No matter where you fish, it’s virtually a given that knowledge and experience with vertical jigging will greatly boost your success rate. From the West Coast to New England, Florida and dozens of international destinations, these flashy lures have become must-haves in anglers’ arsenals as they target game fish of every sort. Here are four popular fisheries where vertical jigging can pay big dividends.
Pay heed to the advice of these local experts — it can help you when planning your next trip to these areas. What’s more, you can pull from their techniques to try to adapt similar strategies in your home waters.
Local Expert: Capt. Jimbo Thomas
****Fishery: We use vertical, metal jigs quite often in South Florida, and one of the most exciting and productive methods involves jigging over the many wrecks that litter the bottom off Miami’s beaches. Big, bottom-dwelling grouper are the primary target, but most of the catches come at middepths, as hard-fighting amberjacks, almaco jacks and other species smash jigs. This is a year-round fishery, but the prime time is during winter, as bait migrations move through, frequently stopping along the wrecks and attracting a host of game fish. Use your depth finder, but don’t fret if you don’t immediately mark fish — they are often orbiting the outer areas of the wreck, just waiting for you to drop!
Primary Species: Black, gag and red groupers, amberjack, almaco jacks, horse-eye jacks, cobia and occasional blackfin tuna.
Favorite Depths: Most of the productive wrecks are in 180 to 250 feet. We’ve got lots of wrecks, probably 40 off Key Biscayne alone. But over the years, I’ve narrowed it down to about eight that are really productive.
Favorite Jig Design/Type: Jigs in the 6- to 8-inch range seem to perform best. Originally, we used jigs with the red Dacron hook connections, but as we lost hooks to kingfish and ’cudas, we started making our own assist hooks with short-shank Mustad 4/0s, crimped to 150-pound mono connections.
Preferred Rigging:** We generally use 50-pound braided line, connecting the doubled braid to 8- to 10-foot mono leaders in the 60- to 80-pound class. In the beginning, we tried connecting the hooks on the bottom of the jigs, but the results are definitely better when hooks are attached to the top.
Tackle: Both conventional and spinning outfits, including Daiwa Saltiga LD50HS conventional reels matched to 7-foot rods. Also Daiwa Saltist 6500H spinners matched to 7-foot rods.
Deployment Tricks: We generally have a north drift with the Gulfstream current, so we factor that in with the wind, drop our jigs and drift the wreck. Bites generally come on the drop. If we make it down to the bottom, we’ll jig it up a third of the way, then drop it back down again.
Extra Nugget:** Don’t waste a lot of time on any given wreck. If you make two drops without a bite, it’s time to move on. You’ll know if fish are there: They’ll nail the jig immediately.
_About the Expert: A Miami native, Capt. Jimbo Thomas (www.thomasflyerfishing.com) has been leading clients to game fish of all types aboard his 42-foot Post, Thomas Flyer, since 1981. Photo by Doug Olander
**Local Expert: Capt. Tom Migdalski
****Fishery: Diamond and metal jigs are deadly for striped bass when fished in rips off southern New England. Productive rips occur where a swift current hits and sweeps over reefs or shoals in bait-rich areas. Comparatively calm water — called the “sweet spot” — occurs at the base of the up-tide side of the structure. Predators hold here to conserve energy and then rocket up to grab a baitfish or jig. The best reefs are long, narrow and situated perpendicular to the current flow, creating ideal conditions and the most fishable water.
Primary Species: During peak season, striped bass, bluefish and occasionally weakfish inhabit most rips off Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Favorite Depths:** Metal jigs are effective in inshore rips as shallow as 15 feet to offshore rips as deep as 150 feet. Try a 4-ounce jig in the shallows and an 8-ounce model at depth. I prefer nearshore reefs that ascend from 35 feet to 25 feet in a short distance.
Favorite Jig Design/Type: I like metal jigs in which the weight is equally distributed. The flattened and elongated shape and central weight distribution allows them to flutter downward like a wounded baitfish yet wobble seductively when retrieved.
Preferred Rigging: When bluefish are present, use four feet of 80-pound mono leader and a 4- to 6-ounce diamond jig with an 8/0 circle hook fished off a tail barrel swivel. When only stripers are present, try a 5-ounce metal jig with a 4/0 assist hook rigged off the front swivel.
Tackle: For light jigs (4 ounces) fished in inshore rips (15 to 50 feet), I use a 6-foot-6-inch Lamiglas Tri-Flex rod rated at 12 to 25 pounds matched to a Shimano Tekota 500 levelwind reel.
Deployment Tricks: Run up-tide of the reef and drift back toward the rip line. Quickly free-spool your jig until it bumps bottom, then immediately start your retrieve, taking 10 turns and then dropping back down again. It’s important to keep the line vertical. Single hooks and mono leaders are best; wire leaders don’t work as well, and trebles hang bottom.
Extra Nugget:** Capt. Ricky Mola, owner of Fisherman’s World tackle center in Norwalk, Connecticut, pioneered circle hooks on metal jigs to prevent deep hooking.
About the Expert: Capt. Tom Migdalski is a Connecticut-based outdoor writer and photographer, and author of_ Fishing Long Island Sound_ and_ Fishing Diamond Jigs and Bucktails_. Photo by Tom Migdalski_
Gulf of Chiriquí, Panama
Local Expert: Nic Zingarelli
****Fishery: The Gulf of Chiriquí, located in western Panama along the southern Pacific coast, ranks among the most fertile bodies of water I’ve ever fished. This region encompasses the famed Coiba National Park, which is home to dozens of remote islands and famed fishing grounds such as Hannibal Bank, and many islands, like Montuosa and Jicarón. An incredible variety of game fish (both pelagic species and reef fish) swim in these waters, and the best jigging opportunities generally occur from November through May. But don’t overlook the rainy months of June and July either — the action can be fantastic as well.
Primary Species: Amberjack, wahoo, rainbow runners and multiple species of snappers (notably big cubera), groupers (especially broomtail) and yellowfin tuna.
Favorite Depths: Most jigging is done in fairly shallow water, between 90 and 130 feet, around reef edges, submerged mountains and other structure.
Favorite Jig Design/Type: I haven’t found that any particular style of jig works better than others, but size matters when the fish are finicky. When that happens, go with smaller jigs in the 3- to 4-ounce range — they work much better.
Preferred Rigging: I generally rig metal jigs with single assist hooks, and mono or fluorocarbon leaders of 18 to 24 feet in the 70- to 100-pound-test range. Jig weights generally range from 3 to 8 ounces, depending on depth and current.
Tackle: Spinning or conventional outfits spooled with 65- to 80-pound braid and matched to 5- to 7-foot rods can be used effectively. Unless you’re on a hot tuna bite, you don’t need huge line capacity, but reels must have superstrong drag systems.
Deployment Tricks: It’s important to try changing jigging speeds, styles, actions and retrieves until you figure out what the fish want. In the seven years I’ve been jigging this region, I’ve noticed that these critters have become increasingly wary. You’ve got to fool them.
Extra Nugget: The best fishing operation I’ve encountered is Pesca Panama, because it uses a mothership, which allows anglers to be much closer to the action.
About the Expert: Nic Zingarelli (www.nicolazingarelli.com) is an outdoor writer and photographer who organizes fishing expeditions all over the world. He specializes in jigging and popping for big saltwater species. Photo by Nic Zingarelli.
Local Expert: Bill Boyce
****Fishery: Favorite West Coast methods of fishing the “iron” involve both surface fishing and bottomfishing. The winter fishery dictates deep jigging for rockfish with heavy jigs (3 to 8 ounces), which are yo-yoed over rocky bottom structure. As spring water temps increase, the surface bite gets going, with barracuda, calico bass and yellowtail eating light surface jigs (1 to 2 ounces) cast and retrieved near kelp beds. As summer progresses, tuna and yellowtail are caught offshore in schools and around kelp paddy flotsam, which is fished with deep jigs retrieved at high speed. If the fish are responding to chum dispersion, light jigs can also be cast into the boiling fish with excellent results.
Primary Species: Albacore, yellowfin and bluefin tuna, yellowtail, white seabass, dorado, calico bass and barracuda.
Favorite Depths: We jig from the surface to about 400 feet. Winter bites often dictate fishing deep, while warmer summer surface temperatures often produce excellent action in the upper 50 feet of the water column.
Favorite Jig Design/Type: Most surface fishing is done primarily with lightweight aluminum jigs. When fish are suspended, heavier midrange metal jigs are used; when targeting deep waters with bottom structure, heavy metal jigs are the way to go.
Preferred Rigging: West Coast anglers generally tie their jigs straight to the main line, be it mono or braid. Many jigs come with a treble hook attached with a welded ring, but a large number of anglers here prefer a large single hook (also connected to the bottom jig eye) when fishing lighter lines and more heavily structured bottoms.
Tackle: We use 8-foot conventional jigging rods that allow us to throw jigs a great distance, as well as short parabolic jigging rods (both conventional and spinning), which offer power and deepwater hook-setting ability.
Deployment Tricks: When fishing surface iron, one of the most effective retrieves is a slow one, which produces a tantalizing swagger. If fish are really boiling, a surface-skipping technique can be deadly. Midwater jigging usually involves a blistering, high-speed retrieve, while jigging deep structure involves a yo-yo technique that keeps the jig dancing right in the fish’s face.
Extra Nugget: One of the most unorthodox methods of fishing a jig in California is to attach a live mackerel on the hook and fish it 10 feet off the bottom alongside kelp forests. Doing so consistently drives large white seabass nuts.
_About the Expert: Bill Boyce (www.boyceimage.com) has been an “iron man” all his life and has used these jigging techniques all over the world. Photo by Fernando Almada