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JIGGING UP JUMBOS



Spagnuola Leadin

    If insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, then perhaps we may just need to reinvent ourselves, or at the least mix it up. Just like nature adapts, so should we and if we find something works for others, often it will work for us. Skeptics will say “they’re just sea bass, they’ll eat anything.” Yet they choose to stick with the typical high-low rig with two or three hooks, and perhaps they will get a little creative and mix it up with a red or green bead with a curly-tail grub and top it off with fresh clam or squid.
    The latest generation of jigs called slow jigs were developed by Japanese commercial fishermen and have accounted for more trophy-size sea bass and other bottom species over the last 5 years than traditional jigs. The classic crippled herring and diamond jigs along with slow jigs such as Shimano Lucanus jigs work extremely well when targeting jumbo sea bass in the 5- to 7-pound or larger range. Jig colors that seem to be most productive are gold, silver, pink/white, green/black, chartreuse/white and orange/white. Shimano Lucanus jigs are a complete system that allow for the hook and skirt replacement and 1/0-2/0 double hooks. It’s a must to carry replacement skirts and hooks when fishing these jigs for large sea bass because bluefish and dog sharks wreak havoc on jigs throughout a fishing trip.
    When rigging diamond and crippled herring jigs, we use two 4/0 assist hooks or butterfly hooks at the top of the jig with a traditional J hook at the bottom of the jig with a small skirt. Rigging your jigs in this fashion will allow for double-header catches of sea bass. When fishing in 60 to 100 feet of water, we fish 4- to 6-ounce or 150-gram jigs, and in 100- to 250-foot depths we fish 6- to 8-ounce or 200-gram jigs.
    I’ve found that a 3-foot leader of 40-pound test of fluorocarbon or monofilament tied directly to the jig then to main line with a small barrel swivel works well and allows for minimal line loss in the event the jig gets snagged on the bottom.
    When I started fishing Lucanus jigs, frankly other than an alien or beetle I wasn’t sure what kind of marine species these jigs looked like, other than perhaps a hydroponic crab on steroids. Crabs and other hard crustaceans make up a huge part of the diet of a sea bass. With slow jigs such as the Lucanus jig, the way they are fished is more important than the color of the jigs. Drop the jig to the bottom quickly and keep the main line as vertical as possible with little scope. Once the jig hits the bottom slowly crank the reel up three to five times, drop to the bottom and repeat. It’s very important to not overwork the jig; the natural action of the jig and the skirt fluttering in the current is what entices the fish to attack the jig. Once the fish strike, slowly reel the jig up. Do not set the hook, as this will result in losing fish once they have struck the jig.
    One of the great advantages to jigs such as the Lucanus is that the two small hooks hidden in the jigs skirt allow for a great hook set sometimes even double headers and very rarely do you lose the fish on the way up. Small sea bass will tend to mouth or suck on the jig skirt while larger sea bass attack the jig skirt ferociously. With traditional jigs such as diamond jigs, we fish them the same way, except we set the hook upon the fish biting the jig. If you’re still not convinced, it just might take an 8- to 16-ounce weight to the head before you consider that jigging is a more effect way to specific target jumbo sea bass.
    My personal obsession with targeting jumbo sea bass started five years ago. Trip after trip I was consistently catching larger sea bass with the Lucanus jigs, and that led to my quest to catch a jumbo sea bass over 8 pounds. Jigging for most North American anglers has come a long way in the last 25 years for numerous species from tuna to sea bass. It’s been long known as the best way to catch trophy size bottom fish in countries like Norway and Japan, who are at the forefront of jig technology.
    When the sea bass are thick we often have fish hit while we are dropping the jig to the bottom, in which case we set the reel to strike and wait for the rod to bend and simply reel up. When jigging it’s important to use a rod with a sensitive tip to feel every bite and to allow the fish to get hooked by the rod’s action. A rod tip that’s too stiff will result in the jig being ripped out of a sea bass’s mouth. Reels spooled with 40-pound Power Pro with a 5:1 or 6:1 gear ratio work well when paired with rods that are 6 to 7 feet long. I have found that spinning or conventional reels work equally well when fishing jigs; it’s the angler’s preference.
    One thing I learned years ago while working for Capt. Andy Merendino is bottom fish such as sea bass feed heaviest on scent and taste, rather than solely responding to presentation. I used to rig small pieces of cotton T-shirts on the hooks marinated in clam and squid juice then add bait onto the hook. If the angler missed the first bite he had a second shot when the sea bass went to bite the piece of marinated T-shirt, which was harder to tear off the hook. Over the years this worked so well that I have limited out for sea bass just fishing marinated pieces of T-shirts. This brings me to a little something that we do different when fishing jigs, which has evolved from something freshwater bass fishermen have been doing for years: We use fish enhancement oils on lures and artificial baits. A simple do-it-yourself trip to the supermarket to buy a bottle of anise extract and a bottle of cod liver oil, mix the two together in a spray bottle and bingo you have “Bang Juice.” I spray it on my jig and pieces of T-shirt, or even small pieces of licorice and repeat each time we do a drop. To say it was deadly would be an understatement.
    I have found that fishing jigs with bait is consistently more productive than fishing jigs without bait when it comes to jumbo sea bass. Traditional sea bass rigs use much more bait than fishing jigs with bait. Fresh clam, squid and mackerel are refreshed before each drop. Another great advantage to fishing jigs is that they offer the angler the opportunity to still catch sea bass even with no bait because of the visual action of the jig.
    Spring and fall into early winter offer the best times to catch jumbo sea bass. Current National Marine Fisheries Service regulations have really shorted the window on the amount of time angler have to target jumbo sea bass. With tightened regulations, we have to become much more efficient in how we fish for sea bass especially jumbo sea bass. If you’re limited to a conservative bag limit of 15 fish per angler, catching 15 fish that are jumbos results in a greater number of pounds of fish to eat. The waters in 15 to 45 fathoms off the coast of New England to North Carolina are home to some of the largest sea bass. The IGFA current world record is 10 pounds, 4 ounces and was caught off Virginia Beach in January 2000 by Allan Paschall.

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