May 10, 2015

The Jig’s Up For Spring Largemouth

By: Tom Luba

For Wisconsin bass fishermen, opening day means finally slipping off the yoke of winter.  The bass are active, feeding, and heading shallow to spawn.  And when they do, it opens a window of opportunity for hanging a real trophy.

And, to up the odds on taking that lunker, use a bait that has a reputation for catching big fish – the silicone or living rubber skirted lead head jig.

Jigs may lack the visual appeal of a gaudy spinner bait, or the erratic dance of a life-like crankbait.  But they have a definite appeal to big bass.  That’s why they are used regularly by a good number of tournament pros.

Jigs excel on any type of water, from clear lakes to shallow millponds to murky river backwaters.  And while there are a number of different jig head designs and colors available, it’s important to pick the ones that work best for the waters you fish.

Not every Wisconsin waterway has stumps, rock and rip rap, boat docks, laydowns, retaining walls or other cover that largemouth bass frequent.   But, most do have weed growth.  And happily, weeds and bass go together quite well.  Finding a jig head to handle that cover is a good place to start.  When you fish weeds, stay away from jigs where the line tie comes out the top of the head (a 90 degree angle).  Instead look for a model where the line tie comes out the front of the head.  The 90 degree eye catches too many weeds, while the more in-line models slide through the various Wisconsin vegetation with little or no hang-ups.  The same type head will also work well on most of the other covers mentioned.

As far as color, check with local bait shops for preferences.  When in doubt, go with some combination of black and blue.  This color seems to work just about everywhere.  Green Pumpkin and Watermelon Seed (a lighter green) are also good choices, especially in clear water.  Brown Pumpkin with a splash of orange is worth trying if you’re not getting bit on the blue or greens.

In spring, sunlight exposes the north shores of a lake first.  The water here warms quicker, so north shore bays are a good place to start.  One thing to remember is that not every bass in the lake lives on the north shore.  You can find them in a lot of different places.  South shores may take a bit longer to warm and bring their resident bass shallower.  But the good news is that this can help prolong the spring season.

Usually, largemouth move up from deeper weed points and weedlines when the water temperature hits (approximately) the 50s and spawn when water temp hits the mid 60s.  Inside (shallow) weed edges hold fish until it’s warm enough for nest building.  The males hang around to fertilize the eggs, and then guard the newly hatched fry.  But when the big females come up to lay eggs, they are not there very long.  Keeping one eye on the surface temp and the other on coming weather patterns is the best way to time it.  Spring cold fronts can push the fish into thicker cover or deeper water.  Conversely, several consecutive days of warm weather can make it seem like every bass in the lake is ready to bite.

Size-wise, go with ¼ oz. jig for the shallows.  If there’s wind or the fish are deeper, 3/8 or ½ oz. should get the job done.  If you have to fish after a cold front, a 1/8 oz. finesse jig can usually coax some bites.  Finesse jigs usually have a shorter skirt where the front edge only extends as far out as the actual lead head.  By using less skirt length and a smaller trailer, like an Uncle Josh spinning size frog, it gives the bait a smaller profile.

I may be old school, but normally I like the old fashioned #11 Uncle Josh pork frog in black as a trailer for black/blue baits.  You should be able to find frogs that match the greens and browns, too.  A lot of anglers tip with plastic craws.  For plastics, I‘ve always matched the craw color with the jig color.  The main drawback of pork is that it will dry if left out of the water too long.  My rule is if I’m fishing a jig most of the time, I use pork.  Later in the season I use more plastics, like Berkley’s 3-in. Chigger Craw, because the jig rod may not be used as frequently.

I like scent and sometimes “marinate” pork in liquid scent over the winter.  For plastics, pick one that has fish attractant already in.  I also usually carry a spray can of Bang crawfish scent in the boat, just in case.

Unlike surface strikes, which can be explosive, or a crankbait, which can get yanked pretty hard, a jig bite can be completely the opposite.  A good sense of feel is important.  At times a bass will smash a jig.  At other times, a really big fish can barely tap it.  So pay attention to even the slightest detail.  It also pays to watch your line.  A bass sucks a bait in and the vacuum that’s created acts like a buffer to feeling the actual bite.  The only thing you might see is the line jump, or start moving sideways.  When in doubt, set the hook.

There are a few other considerations to make your jig more productive.

First, look for jigs with quality hooks.  A chemically sharpened hook makes it easier to set.  Most commercial jigs will list the hook brand on the package.  Gamakatsu, Owner and Mustad Needle Point are all good.

You can also trim the fiber weed guard.  When you bend it back with your finger, the fibers should be just above the hook point.  That way, when a fish bites, the hook is clear of the weed guard, making for a better set.

Trimming the skirt length can alter the perception of size, especially if the fish are tentative.  It makes the bait look smaller, which helps when a cold front slides through.  It also makes the trailer more visible.  If it looks edible, hopefully the bass think so, too.

When it comes down to it, bass fishing is a lot like life.  Nothing is guaranteed.  In this case, because the fish makes the final decision.  But for me, the first bait out of the box in spring is a jig.  And on a lot of spring days, it’s the only bait out of the box.