When out on the water, one of my favourite pastimes is catching fish on lures that imitate the various sea creatures they prey on. The challenge can be significant, and the skills developed during their use can be extremely satisfying. The results can astonish other anglers yet to try them.
Soft-baits/soft-plastics are used quite extensively these days and generally come in shapes that resemble baitfish. They have also been a major catalyst in the development of many modernday anglers, encouraging further investigation of lures relatively new to the New Zealand market. These include painted-metal designs in many shapes and sizes, fitted with assorted bling and assist rigs. Commonly called jigs, they offer a fun and exciting way to catch fish and are also perfect for kayak fishing – yet their full potential is still being discovered. During the last seven years, I have seen them put in front of all sorts of fish in many areas, including Chatham Island. I now know that success with these new jigs can be achieved quite easily – if you get the fundamentals right.
Modern-day snapper jigs tend to fall within several jig types – such as inchiku, madai and kabura – but collectively most are popularly known as slow-jigs.
Some have quite unusual appearances, with paint schemes that are completely different to colours found in common prey items. Despite the weird forms and colourations though, they can be extremely effective.
As these lures rely on appearance and action, without any scent, they are excellent for kayak use, especially as these lures are also compact and easy to store. Better still, one jig can be used over many trips.
Slow-jigs can be from five grams through to 500g (although 200g is probably the maximum for practical purposes in this instance), with the location, circumstances and target species determining which lure is likely to be well suited.
Fortunately, with so many of us already using soft-baits, the same rod-reel combos can be used to work the latest snapper-type jigs reasonably effectively, although more specialised jigging setups will realise more of the slow-jigs’ true potential. Although specialised rods can be in either spin or overhead in style, they should ideally be around 6’ to 6’3” (around two metres) in length, and have a fast action with a supple tip. The light tip assists with jig movement, slowing the assist rigs’ and any trailing tendrils’ action so a more seductive action is created. Even better, the forgiving tip section helps to absorb sudden pressure, so hooks are less likely to pull out or bend.
A matching reel should have a decent retrieval rate – around 87 to 97cm of line per turn of the handle – as some jig types require short bursts of speed to get them working correctly. The reel should also have a smooth drag system, to further aid in keeping the small jig hooks connected.
In terms of deciding between a spin or overhead setup, each has pros and cons when fishing jigs. I find an overhead much easier to manage, especially during the lure’s decent, because it’s possible to thumb the spool, controlling the sink rate and helping me stay in touch. If the reel’s gears engage when the handle is turned, the advantage is even greater, as opposed to spinning reels which struggle in this situation. (Also, when sitting in a kayak, the larger spin reels can clash with your legs during use, although this is more likely to occur when jigging for kingfish.)
However, where the spinning reel shines is in its ability to create a more erratic action during retrieves, and as they also tend to be quite a bit faster than overheads, the retrieve and drop-back-down process is more quickly achieved – a worthwhile advantage in deeper waters.
Braid line is the best choice when fishing jigs, with breaking strains from 10-24kg (20lb to 50lb) covering most kayak-oriented situations. Braids that change colour every 10 metres are an obvious advantage, allowing you to determine how deep your lure is in the water column, essential for putting it in front of any fish showing on the fish-finder’s screen.
Leader is also important; fluorocarbon offers superior abrasion resistance and is less visible underwater. Trace material from 10-37kg (20lb up to 80lb) is useful, depending on the species and circumstances. A length of three to four metres prevents fish from seeing the attached main line and also offers extra insurance against busting off if a large fish heads into structure.
The braid is connected to the leader using the strongest, lowestprofile knot possible, with the PR knot being first choice for me, followed by the FG knot.
When attaching the jig, make sure it is done correctly to ensure the best action and strongest connection. Most jigs have some sort of assist-hook rig, but not all are connected the same, with many utilising a solid ring. This solid ring is connected via a split-ring, which the uninitiated often mistakenly knot the leader to. This can result in lost fish, because these can bend or damage the line when put under pressure.
In the case of inchiku lures, some have three potential attachment positions, each of which creates a different action; don’t be afraid to experiment if action is slow.
I also suggest spending a bit more time when attaching the jig to your leader, with the Chain knot being the best option, offering a strong connection with some shock absorption. It can also be worth making your own assist-hook setups, with ring grommets providing the ultimate protection, especially when larger jigs are being used.
Placing jig lures in locations where decent numbers of fish are congregating is a major key to success. Good technique is another – and figuring out which works best at the time is all part of the fun.
It’s common for anglers to give up using lures after a short time if they don’t enjoy success – even though this may simply be down to slow fishing on the day or a lack of fish. So, instead of giving up, try varying your technique until you find a successful method.
Drifting along to cover new ground is the best option when fishing jigs, providing the angler with new territory and opportunities to prospect. Jigs can be cast, lobbed or dropped straight down, depending on the lure type and the amount of wind and current present. Wind usually has the biggest influence on the drift direction, so it’s advisable to do a dummy run to determine this aspect. A chart-plotter enables your drift direction to be tracked, so once you’ve figured this out, you can position the kayak for the next drift.
Small, fluttery metal jigs and inchiku lures are versatile and can be cast ahead and worked back towards the kayak, or dropped straight down and dragged along behind. The trick with casting ahead is keeping in touch with the jig as it falls, which can be more difficult to master because some lures dart around, creating slack line. Whatever the method chosen, it’s best done over sandy substrates to avoid potential snagging.
There are many ways to retrieve jigs and inchiku lures, but in all cases, imparting the right movement for the lure concerned – bringing it to life – is critical. Fortunately, a very effective jig movement can be achieved simply by placing the rod in a holder, with the vessel’s rocking motion proving lethal at times. And, as their genre name suggests, slow-jigs can also be effective when slowly wound up from the sea floor – up to half the depth below – although the fish-finder will play a big part in determining which part of the water column you should concentrate on. Another method involves moving the reel handle in quarter turns with a pause in between.
Micro jigs require a different approach, with many designed to flutter and move erratically. The best ways to work them is done by either lifting and dropping the rod (called ‘yo-yoing’) or with quick winds of the reel. Both actions cause the jig to repeatedly move from vertical to horizontal positions, an erratic action that causes the silver body to flash while also sending out harmonic vibrations. This motion replicates an injured baitfish and won’t go unnoticed by any nearby predators. Larger slow-jigs require a similar technique, but it’s more mechanical, with a lift of the rod followed by a reel wind as the rod tip is lowered in preparation for the next lift.
Although most jig fishers target snapper, these lures can attract a wide variety of other fish species in all sorts of water depths. The only limitation is the overall weight, with heavier jigs being better suited to deeper applications.
The main thing to remember is be prepared to try anything, as all sorts of movements and techniques might work – especially if the fishing is slow. I also like the fact that you never know what might be attracted to the jig’s seductive movements, with even kingfish, for example, able to be hooked in just ten metres of water. It’s that type of thing that makes using jigs so addictive.
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