Dancing the jig
Jig fishing is a standard for filling red snapper limits, so follow these tips to fool even the most-wary Gulf darlings.
|David A. Brown|
The massive habitat of offshore drilling platforms offers bountiful snapper opportunities.
We’re talking jigs here. Drop it down, reel it up — well, there’s a little more to it than that, but along with that load of natural bait that you always carry, keep some hardware handy to add another level of sport to your game.
Of the many snapper species roaming Northern Gulf waters, jigging in one form or another appeals mostly to reds, mangroves and lanes. Pure jigging — nothing but the jig — is the main game for those crimson beasts, so we’ll start there with tactical tips from Capt. Damon McKnight of Super Strike Charters.
The Venice-based skipper said anglers can jig up their ruby-scaled quarry on either side of the river, but with plenty of options — mainly rigs — out of South Pass or Tiger Pass, McKnight will plan his offshore runs based on key factors above and below the water’s surface.
"A lot of my direction will change with the conditions that are offshore," he said. "I’m not going to jig for snapper in areas that I know have a lot of current in them. Especially jigging around the rigs, you want to be able to get your jig down to where the fish are.
"If you have a strong current, even if you go with heavier jigs the current will still get you into the rig and get you tangled up."
For targeted presentations, snapper anglers generally prefer shiny, slender metal jigs with one or two dangling assist hooks.
McKnight uses Shimano Butterfly jigs and Williamson Abyss jigs. Other options include Tsunami Blade jigs, Lamble Baits Flashing Haoli jigs and the venerable diamond jig.
Tsunami’s uniquely designed Facet Jig also fits the red snapper pursuit. The broad, angled head comes with light-catching 3-D eyes, a scaled or glow finish and a swivel-rigged hook. The body trails a glowing silicone skirt that grabs attention in low-light conditions.
Shimano’s Lucanus jig also features a large, aquadynamic head, and adds twin dangling hooks, a silicone skirt and silicone trailers.
With any jig, McKnight warns that bigger is not necessarily better.
"The size I use is 6-ounce to 12-ounce," he said. "I don’t like using too big of a jig because (red snapper) don’t seem to like the bigger jigs. Something in the 6- to 8-ounce size usually does the best.
"Every now and then, you’ll hit a school that will take the big jigs, and then it just doesn’t matter what you fish. But most of the time, if you want to get a bite from a red snapper you can’t use one of those 12-inch, 16-ounce jigs. They just don’t seem to take them."
For simplicity, a medium-heavy to heavy-action spinning outfit will handle jigging duties, although there’s nothing wrong with using those conventional outfits if that’s what you have onboard. Jigging aficionados, however, will appreciate task-specific rods optimally balanced with lure-dancing flexibility and fish-whipping backbone.
McKnight uses the 6-foot Shimano Trevalla 2X Heavy rod with a Shimano Talica 16 reel. He loads his reel with 130-pound Jerry Brown Spectra braid, and top shots it with several yards of 80-pound monofilament. This arrangement offers the best of both worlds, as the braid cuts through the water for faster drops, while the mono provides the stretch necessary for consistent hookups and minimal line wear.
"Depending on the size of the fish that we’re into, I may go straight to the 130(-pound main line)," McKnight said. "But I like having that little bit of stretch in that mono for red snapper. It just seems to jig better on the mono.
"Sometimes, when you jig too much with (only) the braid on there, you’ll wear out the line and it will break off. And you don’t want to go too heavy on your mono because it doesn’t sink right. Usually, 80-pound (mono) is the best all-around size for jigging."
It’s true that when red snapper bunch into tight feeding groups, you could drop a cell phone into the school and something’s going to take a bite.
However, most of the time a bait with no DNA requires plenty of action to make the sale. Modern jigs are smartly finished with light-bouncing angles and subtle accents of color intended to mimic natural forage.
But even with such artistic appeal, you’ll need some snappy rod work to seal the deal.
"The most important thing is making sure you’re getting the jig down to where the fish are," McKnight said. "Most of the time you want it to be straight below you. You don’t want it to be upcurrent; you don’t want it to be to the side.
"It’s most important to get it straight down because if you’re working that jig from an angle it just doesn’t seem to be as productive so you want to jig it straight up to you."
McKnight describes the best action as "jig up and reel, jig up and reel." Simply raising and lowering the rod cuts short your jig’s potential. Dancing the lure while gathering line carries the show throughout the water column.
The exception, of course, is when you locate that sweet spot through which nothing goes untouched.
"If you’re in a spot where you know the fish are really thick, you might be able to get away without reeling any line back onto the reel," McKnight said. "Mainly, you just want to take one good jig where the action makes (the lure) flutter, take up some line so you don’t have any slack and then drop it back down to that spot."
McKnight said that the first minute of a snapper fight — especially with one of the bruiser sows — is critical. Break the fish’s hopes of reaching whatever entanglement it wants to use, and they’ll usually walk right up the water column.
As far as keeping a hooked snapper buttoned up, steady pressure and a deeply bent rod will ensure a successful capture.
Now, before you reach that point, McKnight said there’s a key safety concern that beginners often forget.
"It’s important to not bring the jig back to yourself once you get it to the surface. I see a lot of people do this. They’re not exactly sure what depth the jig is and they take that big upward stroke, and that jig comes flying out of the water and usually hits them, their neighbor or the boat."
Other jigging styles
In addition to the basic jigging functionality, these lures can also serve a couple other purposes for snapper anglers. One’s robust, the other’s more about finesse. Both will put snapper in the boat.
Accessorized: Bucktails with curly or twin tails or scented plastics make excellent delivery vehicles for frozen sardines or chunks of squid.
A more streamlined approach than the standard slip sinker rig, a bucktail presents a larger profile to grab the attention of red and mangrove snapper.
To enhance the offering, add a generous dose of scent attractants such as Lunker Sauce, Berkley GULP! Alive or Yum LPT to the skirt and the plastic tail.
A longtime classic, the Snapper Slapper features a phosphorescent head with planing wings that resemble a squid. A nylon skirt adds to the profile, and a stinger hook not only increases the sticking power but also allows for some snapper-tempting trickery. Add a live baitfish to the stinger hook for the appearance of a squid capturing fresh prey.
Any snapper with a rumble in its belly will quickly pounce on such a two-for-one deal.
Capt. Ted Lund of Key West showed me a tactic that’ll tempt mangrove, lane and vermillion snapper wherever they roam.
Lund bounces a chartreuse bucktail tipped with shrimp or cut sardine across deepwater structure and notes that the pulsing of the jig’s hair skirt gives the allusion of a live target, while the natural bait sweetener increases the appeal.
Utilitarian: In some cases, a jig may serve mostly as an escort device for natural baits delivered into a chum slick (See sidebar) meant to draw the fish away from entangling structures.
A particularly effective tactic for mangrove and lane snapper, you’ll often need to fish small chunks of bait and deliver them at various depths in the water column.
A light jighead is less obtrusive than a hook-and-weight rig, so wary snapper are usually more likely to bite the streamlined package.
Light leadheads work well, but Florida angler Dan Hays offers a tip that produces Gulf-wide: Add a sardine chunk to a 1/4- to 1-ounce pompano jig (Doc’s, Love Lures, Silly Willy), and let it drift downcurrent. Essentially a keel-weighted hook, this type of jig slides easily into a chum slick.
With this or traditional lead weights, it’s all about pacing the presentation.
"You want to pay attention to how fast the chum is moving and you want your bait to fall at the same rate, so pay attention and adjust your rig accordingly," Hayes said. "It is a must to hide the hook in the bait as well as possible. (Snapper) are some of the smartest fish in the ocean."
However you entice your snapper, McKnight said it’s important to pay close attention to avoid getting duped by the snapper’s sneakiness.
"A lot of people think they’ve lost their fish, so they slow down or they’ll get some slack in the line or maybe they’ll take a break," he said. "That is what you can’t do. You have to keep the pressure on the fish, even if it feels like he’s not there anymore.
"You have to keep the line tight because when you give the fish a break, that’s when the hook comes out the most. As soon as that fish gives you a little and it feels like it’s coming your way, you’ve gotta keep it on him."
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Posted on June 01, 2012 at 7:00 am by David A. Brown
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