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An introduction to jigging for reef fish
"The reality is these metals marvels are in fact highly turned fish catching tools which have gone through the same research, development and trialling as your more traditional lures. Not just slabs of steel, some are sophisticated blended alloys, moulded into shapes which accentuate their action when dropped or retrieved. "
Author: Andrew Matthews

Online fishing tackle

There have been quite a few fishing fads becoming popular with anglers over the recent years. Fishing bait – or meat as some lure purists call it, is very effective in catching fish, but for those of you like myself who enjoy increasing the challenge, soaking bait becomes dull and boring after a while. Once we have perfected our skills operating a boat, fish finder and GPS we start to become reasonably proficient at catching a feed of fish and we go looking for new challenges to enhance our angling skills.

Innovative sports anglers cracked the code with bream on lures - particularly soft plastics, which in turn led on to blokes throwing rubbers at the blackie’s closely related cousins, pink snapper. I myself admit to having a pinkie on plastic fetish which, for a while caused me to focus my attention purely on donging demersals with soft rubbers. This necessitated me modifying my tackle kit somewhat, so that my quiver of functional rods included quality graphite spin rods specially designed to work soft plastics. Certainly, standard spin tackle will deliver a soft plastic to the honey spot, but really I take the golfer’s view that you can’t play golf with only one club.

KC Leong doing battle with a jigged pink snapper

Meanwhile out wide in the deep blue, sports fishing anglers have been going sick when it was discovered the catch efficiencies long metal jigs were having on Samson fish. Big bruiser fish, bursting with bad attitudes like a pumped up nightclub bouncer on anabolic steroids showed the pioneer jiggers who dictated the rules of engagement. With all those bad manners anglers soon realised that you need big specialised gear to do battle with these previously under appreciated fish. Tips were taken from Japanese anglers chasing similar species like yellowtail kingfish and dogtooth tuna. Tough parabolic rods need to be no nonsense gear that are capable of coping with powerful runs and sustained periods of heavy vertical lifting work.

It’s not quite as easy as it looks but, once you get the hang of synchronising your cranking of the handle in tune with the up and down movement of the rod tip, it all comes comfortably together and you will attract the attention of resident metal maulers.

The trouble is Samson jigging gear is expensive. It’s not unless you have heaps of dough, a big boat that you use and can kit yourself up specifically just to chase sambo’s. Most people go on a jigging charter anyway, with jigging rods, heavy duty reels and gimbal belts provided. Then there isn’t any really a compelling reason to enthusiastically go out and blow the bucks yourself, other than maybe on a couple of jigs.

There has been quite a few recent articles in this and many other fishing publications about jigging Samson fish, but very little on using the technique to target other species. You do need to understand the basic sambo technique of erratic power jigging, but there are other skills and knowledge to acquire if you want to take the next step towards prize species like snapper, emperor, coral trout and dhufish.

The lure itself, a seemingly simple enough long skinny piece of metal, with a swing hook attached at the top doesn’t come across to the uninitiated as very exciting. Other than the recognisable ‘fish like’ eyes, it’s hard to understand why they cost so much for ‘just a chunk of metal’. Some people a couple of years back suggested that sambo’s were so easy to catch, all you need to do was drop a spanner down to them and you would hook up. Personally, I think that’s disrespectful to these great fighting sports fish which will tear you a new hole if you don’t afford them some deference.

Don’t believe that jigs work on dhufish? Now you do ...

The reality is these metals marvels are in fact highly turned fish catching tools which have gone through the same research, development and trialling as your more traditional lures. Not just slabs of steel, some are sophisticated blended alloys, moulded into shapes which accentuate their action when dropped or retrieved.

There are different shapes, styles and methods of jigging them that you need to understand to become a demersal jigmaster. Basically we can group them into three fundamental families - butterfly, knifes and sliders. These jigs can also be differentiated by where the weight is positioned - centre weighted, tail weighted or somewhere in between. Centre weighted jigs are designed to flutter, glide and dart during the drop but fall slower than tail weighted designs.

Butterfly jigs come in a variety of sizes and lengths which gives them a distinctive flutter-like zigzag motion. These centre weighted jigs don’t drop straight to the bottom but descend almost horizontally because of the wider shape and the unique way the lure's edges are cut. Some designs like the Evergreen ‘Caprice’ have a flat side - the top while the other side is a V shaped keel - the bottom which causes the jig to rock on its centre line axis. With practice these lures can be made to hover just above the bottom, being well suited to shallow water work. Because of the sporadic movement and slower action produced by the butterfly jig, demersal fish are enticed to strike more consistently than with traditional deep knife jigs.

Longer butterfly jigs provide a tremendous amount of side-to-side movement during the retrieve, with a seductive roll-and-wobble action on the fall. The centre of gravity of these jigs gives them an action that just drives demersal fish like snapper and dhufish into a bite frenzy reaction.

The rod action used for these jigs can vary greatly from a high pitch, short jerkmotion, also known as mechanical jigging to a longer slower stroke, which is easier on the body. The rod is comfortably carried under the armpit while simultaneously the reel is quickly wound in one turn for each rod lift cycle. Mix up the speed and hesitation between lifts a bit till you find what makes the fish angry.

An example of a butterfly jig. This Evergreen Caprice has been doing the business on pink snapper

You will need to hunt around the better tackle shops for butterfly shaped jigs as only a few cheap brands are currently available - mostly Chinese copies of original Japanese designs. Hopefully with more innovative anglers asking for these jigs, some of the tackle shops will start to stock some of the better brands out of Asia such as Seven Seas Hookers and Fishermen Andaman. Look out for the highly respected Valley Hill jigs which are slowly filtering into the WA tackle shops as these are red hot.

Knife jigs are tail weighted, designed to drop and lift quickly with very little horizontal action. These are used to target deep water bottom fish such as sambo’s, grey banded cod and trevally as their streamlined designs resist the effects of current and drift.

Tail heavy streamlined jigs can be retrieved with a high speed, high pitch, short jerkmotion, similar to the butterfly jigs. Otherwise, if the jig is fairly elongated, a long fast stroke can give a great darting action. By working the rod from the gimbal belt rather than from under the armpit, the rod is lifted in a wide arc or long stroke then dropped to allow the jig to flutter downwards. Simultaneously, the reel is quickly wound in two to three turns for each cycle. Knife jigs also tend to have narrow top or head for better streamlining thus reducing the jig lift load felt at the rod tip. This rod action can also be used on long centre weighted jigs as well. The knife style of jig is well represented on tackle shop shelves with Smith, River2Sea, Kaos and Zest being popular.

Slider jigs have been designed with very precise weight distribution, giving a totally unique action compared to butterflies and knifes when dropped then retrieved. These technical jigs do require a little knowledge and experimentation to get the most out of them. They are not suited to charter boat fishing with five or more people jigging over the side at once, as inevitably there will be tangles and tears. Shout! have some amazingly effective jigs including Slide Actor, Lighten and Stay which are well worth playing around with. Look out for Smith’s Side Thruster as well which really has a unique action that drives big fish crazy.

The above is really a guide only as there are no set rules to abide by, so you can easily mix up the technique with either slow or high speed or a combination of both to suit the situation. Pink snapper, coral trout and emperors definitely prefer a slower fluttery jig presentation while groper, Samson fish, amberjack and yellowtail kingfish prefer blistering speed retrieves.

The author proving that jigging can really produce for the table

The super attraction with jigging is the room to experiment to find what works for you. Like all extreme sports you need to equip yourself tactically with a kit which not only looks good but also is comfortable to use. Like a centre weighted jig, I’m of a large frame which is a far cry from the short armed medium size of our East Asian friends, who are designing most of the top end rods. You need to carefully consider the types of jigs you’re going to use on the rod before rushing into the investment.

Observations from overseas of accomplished jigging devotees indicate that longer overhead rods matched with small but strong ‘bay’ reels are preferred when using small butterfly jigs, especially for the light tackle junkies working in shallow water to 30 metres and using small jigs in the 40-80 g range. Reels are best loaded with colour coded PE 1-2 line terminated with at least one metre of monofilament leader. I wouldn’t bother with fluorocarbon as it tends to be stiff in lighter classes of 20-40 lb, which can cause line hinging at your connecting knot during your retrieve. It’s a good idea learning the preferred GT knot for attaching leaders but a bimini double to improved Albright knot doesn’t often let me down.

From personal experiences I find when jigging that spin gear is easier to use than overheads in both light and heavy line classes. This allows a shorter rod to be used which I have found less cumbersome in a smaller boat. Because we often venture into the 40-70 metre depths our jig bags contain a range of mid-size metals in the 90-180 g range. I run PE3 on a Daiwa 3500HD Custom reel on my ‘light setup’. One and a half metres of 60-80 lb mono leader offers a nice bungy like shock absorber for when the fish smash the jig in disgust. For tiger country I have a Smith AMJ Offshore matched to a Saltiga Z4500 spin reel pulling 12 kg of angry drag which is more than enough to defend myself from a mugging by a monster metal muncher. Heavy braid is not really required, unless you expect to get bricked in the reefy structure. On the big gun I run PE 4 (60 lb) Galis Jigman X8 line so that I can ‘keep in touch’ and feel the jig during retrieving. I could go to PE6 if expecting larger predators but if they have teeth you are buggered anyway. A 60-120 lb mono leader close to two metres depending on jig weight saves the armpit from damage when things get ugly.

Make sure you measure up your new rod so that the end of the rear butt fits comfortably under your arm pit with your hand positioned under the reel stem. If the rear handle is too short it will be uncomfortable to use over long periods and you will tire fairly quickly.

Rigging assist hooks is something you will need to learn as well. I do use readymade packet assist hooks such as the Owner SF Assist but sometimes find the heavy gauge hooks have difficulty penetrating the hard boney mouths of snapper and emperor. Just make sure your hooks are ultra sharp and you shouldn’t have too many problems. Try finding Varivas Wide Gape assist hooks which are finer gauge, while at the same time buy some Kevlar cord and heat shrinking tube so you can tie up your own.

Try experimenting with twin assist hooks, making sure both face one another so they act together. I have found that by having two swinging assist hooks you get a much better hookup rate conversion when compared with just a single. Bottom hooks are also useful but be prepared to lose jigs if you snag the bottom. Open eye Gamakatsu hooks suit this purpose perfectly and are easy to attach on the go.

Use an appropriate size solid rig to attach your assist hooks via a heavy duty Owner split ring to the top of the jig. Use the same split ring to also attach your barrel or ball bearing swivel which you then tie to your leader. Closer inspection of the pictures contained here will show the most reliable method of rigging swivels, assist hooks and jigs. Otherwise, just ask at the tackle shop that has a good selection of jigging gear, as chances are their staff will be able to help you out.

Jigging is a very exciting way of fishing, especially for our prized eating species which just adds a whole new dimension to your angling repertory and enjoyment. If you are sick of sitting around soaking bait this summer, go out and give jigging a go, because it’s not all about Samson fish in 100 plus metres!