This technique is proving ultra-productive in the fish-rich waters off Louisiana’a coast.
Tumultuous seas rocked the 26-foot boat as Craig Monroe and John Swincinski surveyed the churning waters near the jagged legs of the Seven Mile rigs south of Venice. “There’s some good marks right in the current on this corner,” said Larry Miller, as he struggled to keep his boat positioned in the seas that could be best described as resembling a washing machine.
Dropping a shiny new 12-ounce jig down to the 150-foot depth where the fish were marking, Swincinski quickly jigged and reeled with his specially designed 5-foot, 2-inch spinning rod. About halfway up, his rod bucked; the colorful knife jig that moments earlier had darted through the water column had been engulfed by a UFO — unidentified fishy object.
But just as quickly, the rod snapped straight again.
“Darn it, that was my Nagamasa jig,” he lamented as he reeled up the slack line, inspected it for a fray and sat down to tackle the job of re-rigging.
Meanwhile, Monroe, who had selected a heavy diamond jig outfitted with a single assist hook, had a bit more luck.
“Hooked up,” he shouted as the boat slowly idled away from the rig in an effort to pull the fish farther from the barnacle-encrusted rig legs.
“You’ve got him now,” said Swincinski as he peered over the side looking for color.
A flash of white came into view from beneath the churning green water, and Swincinski readied the gaff as Monroe slid the fish to the surface.
“Nice AJ,” said Swincinski as he heaved the 40-pound bruiser aboard.
“I’ve lost plenty of fish on the traditional diamond jigs that come with treble hooks,” Monroe stated. “These single assist hooks work best.”
Thanks to Jose Wejebe’s efforts in popularizing the Shimano Butterfly jigging system, anglers can expect to see an explosion of this type of fishing along the Gulf Coast.
To say these two United States Marine Corps majors are hooked on vertical jigging would be an understatement. A more accurate description is that they have become obsessed with it, purchasing thousands of dollars in vertical jigs, rods and terminal tackle, and forming their own online company, Gulf Coast Jigging (www.gulfcoastjigging.com).
Since this technique is relatively new to Louisiana, the pair have garnered much of their information by participating in online jigging forums from such far away places as New Zealand, Japan and Australia.
Monroe first experimented with the technique of deep jigging while stationed on Washington’s Whidbey Island several years ago.
“I had a little 16-foot walleye boat, and some of us marines on the base who like to fish had figured out a way to bottom fish,” said Monroe. “We would venture out about 300 yards from the boat ramp and would be in 150-plus feet of water, where we would catch limits of fish.”
Back then, their tackle was pretty basic, but Monroe kept upgrading his arsenal, building his own rods and eventually spooling his reels with Power Pro to better feel the strikes.
When Monroe relocated to Louisiana in 2000, he ventured out to the rigs with some of his buddies.
“I started using diamond jigs like I had used on the West Coast plus some large lead heads with plastics, and quickly discovered that they were very effective here,” he said.
Although many who have taken to this sport use spinning rods, Monroe prefers a conventional setup.
“In my quest to find the perfect rod, I kept searching around for a 15- to 30-pound stick,” he said. “I was going through a bunch of rods, breaking them, so I have a closet full of jigging sticks. I tried spinning rods, but I never found one that wasn’t exhausting.”
When he returned to the West Coast in 2005, Monroe found that the reel of choice there was the Shimano Torium, and quickly added that shiny toy to his swelling tackle arsenal.
“Most all the guys out there are ‘gear hounds.’ They spend all their money on tackle and then go on long-range charters and party boats. They don’t spend their money purchasing boats,” Monroe explained. “Unlike in our area, where most people visit a tackle store to make a purchase and leave, virtually every shop that you find on the West Coast makes rods, and everyone just goes there to hang out and talk about fishing.
“Since I had been to Venice several times and fished the Lump, when I entered the store I was treated like a rock star.
“Literally when I returned to California and walked into one of the shops, they gathered around and wanted to know every detail about Venice. The fact that we could run to a great fishing place, catch fish and get back in one day just blew their minds!”
Monroe, who has a decade’s worth of Louisiana Sportsman magazines catalogued by subject, often shared his past issues with the shops’ customers.
“They just couldn’t believe the fishing we have in Louisiana and the fact that when you fish in Louisiana, a guide will actually tell you where they caught them that morning,” said Monroe.
After flipping through the magazines and listening to Monroe’s fish stories, one of the shops in California decided to arrange trips to Venice to target fish with vertical jigs.
According to Monroe, when the West Coast anglers traveled to the Delta and had a chance to fish for redfish at the Southwest Pass rocks, “They thought that they had died and gone to heaven — there was nothing greater.”
More trips were scheduled to fish the oil rigs that dot the Louisiana coast in hopes of tangling with amberjack, tuna and wahoo. Word quickly spread, and the trips became very popular.
Randy Chin operates Anglers Pro Shop in California, a virtual jigging and popping mecca. I caught up with Chin recently by telephone as he was off to Tanzania on yet another fishing adventure to foreign shores.
Chin, who experimented with the technique while based in Asia in 2003, arranges several jigging trips a year to exotic destinations. His first trip to Louisiana with a group of vertical-jigging enthusiasts had been scheduled in February of 2005 — a mere six months after Hurricane Katrina unleashed her fury of this tiny hamlet.
Due to the destruction of the marinas and hotels in Venice, Chin’s trip was re-routed through Fourchon, where he met up with Capt. Mike Ellis.
That trip afforded Chin his first glimpse of the vast amount of opportunities available around the myriad oil rigs.
“I was very excited to get to fish this area due to the amount of structure you have. With the number of platforms and the structure, I knew there must be lots of fish around,” said Chin.
He wasn’t disappointed.
“Based on numbers of fish, structure and easy accessibility, it’s definitely among the best,” he said.
Swincinski met Monroe in New Orleans, where they are both stationed in the Marine Corps Reserve. They quickly struck up a friendship and became fishing partners, venturing out to the rigs in Monroe’s 24-foot Triton.
“When Craig and I first started fishing together, it was my intention to fly fish using sinking lines and large flies,” Swincinski said. “I noticed Craig’s assortment of colorful jigs and a style of fishing that kept you busy doing something at all times, and that’s when I became interested in it.”
Swincinski jumped on the internet and researched this technique, which was different that anything he had previously experienced. He quickly determined there were very few sites devoted to vertical jigging that were based in the US. Most he found were based in Japan or Australia, but were jam-packed with information.
“That’s where we learned that we needed rods that were lighter or more parabolic to perfect our technique,” Swincinski explained.
There are four basic components to the vertical-jigging system — jigging rod, high-speed reel, braided line and jigs with assist hooks.
Jigging is very demanding on equipment, especially the workhorses — rods and reels.
“Rods need to be very durable and have the ability to absorb a lot of drag while still being flexible enough to properly work the jig,” said Swincinski. “Most of the rods we use can handle 25 pounds of drag without breaking — quite a feat considering the rods weigh as little as 10 ounces.”
Shimano offers the Trevala line of jigging rods, which are perfect for beginners. They are priced around $150-$180, and Tony Puglia, owner of Puglia’s Sporting Goods in Metairie says although amazingly light, some are rated to 200 pounds.
Additionally Lamiglas just released a line of jigging rods called Tropic Pro that will retail for $240.
Currently most of the high-end jigging rods originate from Asia. They are made with very high-tech composite blanks that combine carbon fiber with other materials to create ultra lightweight and highly durable blanks. Some of the best-known brands are SevenSeas, Carpenter, Smith Ltd., Tuna Max and Shimano Japan.
These rods start at about $250, and can cost more than $1,500 for top-end custom work.
It is important to note that when you switch from mono to Power Pro you must find a rod that can absorb some of the shock. When you’re using braided line, you need to select a rod that can absorb the shock of the jigging action when the fish strikes but still have the backbone to pull the fish out of the rig or break it off bottom structure.
Reels are generally high-speed or high-capacity models, and a good drag is a must. When targeting fish in deeper water, line capacity of at least 400 yards is suggested.
“The new Penn International TRQ muscle reels are very popular in the 200 and 300 sizes as well as the Avet LX series high-speed multi-gear-ratio reels,” said Puglia. “Shimano Toriums are a mainstay for deep jigging, and the new Torsas with their cutting-edge replaceable drags are also in demand as well as the ever-popular high-end Stella spinning reels.”
Braided lines are popular in Japan and other parts of the world where jigging has long been an accepted style of fishing; these braided lines are commonly referred to as “PE” which stands for polyethylene, the chemical that braided lines are made from.
They differ from our domestic braids in that they are typically spun from 8 strands rather than 4. This makes for a stronger line with thinner diameter. These lines are rated with a PE number. A PE4 line will have an average breaking strength of 40 pounds, a PE5 will have a breaking strength of 50 pounds, and so on. The higher quality lines will actually break at much higher than their rating.
By far, the biggest advantage of these lines is the way they are dyed. PE lines for jigging are dyed a different color every 10 meters (33 feet), typically using five colors.
For example, when you are fishing in 1,000 feet of water and you are marking fish at 200 feet on your fish finder, you know to drop your line until the color changes 6 times. This will put your jig right where the fish are. No line counter needed. No guessing.
These advantages come at a price, however, as quality Japanese PE lines cost around $100 for 300 meters.
Swincinski and Monroe typically fish lines that are PE4 through PE6. The size line that you select is driven by a number of factors such as the depth you are trying to reach, the amount of structure, the amount of drag you plan to use and the expected size of the fish.
Some of the most popular brands of Japanese PE line are YGK and Varivas, which are available online from overseas tackle shops or on Ebay. One of Swincinskis’ favorites is the YGK Jigman Ultra in PE5, which tests at a breaking strength of 70 pounds.
On the business end is an endless assortment of jigs in a variety of weights, colors and designs. Some of the more popular manufacturers include Williamson, River2Sea and Shimano.
There are a number of factors to consider when selecting what jigs to use: weight, size, shape, color and cost.
The Shimano Butterfly jigs in the 7-ounce size as well as Williamson jigs in sizes 5-ounce through 11-ounce are moving well, according to Puglia.
The Marines’ arsenal includes jigs ranging from 3 to 14 ounces. The weight of the jig is typically driven by the amount of current and the depth they want to fish.
“Heavier jigs get down fast, but typically we’ll fish as light a jig as we can get away with because the lighter jigs tend to have more action,” Swincinski explained.
Some jigs are long and narrow, while others are short and wide. Some jigs are center-weighted, while others are bottom weighted, sort of like a butter knife. It is the jig’s shape that determines its action underwater. The long narrow jigs tend to slide back and forth as they fall, resembling a wounded baitfish. The shorter, flat-style jigs flutter as they drop and dart erratically as they are retrieved.
Vertical jigs are designed to attract a fish’s attention, and the bright colors and finishes on them are a big part of this. Pinks, blues, and oranges work well, and those that incorporate holographic and reflective materials work best. Some jigs are luminescent and actually glow in the dark, which makes them deadly around the rigs at night.
The last factor, cost, is very important for vertical jigging in this region. Rigs, platforms reefs and wrecks claim many a jig. Plan accordingly with a good supply of leader material, terminal tackle such as swivels, split rings as well as jigs. Toothy critters such as wahoo, barracuda and shark also have a tendency to strike the flashy lures. Adding 6 to 8 inches of 80-pound wire trace helps.
Jig prices can be the costliest piece of the puzzle, due to the frequency of loss. Prices range from $8 to $30 per jig. Williamson Lures makes two styles of jigs in the $10-$13 price range, and has several advantages over the other jig companies. Unlike most other jigs, they come pre-rigged with an assist hook, and are ready to fish. No other terminal tackle is necessary. They are readily available online and in most saltwater tackle shops, and they are proven producers.
Strike Pro Taiwan also offers a line of Evil Metal Jigs in various sizes and colors.
The River2Sea Zero Droppers are long, center-weighted jigs that can get down deep, very fast. The River2Sea Knife Jig is a proven style that drops fast and creates a lot of action on the retrieve.
“Our favorite River2Sea style is the Turkey Slider because it’s long and flat, has great flutter on the drop and is easy to retrieve,” said Monroe.
River2Sea jigs retail for $8 to $20 depending on style and size.
Their “secret weapon” is a jig made by Smith Ltd., and is imported from Japan. The Nagamasa, which was the jig Swincinski lost at the Seven Mile Rigs, resembles a ribbonfish in that it has a long, flat belly. It flutters and darts on the drop, and slides horizontally on the retrieve. It retails for $15 to $20.
There are dozens of other overseas companies of varying quality. When it comes to imported vertical jigs, many of them are an absolute work of art designed to catch fishermen as much as they are designed to catch fish. Swincinski and Monroe hope to import some of the hard-to-find jigs to supply Gulf Coast anglers.
“What is neat is that you can work the jigs several different ways,” said Swincinski.
There is a long jigging stroke, as well as a standard or fast stroke. Unlike bulky diamond jigs, these sleek jigs dart through the water column, then fall gracefully, enticing strikes from even the most stubborn fish.
To properly rig the jigs, a must-have item is Shimano’s Baysteel pliers. These specially designed split-ring pliers are perfect for handling those large split rings, and can cut through anything from braid to 400-pound wire leader.
Considering all the exciting options available for jigging tackle, coupled with its proven effectiveness in our waters, I might be joining the ranks of “gear hound” myself.
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