fish in. When swimming jigs, I never go below a 6.2:1 ratio reel, but prefer a 7.1:1. You can always slow down, but it is hard to get a slower reel to retrieve faster without breaking your wrist. In stained water, or around vegetation, I use 30-40 pound braid. This allows me to get better hooksets, slice through slop, and horse a big fish out of her home much easier. If I am dealing with clear water and/or lighter cover, I will use 17 pound mono.
Now, for the retrieve. If the fish are close to or on the bottom, cast or pitch close to cover. Allow the bait to settle for a few seconds, shake it, and let it sit. If there are no takers, begin the retrieve. I generally start out with a slow, steady retrieve with an occasional twitch and pause. Often times, fish will follow the bait and the twitch-pause will get them to commit. I also start out slow because it seems like the bigger fish prefer a slower retrieve. Let’s face it; a big ol’ fat bass would rather slurp in a shad that is swimming slowly by, than to chase a bait that is screaming past her at mach three.
When the fish are more active, speed up. Sometimes a faster retrieve is what it takes, especially in post-spawn and fall when the fish are trying to gain weight. Once again, occasionally stop the bait for a second or two to let any followers have the chance to slurp it up. No matter the retrieve, keep your rod low to the water, and around on o’clock. This will allow you to get a solid hookset when a fish takes the bait. Most bites are obvious; a solid “thump,” then weight. Sometimes, your rod will load up as if the bait is caught in grass, and other times the line will just go slack when a fish swims towards you. Just remember; hooksets are free. If you think a fish has it, swing for the fences!
Even if you are the complete opposite of me, and love throwing a crankbait any chance you get; try swimming a jig around the same areas you fish that crank. Or, if you are like me, rejoice that there is another way to catch feeding fish. No matter what type of fisherman you are, try swimming a jig. There is a good chance you may be quite pleased with the results.