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LEAD HEAD JIGS

Larry E.Stefanyk

In a world of fishing lures that vibrate, buzz, hum, shimmy and wiggle, the leadhead jig — which generally does none of the above — continues to grow in popularity. There are several reasons these "do-nothing" lures have such a faithful following, but the most important one is that they catch fish — just about every species.
Basically, a jig is nothing more than a blob of lead moulded to a single hook with its shank bent in such a manner that the eye and point ride upward. The dressing behind the head can be a skirt of feathers, hair, synthetics or slender rubber strands, or any of a wide variety of colourful, soft plastic bodies.
Jig heads may be round or banana shaped, which are fairly snag resistant, compressed laterally to sink faster and stay down better, or compressed horizontally to plane up or down depending on the hook eye placement. Generally, those designed specifically for casting and retrieving have the hook eye located at the nose, which reduces hang-ups.
A jig intended for vertical fishing has the hook eye positioned slightly to the rear of centre, so the head hangs nose down. The addition of body dressings then balances it horizontally when suspended.
Jigs of up to a pound or more are used to plumb ocean depths for halibut, lingcod, red snapper and sablefish. The one- to three-ounce range is suitable for salmon and inshore bottom fish, and an excellent choice for shore anglers. They can also be used quite successfully for freshwater trout.
Jigs ranging from 1/64 to 1/2 ounce attract most freshwater species, including trout, char, Kokanee, grayling, or bass. With these weights, it is almost mandatory to use an open-faced spinning reel loaded with light line.
While jigs are one of the oldest lures known, their use was confined almost exclusively to saltwater until after the Second World War. Their conversion to freshwater parallels the re-introduction of open faced spinning reels to North American anglers. Although forerunners to spinning reels appeared in Scotland in 1884, it was not until the 1920s that a design resembling present day models evolved — the English-made Illingworth. In 1935, the Luxor was introduced from France to the USA, but the outbreak of war choked off supplies before spinning became popular. As spinning rapidly gained converts, they discovered a whole new range of lure weights with which to fish. Previously, casting had required heavy lures or the addition of sinkers. As anglers experimented with smaller lures, someone reckoned that lead-heads reduced in size might appeal to walleye and bass. They did, and it was then only a matter of time before they were tried on other species. The rest is history that is still in the making.
When "new generation" soft plastic worms gained popularity about 1957, anglers started threading them onto jig hooks, and were into a whole new ball game. Eventually, long worms designed for largemouth bass were cut into short lengths that appealed to other species. These "grub bodies" were further modified with tails that went through the evolutionary process from tapered to paddle-shaped, to crescent-shaped — a design that created a sinuous, swimming action.
The introduction of minnow-shaped "fan-tails" like Vibrotails and Sassy Shads has since resulted in baitfish look-alikes with a tail-sculling swimming action that emits a low sonic hum.
In spite of the colour and action provided by soft plastics, jigs with hair and feather dressings are still popular. A favourite "clear-water" pattern for trout, char and smallmouth bass, consists of nothing more than small clumps of natural brown deer hair tied to unpainted heads weighing from 1/16 to 1/4 ounce. Plain and nondescript, but they probably resemble sculpins, crayfish or large nymphs which, in spite of being drab-coloured and rather well camouflaged, figure greatly in the diet of fish.
If fishing from shore, whether lake or ocean, it is simply a matter of casting to a likely-looking spot, then retrieving the jig with slow, erratic twitches along the bottom. Because of their design, they are relatively snag resistant.
While boat fishing, try drifting slowly and quietly along the edges of shore line drop-offs or deep channels while working the lure vertically. Try the "stealth" rather than "attractor" method created by spinners, spoons and plugs. If the bottom feels smooth, simply drag it along with occasional twitches or slight hops to make it appear like a live creature going quietly about its business. Fish admittedly eat wounded or crippled bottom dwellers whose erratic actions attract attention, but they far more often ambush healthy, unsuspecting creatures that are acting normally.
If the bottom feels rocky or uneven, use your rod tip to "swim" the jig like a sculpin foraging along the bottom, occasionally swimming cautiously upward for a foot or so to investigate some tiny morsel, then darting back toward bottom and safety.
When river fishing look for deep, slow-moving water. Try to keep a fairly steep angle between rod tip and jig, which permits working it slowly along smooth bottoms, or around and over rocks and other obstructions. If the current is too fast, the jig will be hard to control; if the angle is too little, it will snag frequently.
These same tactics work for river-run steelhead and salmon, but they prefer brighter colours. Try white jig heads with two- to three-inch soft plastic Twister Tails, or similar crescent-shaped bodies in fluorescent orange, red or chartreuse.
Ocean jigging for heavyweights like halibut often means going to depths of 200 to 350 feet or more. With that much line out, there will be adverse affects from tidal currents pushing against it. This "surface tension" bellies the line upward, sweeping the jig along with it. In such cases, use as heavy a jig as possible, with as small diameter line as possible. The difference between 100 and 60 pound test line might mean an extra half hour or more of fishing time on each side of a slack tide.
The action of a jig fished on heavy line can be greatly improved if the line is not tied tightly to the hook eye. Some loop knots prevent the line from tightening, but try to avoid them. All employ an overhand knot in the main line, which reduces its strength, and all are fairly involved to tie. Rely on double-locking wire snaps, which have a low profile, provide freedom of movement and permit rapid lure changes.
Jigs are ideal for do-it-yourselfers. Unpainted heads can be purchased at reasonable prices, then finished off as desired. Many anglers go on to buy a jig mould, hooks and lead, then make their own from scratch. Mould costs vary, but $20 to $35 is about average. If its price is figured into the overall cost of producing the first 100 jigs, they average about the same as if bought from a dealer. After that, the cost drops dramatically.
If jig bodies are not available, they can be fashioned from pieces of soft plastic lures, pork rind, glove leather, rubber bands, or fringes cut from balloons or discarded rubber gloves. Large streamer flies can also provide a source of emergency material for hair and feathers, which can be tied behind the jig head with thread or light fishing line.
That lead-heads catch fish is beyond question — which is why the original design is still around after centuries of use. They are also the most economical and least snag prone of any weighted lure. With little or no built-in action, you, the angler, must provide it with rod tip manipulation. Thus, retrieves can be erratic, stealthy, fast, slow, or even stopped dead — whatever you choose.
The simplicity of jigs is what makes them so versatile. While their acceptance for freshwater use in B.C. has been slow, anglers are discovering that at times they outperform traditional lures. Which isn't bad for a do-nothing blob of lead on a bent hook.

Huxley’s Run: 

The evening flickered black and orange in the firelight. Three of us sat feet to fire, faces eerily shadowed in satisfied smirks. The fishing and supper had been delicious. Only the river and wild voices disturbed our silence. Something, I thought, of depth and meaning should be the sole disturber of that quiet moment.
“Piscatorial,” I said evenly, and in a semi-stentorian voice, “should be banned from the adjectival arsenal of every outdoor writer on the face of the earth.”
I thought I had imparted it like thunder and lightning. I thought it had shook the night, rattled my two companions out of their rapturous stupor. Instead one head turned slowly and asked, perplexed, “What the hell you say?” The other head didn’t turn, just kept staring into the flames and said, “Go ahead, just don’t piss in the fire.”
I blinked, I suppose, stunned that such a large statement had elicited such pathetic responses. It was wrong, so wrong. My fishing trip was almost ruined because of it. The more I thought of it, the more it needed to be addressed.
“Think of it,” I said, leaning forward. “Every outdoors writer, in almost every piece on fishing, uses ‘piscatorial’ like its some new found piece of magic elevating them to the title of Literary Giant, when it only reveals that they are nothing but hacks with no imagination, utterly enraptured in the syllabic fecundity of their piscatorial prose. (Ha, ha, ha, I chuckled to my intelligent self.)
One head turned — The Drinker — and he said, “Seriously?”
Second head turned — Mr. Garden Hackle — and he said, “Cool.”
It would have been good to retreat then. Shut mouth, open eyes, listen. But I couldn’t. I went on.
“And not only that, how many write of the great beast doing a head and shoulder rise to their fly? The last time I checked, fish don’t have shoulders. And what about those reels that scream their siren song? Reels don’t scream and they certainly don’t sing. It’s nothing but rubbish. And the silver bullet, oh how they love to describe their trout and salmon as silver bullets. Well silver bullets belong in werewolf tales and nowhere else. Rubbish, nothing but rubbish.”
One head turned — The Drinker — and he said, “Seriously?”
Second head turned — Mr. Garden Hackle — and he said, “Cool.”
 

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