Monday, April 4, 2016

Jig It!

Jig It!

The once emerald green slough was now nearly black, a result of the hundreds of silver salmon taking a pit stop on their journey upriver. This is a fly anglers dream; resting silver salmon are very aggressive. But today was different for some reason. I was guiding 2 clients on the Kanektok River in Alaska. They were making great casts, retrieves and doing everything right. Why weren't we catching fish?
I grabbed my fly rod and told my clients to continue casting while I crept around to the opposite side of the slough. The brush and grass were thick and nearly impenetrable; not a place to take my clients, but I wanted to take a closer look at these fish and see their reaction to my clients' flies. I sometimes did this while guiding. A quick observation or tweak in technique could make the difference in having a 10 silver day or 60 silver day. I crawled through the thick brush to the edge of the water. The mosquitos were nearly unbearable, testing my ability to stay focused on the task at hand and keep a calm composure. The silvers were stacked on top of each other, nearly motionless, with glazed eyes as the egg sucking leeches swam past their faces. I unhooked my leech and crimped a split shot on the nose of it.  A small silver lay close to a rods length away from me; a prime candidate for a technique experiment. I dropped the fly off the tip of the rod and began twitching, moving the fly in an up and down motion. In a flash, two silvers nearly 10 feet away charged for my fly, practically fighting to inhale it. The jigging motion had been the key.


Over the years, I've learned how deadly the up and down motion, or "jigging", is to fish. The conventional tackle world has been onto this for years, but fly anglers and manufacturers are just now tapping into this world. I'm going to outline a few tips for catching more trout on your jig-head streamers, and a few tactics for you to use in different scenarios.

The Fly Patterns
Large gaudy streamers take most of the hype these days, but I prefer small heavily weighted patterns. A size 10 wolly bugger tied with a tungsten bead-head or cone-head is one of my top producers when jigging streamers, but you can also try using lead or brass eyes for weight. The lead or brass eyes will provide enough weight at the head of the hook to give a great jigging motion, and these eyes paired with a jig hook can be a deadly combination to driving fish wild. A 1-3 inch minnow imitation tied with a jig hook is another one of my favorite patterns to perform a jigging technique with.

Size 10 and 8 Tungsten Buggers
Brass Eyed Minnows  
Jig Head Minnow

Put it under an indicator!
A stripped leech has and will always be a great technique for stillwater trout, but a leech bouncing at a set depth under an indicator is downright deadly. This is a great way for someone to get started jigging streamers. Leeches are the obvious patterns to use and tie, but fish imitations are very effective as well. Heavy-headed flies like the balance minnow, (see picture below), are great patterns. When fishing a streamer under an indicator, you have a couple of different retrieval options. In both rivers and lakes, the first retrieve is no retrieve at all. A simple dead-drift in the current or drift with the waves can work quite well.

Balance Minnow
When the "no drift" technique is not getting the fish’s attention, it is time to add the jigging motion. A light pop or jolt upward and then right back down with the tip of the fly rod is all you need to bring your bugger to life. The pop or jolt is only a 3-6 inch movement of the rod tip, but it brings the fly to life deep in the water column to grab the attention of a hungry fish. One of these pops every 5-10 seconds can be enough to attract a fish, and other times every 1-2 seconds in between pops is needed. When a fish takes, you will see the indicator plunge under the water, but not all the takes are that aggressive. Sometimes the takes may be subtle, merely stopping the indicator instead of pulling it under. So be aware of your indicator's movement, and if the movements of your indicator seem unnatural, then set the hook.

Retrieve Techniques

When stripping streamers, make sure you keep your rod tip low to the surface of the water. It will help you stay tight to your fly, allowing you to detect subtle strikes. You my even keep the tip of your fly rod dipped under the water to maintain full contact with your streamer.

The quick strip is the retrieve I use the most. This is 6-12 inch strips, followed by 1-2 second pauses in between those strips. This is all you need to get your fly performing a jigging action. This retrieve is very versatile and can be used in both stillwater and rivers. It can be fished with floating, sinking, or sink tip fly lines.

When fishing deep runs and drop offs in faster water, I use what I call the "mend-strip". This retrieve only works with a floating line. Cast your fly approximately 45 degrees upstream and throw a quick mend in the line to help your fly get deep. Strip in the slack line as your fly starts to drift downstream, then throw a small mend in the line. This will move your fly slightly, but keep it deep at the same time. These small mends will give a jigging action to your streamer, but won’t bring your fly up and out of the deeper water column. Repeat the small mends while maintaining your fly line slack, making small trips for control. Since you aren't always tight to your fly, a take may register as a movement in the end of your fly line.

Jigging your streamers will help you catch more fish, and you can accomplish this by tying or purchase flies with lots of weight towards the front of the fly. Be sure to try a few different jigging retrieves, whether it be subtle or aggressive, to attract hungry fish during different times of the day or year. Sticking with brown, olive, or black in streamer colors is common, but don’t be afraid to branch out to yellow, purple, or white if the day calls for it. Add "jigging" to your book of tricks this year and I know you will catch more fish on your streamers.