This is, for some reason, one of the most addicting fishing techniques for inshore fisherman today. Don’t believe me? Just go out to Lake Pontchartrain’s multitude of bridges or the hundreds of rigs in the gulf and you will find two things: those that fish live bait and those that jig artificial. I mean if a guy is willing to put his plastics next to a guy using live bait he must be insane or as I have learned over the years, the thump is mightier than the shrimp.
Let’s start by defining deep jigging, it is in my opinion fishing in water too deep for most conventional tackle such as top water, popping corks, spinner baits and yes I know you are saying, but I know a guy who caught a limit in fifteen feet of water using a cork rig and there’s the time when another guy caught his limit with top water. Absolutely, lots of techniques work in the right circumstance but for the rest of the time, you know on Saturday when the weather is worse than predicted and a front has just pushed through lets go deep. In most coastal waters along the gulf we have huge marsh estuaries with lakes and bayous but when you’re in more than eight feet of water in endless marshes of one to four feet it’s all relative.
So “how” is the question but before “how” we must understand “when” and “where”. All three of the most sought after species the trout, redfish, and flounder will migrate out to the gulf with immature fish and a few resident fish always stay behind. Trout as everybody knows will hit the gulf and large bays for the summer spawn which is done about twice a month. Whereas redfish live in the shallow estuaries for the most part until they reach maturity or somewhere around thirty inches before moving offshore and spawning in the passes during the fall. Flounder on the other hand move offshore in the winter and are often found in over a hundred feet of water so my question is if flounder spawn in the winter how do all those little flounder make it back without getting eaten?
So the point is fish are moving out and fish are moving in through the choke points which are where you will have the most success during spring and fall. Summer can concentrate fish around well heads and jetties in the gulf and winter will stack fish in deep canals so yes jigging is a year round technique, but match your spot with the time of year. I have a soft spot in my heart for Lake Pontchartrain and it’s hard not to stop at one of the landings in the spring or fall and hit the bridges but if the weather is unfavorable I’ll admit my boat and kayak can take more than I can so be a weather hawk. Plan “B” will still work so just move to protected water bayous, especially in the late fall and winter.
When I was young I would watch guy’s on TV and tried to imitate them and for some reason learned to cast both right hand and left hand, also spinning or bait casting gear. So what “Good for me right” well one day I put the same 3/8th ounce jig on my spinning setup because my left hand was cramping from holding the bait caster all day. I was fishing big four bayou around Point La Hatch around December and had some fish but they were slow, well after switching I started catching three times as many fish, so why? I didn’t catch on at the time, but thought a spinning rod must be better for jigging after all the bass guys use spinning gear for drop shot and finesse jigs.
My next trip I was ready with the knowledge of how spinning equipment is superior to bait casters when jig fishing, so off to the races with my long time friend who hates spinning gear. I though ahead and brought three spinning setup’s and the fish were hitting the deck one after another, “uh not so fast”. My friend was kicking my butt so bad with the same bait; I couldn’t stand it and had to ask him if I could use one of his bait casters. So from then on I learned two valuable lessons, first the angle of a spinning rod or just my habit of holding the rod higher will cause the bait to fall slightly different from a bait caster so I bring both and switch up with good results. Next I learned to be open minded when fishing. Remember: “there is more than one way to skin a cat”.
Line is another touchy subject with three schools of though that come to mind. First, conventional mono, like most guides use – and for good reasons like cost, or the fact that most clients hang-up every third cast so a re-spool won’t bust the budget. Mono works just fine but I would recommend a medium heavy rod to compensate for the stretch. Fluorocarbon line is even better with its fast sink rate and near invisible properties; it’s my first choice in clear water situations. Fluoro has less stretch than mono so standard medium action rods are just right but there is a draw back and that is breakage. Despite what the line companies tell us my real world experience tells me to up size the line and tie a fluorocarbon knot.
I like the Berkley braid knot for this application. Last is the most complicated but my favorite all around and that is braid in 15lb or 20lb with a leader as long as the rod, “about seven foot”. I like a good abrasion resistant leader in 12lb or 15lb tied to the braid with an Albright knot. The sensitivity and solid hook set outweighs any concerns about spooking the fish unless the water is fluorocarbon clear which is rare in Louisiana. Another benefit to braid leader setup is your ability to shake bait loose if it hangs up. It’s amazing how many times I just move over the hang-up and just shake the jig loose. All three line setups work so if you’re a line watcher just use high visibility mono and fluoro. I don’t look at the line, instead I prefer to just feel so my two will be fluoro and braid. Having different sink rates with the line and angles with rod/reel will give you diversity to adjust for changing tidal conditions.
Lures can be conventional lead head jigs from ¼ to ½ once being the most common along the gulf coast, but don’t overlook other options like the lipless crank bait or the jigging spoon. The double rig jig is my choice when fish summer rigs. I’d like to say it’s because of the fish’s high metabolisum from the warmer water or it matches the bait their feeding on but I’d be guessing all I can say is go double in summer. The jigging spoon is my choice over reefs with clean water and lipless crank baits are good for covering water to get the reaction strike on cloudy days. Have some variety every trip to adjust for weather conditions.
A cast in deep water involves different mechanics than shallow water, let’s say you’re in fifteen feet of water and cast forty five feet away. The number one mistake guys make is to engage the reel as soon as the lure hits the water, and the bait ends up thirty feet away. The way to solve this problem is by casting past the target area and feeding line until the bait is close to the bottom, and then engage.
The drop after the jig is the second biggest mistake guys make, an example would be if you moved your rod from nine o’clock to twelve o’clock and keep it up there until the bait hits the bottom again. Guys may feel the need to keep constant contact with their line to quote “feel the bite” well forget about that. At first just drop your rod completely back to the water and because of the free fall your will get more strikes. Don’t worry if a fish hits on your next jig you will feel the weight and then set the hook, but with practice I learned to drop the rod just enough to let the bait free fall and still feel most strikes.
Finally, keys to success in deep water: The simple answer is trying different patterns until you start getting bites. For trout a short snappy jerk is good and other times a heavy long multi jerk is good and I think this is dictated more by tide than the fish’s mood. A short snap in fast tide will move the bait along the bottom about the same as a long jerk in slow tide. Flounder are flat on the bottom so a drag technique, sort of like you’re trying to feel the bottom is best. Remember you will not feel every bite but a good free fall will get you more strikes.
So why all the trouble? Well let me tell you, the feel of a four pound trout thumping that jig is every bit as exciting as top water bite. Another thing that makes jigging a clear choice over bait is the fact that you catch big fish similar to top water. Yes I know midsummer guys will throw live pogies and catch monster trout at the rigs but I’m saying as a general rule of thumb. Just look at history and all the four to ten pound trout caught in Lake Pontchartrain and you will see jigs dominate. Lake Calcasieu also has a nice history of jigs with plenty of monster trout to their credit. Time of day is another advantage, with most top water bites ending soon after the sun comes up. The jig will produce all day in fact I don’t even go the lake early in the cooler months. The pure fishing experience that jigging offers is why it’s my favorite technique, so on your next trip I hope these tricks and tips help you get the thump of a lifetime.