Jigging - tips and techniques

Around a quarter of a century ago New Zealand experienced its first kingfish jigging craze.

The impetus came from the US via Australia and was initially based around the Bay of Islands fishery. The conventional wisdom of the time had us initially ripping the lures (big coffin-shaped models called 'Irons' armed with huge treble hooks) wildly with seven-foot rods and winding as fast as we could with high-speed reels loaded with 15kg mono. After some nasty accidents with flying lures, the rip-and-wind technique was replaced with a straight high-speed retrieve.

It was great fun if there were plenty of fish about, but also damned hard work - after a short time you were hanging out to hook a fish so you could have a 'rest' while playing it! The lures were thick in section and took a lot of effort to move at high speed. Stretchy mono and hooks hanging below the lure made hooking the fish hard too, with the latter arrangement also increasing the chances of snagging the bottom and losing the lure as well. Gradually many people went back to live and dead baiting as less strenuous techniques.

A few years later, many anglers got interested in jig fishing for kingfish again when a locally-driven craze for yo-yo fishing baitfish-shaped metal lures - such as Grim Reapers, Branks and Lethal Lures - came into vogue. Initially based on snapper, the technique was extended to a wide range of species, including kingfish, but the same old problems just mentioned had still not been solved, and eventually mainstream interest dropped away again.

Over the last ten years or so jig fishing for pelagic predators, including kingfish, has been redefined by Asian (largely Japanese) anglers. Demand creates supply, and new technology has solved many of the problems of the past. These include: super-tough, finely engineered jigging reels (including eggbeaters); polyethylene braid lines; new resin systems that allow the construction of light but bullet-proof jigging rods; top-of-the-lure rigged assist hooks; and the slender 'long/knife jigs', which are easier to retrieve but give the impression of a large baitfish, so attract bigger predators. All these aspects have combined to create a whole new realm of jig fishing that's particularly effective on kingfish.

Mechanical jigging

This new gear has made speed jigging - winding flat stick, with the rod tip angled down - a whole lot more efficient. However, Japanese anglers developed another retrieve that is very effective on a wide range of species. It is called 'mechanical jigging' or 'Japanese jigging', and has been repackaged by Shimano for the American market as 'butterfly jigging'. It is all basically the same thing. One of the leaders in promoting this style of jigging in New Zealand is Chris Wong of BCS Enterprises and on-line tackle supplier Jigs Direct (some of you may recall a piece I wrote for the December 2006 issue on the subject).

Essentially the mechanical jigging style goes like this: the rod is lifted from about 45 degrees below horizontal up to just above horizontal, then dropped back again. For each cycle of the rod, a turn is made with the reel handle. This sounds simple but to get it working quickly, smoothly and efficiently is a bit like rubbing your tummy in a circular motion with one hand while patting the top of your head with the other - it takes a bit of practice. Mechanical jigging imparts a dart and flutter action to the jig, keeping it in constant motion, but also keeping it in the strike zone for longer than speed jigging.

Jigs in winter

I have mostly done my kingfish jigging in the warmer months, however in August this year Mark Kitteridge and I had the opportunity to do an overnighter on the Whitianga-based charterboat Star Trek (see the ad in the charter directory near the back of the magazine) with owner Bryce Hooton, skipper Dave Blake, and local kingfish specialist (and guide) Justin 'Fluff' Wilson along to show us the local kingfish hotspots.

We had quite a pile of kingie jigging tackle to try (see the tackle tests elsewhere in this issue) and a long period of dodgy weather had us hanging out for some fishing action. The weather was not ideal, but it was fishable and Justin took us to a couple of his favourite kingfish spots.

Apart from dodgy weather, the downside of kingie jigging in winter is that in the colder months barracouta move into normal kingfish haunts in big numbers. However 'couta are not quite as fast or accurate strikers as kingfish, so if you can get your jig moving quickly enough, it is possible to avoid many of the snakes and hook more kings. This is fine with straight speed jigging, but when using the mechanical jigging technique the lure moves more slowly through the water column and is more vulnerable to the 'couta; this is when the higher retrieve speeds that the improved co-ordination of a practiced 'mechanical jigger' achieves is a definite advantage. Here Justin showed his expertise, catching mostly kings. Mark's kingfish to 'couta ratio improved as he got his technique sorted, too. I was the low man on the totem-pole, my lack of match fitness exposed by more biters than fighters hitting the deck (too much soft-bait fishing, Mark K reckons!).

Some opinions

Using a wide variety of tackle and jigs allowed some ideas to be tried and comparisons made.

Rod actions: There are two ways to approach fighting kingfish. One is the finesse system, where you take it very easy on the fish and try and kid it that there is nothing seriously wrong until it is too late. This can be very successful on kingfish and is often used with baits and live baits. The second system is the knock-down, drag-out method, where you give the fish everything and try to overpower it. Basically the harder you pull on a kingfish, the harder it pulls back. This is what jig fishing is mostly about, and the arm-stretching fight that results is what makes it such an exciting technique.

While the softer rods we used (some bent right through to the reel seat) smoothed out the jerks in the mechanical jigging technique, helping to make it more fluid, when it comes to keeping big kings out of the bottom structure, you can't beat a rod with some real firepower, and I certainly prefer those with stiffer butt sections when it comes to fighting fish.

Overheads and eggbeaters: Many overseas Asian anglers seem to prefer big eggbeaters for jig fishing, resulting in the development of very highly engineered fixed-spool reels (such as the Daiwa Saltiga and Shimano Stella), designed to take the pressure generated by fishing heavy braid to the limit.

There are some advantages with eggbeaters. For a start, having the reel hanging under the rod is easier than balancing an overhead on top of the rod when retrieving or fighting fish. The action of the bail-arm means you do not have to worry about laying the braid evenly on the spool either (this can be a bit hard on the fingers when it is coming in at high speed or under pressure, resulting in fishing gloves being a popular accessory with jig fishers).

There are downsides too, as I found out. One is getting the bail arm closed when the jig is taken on the drop. On one occasion I pulled the bail over quickly as the line suddenly sprinted off, but the line pressure smacked it back open - result, a bruised knuckle and a missed fish.

Another downside with eggbeaters is that with reduced access to the drag knob (guarded by the rod on one side and a band-saw of high-speed braid on the other), I could not seem to get as much pressure on the fish as quickly as I could with an overhead, and got dusted a couple of times by fish that took near the bottom.

I think in future I will leave the big eggbeaters for popper fishing, where their casting abilities are an advantage, and stick with overheads for jigging. The market is now swinging heavily towards overhead reels, the demand for this type of reel probably indicating a consensus on this point.

'Mechanical' or speed retrieves? In practice I have found that both methods produce kingfish well. Mixing the two methods gives a chance to rest different muscle groups - either technique can be tiring over time - allowing you to keep going longer.

In winter, when the barracouta are about, the faster you can get the jig moving, the less hassles you will have with them. In other situations, a slower mechanical-jigging retrieve - especially near the bottom - can result in desirables such as bluenose, hapuku, bass and trumpeter. On the trip mentioned I even caught a nice warehou - a long way from its usual southern haunts. Mechanical jigging is not the be-all and end-all; rather it is another useful technique to throw into the mix.

Jig design:

Long slender jigs with a fine cross-section are best for speed jigging, while those with broader sides and more flutter in their action are designed more for mechanical jigging. For deepwater work, I like a jig with some lumo paint in its finish.

Try to match the jig weight to the rating on the rod - this makes working it easier - and choose a jig to suit the depth and technique you are using.

Terminal rig:

I am a strong believer in the KISS principle - Keep It Strong and Simple. I like rigs that are uncomplicated, strong and quick to rig in a field situation - tying a complex rig in a tossing boat can take you out of the action at critical times during a hot bite. Consequently I favour the same rigging technique for jigging as soft-baiting, just in heavier line. Use 37kg braid as a default for this work and add about four metres of at least 45kg hard mono leader. Tie a short double in the braid with a 12-turn bimini twist, and use a Yucatan knot to tie the mono leader to the braid. This rig has been illustrated in Fishing News several times in the past. Justin Wilson favours 90kg leaders, and he may have a point if the fish makes the bottom, but such thick mono is hard to pull up in a Yucatan knot and needs a much more complex and time-consuming rigging system. Take your pick.

Assist hooks:

When I first started using assist hooks some years ago, I found that I was often missing strikes from fish that took the jig while it was sinking. Figuring this was because the assist hook was flying up out of the way as the jig sunk, I developed a simple method of hitching a small rubber band around the hook shank and looping it through the eyelet at the bottom of the lure. This seemed to help and the small article I wrote about the idea received a lot of feedback and was widely reprinted as far away as the USA. Some jiggers have pointed out that predators which capture their prey by suction (a john dory is a good example) would tend to suck in a free-swinging hook, so a tie-down is not necessarily an advantage. However, with species that grab their prey (such as dogtooth tuna) a tie-down can be critical.

Kingfish, I feel, are part suction-feeder, part grabber, so it is a bit of a 50-50 call, but if you are getting hit on the drop a lot and missing many of the fish, rubber-banding down your hook to the end of the lure may be an answer.

It was great to hit the water during a window in the often awful winter weather, have some fun, learn a bit more, and put a feed of fresh fish on the table (we spent some time soft-baiting snapper too). Roll on summer!?

Making an easy assist hook

Not all the assist hook rigs supplied with store-bought jigs are suited to purpose. My own experiences and studying the wear marks made by striking fish on my old jigs have me preferring the assist hook hanging at about a half to two-thirds the way down the jig for best results. Many supplied assist hooks are much shorter than this. In addition, we struck some commercially-made assist hooks that pulled apart under extreme pressure, or incorporated a flattish solid ring that seemed to cut through the mono leader when the acid was really on. Add this to the hooks chopped off by 'couta and we really needed a strong, simple way of making our own. Here Justin Wilson came to the rescue and demonstrated a technique that produced an excellent result in just seconds.

1. Take a strong hook, such as a live-bait hook, and a length of cord. Specialist fishing stores or www.jigsdirect.com can supply ideal cord made from aramid fibers such as Kevlar.

2. Double the cord and pass the tag ends through the hook eye from the point side.

3. Turn the cord loop back across the hook shank behind the eye.

4. Take the doubled cord back around the hook shank and through the loop formed.

5. Pull the knot up.

6. Pass the cord loop back through the hook eye.

7. Pull up.

8. The knot looks basic, but will not slip.

9. Hitch the cord to a solid ring/split ring combination (a JigStar product is shown).

10. The leader is also tied to the solid ring, taking pressure off the weaker split ring. Lures can be quickly changed with split-ring pliers, while the assist-hook rig stays semi-permanently on the leader.


 This article is reproduced with permission of
New Zealand Fishing News

October 2008 - written by Sam Mossman

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