Sometimes we don’t have to find something completely new to revolutionise the way we fish. Occasionally the ‘reinvent the wheel’ approach with a few extra frills is all that is needed to experience exceptional results suggests John Walkley…
A vast majority of the lure fishing that we do today is an adaptation or evolution of an older method, albeit with flashier gear and new cutting-edge tackle and lures. One of these methods is jigging. But I am not talking about the traditional vertical jigging still being used, but more the method of presenting jigs at long range. This is a similar method to horizontal jigging for kingfish, but that is another topic. Though similar, this method differs slightly, being fine-tuned and scaled down to target the iconic snapper.
Over the past several decades, lure fishing for snapper has both gained popularity and evolved considerably. Currently, slow jigging, vertical jigging and soft-baiting would have to be holding the top ranks. Jigging has been experiencing a bit of a renaissance of late, with many new adaptations stemming from an earlier craze. Although the jigs and tackle have changed, jigs are still being worked vertically and mostly directly below the boat.
Back in the 80s/90s, jigging was the latest and greatest technique, with lures such as Lethal lures and Grim Reapers filling the tackle boxes of these new age, trend-setting anglers. Drifting was employed to work these treble hook rigged jigs in an action not too dissimilar from that being used today. It was not until the surge of soft-baiting, which turned our fishing tackle industry upside down, that we were provided with so many options and refinements.
By employing decent soft-baiting gear and a similar approach to working the lure, but with a micro jig tied on instead of a 7” soft bait, you can add jigging at range to your repertoire. Jigging at range, or horizontal jigging, is essentially pitching these jigs well in front of the line of the drift, then working them back to the boat with a series of erratic flicks and lifts along the bottom. While not new, many have not tried this method which is regularly out-fishing soft-baits for us.
A recent trip saw us drifting likely ground with scattered sign. We were in 15m of water over a sandy bottom in the lee of an island and the conditions were excellent. This is an area that has produced on many occasions, and this day should have been no different. Normally, fish averaging around the 45-55cm mark are only too eager to take well-presented soft-baits. This day, the fish would just not play the game, at least not initially. The sounder was punctuated by the tell-tale sign of snapper, but they were tight on the bottom, head down and bum up. We tried various lures of different sizes and colour, including dragging a slider out the back lazy-boy style. The bite was painfully slow but the fish were definitely there.
Eventually, we did catch a few small but very fat snapper, which proceeded to spew their breakfast. On closer inspection, we noticed they were up-chucking a slightly opaque, cream coloured shrimp. Seeing this alongside our Atomic Sunrise five- and seven-inch tails, it was obvious to us that a change in game plan was needed. The forensic evidence confirmed what we had been seeing on the sounder; these ‘shut down’ snapper must be pumping shrimp. We decided to change out the soft-baits for 20-40g micro jigs, but continue to work them in a similar style. After a brief dig through the arsenal, two micro jigs, both in white, were tied on.
Take what you need, release what you don't.
These jigs were sent at pace towards the horizon. After allowing them to settle with a puff of sand on the bottom, we began the retrieve. Sharp flick-flicks of the rod tips punctuated with the rapid retrieve of slack line saw the jigs darting out of the soft sand momentarily before thumping down once again. This action drew the attention of the previously oblivious shrimp-digging snapper. A few more flicks, followed by some lateral twitches across the sand bed, aroused even more attention. Eureka! The change was instantaneous. While the soft-baits could barely raise a touch, cast after cast with the micro jigs produced quality fish. Both methods have their place, but it just goes to show that thinking outside the square can turn an average day into an exceptional one.
This style of fishing is generally used on the drift, and the jig is cast well ahead of the boat. However, where the drift is slow or non-existent, you can employ this method by casting 360 degrees around the boat to cover a ridiculous amount of area. This method is also effective when shore-jigging.
Once the jig has been cast and landed on the bottom, it’s time to start your retrieve. There are many ways to work these lures and to be honest everyone has their own style, but in general, a series of one to four fast flicks of the rod tip will have that lure shooting off the bottom.
Whether fishing from boat or shore, this action imitates a panic scenario – like a disturbed baitfish or shrimp evading snapper. After retrieving the slack line and watching for the potential flick of your line that indicates a bite, let the lure settle for a bit and wait. We often get hits when it is lying stationary on the bottom. These bites are normally felt the moment you start the next flick and you find there is weight present. You can also slow twitch it across the bottom as this creates puffs of sand which replicate shrimp or bait trying to bury themselves to evade predators. When fishing on a boat, we typically won’t work the jig all the way back to the surface. We will stop maybe halfway or two thirds of the way back. This is where you can then retrieve the jig straight back up. It still pays to add some action during this final retrieve as many kingfish and kahawai will attack jigs high in the water column. So, think like you are soft-baiting but match the hatch with micro jigs – if you get this combo right, you should do well.
Mike with a solid snapper taken on a micro-jig.
There are a few factors that combine to make this technique so effective. First up, the stealth factor. Noise travels underwater, and those sound waves can travel five times faster in the water than they do in air. So, unless you’re running a Smartwave or another poly boat, the slaps, bangs, and bellows will alert the fish underneath to your presence. Depending on their mood and activity, this noise can reduce the chance of a bite or disperse them from the area completely. When working jigs at a distance, snapper are seeing the lure well before the noise or shadow disturb their feeding habits. This stealthy approach will increase your chances of getting that bite.
Jigging in this way allows you to cover so much more ground compared to other methods. You would be amazed at how far you can cast a 28-gram tungsten jig on the appropriate tackle. It is almost a pleasure to see the graceful shot that never seems to slow as it cuts through the air, hardly affected by the wind.
In some cases, you will perhaps gain an extra third of the distance on each cast compared to a soft-bait weighted to fish the same area. This is mainly attributed to the shape of the profile. Being small and streamlined, micro jigs have less drag and wind resistance. Additionally, when it does hit the water and begin to sink, the same attributes make the lure sink fast. The combination of the extra range and less sink time means the jig spends more time per cast in the strike zone. As you know, the longer you are in the strike zone, the more likely you are to hook up.
‘Matching the hatch’ is generally a freshwater phrase, but the meaning is not lost on us saltwater anglers. When snapper are in a passive mood, it pays to experiment until you find a solution. When they are showing on the sounder hard on the bottom, it’s obvious they are not actively hunting bait, but are instead foraging the sand beds. They could be looking for pipi or maybe looking for crustaceans, but in either case, their actions will startle any small bait or shrimp nearby causing them to flee in panic. This fleeing response is not too different from the action a very small micro jig produces when worked the right way. We have tried bigger jigs in similar scenarios but did not have the same success. However, bigger jigs under a work-up will be devastating because now you’re matching the hatch again and imitating dying pilchards.
When and where you try this method is up to you. It will provide success in most areas you would soft-bait, but perhaps isn’t so well suited to shallow reefs and wash fishing. Generally, I would employ this method over sandy areas, sandstone ledges and worm beds.
The two stand-out jigs we use for this style of fishing are both by Ocean Angler: the Weasel in (25 to 40 grams) and the Flea (14, 21 and 28 grams). The Flea is quite possibly one of the smallest profile jigs on the market but it has an immense weight for its size. Being made from tungsten rather than a lead alloy, it is 1.7 times heavier than a jig made of other materials. There are plenty of other small micro jigs around but most are far lighter for the same size jig. Being lighter, the sink rate is slower and the casting distance less. However, don’t discount them as these ‘slower’ jigs come into their own when you use them off the rocks or off the beach. Because you can slow the process down and allow more hang time, you get more hits on the drop.
Small tungsten lures allow you to match the hatch while also getting into the strike zone quickly.
For this style of fishing, I would say that ‘most’ quality soft-bait sets are suitable. While you can probably use a heavier rod with 40lb line on a 5000 reel, you will have much better results and satisfaction from using a more appropriate outfit. The lighter outfits will not only cast further, but the lighter line will allow the lure to sink faster as well.
A well-balanced light outfit will also be far superior in registering bites and imparting the sometimes-subtle actions you need to transmit to your lures. I would assume that most anglers these days will own a soft-bait set of reasonable quality, and these will cross over to fishing jigs at range with ease. We use rods that are 7ft 11” and rated for 8-15lb.These are matched and balanced perfectly with either a 2500 - 3000 size reel. The line class we use on these reels is the 12-15lb class or the premium 8/9 strand PE braids in PE1. The combination of the quality and refinement of these outfits will ensure you are not limited in any way by the gear you are using.
For those of you who are looking for that ‘other’ angle to target snapper, or perhaps are just wanting to spice the fishing relationship up a bit more, then give this a try. The more methods you have at your disposal, the more solutions you have for tough bites – and it’s an excuse to get out and add some more bling to your tackle organisers. Enjoy!
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