Technique: Using hair jigs to put Spring bass in the boat
One of the first baits I throw bass fishing after the ice melts is a hair jig. These small bait fish imitators are realistic and subtle. Early season bass love eating a well placed hair jig creation. Hair jigs can be fished a number of different ways, making them extremely versatile. Although most people who use those baits work them in mid to deep water, I have discovered a couple of skinny water methods that are deadly.
I got my introduction to hair jigs from two masters of the deep South smallmouth fishing. One angler from Kentucky introduced me to Fly and Rind fishing in the mid 1980’s. The Fly is nothing more than a 1/16 ounce or 1/8 ounce bucktail jig that is tipped with Rind or a very thin pork strip. To capitalize on the pork’s natural movement, it is important to use pork that is thin in width and depth. This will give the bait a nice action in cold water.
I learned to fish these small jigs on light line, which is usually necessary to coax wary cold water bass. I have begun to use 6 pound Fluorocarbon line, which works nicely. You can get by with any of the thin diameter lines. I prefer Silver Thread or Sensithin. Thin diameter lines will allow you to get light jigs down deeper, with less effort than regular diameter lines. They are also less intrusive and less detectable than larger diameter lines.
My choice in rods is quite simple. I prefer an IM8 6′ or 6.5′ fast action light spinning rod with a solid backbone and springy tip. The backbone allows an effortless sweep hook set while the softer tip protects the line from breaking when a nice fish surges. I have friends that fish with this bait on a 7.5 foot noodle rod with a 2 pound test on Candlewood and Greenwood lake. They do quite well, although I can’t get myself to use a noodle rod.
I use a Pinnacle DNF 25 spinning reel or a Tica Cetus. Both have smooth drag systems, 5 or 6 ball bearings, instant anti-reverse and are reasonably light in weight. I set my drag fairly light because the needle point hooks I use don’t require a ton of effort to set. I usually back reel when I feel I am fighting a large bass.
Anatomy of a Hair Jig:
I am very discerning when it comes to my tackle. Usually, I opt to make baits myself. This ensures that I am using the most premium components and that I can put baits together the way I want them. Being I can tie a decent hair jig myself, I look for certain things when selecting jigs. First, the hook is the most important feature on a hair jig. I use needle point hooks only. If it isn’t a needle point, I won’t mess with it. Mustad and Daiichi hooks have become my preferred points. Both offer excellent penetration and strength as well as durable points that tend not to roll over on themselves. These hooks are also available in light wire models that will bend a bit when snagged. This is essential when working rocky areas where it is easy to lose 20 or 30 jigs in a single day. The light wire will bend or straighten and release the jig. Just bend the hook back and you are in business.
The second characteristic I look for in a jig is a good paint job. I prefer powder painted heads over vinyl, but can get by with vinyl if need be. This merely reflects the quality of the jig. Hair jigs are the only jigs where I will tolerate paint in the line tie. Carry your jig eye buster!
The third trait I examine is the threads. I’m not looking for neatness so much as durability. Of course, a neat looking wrap is preferred, but with the thinner thread most guys use, it just isn’t likely. I tie my jigs with either Kevlar thread or E thread. The E thread is thicker and goes on much more even than smaller thread. The most important aspect of the threads to consider is if they are sealed. Threads that are sealed with epoxy or speed coat will be much more durable than those that are simply pulled and tucked.
The next consideration is head style. Generally, most hair jigs are either ball heads or aspirin heads. Some jigs are slanted power heads and others are banana heads. While no one style can handle every situation, the aspirin head might be the most versatile. The aspirin head essentially is a ball head that is flattened out on the sides. I opt to add 3-D eyes to them and affix the eyes with head cement to increase the likelihood of them staying on.
The final consideration is the make-up of the body. Many different materials are used by a multitude of anglers that tie jigs, but two types see the most action, craft hair and deer hair. I have used both, but have come to rely on deer hair. Deer hair in my opinion is the easiest to work with and stays together nicely. The hair can be dyed to represent an almost infinite color palette. My reasoning for deer hair over craft hair is that when in the water, the hollow deer hair tends to breathe or undulate. After a day’s fishing, the deer hair jig tends to go back to its natural form.
“For this technique you don’t want to give the jig any extra action other than the rocking of the boat due to wind and waves. The jig and pork simply stays in place and pulsates to do a tantalizing death dance. A strike usually feels like extra weight on the bait.”
I learned to tie the Float ‘n Fly from Charlie and Eddie Nuchols of Blountville, Tennessee. For years, I used the craft hair which makes a great jig. I began to notice that once the jig got wet, it never regained its true form and that if you accidentally got a hook caught in the hair, you had to either rip it out or cut it. Add to this the fact that craft hair is simply messy to work with, and you can see why I choose deer hair. I add flashabou, which is a material that looks like a string of Christmas lights, to accent my jigs. This material in small amounts can spruce up a jig and give it baitfish appeal.
Fishing Hair Jigs: Kentucky Fly and Rind style
I was introduced to hair jigs for cold water smallmouth fishing. My Kentucky friend taught me how to use my electronics to find pods of suspended smallmouths. Once located, to catch the smallmouth all we had to do was lower a fly to the proper depth and wind it to them. We didn’t utilize a float. Instead, we marked the depth on our lines with a waterproof marker and basically dead stick the jigs down to the fish. We used the method when the water was in the high 40’s to mid 50’s. It was deadly and actually was the method where I took my first 6 pound smallmouth. For this technique, you don’t want to give the jig any extra action other than the rocking of the boat due to wind and waves. The jig and pork simply stays in place and pulsates to do a tantalizing death dance. A strike usually feels like extra weight on the bait. For the most part, we worked the bait anywhere from 12 to 18 feet deep. I never got much deeper than that. This type of fishing reminds me very much of slider fishing, the real way. Very little movement and a sweeping hook set, rather than an eye crossing over the shoulder swing set. Remember to let the sharp hook work for and that you can only have 4 or 6 pound test line so don’t horse fish around.
The Float ‘n Fly:
As effective as the previous method is the float ‘n fly system is even deadlier. I met Charlie Nuchols in 1994, and he actually helped me to develop my first prototype of the 1/16oz. Micro-Munch jig. He told me of this great system he had to catch Fall and Winter cold water bass. Being a neophyte, I questioned every aspect of his technique. Sensing my hesitation, he insisted on setting me up with several dozen amazing little baitfish-like jigs and foam slip bobbers. The jigs were like none that I had ever seen. Extremely detailed and very neat, I had to try them. In his note, Charlie explained the set up to me. He recommended a 6.5 to 7.5 foot rod rigged with 6 pound test. He told me to place a bobber stop at a predetermined distance away from the jig. This would allow me to fish an exact depth. Every cast, the bobber would slide up the line and return to that precise depth as the jig sank. The bobber actually has several functions. First, it marks depth. This is important if fish are suspended at a particular depth. Second, it is a strike indicator. This may or may not be useful to you. Next, the float bobs up and down with the water movement and provides action to the jig. The technique doesn’t require any extra movement, and the wave movement is all you need. The jig is open hooked meaning that a simple sweep set of the rod is usually all it takes to set up. A long rod is required to flip this cumbersome set up out and to pick up line at a quick rate.
While most hair jigs techniques focus on early Spring, the float ‘n fly is actually a Fall and Winter method. This is not to say you can’t use it in the Spring. This bait isn’t species specific either. It will also take largemouth and crappie. This rigging was one of two original ways that the float ‘n fly was set up. The second method uses a plastic float that is affixed to the line. It doesn’t slide up and down and can’t be cast. The angler merely drops it off the end of the boat. I prefer the sliding float method as it allows me to cast the bait rather than move the boat.
Shallow Water Sight Fishing:
The hair jig is mainly thought of as a deep water bait for cold water fish. I have adapted my use of it to include early Summer, shallow water, sight fishing. I am a huge sight fisherman, and I rely on 4 baits for this method:
1. 1/16oz. Junebug Micro-Munch Jig w/ beefed up 3/0 hook
2. Senko 9J Wacky style
3. 2 3/4″ Gitzit
4. 1/16 ounce craft or deer hair jig
I simply try to target visible bass in shallow clear water. I try to skip this baitfish look alike close to an unsuspecting bass. It doesn’t matter if the bass are bedding or not. This method can be devastating in the right hands. The key is stealth. Don’t let the bass know you are there. Wear dull clothing and don’t make quick exaggerated movements. I don’t like to fish with the sun at my back because I feel that my shadow will spook the fish. My sight fishing approach is simple – if I drop the jig in front of a bass often enough, it will bite. I utilize a 5′ 6″ or 6′ spinning rod for this technique. Most often I go with a 6 pound line and, unlike the other techniques, I set the hook hard. This is a totally visual technique. You are watching big fish engulf your jig, and you must learn to know when to set the hook. I noticed that many fish suck the jig in and immediately turn. When I see the bass turn that is when I set the hook. You must develop patience because watching 4 and 5 pound bass smack your jig can make you antsy and set the hook prematurely.
I simply pump the jig along by bouncing the rod tip a couple of inches. I work the bait slowly. If bass prefer a faster retrieve, I switch to a different bait all together. I work the bait about 15 feet from the initial splashdown. I then reel in and cast again. Try to keep the bait in your line of sight. This is one of the easiest ways to tell if you are getting strikes. Chances are you won’t feel the bite.
Most times of the year I don’t use a trailer on either my sight fishing jig or with the float ‘n fly. If I can’t get bass to bite, but I see them scrutinizing my bait I will add a 2 1/2″ Snoozers split-tail trailer that is either shad or craw scented. The hand poured trailer is often the ticket and always seems to get the attention of cruising bass.
Where to get them:
For float ‘n fly type jigs you may want to try Bullet Lures – 148 Rhody Drive, Gray, TN 37615 or Curbs Jigs – 96 Wharton Drive, Jacksons Gap, AL 36861.
Curb has some reasonably priced jigs that he will custom color to your specs and he uses Daiichi hooks. Bullet Lures is the home of the original float ‘n fly craft hair jig. Everything about this operation is top notch. Detailed patterns right down to nifty paint jobs and Gamakatsu hooks. These jigs are a bit pricy, but well worth it.
For specialty jigs tied with other materials, you should check out Phil Schafer. He ties some great baitfish imitators. Phil is known for his eye for detail. His patterns are realistic and almost too pretty to fish. Phil’s jigs are super high quality, and every attention to detail is followed. You can reach him at email@example.com.
I get many of my specialty jigs from Paul Jensen of Jensen Jigs – 526 N. Durkee St. || Appleton, WI 54911. I have really taken a liking to his “grizzly” jig and Bou-tube. Paul has been tying jigs for many years and offers some unique, high quality jigs. One of my biggest concerns with baits is quality. Paul uses the highest quality components from Pro-tec powder paint to Mustad black nickel needlepoint hooks. He will also custom paint just about anything you can imagine. Although I don’t tie as much as I used to, my small hair jigs have an almost cult like following in Missouri, Virginia on the James, and Pennsylvannia along the Susquehanna. At times, I can be coaxed to break out the vice. I made up 40 dozen jigs this year and sold every one (all special order as I only offer a deer hair float ‘n fly jig on my web site).
Scully actually lit a fire in me to write this article. All of the threads on early Spring baits, all led back to the hair jig. Give them a try, these jigs are just so natural-like that they are bound to get bites.