My Jigging Style - Soft Plastic Baits

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wayne gustaveson

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After futilely beating the water to a froth with surface lures the grim realization sets in that today we have to go down where they live. Bass are just not coming up to put on the delightful air-show acrobatics that we had hoped for. Dip into the tackle box and guess what comes out first. I can’t speak for you but in my hand I have a soft plastic jig. There are some other possibilities but for me it just a matter of determining what size and color plastic grub and how heavy of head to complete the presentation. The soft plastic jig catches more bass for me than any other lure. Old reliable continues to perform time after time.

Now what color? In the spring trying to imitate a crayfish is a good starting point. (Crayfish are green and brown with a bit of red or orange.) In the fall maybe a shad color is best. ("Shad color" usually is equated with smoke/sparkle.) What about just plain smoked without sparkle? That's okay. What about clear or silver with or without big sparkles or little flakes. That's okay too. Do you get my drift here. Shad are silver on the sides white on the belly, blue-black on the back with YELLOW on the fins. A lure that looked like that would probably be really dorky. I think any soft plastic that runs from clear to blue-black would fit "shad color". Brown, pumpkin, orange, chartreuse are not shad color but they are crayfish color.

When talking about hard plastic baits then shad color to me is silver with white belly and black or blue on the back. Recently there has been a trend toward realism with holograms that have made exact replicas of shad. Do these work better? Maybe.

Color is only the first part. Presentation and action are tied together in the complete package. If a shad colored soft plastic is laying on the bottom it is less likely to look like a shad than the same lure swimming in the water column particularly if it is swimming near a school of shad.

A vibrating hard plastic crank bait attracts the fish first with noise and movement. It closes the deal at the end if the color of the noisy lure resembles what the fish wants to eat.

Did I clear up this color thing or just muddy the water? Shad color is your choice and it is not a guarantee. Funny colored lures catch fish in the right place while perfectly colored lures may miss in the wrong place. That's fishing. Bait color definitely attracts interest but movement and behavior are equally important in actually fooling the fish. Plastic jigs are a package deal with color, size, action and presentation equally important. Really what happens is that the fish sees and feels the bait in the water and then natural curiosity takes over. Fortunately, bass are more curious than a pup with baby teeth trying to decide what to chew next.

Spring time is marked by slow metabolism, cool temperatures, overcast skies, and scarcity of food. Fish are trying to get active, move shallow and find nest sites. A soft plastic jig fished on the bottom fits right into the needs of the bass. It is available near the bottom where the bass is spending resting and searching time. The slow moving jig matches slow bass movements induced by cold temperatures. Plastic jig body color associated with natural food such as crayfish or panfish complete the package making it a desirable morsel ready to eat. End result is a pickup by one of the better quality fish that are more aggressive and the first fish to become active in the spring time. Soft plastic jigs are great spring fishing lures.

Summer finds fish diving deeper to beat the heat. There is lots of food with crayfish and forage fish hatching out. Bass are warmer and therefore faster moving, full of energy and always on the move ready to eat or chase at a moments notice. Food is available on the bottom and swimming in the open water above. The wider variety of food items available leads to a wider acceptance of plastic body colors. Color and movement attract fish from longer distances. The bait may be held in the mouth longer in warm water but it can still be rejected by a bass in a matter of milliseconds. Those baits that offer a taste of salt, crayfish or fish are often held longer by the fish before being rejected.

Fall is harvest time when food is abundant and bass are gorging prior to winter. The soft plastic jig still works since it can be fished shallow or deep, close to the bottom or at mid depth in the water column. Fish are moving maximum distances between feeding opportunities and preferred temperature zones. A bait bounced on the bottom still attracts attention from bass looking for crayfish, while that same soft plastic jig swimming rhythmically back to the boat is enticing to bass looking for suspended bait fish in the water column.

The soft plastic jig is the most versatile bass lure that I have found. It works in any season. Adding a plastic skirt and a double tail grub make the bait fall slower when a slower presentation is needed. A heavy head and single tail make the bait zip through the water when a fleeing forage fish bait is called for. A heavy lead head can be used as a fish call by bouncing the head on a rocky bottom creating a noisy disturbance that can draw curious fish to the plastic bait. A light head on heavy line can make the jig semi-buoyant when the most subtle presentation is needed.

Bass seem to have the same impression. Plastic jigs account for the majority of sport caught bass reported by anglers in my work. The success comes from the great variety of sizes, colors, presentations, and techniques in which plastic jigs can be used. This bait is the ”real deal”, ready for any situation that the angler can discern. Just use your imagination, a soft jig, a little knowledge of what the fish want and the recipe for success is there.

Want a sure thing? Forget it, that doesn’t exist. But the closest thing to it in bass fishing at Lake Powell is a soft plastic jig.

My Soft Plastic Style

Each individual has a style. With fishing there are countless ways to present a jig. My method is zip-bounce-bounce-bounce-rip-zip.

Translated, ZIP means a short cast with a fast falling heavy head (3/8 ounce) and single tail grub. I want the jig in the selected spot immediately and on the bottom one second later.

BOUNCE - the slack is taken out, the lure felt and lifted off the bottom and then returned. Process is repeated 2-3 times.

RIP - after the last bounce the lure is retrieved in a slow swimming motion for a few feet and the pace is constantly increased until I am reeling as fast as possible when the lure is close to the boat.

ZIP - another spot is selected and the next cast made. Process is repeated.

My style should not necessarily be your style. I fish way too fast. My goal is to entice aggressive fish that are easy to catch. These guys are chasing and trying to be the first to find food. I concentrate for just a moment after the bait settles visualizing bass following the bait to the bottom. For a moment the lure, rod and I are ONE on the first pick up.

The first hop is when I do my best work. The fish and I will meet here most often. He mouths the bait and I use my best feel and sensitivity to detect his presence at the first pick up. I give it two more token chances on the next 2 bounces and then lose interest and pick another spot to cast.

The rip is designed to get trailing bass (those that followed the jig up in the water column) to attack the fast moving lure. I use the grub as a crank bait on the latter part of my retrieve.

My methods don't give the fish a chance to look over the bait and take a few moments to decide. I am using it as a reaction bait - take it or leave it.

Is this the best technique - not always and less lately. When this doesn't work I move to deeper water find the edge of structure and drop the bait straight down. Then bounce - bounce - bounce - rip - drop. I need a heavier head (at least 3/8th ounce) to get quick bottom contact. I am not looking for bigger fish with a heavier head and quick drop. I am looking for a quick catch rate.

If fishing with another angler using a lighter head there would some days that I would have 6 fish in the boat before he felt comfortable with his first cast. There would be other days or spots where he would have 4 fish and I would be fishless.

His technique is just as good. The smaller jig head falls slower which may be the presentation technique needed that day. Adding a double tail grub increases surface area and slows fall rate even more. Using a different colored painted jig head provides a choice for an inquisitive fish. Today a bass may eat yellow but not red as he swims around inspecting the bait. The fish is no longer reacting (take it or leave it) but now choosing (selecting) what he prefers to eat.

There is no right or wrong here; unless you are trying to duplicate what I do and it is not your nature to rip fish. Find out what works for you. Understanding your own style will help you catch more fish.

The most important thing I have learned while fishing with soft plastic is to not give up after missing a fish. Many times a bass will pick up a bait and then let it drop when pressure is applied or the lip hooked fish will come a short distance and then come unhooked. My common practice is to “kill the grub” after a fish comes unhooked. By that, I mean as soon as I know the fish let go I just open the bale and drop the lure to the bottom. When it hits I take up the slack and then set the hook. I don’t test to see if the fish has returned I just set the hook because I know that more than 50 % of the time the fish will be holding the bait once more. If I miss the second set I drop again and 33% of the time the fish will be there and can be caught on the third attempt.
 
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