Background: The evolution of the light tackle jig. In 1991 I spent two weeks in the Ocala National Forest fishing some of the clearest water I have ever seen. In order to catch bass consistently, I had to scale down my approach. I was basically what you would consider a power fisherman at the time and realized that I would have to totally change my style to be successful. I did and I had a great trip, I even won two local tournaments on the St. John’s River using my light tackle approach.
From the end of that trip to the beginning of 1995, I had transformed myself to a finesse fisherman and adapted many of the West Coast finesse methods to employ on my New York waters. I was experiencing amazing results with more bites, more fish and more large fish. Scanning my logs, I found that I had taken over an uncanny amount largemouth over 5 lbs during the legal NY season from 1991-1995. I had completely switched from traditional sized baits to light and ultra light tackle for fun. I wasn’t a serious tournament angler so I really had no need for heavy equipment. The payoff was huge as I set my sites exclusively toward light tackle. I worried about being limited by a small selection of presentations and baits but that worry quickly changed as I became more and more successful with the smaller gear.
By the end of the 1994 season I had totally transferred my arsenal of baits. I had collected a complete line of light tackle baits in all genres, or so I thought. I had begun to realize that I hadn’t picked up a flippin’ stick and thrown a jig-n-pig in about 4 years. This bait, after all was one of my strengths. I knew that jigs in general attracted a larger bite than many other types of baits but at the time there were few if any true light tackle options. I soon realized I would have to build my own jig and tried to include all of the characteristics that make a jig successful into the package while at the same time being careful to match the bait with 4 & 6 lb. test. I immediately got turned on to Float-n-Fly guru Charlie Nuckols, who helped in my quest to find the ultimate light tackle jig-n-pig. I realized that I wanted a small head, about 1/16 oz. & 1/8 oz. on a large hook. I started out with a size 1/0 and eventually settled on a 2/0. The first jigs were equipped with Eagle Claw Lazer Sharp hooks which were ultimately replaced by the bronze Mustad Accu-points and now to the Black Nickel Mega Bites I currently use.
I figured that a fiber weed guard might impede on the hook set with the light lines I was using so Charlie suggested a wire weed guard which proved to be a gem. I wanted to give the bait a thick, but short profile so I went with a short trimmed skirt and completed the package with a 2" twin tail grub trailer. At the time the ball head was the only head I could get. I liked it and stuck with it. I don’t like paint in my jig eyes but found that powder paint cut down on that. It also provided me with a virtually chip proof coating that protected the jigs from scratches and nicks. So now I had my prototype which I made in two colors: Pumpkin and Pumpkin Chartreuse.
My first tests were on Schoharie Creek and Catskill Creek for smallies. I immediately started with positive results, so much that I knew I would have to expand the colors. The real test for this jig would be Long Island. Forge Pond turned out to be my proving grounds. It was as trophy a fishery as I could get on LI and was only a few miles away from my house. The first few weeks of testing produced unbelievable catches including 3 bass over 8 lbs. I knew I was on to something but still felt I could improve the bait. I had added a Zoom Skinny Chunk to top the bait off and resumed catching large bass. The jig was so successful because of its slow fall and tantalizing movements. I literally couldn’t keep fish away. The numbers of bass were staggering. I was used to having a 15 to 25 bass day, which I considered a good outing. I was now catching anywhere between 50 and 100 bass a day on average. About 70% of these fish were keeper size (12" NY State). I knew I had a special bait.
I had been making these jigs for myself and a few friends. I ignored their prompting to go into business. The little jig remained the same until the 1999 fishing season when I went to a Mustad needle point hook for strength, holding power and sharpness. It turned out to be a big improvement as I added the performance of a high end hook without having to spend a ton of money. Next I had begun experimenting with colors, modeling the skirts after successful plastic worm colors I used for years on LI. I had found only one small problem. The salt content of the chunk would, over time, rust the Bronze hooks. I not only changed the chunks but the hooks as well. I went to a home made hand poured version of the Skinny Chunk and ultimately decided on the Mustad Black Nickel hook which was a wise choice as it is the best I’ve seen bar none.
By 1999 I had topped a large milestone for largemouth bass over 5 lbs. A good amount of these fish but not all, were claimed by the tiny unnamed jig n pig. In late Fall of 1999, I fished with an outdoor writer for a local publication. He commented how the bass were just eating the micro jig. I added "they munch on it". A lightning bolt struck me on the head and now I had a name for my jig. The Micro-Munch jig was born. In February of 2000 my wife gave birth to our first child and I was away from the computer for a period of about two weeks. When I returned, I had hundreds of requests for my jigs. Some friends of mine had saturated the internet with talk of my jigs. Now I knew I had to start a business based on my tiny homemade jig.
The Bait: 1/16oz Micro-Munch Jig with Zoom Skinny Chunk trailer matching color or 1/8oz Micro-Munch Jig with my own Slender Chunk. The bait features a black nickel needlepoint hook from Mustad and a HydroSilk round silicone skirt.
Equipment: I throw this jig on spinning gear almost exclusively. The light weight of the jig makes it difficult to cast on bait casting tackle, even with best set ups. With the larger 1/8oz model the bait caster becomes a reality. I think that the most critical aspect to success with this bait is the rod choice. You absolutely must utilize a fast action light rod that has plenty of backbone. This stiff backbone will help you detect strikes and ultimately set the hook. This is still light tackle fishing but not the buggy whip style rod associated with it. I opt for a rod with a high modulus strain of graphite. I also choose raised match guides and cork handles that screw down over the real seat. The guides help attain maximum distance and prevent the line from slapping the blank causing drag. My first rod for this bait was a Cabela’s 5 ft. light action Tourney Trail rod that I still use today when wading. It handles the jig nicely and has caught a ton of brute sized bass for me including a 9-14 largemouth.
For boat fishing I prefer a longer rod for leverage and quick line pick up. If I’m not using a homemade rod, I stick with a 6-9 Kistler California series spinning rod in ML which is their Drop Shot rod. I have also use their Darter Head rod which is a 6-9 light action model. Even though these are considered light rods, they have plenty of backbone and are right at home playing big fish. For most spinning applications I prefer light weight spinning reels with multiple BB’s, a quick gear ratio, wide arbor spool, instant anti reverse and a smooth front drag. I’m a big fan of Shimano Stradic MGf and Sustain reels as they offer all of the features I want. These reels weight between 7 and 8 ounces which to me is another plus because they balance the Kistler rods nicely. For my smaller reels, I fell head over heels for the Tica Cetus SB500. This little mill has 6bb, instant anti reverse and a host of features found on Daiwa reels.
"I try to find large boulders, eddies, pools and any obstructions that slow water down. Bass tend to use these areas as ambush points and for sanctuary from the fast moving water."
Line: I prefer 6 or 8lb Super Silver Thread for light jigging. This mono offers thin diameter, decent knot and abrasion resistance, low memory and superior tensile strength. I tie direct to the jig with a Palomar knot. Yo Zuri Hybrid is another line that has proven itself to me. A friend got me into Power Pro braid as well. This unique braid is my absolute favorite super line.
Trailer: I don’t want to get into a debate about pork or plastic but I opt for plastic. It is less messy and comes in some great colors. Besides, I package the jigs with a trailer and pork wouldn’t be feasible. I use several types of trailers. First I used the 2" twin tail grub on the 1/16oz jig which is a great combo. It is very lively in the water. I switched to a Zoom Skinny Chunk which gave the bait bulk without adding weight. This was a good choice as bigger fish prefer a bit more mass and I cut down the number of smaller bites. Soon after I started using this bait, Zoom discontinued it.
My newest "favorite" trailer is a Slender Chunk that is naturally scented and frankly smells like a week old egg salad sandwich, a scent I noticed bass love. It was built by Tom Kail of Northern Handpoured baits. This also adds a bit of bulk and is softer as it is a hand pour. I mold them in two colors, black and pumpkinseed. These two choices match every jig I would ever throw. The lack of salt translates into no rust on the hooks. I do add a ton of garlic to the chunk but it doesn’t rust out the hook. I feel that the scent helps the bass retain the bait longer. With the lighter jig, a bass is not prone to expel it as quickly as a heavier bait. This is a very big advantage and the scent gives me even longer amounts of time to set the hook.
Gear Breakdown: Light Tackle Jig N Pigging
Rod: Kistler California series Drop Shot rod 6-9 ML spin
Rod: Kistler California series Darter Head Special 6-9 L spin
Reel: Shimano Sustain 1000
Line: Silver Thread 8lb
Bait: MMJ II "Suwannee Stalker" 1/8oz
On the water fishing – lakes and ponds
I approach still water and moving water very differently when using jigs. When fishing lakes and ponds, I use the MMJ from early spring to early fall. I prefer to fish it when the water is between 58 and 75 degrees. I’ve caught fish consistently at other temperatures but this is what I consider the "Trophy Range". It is here during this temperature period that I get most of my big bites. The little jig has proven effective in both clear and stained water. In clear water, I prefer natural hues such as Watermelon, Black Blue Purple, Black/Brown, Green Pumpkin and Black Neon and Roadkill. In stained water I jazz it up a bit with some louder colors like Fire tiger, Watermelon Magic and NE Craw.
The light weight of these jigs basically delegates them to shallow water use. I normally fish the 1/16 oz jig in water up to 8 feet deep. A friend of mine, has fished the 1/16 oz in over 20 feet of water for schooling smallies and mopped up with it. I’m just not sure I have the nerve to wait for the bait to get down deep. The 1/8 oz jig is better equipped for waters down to 15 feet. Thin diameter line makes 20 to 25 feet a possibility but after that you tend to lose contact with the bait. My game plan with this jig is similar to most other jig strategies. I target visible cover and pick it apart with multiple casts from multiple directions.
I originally started using this bait in tiny rivers that were overgrown with overhead cover making a skip cast the only viable way to cast the lure. With this cast I can actually punch through cover and obstructions and even get the bait farther back into the areas than any other method. Much of my success is due to the ability to present this lure to fish that just don’t get to see baits because live deep inside cover. Once I skip the bait back to my target, it sinks ever so slowly. This slow fall allows the jig to stay in the strike zone longer than heavier baits. This is another important trait to the success of the lure. Most strikes occur on the initial fall of the MMJ. I usually notice a solid thump or see my line move off rapidly when a fish bites. If the initial fall fails to attract a hit, I let the bait rest on the bottom and slowly inch the bait along or jiggle it ever so slightly. This mimics the movement of a crawfish and helps the skirt and trailer flare and breath. I do not fish this jig back to the boat. Once I feel that the bait is out of the strike zone, I reel in and cast again.
I try to crash the bait into obstructions and skip it to make a bit of commotion as I don’t feel that this affects the bass negatively in the stained waters I fish. I feel that the skip cast is the most accurate presentation with this bait as it allows me to get right on top of the areas I target. The light weight of the jig isn’t conducive to flipping and I simply can’t flip this bait 8 or 9 feet under a dock like I could if I skipped it. In lakes and ponds I target docks, bushes and trees, bridge pilings, floats, boat houses, covered boats and just about any other types of visible cover. The MMJ is a surprisingly effective sight fishing bait as it is one of the few baits I throw to visible bass.
On the water – fishing rivers and streams
I designed this jig for slow moving rivers and it is right at home in current. I have found it has an uncanny ability to produce smallmouth bass just about anywhere I’ve fished it. I prefer to fish the jig when water temperatures are between 60 and 78 degrees. I have had more than a few 100 smallmouth days when fishing the jig in bathtub warm waters during the dog days of August. When fishing rivers and streams, I concentrate mainly on current breaks. I try to find large boulders, eddies, pools and any obstructions that slow water down. Bass tend to use these areas as ambush points and for sanctuary from the fast moving water. Here they lie in wait for a hapless morsel to be washed to them. Dropping a jig into one of these spots many times will cause a reaction from any fish hiding nearby.
I always look for dark colored rock because in my opinion, smallmouth tend to blend in better with them and I’ve had good success around them. In cooler water they hold heat better thus holding bass. I cast 5 to 10 feet ahead of the boulder and let the current tumble the jig toward the break. All along I’m trying to control my slack line to keep in contact with the jig. Once it enters the break I prepare for a bite. If I don’t get hit using the 1/16 oz jig, I’ll switch to the 1/8 oz because the water may be pulling it through the funnel too fast. The heavier jigs should get to the bottom easier. I think that most fish hold directly behind a break on the bottom, so it is essential to get the bait down to them. Be careful that you don’t snag the bottom as the river will tend to claim some jigs. Once you find that zone, don’t implement too much action in the jig as craws are slow movers when not trying to escape. If you do hang up, often a pop of the rod will get you free and may even cause a strike.
I’m always looking for areas with slower or faster flow inside the normal flow of water. These signal several important things to me. Faster areas are usually chutes that force water through narrow areas and actually speed the water up. Here the bass will wait at the end of a chute in slack water and feed on forage that are funneled to them. I usually cast to the head of the chute and let the bait come through it. It normally gets clobbered just as it enters the slack water.
Slower moving water signals an underwater current break, perhaps a rock below the surface. It takes a skilled eye to find these areas as the deeper the obstruction, the more normal the water speed is. When fishing in these areas I target ahead of the current break. The normal flow of water will bring the jig into the eddy area where the fish are waiting. Pools tend to hold some of the bigger bass that a small river has to offer in general. These fish don’t tolerate swift water like their smaller kin. Here I cast to deeper areas and let the jig just sink like a do nothing type of retrieve. I’m looking for two things, obstructions and bottom current. If I lose contact with an 1/8oz jig in 8 to 10 feet of water, I know that there is current near the bottom and that I should find a better spot. Remember I’m targeting bigger fish that I believe don’t want to chase a bait down. I have found that river bass seem more enthusiastic to strike a jig. They usually are not shy about the way they hit it. Most times they hit and run and anyone holding onto the rod knows it!! A well placed flip on the down current side of the rock is normally enough to get any bass in the area interested in your bait.
Most of the small streams I fish are crystal clear. This really forces me to go with natural baits. I prefer anything that resembles a crawfish. Green Pumpkin, Dark Pumpkin, Olive and Roadkill are the colors I normally throw for swift water smallies. The Roadkill color is the same as the soft plastic offering. There is just something special about it and river bass seem to love it.
My light tackle creek jig choice consists of a 1/8 oz football head jig that has a fiber weed guard and a Gamakatsu round bend hook. The oval football head is less likely to hang up in the rocks and this makes it perfect for smallmouth country. Due to the competition between fish in these creeks, a natural bait that mimics crawfish can be devastating on these waters.
Why the small jig is effective: The MMJ is effective because of several key factors. First and foremost, the slow fall of the bait keeps it in the strike zone for the longest possible time. This may actually annoy fish into striking. With this, I feel you lose the reaction bite you get with heavier baits that fall through the strike zone faster, but it isn’t a disadvantage.
Second, the baits’ compact size is a perfect match for the preferred size of young forage. Small 2 to 3 inch crawfish and baitfish make up a large percentage of adult bass forage. The bulk of the bait is not sacrificed however and that is a main reason why it attracts larger bites on average when compared to other baits.
Lastly, the compact size of the MMJ is less intrusive than larger baits so you are less apt to spook fish. This jig is an extremely natural bait and presentation and I don’t feel it gives off many, if any, negative cues. All of these factors contribute to the baits appeal but, I feel that one of the main reasons I am successful with this jig is the way I fish it and what I can do with it. You simply can’t fish scared with any bait. I’ve learned to overcome my fear of losing baits early on. I’m not afraid to throw into hellish snarls. Bass get big because they live in places that anglers can’t or don’t or won’t reach. I’ve learned to go in after them and I’m largely successful because of it. This weed less mini jig can get into these tough areas and successfully find its way back to the boat.
Modifications: With the success of the ball head jigs comes the desire to change things up a little. I started molding the 1/8oz MMJ into a Football head with a fiber weed guard and 3/0 hook. I still use the short skirt on it. This jig has been fantastic in rocky smallmouth waters as the head prevents it from snagging on the rocks. Dubbed the Rock Assassin, this jig can easily accommodate a double rattle. The rattles give this jig a crawfish clicking sound that can often trigger strikes. I don’t skip this jig in shallow cover instead opting to fish deeper waters. Here I look for rock piles, rock channel markers and deeper structure. I also make an Arkie head 1/8oz jig for true flipping. It features a beefed up fiber weed guard, full size skirt and also a 3x strong hook. It has been nicknamed the "Sweet Little Jig". This one is great on bait casting gear as the addition of a trailer gives it extra weight and brings it closer to 3/16oz. The jig can be worked through thicker cover than the wire guard jigs. I’ve thrown this bait in just about every tournament I’ve fished and it usually produces.
Conclusion: Any light tackle jig can catch fish. Use the one you have the most confidence in. I build ’em so I use my own. The MMJ has become my confidence bait and for good reason. It is a deadly bass catcher. It is very easy to pick up and learn in a short time. I’ve had success with this bait just about everywhere I’ve used it. I have taken an extraordinary amount of big bass for me. It is so successful because it can go where no other baits can. Jigs on the whole produce larger bass on average than other baits. A smaller jig appeals to a larger pool of bass and gives the best opportunity to be struck due to its compact size. It is the preferred size of what bass like to eat. A lure that is 2 to 3 inches in size is commonly targeted by even the largest fish.