“The Art of Deep Jigging Pays off Worldwide”
One beneficial aspect of deep jigging yo-yo style is the opportunity to connect with a wide variety of gamefish. During June of 2000, Richard Castaneda of Cass Tours and I were working breezing schools of yellowfin tuna, dorado, black skipjack and wahoo near the rocky promontory called Los Frailes on Panama’s Pacific Coast. After some fast top-water popping action on the middleweights we started slow trolling a skipjack to entice a black marlin. Castaneda moved to the bow of the panga where he started jigging to catch fish as we trolled. Casting ahead of the boat, letting the Point Wilson Pencil Dart jig sink deep and then retrieving it with fast sweeps of the rod was a simple but hot technique for the yellowfin and occasional amberjack near the seamounts. On one retrieve his lure “lightened up” on the sink as if whatever took it was racing to the surface. Within yards of the boat one of the largest sailfish I’ve seen, at least 180 pounds, shook its heavy body skyward. After a brief but spectacular aerial show it flung the piece of metal back towards the boat and disappeared. We just laughed excitedly at the episode and talked about some of the many varieties of gamefish we have caught with metal jigs. This sailfish certainly rounded out the list of strange encounters utilizing this top fishing method.
Metal jigs are considered a universal lure because they will catch fish in any mid-depth habitat worldwide. From tropical heat to Arctic chill a metal or “iron” jig will take everything from exotic coral trout to salmon. Savvy anglers always take a good supply of these lures when traveling to far-off places because there may be opportunities when deep jigging will be the most effective method of catching gamefish.
THE YO-YO TECHNIQUE
Deep jigging on the West Coast became generically referred to as “yo-yoing” due to one variation of jigging by raising the rod tip up and down (“yo-yoing”) while retrieving the lure.
This method involves free spooling the lure from an anchored or drifting boat until it hits bottom. Quickly reel in a few feet to clear any rock snags. With the reel in gear, work the lure up and down by raising and dropping the rod tip. This makes the jig “swim” up and flutter down enticingly, mimicking the action of spawning squid — one of the top forage species for yellowtail and many other game fish around the world.
From a drifting boat, the depth of the lure must be checked constantly to keep clear of bottom structure, yet kept low in the strike zone. This method is particularly effective for species such as amberjack, grouper, snapper and white seabass, which tend to stay deep and wait to ambush their food.
Aggressive game fish like California yellowtail, on the other hand, are genetically designed to chase down fast-moving prey. After yo-yoing the bottom, you reel the lure back to the surface as fast as you can, cranking the handle like crazy until you see the lure (or get bit — whichever comes first). Drop it back and repeat the process until you get a strike.
Dennis Braid of Braid Products, who recently introduced his colorful Slammer Jigs to the market, advises anglers when fishing open water to drop the jig down to the depth of metered fish and crank the lure back about half way before repeating. “Don’t reel too fast”, says Braid. “Many lures will lose action when the retrieve is too fast. Observe the lures action at various speeds to determine what’s best given the reels gear ratio.” says Braid. Some jigs, like the new jointed Action Lure, work best on a retrieve that’s slower than most on the market.
Yo-yo type jigs usually weigh between three to eight ounces and are four to six inches in length. For bottom fishing in very deep water over 400-feet jigs can exceed a pound or more. Metal surface jigs are light weights in comparison and are not considered in the “deep-jig” category.
Jig fishermen, like experienced anglers everywhere, vary their techniques. Most anglers try the vertical drop first. On a vertical drop from an anchored boat, you can yo-yo at your own pace with less concern about snagging. Casting out, on the other hand, can be a high-risk proposition, with more lures lost to rocks. Those who do cast pitch their jigs out in a methodical fan pattern and yo-yo at an angle rather than vertically. With the line at an angle, the rod needs to be worked faster to keep the lure suspended and snag-free. Casting makes most sense when at anchor; from a drifting boat there’s less need to cast since you’ll be covering new bottom as the wind and current moves you. On a fast drift, jiggers commonly lose lures even with a quick, vertical drop and retrieve.
When yo-yoing, some anglers prefer short, abrupt and erratic jig motions produced by using short, heavy-action rods and quick arm motion. Others find that long, smooth, upward sweeps followed by a prolonged, fluttering descent produces more strikes on the drop. A longer rod of at least 8 feet in length works best for this approach because it offers a greater arc distance to pull the lure upward.
A good variation of the fast-retrieve method requires working the lure with an action similar to the standard straight-up-and-down motion, but with the angler reeling fast after each drop of the rod tip so the lure progresses toward the surface each time. This is also a good way to probe deep for fish under surface debris or kelp paddies when fish aren’t showing near the surface.
The amount of retrieve versus spacing of drops is another variable. One good pattern is to crank the reel handle ten times. Stop with the rod tip pointed high, drop it and allow the lure to sink backward. Then resume another ten cranks combined with an upward sweep of the rod as soon as the lure bottoms out and tugs on the line. Braid likes to “stop-wind-stop” when working bigeye tuna and dorado. “For yellowtail just crank straight but I like more variation with other fish,” says Braid. “Also, when you’re fishing the rocks for bottom dwellers stop the retrieve after about 20-feet because you’re pretty much out of the strike zone.” advises Braid.
Some fishermen put small pieces of bait on their jigs. For example, along the Baja coastline where jigging is particularly popular, jigs may be tossed out with a strip of squid, mackerel or other bait. That added attractant can increase hookups with a great variety of game fish that feed near bottom. Faster predators such as wahoo and yellowtail that feed more by sight than scent respond better to non-baited jigs because bait can slow or hamper a jig’s action.
YO-YO TACKLE AND GEAR
Most yo-yo jiggers fish 25- to 50-pound line, tying an 80- to 100-pound leader directly to their line with an Albright, surgeon or Tony Peña knot to help shield from abrasion against rocks or rough jaws. Lighter lines can be doubled with a bimini twist or spider hitch to provide a 2- to 4-foot shock section above the leader. Heavier line and gear are called for when yo-yoing because you’re often working deeper, darker depths and you may need to pull fish away from structure.
Some prefer to yo-yo with a 12-inch single-strand wire leader connected to a split or welded ring by a haywire twist, particularly when targeting wahoo or other toothy species. The running or main line is then tied to the ring while the lure is attached with a snap swivel on the opposite end.
Popular bottom jigs in Southern California include the Braid Slammers, Kicker Jigs, Action Lures, Sumo Jigs, Salas 6X and 6X Junior, Ironman 5 and Tady A-1 or 9 as well as the new Yo-Zuri Hydro Metals. Most long-range boat crews recommend single over treble hooks because single hooks hold better during prolonged battles with tough fish such as yellowtail. Lure color might be important to some anglers but not as much with the pros. Still, it’s no secret that blue/white, blue/chrome, green/yellow, all-white and all-chrome are the best sellers.
For big fish around structure you need somewhat heavier tackle with a good drag system. Shimano has been the long-range fleet standard among jiggers; other brands with reels of comparable quality also do the job well. Lever-drag reels can be used right out of the box, without customization. A good combination I use is a Shimano TLD 20 two-speed spooled with 40- or 50-pound line, matched with a Calstar 6465 or 6460 rod. However, when it comes to minimal jigging and maximum retrieving, many Baja regulars have opted for the lighter Penn 545 or 113 HL (4/0) with fast gear ratios and spooled with 25- to 40-pound line. A popular customized jigging reel is the Yellowtail Special, a Penn 4/0 converted with a narrow Accurate Conversion Kit. These can be purchased in their converted form in most saltwater tackle shops. The Shimano Calcutta 700s and Trinidad 16 are also very effective and tough reels.
Whatever tackle you choose, if you can get one of these long, narrow metal jigs in front of fish and get it moving, the odds are good you’ll find out why yo-yo fishing endures as an effective technique almost anywhere you can drop a lure down.
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The Roving Angler