- Black sea bass have dangerously sharp spines on their dorsal fin that can puncture human skin.
- The all-tackle world record for black sea bass is 9 pounds, 8 ounces.
- When hooked in deep water and brought quickly to the surface, a black sea bass will often regurgitate its stomach contents.
For over three decades I have lived in an area literally surrounded by some of the best saltwater fishing there is. During that time I have at least sampled most of it, and in doing so I have used a wide variety of lures and techniques. However, it didn't take long to discover that I was catching most of the fish not with spoons, plugs, live shrimp, mullet heads or chopped menhaden, but with jigs. These days, a jig of some sort is the only—the only!—sinking lure you will see hanging from the tip of my casting rods!
At last count, my jigs have accounted for 28 saltwater species. Assuredly, some were quite rare catches—like the huge striped mullet that struck a crappie jig in a nearby brackish area. On the other hand, jigs seem to be made to order for other species like spotted seatrout, weakfish, bluefish, grouper, red drum, striped bass, and several types of flounders. In many instances they are effective when served "straight up,” but they are also easy to modify for specific applications. On that note, a little clarification is in order.
Deciding which jig is best is a personal decision, but anglers should keep in mind the lighter the jig, the better.
For our purposes a jig will be defined as a lure with a weighted head, a tail, and a single hook. That definition rules out "irons," which are heavy metal diamond or cylindrical-shaped lures with treble hooks used for certain deep-water species. A jig's head can be round, conical, "arrowhead," "lima bean," and a few other indescribable shapes, and after 30-odd years I have been totally unable to detect any difference in the action or sink-rate between any two types of similar weight. The "best" type is purely personal; using the lightest that will get the job done is carved in stone.
Originally, jig tails were made out of bucktail and such, evolving to synthetic filaments. Then some brainchild attached half a 6-inch soft-plastic freshwater worm to a bare jig-head, and that soon evolved into tails that wiggled and are, indeed, a major reason for the present-day jig's effectiveness.
Although there are countless types of these tails, four cover most bases. In order of increasing built-in action there is the paddle-type, the minnow, the shad, and the curly-tail. The paddle tends to sink deepest and stay there longest. The minnow is best for basic inshore chunking and retrieving in shallow to moderate-depth water—and for creating a spinner bait. The shad is best under a racket-making float, and the curly-tail, especially in 6-inch size, is deadly for bruisers like cobia, crevalle jacks, amberjacks and tarpon.
The jig-bodied spinner bait is one of the "modifications" mentioned earlier. The lure is created by simply attaching a size 3 or 4 gold Colorado safety-pin spinner to the eye of a quarter-ounce round jig-head. It is best used in fairly shallow, off-color water where the action of the spinner both emits fish-attracting vibrations and enables retrieving the lure more slowly than a straight-up jig without fouling the bottom. In most cases that should be done with slow, erratic pumps—just fast enough to feel the spinner throb. It is especially effective on flounders and red drum.
In water that is less clear, a jig can be enhanced with cut bait, such as shrimp or a strip of flounder, or even a spinner blade.
Sweetening up a jig with a small dead shrimp, a live killifish, a strip of flounder belly and so forth will also enhance its appeal, particularly in deep or dingy water. Here, a jig with a synthetic hair tail is usually better than one trailing a soft plastic. Personally, the water has to be pretty raunchy for me to use bait; so in slightly less radical situations where the fish need help locating the lure, I'll "pop" it. Water up to 5 feet deep requires suspending the jig around 2 1/feet beneath a 3-inch weighted popping cork. The best retrieve for all but the coldest weather seems to be an irregular series of moderately loud pops; in other words, make a racket but give 'em time to find it. If that doesn't work, then it's time to break out the shrimp.
The heads that are designed for use with soft-plastic tails are created with a “keeper” contraption along the hook's shank just behind the head, which is supposed to hold the tail in place. After a few fish and short strikes, it won't, having become too weak to stay put. To lengthen the lives of your soft-plastic tails, flatten the head's keeper with pliers, and then place a drop of super glue on it just prior to threading on the tail.
A jig's hook type is often disregarded when someone is making a selection. Many have shanks that are entirely too long, the manufacturers apparently believing that the closer the hook is to the end of the jig's tail, the more stuck fish it will result in. That surely blows apart the theory that a baitfish's eyes are a target for an attacking predator, and to ensure the best hook-up rate the hook's point should be as close to the lure's eyes as possible. Whatever, a long-shanked hook is also much more likely than a shorter-shanked version to lodge deeply within a fish's throat or gills, rendering safe release—if desired—virtually impossible. And almost as important, a long-shanked hook is much easier to bend than a short-shanked hook. If different hook lengths are available for the type and size jig you prefer, use the shorter version. Always!
While jigs, served either straight up or with the aforementioned modifications, are quite effective shallow-water lures, they really show their worth in deeper waters. In deep offshore applications up to 150 feet or so they can be dropped to bottom, "ripped" upward 30 to 40 feet, dropped back, and repeated. Any AJ or cobia that's around usually finds resisting a retrieve like that almost impossible! For many inshore species, which are typically found in deep holes—usually a winter setting—the jig can also be worked vertically but with short, slow pumps. It can also be cast and retrieved with slow pumps as in freshwater worm fishing. And that demands a few notes on appropriate tackle.
Speckled trout and other inshore species will rarely turn down a well-presented jig.
Over the years I have used just about every type of rod, reel and line ever created for saltwater fishing—well, since Calcutta cane was fashionable—and have finally come across a combination that is vastly more effective for inshore work than any of the others. "Feel" is the key to this type of fishing, and this outfit provides feel to the max. The rod is a 6-foot, fast-action, straight-gripped "worm rod" made of very high modulus graphite. The reel really isn't a factor, though a good one has many advantages, but the line—Spiderwire "Fusion"—is definitely a factor. I don't like the super-braids, having had enough of the headaches they cause in my youth, but this line casts well and has such little stretch that you can easily detect a subtle strike as well as get the hook solidly set when the jig is some distance from you. Tie a couple feet of 30-pound fluorocarbon leader directly to the line with a triple overhand knot for fray-resistance.
There aren't many subtle strikes offshore, so I generally use 30-pound mono, a 50-pound fluorocarbon leader, a top-line levelwind reel, and a 6 1/2-foot extra-extra-heavy "muskie rod" that can break an 8-ball rack! If you have a desire to do battle with some deep-water denizens, consider an outfit like it and 6-inch curly-tail grubs on stout jig-heads only as heavy as necessary to reach the strike zone. And keep a good grip on that rod!
For sure, a proper outfit will enhance the effectiveness of these great lures, but even on less appropriate gear, jigs will produce action at almost any time and any place with most species saltwater anglers commonly target—they are that versatile! Know of any other type lure that performs equally as well? I doubt it.