Summer has arrived, and with it salmon jigging season. As summer progresses, the salmon move into shallower water closer to shore. This means that you can leave the downriggers at home and get jigging.
What is Salmon jigging?
Jigging is also known as jerk fishing (and no, “jerk fishing” has nothing to do with that guy who monopolizes the launch ramp on a busy day). Whatever you choose to call it, it has been one of my favorite ways to fish since I was a child. I still vividly remember hooking my first big spring in shallow water off Texada Island while fishing with my dad. From that day on, I’ve been hooked. Getting to feel the fish testing the lure and then hopefully grabbing it and running was always more exciting for me than waiting to see a rod pop off a downrigger clip. I also love the peace and quiet of drifting with the current, which gives you the opportunity to really observe your surroundings for baitfish, birds, or jumping salmon. In fact, with the motor off, your first clue to these activities is often heard, not seen. The rain-on-water sound of an approaching bait ball, the splash of a jumping salmon, or the squawks of sea birds can often guide you to the salmon.
I love playing a salmon from a boat that’s not moving. In fact, I’ll often cut my engine when I hook a fish while trolling to try to recreate some of that experience. I know it is more effective to keep motoring (to help keep the line tight), but I simply prefer to just drift while I play a fish. I also find having the motor off greatly reduces the likelihood of me getting my line wrapped up in my propeller, although I can sometimes still achieve this when playing a feisty coho and/or not paying attention.
I also like the simplicity of jigging. There are no downrigger cables to clear, no release clips and no cannon balls. Just you, your rod, and (hopefully) a salmon. It is also a great way for beginning fishermen who aren’t rigged up for trolling to get started. Jigging is also very effective if done correctly. In fact, it can be more effective than trolling at certain times.
To jig salmon, you must have a reel that allows the lure to freely flutter as it falls. This generally means a level wind or a spinning reel. I prefer level winds, as they hold more line. Any small, metal baitfish shaped lure can be used. I prefer flat-sided ones that flutter down rather than your typical streamlined cod jigs that are designed to rapidly descend to the bottom.
There are a few salmon jigs that fit this requirement. All of them can work, but I certainly have my preferences. I also believe that technique and location are far more important than which lure you might choose. I started out as a Buzz Bomb fisher, and I still believe it is a wonderful universal lure. However, these days I normally use The L’il Nib in Irish Mint colour. It was designed in Nanaimo by a local high school teacher, and I’ve had good luck with it. It’s very similar to the venerable MacDeep, which also has a great action. There are two newer jigs that are very effective. They are flat on one side, concave on the other, and are specifically designed to flutter. They are the P-line ’Sassin Jig and the Delta Half Jig. Although, since the Half Jig was designed by my colleague at the Harbour Chandler Dane Christensen, I tend not to use it, or I’d have to admit to him how good it is. For the record, if you ever recognize him out on the water, study his technique. He is an expert fisherman and has taught me a great deal about jigging.
First, jigging is not as simple as it may seem. There is a real technique to effective jigging for salmon. It is much more vigorous than jigging for cod. I drop the lure, and then only jig a few times before retrieving it and dropping again. This is a very active type of fishing, with the only downside being that your beverage of choice might get warm. I find most of my bites come on the flutter down of the jig, therefore you must use a reel that allows your lure to free spool down to the desired depth. The lure appears to be an injured baitfish falling into the depths. You must be ready to flip the bail or engage the drag of your reel quickly, and set the hook. Remember, setting the hook before you engage your drag will lead to a large rat’s nest with no hope of reeling in the salmon. It also tends to lead to various comments from any onlookers regarding your competence to operate a fishing rod.
After the bite, the salmon may react in several different ways. It might smash the lure and run with it, causing your line to start peeling out. Alternatively, the fish may grab the lure and swim for the surface, causing your line to go limp. These fish are hard to hook, as you must gain line on them before you can set the hook. I had one 15-pound spring almost launch himself into my boat like this once. I don’t think he was even properly hooked until he fell back into the water and my line finally tightened enough for a good hook set. And finally, it may also be a much subtler take. Your line may simply stop dropping and just go limp, as though your lure has hit the bottom. The salmon is holding the lure in its mouth, but for whatever reason is not reacting. I find larger salmon often do this. So, if I feel anything out of the ordinary, I engage my drag and set the hook.
Experienced level wind fishermen may skip setting their drag and simply apply pressure on the reel drum with their thumb. This works well if you do it right and allows a faster hook set. But if you get it wrong, well, see my comment about rat’s nests above.
Where to Jig
If you are trolling, you have the ad- vantage of covering more ground in your search for salmon. If you aren’t sure where the fish are, covering more territory makes sense. So to be an effective jigger, you must know where the salmon are likely to be. This is where having modern fish finders and knowing how to use them is a great advantage. Using a fish finder is a topic for another article, but here’s one tip for now: turn off the fish symbols and learn to identify actual fish rather than just hoping the fish cartoon on your screen is a real fish and not seaweed. Also, set the scan range to the depth you are fishing. Honestly, who cares what’s going on at 500 ft?
Even if you don’t have a fish finder, there are many other clues. Find the bait balls and you will find salmon. Look for feeding birds. Take note whether they are diving birds or surface feeding. This tells you the depth the bait is at.
Also study your chart. Look for areas with structure, particularly underwater rocks and reefs. The baitfish will often hang out on the down current side of a rock, and the salmon will be just beyond them. Remember, the salmon are normally on the edge of the bait ball. If you are near the middle of the bait, move to the edge. Jigging in the middle of a huge bait ball often just leads to hooking herring. That’s fine if you like kippers, but I like salmon.
I park my boat right above the underwater rocks and drift with the current into deeper water. This will take me over the area likely to hold fish. Also, drifting into shallow water is a good way to snag lures.
Get your net ready before you start fishing, as the bites often come right away and sometimes from fish that are right under the boat. My favorite locations to jig are all under 100 feet deep, and some are less then 50 feet.
If want to have the excitement of hooking a big Chinook on light gear in shallow water, get out there and get ‘jiggy with it’.