Almy: Jump fishing worth a shot

White mist swirled over the emerald green waters of Leesville Lake as we raced towards the frothing commotion of churning gamefish and frantically skipping shad. Cutting the outboard motor, we cast our white bucktail jigs towards the melee and began reeling. Soon all three rods in the boat were bent double.

My lure pulled free, but was immediately grabbed by another hungry striper. Both of the other anglers in the boat, guide Dale Wilson and his friend Ralph Key, were also battling huge fish of their own. By the time the commotion ended 30 minutes later we had two stripers weighing in the 20-30 pound class in the boat, several smaller ones and a couple of chunky white bass.

That experience on this central-Virginia lake is a good example of what makes jump fishing such an exciting method of angling. Here’s how you do it: first search with your naked eyes and binoculars for swooping gulls, jumping shad and gamefish crashing into them. Then race to the commotion. Finally, arch casts in as quickly as you can.

While many people associate this tactic with just one or two gamefish — usually bass or stripers, the fact is it can work for many different species, including largemouths, smallmouths, spotted bass, striped bass, hybrids, white bass, trout and saltwater species.
Sometimes you may just see a few fish slashing into baitfish on top, other times hundreds. Action may last three minutes or half an hour. In either case, it’s tremendously exciting, sight-fishing for these cruising topwater feeders.

While surface-feeding frenzies can occur during any season, right now, summer-through-fall, is one of the top periods. Early morning and late afternoon are best, but on rainy, drizzly days surface action can come anytime.

Small lakes can yield good jump fishing, but the most consistent sport occurs on medium to larger lakes with good shad or alewife populations — waters such as Anna, Leesville, Smith Mountain and Buggs Island. Start your search by asking marina and tackle shop operators where fish have been breaking lately. Often the water around the dam is a good bet in summer while feeder arms and their mouths may pay off better in fall.

Scan for any surface area that doesn’t look normal. Search for a white spray and also water that looks ruffly or churned up. Also search for birds dipping down to grab bits of bait. Using binoculars can sometimes help you locate surface commotion from far away.

Fish rarely stay on top feeding for long. Oxygen levels are low there and they may feel vulnerable to avian predators. Get to the commotion quickly. But always stay a short distance away and either drift or use your trolling motor to ease up the final few yards so you don’t spook the quarry.

Best Lures –The ideal offering for jump fishing will cast easily, rarely tangle its hooks on the line and work well at a shallow-to-moderate depth with a medium or fast retrieve. Adjust the size of the lure to correspond to the bait the fish are feeding on and the size of the quarry.

Lipless Crankbaits –These are excellent because they closely resemble a shad and sink fast–about a foot per second. Fish them right under the surface or up to 10-15 feet down. That’s often where the larger fish in the school are lurking, nabbing bits of mutilated baitfish that drift down to them while the smaller fish tear into the school on top. Use l/4-1 ounce versions in silver/black or chrome/blue. Cast out, countdown and then begin a steady retrieve.

Blade Lures — These are even more compact than vibrators and can be cast long distances, allowing you to stay far away and not spook the quarry. Use ½-¾ ounce models in silver or chartreuse. Retrieve in short pumps.

Tailspinners — Heavy and compact, tailspinners cast like a lead sinker and get down to the fish quickly. Cast these to the middle or far side of the surfacing fish and let the lure sink on a tight line. Strikes will come on the drop.

Topwater Chugger or Popper — Nothing can top the thrill of a bass or striper nailing a surface lure as other fish crash into real bait all around it. Work these offerings with a skittering, twitching or walk-the-dog motion.

The one disadvantage to all of these lures is their treble hooks, which take up lots of precious time to remove. Try the next two lures described below to avoid that problem.

Soft Plastic Jerkbaits — These single-hook artificials can be twitched across the surface or pumped erratically just below it.

Bucktail Jig — Plain and simple, but deadly. A jig with bucktail dressing closely resembles a shad slinking through the water. Fish it by itself in clear water or with a twister tail if fish are feeding on large forage or the water is murky. Use weights from ¼-1/2 ounce and reel back smoothly with occasional pauses to let it sink down like a wounded shad.

Slab Spoon — Once the commotion on peters out, fish are usually still slurping down bits of shad below. Drop a ½-1 ounce slab spoon like a Hopkins down and vertically jig until you see the next school of fish crashing bait on the surface.

Then reel up quickly, crank up the outboard and race after them!

Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.