Last week’s column looked at some of the reasons why fishing straight under your boat can often be the best tactic for catching gamefish in both mid-summer and winter. Here are a few more details on this very productive tactic on waters Shenandoah Valley anglers frequent such as lakes Anna, Smith Mountain, Frederick, Moomaw, Gaston, and Kerr.
If you were only allowed one lure for vertical jigging, it would have to be the “slab” type spoon. These lures come in weights ranging from 1/16 to 4 ounces or more. They are narrow, flat spoons with little curve in their design. But they flutter enticingly when jigged up and allowed to drop back freely without tension on the line.
For panfish and small trout, choose models in the 1/16-1/4 ounce size. For largemouths, walleyes, pickerel, saugers and white bass, spoons in the 1/2 to 3/4 ounce range are best. For stripers or saltwater gamefish, use 1-4 ounce versions.
The Hopkins, invented by a Virginia angler, is one of the most famous slab spoons, but many companies make their versions. Most are very effective.
Blade lures are also excellent for vertical jigging. These heavy, slender metal baits are shaped something like a thin slab spoon, but feature weight distribution and line-tie holes that allow their minnow-shaped bodies to maintain a normal upright swimming posture as you pump them up and down.
Vibrators or lipless crankbaits are also good choices. These include the Spot, Rat-L-Trap, Rattl’ n Rap and others. Choose 1/4-ounce versions for panfish, 1/2-1-ounce sizes for larger gamefish. The jigging Rapala plug was developed for ice fishing, but anglers have discovered this can be deadly on open water bass as well when vertically jigged. Stripers, walleyes and saugers also like that offering.
Jig/spinner combos can be good, as can regular jigs such as bucktails or plastic-tailed grubs. Finally, don’t overlook tail-spinners such as the Mann’s Little George. These lures have a heavy minnow-type body and a spinner on the trailing extension shaft.
After you’ve found a good piece of cover, as discussed in last week’s column, lower the lure straight down to the fish. You can either drop it all the way to the bottom and then raise the lure up to the appropriate level or measure the line as you lower the lure.
The jigging motion you use can vary widely depending on the mood of the fish, the species you’re going after and weather conditions. Try not to get stuck in a rut. One day a sharp rod lift of 3-4 feet may produce. Other times simply twitching the rod tip a few inches at a time is best. Most of the time, I’ll go with a 12-18 inch jigging motion.
Crappies are unique among gamefish in that they don’t require much rod movement at all. Just the quivering of your hand as you try to hold the lure steady can sometimes draw strikes. This may make the lure look like a nervous baitfish gently rotating its pectoral fins.
For fish other than crappies, raise the rod sharply, but drop it down just fast enough so the lure sinks freely. If you lower the rod tip too quickly and slack forms, you may miss strikes. If you lower the rod too slowly, it constrains the lure’s fall and it won’t have that alive, fluttering appearance that entices fish to nab it.
Low-stretch lines work better for this fishing than monofilament in most cases, allowing you to sense strikes better. If you feel even the slightest tap on the line or if it stops falling or moves sideways, set the hook.
While fishing a specific piece of structure is the main way to use vertical jigging, this technique can also produce over a broader area. Drift or use a trolling motor on slow speed if the fish might be spread out, jigging as you go. Drop a buoy over if you connect, then re-drift through that area. If you’re fishing a specific piece of cover, give it about 10-15 minutes, then move to a new spot. If you catch a few fish and things turn cold, leave the spot and come back later after resting it for a while.
No one would ever want to give up the standard casting and retrieving way of fishing, but vertical jigging is a tactic serious anglers should keep in their arsenal of tricks for both hot summer weather and frigid winter days.
A slight breeze and some cloud cover make the best weather conditions for vertical jigging. Fish are less wary and the breeze helps camouflage the boat.
If you find fish spread over several depths, say 10-20 feet down, concentrate on those closer to the surface. They will typically be the most aggressive feeders.
If you hang up on submerged brush, don’t yank on the line. Instead twitch the line gently. The weight of the lure will often help loosen the hooks before they become firmly embedded in the cover.