To be consistently successful, anglers must possess at least a modest degree of fitness to repeatedly retrieve jigging lures in a speedy or rythmical manner. A bit of strength is handy too.
Unfortunately, fitness is becoming a problem for someone like me. Despite being a speed-jigging demon in my twenties and thirties, when I often used heavy, bulky Daiwa Sealine 600H and 900H reels all day long, now that I’m comfortably into my fifties – with the emphasis on ‘comfort’ – long jigging sessions find my physical limits in depressingly quick time. So, because I hate to be beaten, I’ve had to find ways around my limitations!
All I can say is, thank goodness for braid! Otherwise I’d probably still be wrestling with those big, semi-game reels filled with 24-37kg nylon. Instead, I’m ripping something compact and shiny that’s a third of the old gear’s weight and size. Without the evolution of compact tackle it’s unlikely I’d still be jigging (certainly not for long) – and I’d probably be suffering from even more repetitive strain injuries than I currently endure!
What also appeals is the very good range of spinning reels amongst the freespool jigging candidates, so there’s likely to be a reel that suits everyone’s needs and skill level.
Before looking at the options available though, you need to be realistic about your capabilities. After all, despite much macho angler talk of using massive drag settings (most of which I simply don’t believe!), super-heavy drags are not a prerequisite. Not so many years ago huge numbers of kingfish were caught using (typically) 7-10kg of drag pressure, so being physically unable to sustain massive drag pressures is not the end of the jigging world.
Besides, if you use lighter drag settings you can also use lighter braid to suit, which in turn means smaller reels to accommodate the thinner line. As long as the reel can hold around 250-plus metres of 24-30kg PE braid, it’s suitable.
Some of you may be wondering why I’ve recommended 30kg braid when it’s not a legitimate IGFA line class. My reasoning is that there’s actually a big gap between 24 and 37kg line (30 old-fashioned pounds in fact!), which 30kg fits nicely between. Thirty-kilo line is still very strong, too, particularly since PE braid usually over-tests significantly, yet you can spool it on the next-size-down reel model for a significant reduction in size and weight (i.e. a Shimano Stella 10000 is around two-thirds the size and weight of the 18000 or 20000). Lightweight tackle allows you to carry on jigging for longer.
Another way to keep reel weight and size down is to use freespool models rather than spinning reels, as they are a lot more compact – especially if you add 30kg braid into the equation.
Unfortunately though, the nature of the jigging beast means the better quality reels will nearly always be somewhat heavier than lesser models and brands. More metal is used in their construction to help keep the internal gearing in alignment under pressure, enabling them to perform better and last for longer, but this cannot help but make them heavier.
The other main consideration to be factored in during the reel selection process is whether you plan on practising ‘old school’ speed jigging or the newer mechanical jigging style – or perhaps a mix of both. Speed-jiggers tend to do better with suitably-sized reels offering a 5 or 6:1 retrieve ratio (the Shimano Trinidad 30 and Daiwa Saltiga 40/50 are great examples).
However, while 6:1 is great for getting a lure charging through the water, this comes at a cost physically, with more strength required to force the lure through the water so quickly. That’s why reels with slightly slower ratios around 5:1 can actually be much better over prolonged jigging sessions, with their owners often able to keep going long after the faster reel users are burned out and exhausted. Better still, the slower-ratio reels are superior when fighting large kingfish because they offer more effective cranking power.
However, with mechanical jigging now firmly implanted on the jigging scene, an even lower ratio reel can actually offer still more to jiggers, with the Shimano Ocea Jigger reel being a prime example. Its large circumference spool and narrow profile mean plenty of line is retrieved with each turn of the handle, yet the 4:1 ratio provides impressive winching power – a win-win for anglers.
Also, this reel (and some others like it) balances nicely on the rod, and its overall design makes effecting the standard half-turn of the handle in conjunction with the rhythmic lift and fall of the rod relatively easy. During the retrieve, the spool’s clever design lays the line on reasonably level, allowing anglers to concentrate on their jigging technique rather than guiding the line on. Together these factors equate to an angler using less energy and strength so he/she can fish more effectively for longer.
Obviously some of these aspects will be different if a spinning reel is used. Essentially, spin reels are easier to use and there’s almost no chance of a backlash when dropping lures (unlike freespools), while the retrieved line is automatically laid on the spool so it’s level and therefore unlikely to bury into the layers below.
Another big advantage of spinning outfits is that they’re great to fight fish on. The reel hangs down naturally beneath the rod, so there’s no need for a gimbal pin to lock the rod and reel into position – unlike freespool equivalents – and because there’s no need to guide the line onto the reel, you can hold the rod well up its length for excellent leverage.
However, these reels do have a couple of disadvantages. Because they hang down, anglers tend to bash them into the boat rails and cockpit sides, particularly when fighting fish. That’s hard to handle when the reel can cost as much as a cheap car! Also, unless the majority of Kiwi anglers change the habits of a lifetime, they’ll never realise the full potential of their spinning outfits, with most pulling on rods and winding reels with the wrong hands! Not convinced? Consider the following:
•Which of your arms/hands is stronger? So why use it simply for turning a reel handle? Surely it’s better to have as much strength as possible working the rod, both during the jigging process and when pulling back on the rod after hooking up?
•I watch many anglers hauling hard on their rod and then changing hands to quickly wind the reel; it makes much more sense to keep your hands in the same relative positions, resulting in a smoother and better coordinated fight.
•Now think about popper and stick-bait fishing – a technique that goes hand in hand with jig fishing. Many of you cast the lure out, CHANGE HAND POSITIONS, and start to wind and work the lure back, often repeating the quick hand changes during the ‘blooping’ retrieve because your weaker arm quickly starts to feel tired. If your stronger arm was used to work the rod instead, you could leave your hands in position, retrieve the lure more crisply and effectively (especially when blooping poppers), feel less fatigued, and then deal to any fish hooked more effectively.
And yes, if you change the handle over it WILL feel strange to start with – after all you’ve probably been going through the same old motions for a long time – but keep at it at least for a day or two and I promise it will all be worthwhile in the long run.
Obviously the rod needs to be a proper match for the reel. Look for specialist jigging rods around 1.5 to 1.7-metres in length (unless planning to cast and retrieve fluttery type jigs, which suits longer rods around 2m-plus). Shorter rods allow the angler to exert greater leverage on the fish (especially used in conjunction with good technique). Conversely, a fighting fish can’t use the rod as leverage against the angler to the same degree as it can with a longer rod.
As for power, the rod rating obviously needs to suit the line weight being used; 24-30kg (PE5-7) is usual, but if the rating includes 37kg (PE8), that’s fine – it’s often comforting and useful to have a bit of reserve power up your sleeve.
There’s also recommended lure weight to consider; we’ll deal with this more fully shortly, but in keeping with our overall theme, this realistically equates to jigs weighing around 200-300g.
Also, be sure to check on the fore-grip length and bulk. Choose a foregrip that enables a straight arm to be adopted while hauling back or hanging onto the bent rod (far less tiring than a bent arm), as well as one that’s not too fat or thin; it should feel comfortable and secure in your hands to minimise the chance of cramp during tough battles.
Finally, look for a skeletonised butt section. This smooth section of blank largely eliminates the chance of chafing under your arm, which commonly occurs when using rods with EVA or Hypalon butts.
Jigging trace should be as heavy as you can get away with, which can be anything from 150lb/70kg down to 80lb/35kg, depending on the size of lure you’ve chosen, the fish involved, and how freely they’re biting. The smaller the lure and the warier the fish, the lighter the trace required; fluorocarbon rather than nylon can make all the difference at times, both in attracting the strike and resisting any chafing on rocks during the fight.
Choosing the jig will have a huge impact on how long you can effectively fish for.
Although most kingfish jigs are long and slim, making them relatively easy to retrieve (in comparison to the older styles), the difference between retrieving, say, a 400g model and a 250g one is significant. Greater bulk and weight tax the arms more, so consider using a jig that’s big enough to attract a good-sized king, but won’t kill you in just a handful of drop and retrieves.
You’ll also find that using a rod designed specifically for the lure weight you’re using makes quite a difference, with the blank’s inherent power lifting and moving the lure easily and effectively for less effort from the angler. Fortunately, as the various rods’ recommended line weights and lure weights tend to determine each other, if you’ve gone for 24-30kg (PE5-7) rod, it’s likely the lure-weight capabilities will be around 150-300g – perfect for the older and/or unfitter anglers amongst us.
Aside from that, look for wider, more fluttery jig patterns if jigging in depths less than 50-60m, with increasingly narrow and arrow-like models being better suited for deeper waters.
Although most kingfish jiggers are automatically introduced to the mechanical-jigging method these days, I believe there’s still room for speed jigging – especially during long sessions.
No matter which technique is used though, there’s no getting away from the fact that jigging’s physical. Speed jigging involves anglers cranking away frantically for around half a dozen turns or so before giving the rod a firm stab upwards, then resuming the high-speed retrieve before stabbing upwards quickly again. Now, repeat these actions in rapid succession hundreds of times!
As for mechanical jigging, it’s not only more aerobic, it also requires better co-ordination, thanks to the constant lift-and-drop rod action, accompanied by quick half-turns of the reel handle.
Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the work load. For instance, as most of the bigger kings tend to be in the bottom half of the water column (unless shadowing bait schools nearer the surface), it pays to concentrate your efforts in this area, rather than working the lure all the way back to the surface.
If getting really tired, simply drop your lure back down again, giving your muscles a short reprieve – it’s better to do short bursts of jigging well rather than cover longer distances poorly (especially when speed jigging).
Having said that, try to avoid getting sucked into mechanical-jigging contests with any ‘jigging gun’ on the boat. Keeping the jig constantly moving at a pace that’s comfortable for you will be more effective long term than burning yourself out in just a handful of blazing retrieves. Also, try alternating both techniques to spread the work over more muscles and give some of them a break – you’ll be able to jig for longer this way.
Otherwise, accept your sad level of fitness and strength, and simply wait until other anglers hook up, signalling the fish are biting and it’s time to drop your lure down. Or attach a big soft-plastic lure instead, lob it out, and work that around the same depths. The same gear can be used for this – provided the lure is fitted with an appropriately strong hook – but soft-plastics don’t require such frantic actions, with slower retrieves and more erratic rod actions doing the trick admirably.
It’s funny: you’ll often be pleading for a strike so your burning muscles can have a break, and then, when it happens, you may well end up wrenched right over the cockpit side and worrying that the rod’s about to be ripped from your hands. Fortunately, adrenalin will keep you going for a while, but if it’s big fish, this will run out eventually – and then you’ll need all the help you can get – especially from a good rod bucket.
In all cases, choose a rod bucket that enables reasonably quick and easy rod accommodation; thanks to all the pressure being exerted at both ends, it can be hard to place a notched rod butt onto a rod-holder’s pin, so having one that helps channel the butt into position can be invaluable – provided your rod-fighting capabilities aren’t limited afterwards. Also, choose one that allows good straight-armed fighting technique without the reel clashing with the boat’s railings; this will obviously be easier with freespool type outfits as they’re on top of the rod, rather than hanging below. Some specialist rod buckets offer multiple butt-pin positions to cater for different cockpit heights and arm lengths.
Rod buckets for spinning reels are more easily made and found, simply requiring a deep, well placed, generous hole to accommodate the (usually) large, rounded, rubber butt fitted to most spinning-type jig rods
Better still, there are even specialist spinning reel harnesses available now, enabling jiggers to clip in so the pressure is distributed over more of their body – that’s a big plus for old, fat, unfit and bashed-up anglers like me…
This article is reproduced with express permission of
written by Mark Kitteridge - 2013
Originally published in New Zealand Fishing News