Debate and information on the colour, size and shape of soft-baits is quite common among anglers. On the flip side, Adam Clancey suggests there is very little discussion about the jig heads or rigging techniques used to fish soft-baits.
The type of jig head you use and the way you rig it are two things that can play a huge part in the way a soft-bait fishes, and they often decide whether you will come out on the winning side with a good catch.
The first thing to note is that not all jig heads are the same. There are some obvious differences like weight and hook size, but there is also a heap of subtle differences that can really make a big difference to how a soft-bait swims and acts in the water and, in turn, how the fish see it.
Starting with hooks, they need to be good quality and sharp. On budget jig heads, I have seen the points of the hooks roll or snap and some have hooks that bend way too easily. The size of the hook is very important, as is the length of the shaft and the gape. For a soft-bait to swim properly, it has to be rigged correctly and this means the point of the hook has to come out in a position on the soft-bait which allows it to swim well.
Choose a hook that will sit well and is not overly big or small. For example, if you’re using a typical 5” jerk shad soft-bait, pair it with a 3/0 or 5/0 hook. If you use a 1/0, it will be way too small and you will possibly miss strikes because the hook is buried. Conversely, a 7/0 hook will be way too large and if the lure is unbalanced, it won’t swim well.
The gape of a hook is the distance from the shank to the point. Jig heads have different gapes to account for the difference in thickness between soft-baits. The gape also determines whether the hook is rigged in an exposed style or in a weedless fashion, like those used with fluke soft-baits (these are baits that have slits in the belly for rigging). Wide gape exposed hooks are great over sand or when fishing mid depths for schooling predators where the fish usually pounce on the lure. Weedless or conceal hooks are perfect when working rocky weedy areas such as fishing in wash around islands and reefs.
Fluked lures are great for weedless presentation and for adding scent.
Another big factor with hooks is the position of the eye of the hook. Most are at 90 degrees, which is good for vertical jigging and bottom bouncing with soft-baits such as curly tail grubs that have plenty of in-built action. Other hooks have the hook point at 60 degrees or even less of an angle, which gives the lure more of a darting action and forward motion on the retrieve. These are suited to jerk shads as they require more rod action to get them swimming in an enticing manner.
The weight of the jig head is a vital component in the whole soft-baiting system. Weighting a soft-bait in the right way will give you maximum fishing time in a variety of different scenarios. For example, when fishing in shallow water, you will need a lighter jig head that produces a slower drop through the water and can be worked through the water column. This can mean anything from a few grams up to 25 grams in head weight. Whereas if you are fishing deep water where most of the action is near the bottom and the drift is relatively fast, you will need a jig head that gets down relatively quickly and can be fished in the productive depth easily. There are no rules for this as environmental conditions are so varied, so it is a matter of trial and error. If one weight is not working, try a heavier weight.
The shape of jig heads also influences the action of soft-baits. Round heads are good for jigging vertically but not so good for slower actions when lures are worked across the bottom or held static, as they tend to stumble and fall on their side. Pointy jig heads that have the weight spread over a flatter semi-circle base tend to sit without tumbling on the seabed. This is particularly valuable when using soft-baits that float as the whole lure will present in a very tempting manner.
Jig heads come in a wide range of shapes and sizes.
The key when rigging a soft-bait to a jig head is to make it look good. Most of the time, this involves sliding the hook through the soft-bait so it is sitting straight and centred on the jig head. If the lure is buckled or bent and the hook is not centred, it will not swim as well as it could. Many jig heads have a collar or a keeper part to them to keep the soft-bait in position. If this is the case, it is important to push your soft-bait onto the keeper, firming the rigging up. When the fishing is good, soft-baits will become damaged around this collar area and rather than using a fresh bait, you can extend the life of the lure by wrapping a tiny electrical tie or rubber band over the keeper. Screw on keepers are a good option on some rigs and definitely don’t do as much damage to the lures as the inbuilt ones on jig heads, but are a bit more finicky to rig.
Pay attention to your rigging, and check how the lures swims in the water.
There are a few soft-bait rigs that don’t use the standard jig head which stem back to bass fishing in the United States. These rigs do have some valid applications in New Zealand waters and can be used to good effect. The Texas rig is a set up with a worm hook (designed for fishing soft-bait worms) attached to a leader with a round or bullet shaped lead. This rig is great for shallow water fishing where you want to use big soft-baits, without adding too much weight to your line. The other is a Carolina rig in which you use a small ball sinker and short trace with a swivel. This rig is great when fishing smaller soft-baits that need a decent cast and are twitched and dragged along the bottom, which creates quite a disturbance.
Texas rigged soft-baits are great for stealth fishing.
Another terminal rig is the drop shot. This rig is ideal for getting baits down quickly and creating a lot of action. It consists of a sinker at the bottom of the rig – usually a tear drop style – and a single hook tied on using a palomar knot or a dropper knot. The soft-bait is rigged by passing the hook through the head of the lure once. With minimal tip action, the lure will dart and twitch, which drives fish crazy. The drop shot can be scaled dependant on the depth right up to rigs suitable for big kingfish and hapuku.
One thing’s for sure: jig heads will make a difference to your soft-bait success. It’s more than just a flip of a coin when you grab one out of your tackle box. The right decision will definitely help you get more bites and catch more fish – and that’s a win!
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