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Jig Fishing For Stripers with Soft Plastic Baits.

Fishing with soft plastics is quite an art but those who master it can catch fish at almost any time and anywhere they find bass.  Technique is all-important, its not unusual to have three anglers fishing on a boat using the same rod and the same soft plastic, yet only one guy is catching the fish.

What is Jigging.
Jigging is a technique where the rod is rotated towards you to pull the jig along, then reeled down towards  the jig taking up the line to prevent any slack.  This results in a rise-and-fall retrieve for the jig itself, an enticing action that many fish canít resist.   Under ideal conditions you can raise the rod tip over your head, then reel as you lower the rod tip, keeping the line tight as you go down.  How long or short or hard or gentle is determined by the type of jig, depth, and what action gets the most hits. 

Keeping the Line Tight.
The most critical part to learn is keeping the line tight on the backstroke.  Any slack at all leaves the fish an opportunity to hit the bait without the angler feeling the hit in time to react.   The speed of the backstroke should be controlled by your reeling speed during the backstroke.  Only go down as fast as your reeling speed keeps the line tight.  This is the most important point of jig fishing that many anglers donít understand.  You arenít just whipping the rod up and down regardless of the slack, it is  jigged it up but the going back is done more slowly, keeping an eye on the line at all times to ensure that no slack is introduced in the line.  If you canít get this part right, guess who's the guy on the boat not catching any fish.

When it's windy out the wind can put a big bow in your line, making it much harder to feel when a fish hits the jig.  In this situation you want to keep the line very close to the water by jigging horizontally.  The less line you have out of the water the better, allowing you to still feel the hit and catch fish.  If you're right handed, it is easier to jig from right to left horizontally.  If left handed, the opposite is true.

One key to jig fishing is the use of braided line.  Braided line has less stretch then monofilament line, making it much easier to feel a hit.   When combined with a graphite rod, this makes it very easy for anyone to detect a hit, and this allows you to catch more fish.

Responding to the Hit.
The hit will almost always occur at the bottom of your jig, when you stop at the bottom to move forward again.  This simulates the natural action of a small fish swimming fast then slowing down before putting on another burst of speed, and this slowdown is when a predator will hit.  The typical instinctive reaction when feeling a hit is to haul back on the rod instantly.  This does not always work.  Stripers are very much into the habit of stunning their prey, often side swiping it or whacking a bait with their cheek or tail then sucking it up while it is stunned and incapable of fleeing effectively.  This means that itís better to hesitate for up to a second or even drop the rod tip for one to two seconds as soon as you feel the hit, then raise it and see if the fish is there.    If your jig gets bitten off due to a toothy fish, consider either using wire leader or not dropping your rod tip when you get a hit.

How to Fish the Water Column.
Much of the time I see anglers cast their soft plastic out, and as soon as it hits the water they close up and start working it.  This is fine if youíre working the upper water column because the fish are high, but if the fish are down deep itís no good.  A rule of thumb for fishing deeper water is to do a count before you close up the bail and start your retrieve, usually half the depth of water is your count.  So if itís 30 feet deep use a 15 count then close up and start working the jig.  This works for ĺ-1oz jigheads, lighter ones obviously need a longer count for the same depth and heavier need a shorter count.  Typically I donít use any other sizes, as I find most of the anglers I take out canít feel smaller weights during their retrieve.  Being able to feel the jig at all times is absolutely critical to success.   The count is also varied for how deep you need to get in the water column.  To find out when it hits the bottom, drop your jig right next to the boat and count until it hits the bottom.  Now you know what your maximum count can be for that depth.

Type of Fishing Rods to Use.
I personally prefer to use graphite or graphite-core rods with light tips and somewhat softer actions.  The flexibility in the rod tip helps soften the effect of most peopleís jigging to make it look more natural, and less jerky.  It is also easy to feel a hit with this type of rod.

Which Plastics to Use.
Match the hatch.   This term is used very often and it is important.   What is used all depends on what the fish are feeding on that day or at that time.  This doesnít mean they wonít hit anything else, but often they wonít be as aggressive with bait that does not represent the forage they are eating.  Sand eels are best represented by sluggos, fin-s, or yum houdini shads in the arkansas shiner color.  This is the best color for a typical sand eel.  For mackerel, a green back/silver underbody is best.   Bunker are represented by 4Ē or 6Ē shad baits with the wiggley tails, pearl with black backs.    Iíll say it again, your jighead/soft plastic combination has to match what they are feeding on that day in the spot your fishing.  Pay attention to what they throw up as the approach the boat or once they are in the boat, and use whatever youíve got that best represents that forage fish.  Consider having a couple of types of plastics rigged on different rods so you can quickly react to by presenting different baits to the fish.  Use the rule of three, three times on one jig vs one on the others sets a trend, then switch all rigs over.   In the middle of the day when the sun is up high, try white plastics if nothing else is working.

How to Rig Your Jigs.
Use braided line on your outfits, the low stretch will improve sensitivity.  A 6' section of monofilament leader should be used before the jig head, tied to the braid using a uni-knot to uni-knot connection, which can be pulled riht through the rod tip without damaging the gude like a swivel will.  We use Trilene big game mono in green, this color works best.  The mono is then tied directly to the jig head with a fisherman's knot (some anglers know this as a Rapala knot).  This type of knot allows the jig head to swing any way it needs to naturally.

What Jig Heads to Use.
My personal favorite are the Lunker City 1oz pro Jig heads.  They have a recess to place 3D stick-on eyes 5/16Ē diameter.  I take them unpainted out of the package, steel wool them to give the jighead a real shine, place the stick-on eyes and then spray them with acrylic clear coat to keep the lead from oxidizing.  First of all, eyes are very important for fish to key in on.  Yes, they hit jig heads without eyes, but when the fish get a little fussy it makes all the difference.  Next, most fish are shiny and silvery, and leaving the lead in its natural color works fine and clear coating keeps it shiny.  Even better, if it gets scratched up, it stays the same shiny lead color, unlike painted jig heads.   Occasionally smaller or larger jig heads are used, but I find most anglers canít properly feel anything much less than 3/4 ounce in weight.   We will sometimes use darter or arrowhead jigs, in green or white.

Where to Fish.
All the technique in the world wonít help if there are no fish where your working the baits.    Find the structure that striped bass like to use as an ambush point and drift or troll that area.  For soft plastics, drift fishing is the most effective technique.  Trolling will work if the water is around 30í or more in depth, unless your engine is fairly quiet in whuch case you can troll shallower water.    Bass prefer ambushing their prey and will hang around boulder fields, rocky bottoms, or sandbars with drastic changes in depth.  In all these cases there needs to be a running tidal current, if the tide isnít running the fish usually donít bite.

Summary.
One last tip for you, pay attention to the tide, wind, fishing techinque, and what is being used when your fishing is successful, and donít be afraid to use something different just to see if it happens to be the hot lure for that day.  Noticing trends and reacting to them quickly will help you catch a lot more fish.

 

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