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Jigging for Salmon


Jigging is a term used to fish whereby you attach a weighted lure in the end of the line, let it down, raise the rod tip, let it back down, and repeat again.  Well, it is not really that simple, there are a few other ingredients in the mix.


Jigging works best when you can locate a concentration of bait / or fish.  Since you do not cover a lot of water this way as you locate the fish with your sonar, shut off the motor & try to hover over them.  The wind & tide may  move you off your target, & at times it may behoove you to drop an anchor.   Water depth is not critical, but you will have to use a heavier jig the deeper that you go.


We might clarify here in saying that this is basically vertical jigging.   This means that your line HAS to be as straight up & down as possible.   The reason is that when your jig on the raise of your rod tip will of course come up a few feet, they you drop the tip the design of jig allows it to level itself, & allows this jig to sea-saw back & forth fluttering down.   This fluttering motion is what attracts the fish & entices a strike.  If the line angle gets enough so that when you drop the rod tip, the jig can not drop vertical, but still at the angle of the line, you get no fluttering & therefore way less fishy enticing action to the lure.


Use the lightest jig you can (usually a 2 oz.).  If & when the drift or current gets more & you can not jig vertically then you will have to go to a heavier lure, or use your kicker motor to position you.


In the illustration below, the gray line represents the upward pull with the blue the jig's path of falling.  The LH represents a vertical jig being raised & then dropped with the jig laying somewhat horizontal & fluttering as it descends.   The RH illustration will be if the drift has your line angle so much that when you drop the rod tip, the current merely pulls the jig rearward with little fluttering.   These jigs need to flutter to make a bait-fish action.


Jig descending patterns


Rod: To do it right, the gear comes into play every bit as much in this method as trolling or mooching, however totally different equipment is used. You will probably want to use shorter rods with stiff butt sections and fast taper sensitive tip. Some prefer a 7’ to 7’ 9" length.  These rods are different than a trolling or mooching rod & have more backbone. A backbouncing rod like the G. Loomis HSR-932C or Lamiglas Puget Jigger model G1302-T work well.


Reel: Since you are cranking a lot more here than in any other method, you need a reel with a retrieve ratio of at least 4 to 1, with upwards to 5 to 1 being better. You don’t usually need a large reel, so an Ambassedeur 5500, Diawa Millionare 35, Shimano Bantam 50 or Shimano Triton 100G will all work fine.   However since the fish may be suspended off the bottom, a line-counter reel like the Shimano Tekota 400LC or Cabellas DM20 will prove very beneficial to help you keep the lure within the strike zone.   These line counter reels may add a few ounces of extra weight, but under the right conditions may improve your catch.   Which ever reel you pick, it does need to have a good drag system.


It is about impossible to effectively vertical jig with a spinning reel & yet be ready to set the hook on a slack line bite.


Line: You may want to fill the spool about half full with 20# mono, & then top it off with 125 yards or so of one of the new Spectra lines in about 30# to 50# size. You also need to be sure this spectra line is wound onto the spool very tight, as if not, when it gets wet & then dries, it seems to loosen enough so as to create line cutting into the edges & creating a stoppage of the spool.   This WILL equate to lost fish if they are running  when the spool comes to a stop.  This is the reason for the mono backing as it helps eliminate this situation & you probably do not need more than much over 100 yards of line anyway as if you have to chase a fish, and your boating situation is such that you should be able to readily chase the fish.  


This type of fishing is where the spectra type lines really pay off, because it has no stretch, and since it is a very small diameter, allows you to feel the take on the jig, plus reaching the bottom with less weight. You might consider using a 6’ shock leader of mono attached to a ball bearing swivel. This will help avoid pulling the hook out of the fish’s mouth during a hook set. It also may help to camouflage the line to the lure.


It helps if you add about 36" or so of 20# monofilament line as a leader tied to a small Sampo ball bearing swivel.  On the terminal end of this monofilament attach a small snap.  The use of a snap will allow you to change the lure more easily & therefore more often if conditions change, or you are not getting hits.   This mono acts as a short shock cord & also helps eliminate the possibility of the limper spectra line from getting tangled with the jig's hook on the fall.


Lure: If you are not sure what bait size is below you, use the smallest jig you can get away with and still reach bottom. If after you catch a fish open it up & observe the stomach contents. This may help you select a jig to “Match the Hatch”. 


Brands of proven jigs are Crippled Herring, Point Wilson Dart, & Grim Reaper to name a few.  Even the heavier Coyote spoons have proved effective.  Colors of proven jigs may be green, blue/silver or white.  Many fishermen will remove the existing triple hook & replace with a Siwash hook.  At this time place a barrel swivel between the hook & the jig, this will help keep the fish from using the leverage of the jig, the fish rolling & pulling the hook loose.


Some of these lead jigs you may read on the package that you can bend them for different results.  Well this may be so, but if you put a bend as if you were if you were trolling allowing the lure to rotate, this negates much horizontal fluttering action.


Crippled Herring


Hooks: Use SHARP hooks. The rule of thumb on hooks is that terbles may have more hook ups, but a single Siwash hooks deeper and loses less fish.  Even if the lure comes with a Siwash hook, it may be best to replace it with a slightly larger size for better hooking ability.  In the State of Washington, just be sure you are using barbless hooks, or at least pinch the barb over.


Scent: Yes, put scent on the lure, it doesn't have to be a lot, as if your jig has much contact with rocky or sandy bottoms, this sticky scent may well attract what it can pick up off the bottom.   Smelly Jelly is a good one, a couple of the flavors used can be Anchovie or Herring/Anis, but about anything can be used as these fish are hitting the lure with little reaction time, so scent probably is a masking scent to cover your own smell.


Method: You need to find the bait school or preferably a salmon school, spool out line & jig semi-slow. Jig your rod in about 2 foot motions, following the jig with the rod tip as it drops. This keeps you in contact with the lure at all times. There is no need to jerk it the full rod length, as you will probably be pulling it so far that the fish can not keep up with it.   


When searching for fish & you may want to cover  say 30' of the bottom water, when you get to the bottom, jig it up a couple of feet, let it fall back, raise it up 4 feet & let it fall back 2, raise it another 4’ & fall back another 2’ & work your way up past the bait. Then start over by going back down again if you are still in the bait fish. When the fish grabs the lure, it is just like it hit bottom and the line went slack. The bite is almost always when the jig is fluttering down like a wounded baitfish. Try to keep the rod tip low to the water so you will have room to make the hookset. Now comes a critical situation. As a novice, you will probably not be able to detect a slack line hit on the fall, but if you are only raising say 2', you may well detect the fish on the next upward motion.  Be well prepared to set the hook at the slightest deviation of normal.


If all else fails & the wind may be pushing you out of the fish concentration, drop your anchor & increase the weight of the jig.  Yah, I know this may not be fishing as vertical as you may like, but it is at least putting you over the fish more time than drifting off & running back all the time.


If you have one of the newer line-counter reels then you can set it & concentrate on the exact level the fish are at.  If you are using an conventional level wind reel, then you can estimate closely your depth by grabbing the line at the reel & stripping it out to at least the first rod guide.  This is usually about 24", so you can get a pretty good idea of the amount of line pulled out.   In conjunction to this when you start stripping if you glance down & visually locate the location of the level wind, & count the number of pulls/feet that it takes to move this level wind head completely over & back to where it was when you first started.  By doing this, you can then later come close by not stripping, but by just counting the passes of the level wind head.   A Shimano Triton 100G lets out about 10' per complete pass with a full spool.


And as usual the fish will hit when you least expect it, so be ever vigilant.  You may be letting line out just to get to the bottom in say 90', but your line hesitates at 40', SET THE HOOK.


Tips :  If your boat has a high cabin or a flat bottomed sled type boat where the wind can push the boat faster than a ordinary drift, it might be beneficial to try a drift sock or even 2 off the stern.   This could help slow your drift down & help maintain a more vertical line angle by keeping you in position longer.


If there are other fishermen near, watch & see what they are using & how they are using it if they catch fish.


Exceptions :  Buzz Bombs will work in vertical jigging, but they are better to be cast out & reeled in, hesitate & reel again allowing the lure to sink slightly on each hesitation.  These lures rotate on the line & have a totally different action.  When using them be sure to use the rubber bumper between the lure & the hook which is supplied in the package.  One thing to observe is that there is a front & rear of them, READ on the lure which end is FRONT.


Where: For best results,  jigging only works when the fish are stacking up in concentrations, like a river mouth, or on the lea side of a point when they are targeting bait fish like herring or candlefish.


Other Important items: One of the most important items here will be a good fishfinder. You may have noticed I said fishfinder not depthfinder.  Sure you need to know the depth of the water, but more important you need to know where the bait is, as where you find the bait, that is also where the targeted fish are more likely to be. Any sonar can give you the bottom depth, but you really need to have one that can be adjusted to show actual fish & bait as well.


You do not cover water like trolling when you jig, so you will need to be on top of concentrations of baitfish, after all, you are trying to imitate baitfish with your lure. Without this you are just getting upper arm & body exercise.  


Here you will probably be at the whims of the tide or wind, so fishing tide change at slack tide is way preferable than fighting a full running current. 

Copyright 2004-2006 LeeRoy Wisner  All Rights Reserved

Originated  08-28-05, Last Updated 01-06-2006

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