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How to Fish a Jig: A Guide for New Fishermen

Written by: Pete D
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As a new angler, it’s important to get a sense of your lure options. 

One of the most effective, versatile lures ever made is the jig, and if you ask fishermen anywhere in America, you’ll find plenty of jigs in their tackle boxes.

Why?

They’re easy to rig, easy to fish, and incredibly effective.

Let’s get you up to speed on this fantastic lure.

Related:

What is a Jig?

jig with skirt

Jigs are often “dressed” with a “skirt” to improve their effectiveness.

A jig is nothing more than a weighted head with an embedded hook. And while they come in a variety of sizes, materials, and colors, the basic jig is little more than a lead (or tungsten) head on a hook.

Rather than being differentiated by the size of their hooks, jigs are categorized by the weight of that metal head. Typically, you won’t find a jig smaller than 1/64 ounce or larger than about ¾ ounce. As a jig’s size changes, though, so too does its hook size, so lighter jigs will sport smaller hooks than heavier options.

bare jig head

Bare jigs like this one can be “sweetened” by adding live bait like minnows or soft plastic artificials.

You might be thinking that a lead-weighted hook may not seem promising, and I don’t blame you. But as experienced anglers will tell you, the humble jig is one of the most effective offerings in your tackle box. Versatile, easy to cast and work, and deadly on everything from crappie to walleye, smallmouth to salmon, jigs are essential tackle that every angler needs to learn to fish properly.

Rigging Jigs: Easier than You Think!

Rigging a jig isn’t difficult, but there are two things you need to get right every time.

Use the Right Knot

While there are a number of good knots for attaching a jig to your line, the best bet is probably the Palomar.

We’ve written an easy-to-follow guide to tying this excellent knot, and if you want to learn to tie it well - and you really should - just follow this link:

How to Tie the Palomar Knot: A Complete Guide

Placement

You’ll notice that every jig head has an eye positioned between 90 and 45 degrees relative to its hook.

That’s a detail that matters.

To get the right presentation and action from your jig, you need to orient the knot you use to secure it in the correct position.

You want the knot to meet the eye perpendicular to the axis of the jig, as in the picture below:

Between casts and catches, check to make sure that the knot is still in the right place, and slide it back into position if needed.

Basic Jigging Techniques for Beginners

Jigs can be fished in a number of ways that are proven to work, but we’ll discuss three of the most common and productive.

Before we do, one thing to keep in mind in any jig technique is weight. 

Don’t just grab a random jig and start fishing!

Typically, you want to use the lightest jig you can, given the current and conditions. In heavy wind or strong currents, you’ll need to step up in weight, but jig presentation is often best when you begin in the neighborhood of ⅛ ounces for species like bass, salmon, and walleye.

For crappie and other panfish, tiny jigs are a perfect choice.

The Vertical Jig

use marabou jigs for salmon

Salmon are suckers for marabou jigs.

Vertical jigging allows you to cover the water column in a way that’s hard to replicate with any other technique.

Let’s say that you’ve located a school of crappie sheltering in a deep brush pile. With a vertical jig, you can work the top and sides of that cover, enticing slabs to dart out for a quick bite. 

Or just imagine finding bass sticking close to a rock wall in 15 feet of water. You can drop a jig down to that precise depth and set it dancing.

In the most common case, you know fish are holding on or near the bottom, so you drop a jig just above them, working the water just feet over their heads.

To jig vertically, keep your rod tip low. Open your spool and let the weight of your jig draw line as it sinks. When you’ve reached your desired depth, close the spool and take up any slack in your line. Then, using gentle motions of your wrist or forearm, “dance” the jig into action.

If your plan is to fish near the bottom, allow your jig to sink until it makes contact. Then, retrieve enough line to place your jig right where you want it.

Vary your motions from darting pops to slow, rhythmic lifts and falls until you find the right action and cadence to drive fish wild!

Swimming a Jig

Strike King Tour Grade Swim Jigs Bait (Green Pumpkin, 0.375-Ounce)

Amazon 

Swim jigs like this one sport a sloping belly that helps them rise in the water column.

If you arm a jig head with a skirt and a set of weedless bristles, change the orientation of the eye by a few degrees, and even attach a soft plastic trailer, you get a jig that works water on both the horizontal and vertical axes.

Reaction Tackle Tungsten Football Jig for Bass Fishing - 1/2 oz PB&J

Amazon 

“Football” jigs have wide, rounded heads that are designed to bounce erratically when they impact sticks, rocks, or grass.

Options like Reaction Tackle’s Tungsten Football Jig are designed to be cast into heavy cover like weed beds and blowdowns or onto shallow flats where anything else would get hung up, bouncing erratically as your retrieve runs them into sticks, rocks, and grass.

And contrary to what you might think, that’s exactly what you want to do!

Those erratic motions excite species as diverse as pike and largemouth bass, and heavy cover is where they’re looking to ambush unwary prey.

Cast something like a Booyah weedless jig head, sweetened with a Strike King Rage Craw or Gary Yamamoto 4" Zako, and swim it down the edge of a weed bed, rip it through the top of any submerged grass, or let it fall deep into aquatic vegetation, ripping it up and out with a quick jerk of your rod.

Keep your rod tip low so that you have power to rip your jig free or set your hook.

Rage Craw Big Tex

Amazon 

Soft plastic trailers like the Rage Claw can really turn on strikes.

Bass, pike, walleye, and salmon aren’t going to ignore that action, I can promise you!

You can also work a swim jig and trailer by letting it hit the bottom, pausing when it does. Then lift the jig up and into the water column, take out any slack in your line, and let it settle again. 

Strikes often come on the fall with this technique, so be ready.

Finally, you can cast your swim jig past any likely spots, and then work them back toward you with a steady retrieve that sets your trailer of choice twitching. This is especially effective with jig heads that feature a sloping belly to lift them slightly in the water.

If you choose to add a soft plastic trailer to your swim jig, it’s easy to set up:

Working the Bottom: Popping and the Slow Drag

While bass anglers often reach for a Texas- or Carolina-rigged worm as their first option to work the bottom, jigs are no less effective, especially when sweetened with a trailer.

Where the bottom is largely free of vegetation, a jig can be deadly if you know how to use it.

Start with a ⅛-ounce jig head, moving heavier if you need to get deep quickly or are fighting wind or current. But don’t go too heavy: ¼-ounce is about as big as you’ll want for this technique.

Choose your trailer carefully. What you want is a soft plastic that has a delicate, wriggling tail. Something like Zoom’s Super Flukes are perfect since that long, split tail really wiggles on its own.

Zoom Bait Salty Super Fluke Bait-Pack of 10 (Smokin Shad, 5-Inch)

Amazon 

Zoom’s Super Fluke is a great choice for your jig.

You want to cast to a likely spot and let your jig settle to the bottom. Keeping your rod tip low, lift your jig off the bottom, take in any slack, and let it fall again. Your rod tip should rise and fall, lifting and settling the jig as your off-hand keeps your line tight for a hookset.

Go slow, and don’t rush. 

Bass, walleye, salmon, and pretty much everything else won’t be able to resist those fluttering descents.

If that’s not working for you, especially when the water’s cold, you can use slow, sweeping side-arm motions to creep your jig along the bottom, bouncing over rocks, humps, and debris. Each impact will send your jig darting off in a random direction, ringing the dinner bell every time this happens.

Don’t go quickly - slow is the name of the game!

Final Thoughts

Good jig technique will take time to master, but you’ll be surprised by how quickly you learn the basics and by just how amazingly effective it can be.

Take your time, get the details right, and you’ll catch more fish with a jig than you ever imagined you could!

As always, we’d love to hear from you, so please leave a comment below.

About The Author
Pete D
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Pete grew up fishing on the Great Lakes. When he’s not out on the water, you can find him reading his favorite books, and spending time with his family.
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