What are the Best Fishing Jigs to Use?

A long time ago on Saturday mornings in Tampa Bay, Captain Mel Berman's chocolaty rich voice warmed his audience, at times approaching 70,000 experienced and green anglers. Fond memories aside, even 20 years ago on that radio show, the topic of jig fishing was a favorite subject.

What are Jigs?

A jig is a lure designed to simulate a baitfish, shrimp, crab, or other crustacean. They have been around as long as fishing rods it seems, and the elder among us remember them as the first lures we were taught to use in saltwater. These days they are made almost exclusively with a lead head, painted in several different colors.

Natural or Nylon Hair Jigs

Jig fishing for the most part includes a lure with some sort of tail. In the old days, these tails -- and the business-end of a 2/0 or 3/0 sharp steel hook -- were bucktail. In case you do not know what true bucktail is, it is the lower side of a deer's white tail. When a deer pees -- male or female -- they bleach the bottoms of their tails. The pure white hair is of a texture and water-resistance like no other material in the world. Tied tightly with wrapped thread above the hook, the hair breathes in the water in a manner that fish cannot seem to resist. Forced to choose a single lure (and one for big fish, not the baitfish many of us would prefer under survival conditions) a lot of experienced fishermen would choose white bucktail jigs.

As sport fishing grew, and the demand for natural bucktail exceeded the supply in many areas of the nation, innovative manufacturers recognized that certain nylon materials came close to simulating the breathing: expansion and contraction of the shape of the tail, and began supplying our market with nylon tailed jigs. They work well, but in our personal opinion not half-as-well as the natural variety. At the risk of using inappropriate language? If you are thinking jigs, white is right.


This fifty-year old bucktail jig was made from real deer tail hair. Now, it is more often made from nylon or other synthetic materials. The breath-ability of the natural hair is impossible to duplicate -- as is the strange water resistance of the hair. They are still around if you can find them. Jig Fishing was one of the earliest methods we know about.

Plastic Jig Tails

Soft baits shaped like fish or crabs are made of natural materials and will catch fish if used on any of a number of bottom-fishing rigs and literally left there untouched until fish pick them up and begin to swim away. While we strongly recommend you do not leave bait on the bottom on an untouched rod while you drink adult beverages and endanger everybody on the boat for a number of valid reasons, the point is that the stuff they use to make these popular plastic (called "Soft Tails") lures attracts fish even if the lures are not moving.

Lead Heads

Plastic jig tails come in all shapes, sizes, and costs. Ones made from shrimp -- like Gulp! brand baits can cost a considerable amount of money. An alternative are cheaper mass-purchased soft tails and a pint of menhaden oil. Try soaking soft tails in the almost magical oil, keeping it at least 24" from anything you ever intend to wear in public, and see how well it works for considerably less outlay.

Soft tails are the most popular artificial lure today, and with good reason. Attach a live or even dead shrimp, or spray them with a little fish-stink juice, and they will catch fish under almost any circumstance. Hard plastic swimming plugs like the relatively new Mirrodines and tried-and-true top waters like the Spook are just as trustworthy under the right conditions.

How to Catch a Fish with a Jig

Jigs are lures designed to work on the bottom. There are a number of different food sources that swim, crawl, or bounce around on or near the bottom. And there are different kinds of bottoms where we can find fish. To make a jig work well, you have to decide what you are trying to simulate, and what kind of bottom you are working with.

Retrieving a Jig

Whether you are fishing with a rubber worm for largemouth bass or a bucktail jig for snook, you have to think of what the retrieve does to the bait. If you cast a jig and start to bring it back and apply a slow retrieve, the jig is going to create a straight line and will not pick itself off the bottom. Imagine doing this on a sandy bottom with no grass, no oysters, no rock, no hard spots, no crab traps, and doing it out of casting distance of a dock, a sea wall, a buoy, or an anchored sailboat. We could think of more places you should consider using a jig, but for now imagine you're standing in 24-inches of water that is gin-clear (for the non-drinkers out there, that means much clearer than drinking water put in a plastic bottle that is actually tap water from downtown Seattle Washington and every bit as chlorinated as the poison most of us in Florida drink.)

You cast, and you start a slow retrieve. All is flat. The boring jig leaves a straight and boring line behind it.

Do it in the right place -- cast out a jig and just slowly retrieve it so it drags on the bottom -- and a lot of times massive redfish will pick them up and run for far-away waters. If you drag it a foot-or-two, lifting slowly and pausing in between, the jig is behaving a lot like a live shrimp behaves.

How Jigs Work

The gentler you are when you "snap" or lift the rod (after you cast the thing as accurately as possible to exactly where you want to fish), the lower-to-the ground the jig bounces. But start your work on jig fishing techniques on open grass flats -- they work perfectly there. Lift, or snap harder, and the jig lifts higher and makes a bigger cloud of dirt. Predators notice stuff like this happening on the bottom of where they live. Work the lure differently, and it acts like different, equally tasty things. You can fish all day with a jig and change speed, lift, and drag differently every thirty minutes, and not come close to all the variables the lure presents the angler and the species they're trying to catch.

Now get on a boat or on a dock or seawall so you are in five feet of water.

Cast the jig again. Take in all the slack, lower the rod tip while you're pointing at the jig, and snap the rod back until you are point at 10:00 on a clock. Do NOT snap it any higher. Take up the slack and do it four more times and then stop.

This photo above shows how the jig bounces off the bottom if you first point at the lure, take up the slack, and then snap the rod up to about 45 degrees, or 10:00 on the face of a clock. If you lift softly, the jig hardly rises. Pick it up slowly, and the lure moves a few feet and comes to rest. Get it right and you can make a DOA Shrimp or other lure act just like bait it is supposed to act. Here are the steps:

  1. Cast the jig.
  2. Take up the slack and pointed the tip of your rod at the lure in the water.
  3. Snap the rod from level-to-the-water to 10:00 on the face of a clock.
  4. Repeat it five times and stop.

Every time that jig hits the bottom it makes a puff of sand. That is what happens when a crab, shrimp, or injured baitfish (or feeding baitfish, for that matter) hits, touches, bounces on, or otherwise disturbs the bottom.

Change the way it acts by changing the speed, strength, and "snap" of the lift. You can fish all day -- literally -- and never come close to trying the different ways you can make that lure work. Change the color, size, and even smell of the tail attached to the jig, and the horizons have no bounds. Enjoy your jig fishing!

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