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  The Fishermen's Journal

The Basics of Fishing “IRON JIGS”

By Don Baker, President/Founder of Bight Fishing Products / KICKER JIGS

Every Sportfishing boat has a handful of these jackpot winning fishermen. They are the guys that stand in the bow, waiting for the surface to show any signs of life. Then it happens, the surface explodes and they launch long accurate casts to intercept the feeding gamefish. With a few turns of the reel handle you hear them scream, "HOOKUP" ! 

Catalina.jpg (6641 bytes) The following is a basic guide for fishing iron jigs. These are patterns and techniques that I have discovered over the past 30 years. Let’s start first with the different styles of iron. There are two basic models, Surface Iron and Yo-Yo Iron. Surface iron is typically large in size and light in weight, examples of these would be Kicker 25, Iron Man lightweight and Tady 45. Yo-Yo iron is heavy in weight and varies in size. Some examples of Yo-Yo iron would be Kicker 15 Universal, Kicker 25 Heavy and Salas. Typically light weight jigs or surface iron as they are referred to, are best for fishing the upper section of the strike zone. This would be approximately from the surface down to around 25 feet. Surface iron jigs work the best in a situation where fish are boiling, chasing bait, breezing or puddling. Heavier jigs or Yo-Yo iron as they are referred to are used to reach fish in the lower section of the strike zone. Yo-Yo iron jigs would be used in a situation where fish may be holding deep under the surface such as offshore tuna or over deep structure like yellowtail fishing. (Pictured above: Keith Meehan, Sales Manager for KICKER JIGS, with a   19 lb. Yellowtail taken at Catalina Island, CA caught on a KICKER 15 Universal iron.)

DON+COUSIN.jpg (5409 bytes)When it comes to choosing colors and sizes I use a few basic guide lines that will increase your odds of catching fish on jigs. First, try to determine where the fish may be feeding so you can decide whether to use a Surface Iron or a Yo-Yo  iron. Then determine what the fish are feeding on. I have found what the fish are feeding on to be the most critical observation. For example, if the fish are feeding on large sardines try to match your color choice and jig size to represent that of the same. A Kicker 25 in green/gold or green/mustard would be excellent choices. If the fish are eating anchovies your color choice and size may be a Kicker 15 in a chrome, black/blue, blue/white or a black/purple pattern, which would represent an anchovy. A good rule of thumb is to take a close look at what is being thrown in the water as chum, then match your jig size and color accordingly, we call this "match the hatch". Typically, the fish near the boat are feeding on the chum that has congregated around the boat. Now that you have a jig selected you will need an appropriate rod. For surface iron I like to use at least an 8-10 foot jig stick that is slightly parabolic. You will have greater success casting light iron jigs with longer rods. For Yo-Yo iron jigs you can get away with a slightly shorter rod in the 7-8 foot range. Heavier jigs are much easier to cast and do not require such a long rod. Seeker, Calstar, Penn and Graphfighter USA to name a few, all make appropriate rods for jig fishing. Talk with your local tackle dealer for some help with your rod selection. (Pictured above: Rick Wood with a 21 lb. Yellowtail taken at Catalina Island, CA caught on a KICKER 25 surface iron.)

When it comes to reels, gear ratio and size are quite important. For surface iron be sure to use a 3/0 - 4/0 sized reel with a 5 or 6:1 gear ratio. This gives you the option of a slow wind or being able to crank the jig at a fast pace. Having varied retrieve speed options is very important and we will discuss this later. Most of the time Yo-Yo jigs do not require such a high gear ratio because typically you will be using a 4/0 - 5/0 sized reels which have larger spool diameters. The spool diameter alone gives you the option of a fast or slow retrieve. The larger the spool diameter, the faster the retrieve. Although, be sure to use at least a 4:1 gear ratio for Yo-Yo jigs. There are many reel manufactures that make quality reels for jig fishing applications. Newell, Pro Gear, Penn, Accurate, Daiwa and Shimano to name a few.

As for line size you want to use 25 - 50 lb. test for throwing jigs. There are a few reasons for fishing with heavier line. First, you never know what size fish is going to inhale your jig. Second, when a fish eats a jig it is a reaction strike, they are focused on the jig not the line size. Also, if you happen to hook a small fish it is easy to bounce the fish rather than call for the gaff to get your jig back. Bouncing a fish on a jig is VERY DANGEROUS, please use extreme caution when doing so. When you intend to bounce a fish make sure you have a clear area around you and warn others of your intentions. Then wind down toward the fish leaving about 2-3 feet between the rod tip and the fish. Next, swing the fish just over the rail and immediately put your reel in free spool and drop the fish to the deck. This is the safest method and even this is not recommended for the inexperienced angler. If you have any doubts do not bounce a fish. Your best choice is to ask for assistance from a deckhand, that is what they are there for. If you intend to release the fish do not let the fish flop around on the deck. When a fish thrashes around on the deck, it will lose it's slime which is a protective coating. This slime is a infection barrier, when a fish is released with a spot that is lacking this slime, the fish is prone to infections and will develop open wound sores and die. 

Casting is a bit of an art form and takes a lot of practice to master. Some of the techniques I have discovered over the years seem to really help. Safety is the first of your concerns. Always look behind you through the entire casting motion and yell something to warn others. I use the term, GOING OUT! Just remember, it's pretty hard to miss the water so you don't have to look at it ! When casting drop your jig about half way down your rods length then follow through with a smooth motion straight over your shoulder. When casting try not to thumb the line itself. Instead, thumb the inside of the reel spool which will allow a smooth throw. What happens is as you cast and retrieve jigs repetitively sometimes the line tends to get wound onto the spool a bit loosely, as well as, lumpy. So if you thumb the line as it is being thrown out  it will make the line come off the reel inconsistent, which causes a backlash. This brings up another point, be sure to put some tension on the line as it is being wound back onto the reel. The tension is for two reasons; so your next cast will come off the spool smoothly and more importantly if you catch a fish your line will not bury into the lose line and break off at the spool. Also, your drag system  works more efficiently when the line is packed tight on the spool. . On your  follow through try rotating the reel to your left as the line is coming off the reel. In other words have the reel side plate facing the water as you finish the motion. What this does is help the line peel off the reel efficiently, it adds to your distance and helps control the frustrating backlash. So remember, drop the jig half way down the rod, smooth motion straight over the shoulder, thumb the spool itself, rotate the reel to the left on the follow through and tension on the line on the retrieve I recommend practicing down at a harbor a few times a month. I still to this day go down to a harbor near by and throw jigs, not so much to practice but just to stay in tune. The best time for you to practice is when nobody is watching and when you have time to correct your mistakes. Not when there is a wide open bite!

When retrieving jigs no matter what style, you will have to experiment with the speed and depth of the lure. You never know what may work for that particular day, everyday on the water is different. It may be a slow wind on the surface to entice slow puddling fish or maybe a very fast retrieve just under the surface that gets the attention of fish that are boiling and chasing bait.   Again, you want to analyze what is going on in the water and try to reproduce that in the way of size, color and on your jig retrieve. Another important factor is to make sure your jig is swimming naturally. It seems as though most jigs on the market have their own magical speed at which they perform the best.

Copy0520a.jpg (4058 bytes)When I developed Kicker Jigs, I wanted a lure that swam efficiently at any speed, from a slow wind to a very fast retrieve and I also wanted the lure to have an attractive swimming motion. Kicker Jigs have an action that represents that of a nervous baitfish. It's movement can be described as  rhythmic with an erratic darting motion. Additionally, I was in pursuit of a painted finish that would last and be somewhat chip resistant. We ended up with textured finish that is highly durable and the texture also gives the lures a scaly effect. It took countless hours of research and development, but I finally perfected the action and the finish. I now hold a patent on the jig for it's design and shape, as well as, it's textured finish. Most of the jigs you see in quality tackle shops catch fish, some just tend to attract strikes more often than others. I credit the strikes being attracted the way a jig swims more than anything else. If a jig swims and looks life like in the water, it's going to get bit !

Another thing to consider is varying the depth of your lure. Sometimes when fishing surface iron you may have to count to 30 or so before you start your retrieve. When fishing Yo-Yo iron, fish may be holding at 100 to 150 feet below the surface, so it is very important to find the "Strike Zone" as well as the correct speed.

DON+BIGFISH.jpg (4869 bytes)   Now for the part you have worked so hard for, catching the fish. You have found the right color, size, speed and strike zone and are starting to attract strikes. Here are a few things to keep in mind. When a fish strikes do NOT swing as you would setting the hook on a fish caught on bait. Instead, once you feel the weight of a strike on your rod tip, keep the rod loaded up (in the bent position). Then immediately increase your cranking speed of the reel until the fish starts to pull off some drag. Your hook is now set without the swinging motion. Setting the hook on a  fish caught on iron is a big no no. What will happen is, as you are retrieving your lure the fish is typically swimming the same direction, right? Well, if you stop to swing and set the hook, more often than not the lure will fall out of the fishes mouth. This is because lifting the rod can not take the slack out of the line as fast as the reel can. When you try to swing to set the hook  you will end up with what we call a swing and a miss!  

(Pictured above: Don Baker,  with a 45 lb. Bluefin Tuna taken on the Airplane Bank off Southern California caught on a Kicker 15 Universal iron.

In all, you will catch more fish and larger fish as well, on iron jigs - the jackpot fish is often caught on a   jig. If you want to catch some truly quality fish try fishing iron jigs. There is no time wasted at the bait tank looking around for a hot bait. Also, once you deck a fish on a jig simply pull the hook out, check for line abrasion and you are back to casting for the next fish. Perhaps the most exciting part of iron fishing is the initial strike.   Your rod is almost yanked out of your hands by the weight of a fish that just inhaled your jig. Believe me, you will be proud of fooling a gamefish into eating a painted piece of metal which we call, "THE IRON."


Don Baker


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