Jigs are among the oldest of artificial baits. Even dating back to the Macedonians, a flylike jig was employed to catch fish; and jig fishing for speckled trout along the northern shores of the Gulf of Mexico was certainly practiced at least as early as the start of the century. As old and simple as a jig might be, it still today ranks among the most popular of lures with both fresh and saltwater fishermen.
Generally speaking, a jig is any artificial bait with a weighted head, a fixed hook, and some sort of skirt or tail. The types of jigs available to today’s fisherman are as diverse as the materials that can be used in making them. There are feathered jigs, bucktail jigs, diamond jigs, shad rigs, jig and eels, and shrimp-tail jigs. By far the most popular of these baits for catching spotted seatrout is the so-called shrimp-tail jig. Consisting of a lead head, most commonly painted white or red, attached to a fixed hook, usually 2/0, and with a flexible plastic tail, this bait is used by more trout fishermen than any other artificial lure. One of the reasons is that, compared with plugs and spoons, the jig is by far the least expensive of all artificial baits. A more plausible explanation though is the simple fact that jigs catch fish. With the addition of a popping cork, the jig can be fished near the surface, singly or in tandem. Sans cork, the jig can be fished on or near the bottom using a slow retrieve; or with a fast retrieve, the jig can be fished as an effective midwater bait. In any situation, fishing the jig is an easy proposition. The flexible tail provides all the needed action; and the fisherman is free to experiment with his retrieve.
While I carry a variety of jigs in my fishing satchel, I once used to fish them only occasionally. One such occasion came during a midsummer fishing trip to the front beach. Most all of the fishermen that morning were using live shrimp. As for me, I was throwing my usual selection of hardware. Maybe once every fourth or fifth cast I’d feel a slight tip-tap, but actual hookups were scarce indeed. The previous morning I had snagged several keepers on a TT-19 Mirrolure; but this day there was nothing doing.
Finally, more out of desperation than anything, I decided to give jigs a try. My first choice was a wise and fortuitous one – the Mr. Twister Sassy Shad. I most always prefer using the one with silvery sides and a black back because it most closely resembles the fish that are in the water. In any case, on the first cast, I nearly had my lightweight graphite rod torn from my grasp by an angry yellowmouth. Moments later, I had netted a nice three-pounder. After a few more equally successful casts, I began to wonder if any of my other jigs would be as productive. They were not. In fact, virtually everything else I tried was totally ignored by the fish. Even the fishermen casting live shrimp were now nervously giving me the eye as I dropped another good fish into my fish basket.
The type of lure that was causing all the fuss is of a kind generically termed a swimming grub. The Mister Twister Sassy Shad is but one of these. Mann’s Swimmin’ Grubs, the Li’l Fishie and the Cocahoe Minnow are others of this ilk that are very popular. A flat, fin-like surface on the tail, perpendicular to the main axis of the lure, gives these jigs their built-in action; and, on this day at least, that action was driving the fish crazy.
It takes no special skill to make these lures strut their stuff either. Anything from a steady retrieve to the more universally used jerk and reel method works fine, making the swimming grub and excellent choice for beginners. Also, since they are light in weight, two can easily be joined and fished in tandem. Thirty-pound test line is best for this purpose, and the two jigs should be placed about eighteen inches or so apart on this leader.
Generally, tandem rigged jigs are more productive than single baits; and they oftentimes will result in doubles. Besides that, fishermen can fish two colors simultaneously, helping to narrow down which color is more productive on any given day. Some trout fishermen will sweeten a jig with an added piece of natural bait – shrimp, squid, or cut-fish although this is more likely to appeal to the sand seatrout, the bottom-feeding lesser cousin of the speck, and other bottom-feeding species.
Some of the best trout fishermen I know fish almost exclusively using jigs. At least one, Hardy Evans of Long Beach, hauls in trout after trout on but a single yellow, black-backed Stingray Grub. J.T. Hooker, another old-timer, fishes all winter long with nothing but a white shrimp-tail jig. As the story goes, J.T. on a particular trip had run out of white jig tails before he was ready to quit fishing. Rather than head for home, he rigged up with a knot of rubber bands that he’d found on the bottom of his skiff; and, guess what – he kept right on catching trout. That’s just proof positive that there’s no stopping an enterprising fisherman.