For years, jigs were a mainstay of offshore anglers up and down the Texas Gulf Coast. Deepwater anglers knew that the secret to pinning a larger than average red snapper or tempting a much prized amberjack was a large white curly-tail on a bullet-head jig or an economy-sized bucktail sweetened with something out of the bait trough. Ive seen plenty of more experienced fishermen catch some amazing fish on jigs while everyone else on the headboat was catching barely-legal snapper on squid and cigar minnows. I knew they were on to something then.
For some reason, offshore jigging fell out of favor among fishermen who were headed out into the Big Briny for both bottom fish and pelagics. Stores would still stock large jigs, diamond jigs, and 8- to 10-inch curly-tails, but it seemed that they would sit on the racks for months and even years at a time. All the big circle hooks and heavy sinkers and 100 pound leader material would be snatched up once Federal Red Snapper season opened, but the only big water artificials that got any attention were big plugs, jetheads, and topwaters---not exactly snapper and grouper-friendly lures.
The biggest complaints about using jigs for groundfish were the size of the tackle used. Lets face it, bottom tackle wasnt exactly lure-oriented. Big heavy beefsticks and winch-style conventional reels loaded with 80 and 100-pound mono or Dacron were horrors to fish lures with. They were cumbersome, heavy, and lacked the sensitivity needed to feel either the lure or the strike. The jigs were no better. Yes, they caught fish, but bouncing 8 ounces of lead anywhere between 17 and 50 fathoms down could be wearisome after a couple of drops. It just wasnt worth the effort if you could just send a big hook with a bunch of bait weighted by a large hunk of lead and just wait for a fish to bite.
Things have changed, however. Technology has facilitated the development of rods, reels, and jigs that make jig-fishing for bottom critters not only easier, but more fun. The heavy fiberglass rod and 9/0 Senator loaded with well rope have been replaced with thin, strong rods, compact reels and braided lines that have tremendous tensile strength-to-diameter ratios. Shimano, for example, has developed the Trevala series of jigging rods for their Butterfly series of jigs (more on that in a bit), but the rods are more than suitable for any jigging application. These rods come in actions ranging from Light to Extra Heavy, but are lightweight and a joy to use. Penns Torque series of conventional and spinning rods provide the same Manny Pacquiao combination of heavy power in a compact package. Match up the rods with a high-capacity reel such as a Tekota (my preference because of the levelwind), Torsa, Squall or similar reel and you have a helluva jigging combo.
The most important part of any quality jigging system is the line used. Braided line has come a long way in the past 20 years. The latest formulations of Power Pro, Spiderwire, and FINS create remarkable products. Tighter weaves make for stronger, thinner lines (65 Power Pro, for example, has the equivalent diameter of 16 pound mono) and, more importantly for bottom fishing, less water resistance (which translates to less weight to get your presentation down to where the lunkers lurk). Modern jigging rods are designed specifically for use with braid, and have softer, more forgiving tips that absorb the shock of a big fish lunging against a tight drag and no stretch braid.
Thinner braid and the reduced water resistance also translate to a smaller package to deliver into the depths. There should always be a place in the offshore tacklebox for the giant leadhead, but next to it should be a spot for modern jigs such as the Butterfly and the Bomber Saltwater Grade Vamp. These jigs resemble the classic Slab jig that is popular among white bass anglers in freshwater. The have sharp edges, however, which provides the jigs with the fluttering and wobbling actions that are their calling cards. Their slim, hydrodynamic profiles mean even less water resistance, which means that you can use a 4- or 5-ounce jig instead of a 12- or even 16-ounce leadhead. That difference in weight is a big deal when you are bouncing your offering on the bottom.
One other jigging tip: Ive heard plenty of stories of how finicky and tough to hook a big ling can be. Captain Richard Bailey has told me stories of how a ling can suck in a bait and spit it out faster than you can react to set the hook. He had one particular fish aggravate him so for over an hour. My Uncle Bob Renaud used to have an old trick that he used to slay many a finicky ling. Hed pin a whole squid on a 3/4-ounce white bucktail jig and fling it in front of a curious ling. Hed twitch it a couple of times and then let it sink. More often than not, the ling would dive after the jig and inhale it. Then the fight was on.
The first time he showed me pictures of a 72-pound ling he caught that way when no one else could get the thing to eat, I bought all the white bucktails he had in his tackle shop. I paid full price, too; no family discount for me.
Well, maybe a small one. Uncle Bob knew what it was like to get jiggy.