Two anglers are fishing from the same boat using the same type jig. One is hooking fish after fish. The other can’t buy a bite.
Sound familiar? It’s happened to me more than once, and usually, I was the angler not catching fish.
At one time, I believed my companion, the guy catching fish, was just luckier than me. But after being in this situation once too often, I studied what my buddy was doing. He usually was working his panfish jig differently than me. The differences were subtle but enough to account for our different catch rates.
When fishing for crappie, bluegills or other panfish, how we work our panfish jig plays a big part in our success or lack of it. We must present the lure in a particular fashion – fast, slow, twitching, jerking, creeping, racing, jumping, sitting – that gets a fish’s attention. Fish are fickle. Some days they prefer one method, some days another. So it’s good to know a variety of jigging tactics like these.
The Panfish Jig
Jigging a jig is the most-used method of working one. The lure is held stationary for a moment. Then, with a quick upward snap, the angler lifts the lure a short distance and lets it fall again to its previous depth. The timing of this jigging action may vary considerably, from a quickly repeated motion to slow, well-spaced jigging of the lure. Try variations to see what works best.
Sometimes the best way to work a jig is doing nothing at all. First, tie the jig properly. Pull the knot to the top of the hook eye so the panfish jig hangs perpendicular to the line. Then lower the jig to fish level and to hold it stationary there. You may think the jig is motionless, but it will shimmy ever so slightly, like a finning minnow. Marabou jigs and skirted tube jigs are especially effective because they ripple seductively even at rest.
The Shake is similar to the Do-Nothing, but every few seconds, the angler gives his pole a snappy side-to-side shake that vibrates the pole tip, which in turn shakes the panfish jig. This works best if you use a fast-action jigging pole that bends very little except at tip.
The Wiggle works on a long or short line. The angler wiggles the pole up and down very slightly while moving the lure along the edge of brush, logs or other cover. The lure swims with a slight up-and-down motion like that of an erratically moving baitfish.
TheTap is part of a shallow-water tactic once called jiggerbobbing or shake-poling. The angler holds the pole in one hand and balances it across the opposite knee. Then by lightly tapping the pole with his free hand, he causes the jig to shake and the pole tip to flip water, like baitfish flipping at the surface. Strikes come swift and hard.
Try this when using a jigging pole with a reel. Drop the lure to the depth where fish are holding, then use the index finger of the hand holding the pole to reach up and pull the line then release it. This is similar to the way one might pull and release a gun trigger. The action gives the jig a quick upward hop. Pause, then repeat.
The Figure Eight
In muddy water, panfish hold tighter to cover and it’s best to work jigs slowly. The Figure Eight allows that. Place the jig beside a stump, log or other cover, then work it around slowly in a figure-eight pattern. Continue completely around the feature you’re fishing.
This method gets the attention of inactive panfish. Use your pole to flip a jig out on a slack line that’s at least as long as your pole, then allow it to sink until the line tightens. Now give the panfish jig a hard upward pull and allow it to sink again on slack line. Repeat. Enticing a fish to strike may require changing the distance you pull the jig upward each time, from short hops to long leaps.
This is a great way to catch panfish around stumps and logs on the bottom in relatively shallow water. A 1-ounce bell sinker tied at line’s end allows the angler to feel the bottom and find the stumps. Above the sinker are tied two 6-inch drop-loops 18 inches apart. A weedless panfish jig such as the Charlie Brewer Crappie Slider is tied to each loop. While wind drifting or slow trolling with an electric motor, work the rig using a constant lift-drop motion. When you feel the rig bump a stump, lift it up and over. Strikes often come just as the rig is lowered behind woody cover.
Tournament angler Kevin Rogers didn’t name this tactic, but “The Elevator” seemed an appropriate moniker for the method he uses to catch crappie when vertically jigging around standing timber. “After your lure reaches the bottom,” he says, “grab the line with your free hand and gently raise the lure up the tree. Crappie will not go down to hit your panfish jig, so raising the lure puts it in their face. They can’t stand it.”
A curly-tail jig allowed to swim a foot or two beneath the surface alongside a moving boat is great for catching shallow panfish. Use a 12- to 16-foot pole rested across one knee while you move your boat slowly along the banks. No lure action is needed except the forward motion imparted by the boat.
If The Swim isn’t producing, grab your pole occasionally and pull it sharply forward to make the jig dart through the water like a spooked baitfish. This often draws strikes from less-active fish.
Panfish often hide around cypress tree knees and buttresses, but it can be difficult to approach close enough to use a pole without spooking them. Instead, remain at a distance, and use an ultralight combo to cast a jig right against the side of the tree and let it roll into the water below. Fish holding by the tree, waiting for insects to tumble off, will quickly grab the falling lure.
At times big bluegills and other panfish sit right on the bottom. When this is the case, cast a jig as far as possible, let it sink to the substrate, then crawl it back.
When panfish are spawning, you often can elicit smashing strikes by casting a weedless jig onto the bank and jumping the lure back into the water. Panfish get crazy when a perceived threat leaps from shore and swims near a spawning bed.
The Bobber Jerk
To catch weed-bed panfish, use a panfish jig placed 1 to 4 feet below a small bobber. Cast into open pockets or work the rig along one edge. Retrieve in jerk-stop fashion, tugging so the jig rises toward the surface, then stopping long enough to allow the jig to sink perpendicular to the surface again.
Bridge pilings in deep channels attract summer and winter panfish. Using sonar, ease along the pilings and spot fish concentrations. Note the fishes’ depth, then back away from the bridge, and cast a jig beyond the pilings. Allow the lure to freefall to the correct depth before beginning a slow retrieve. Keep the lure close to pilings, and work the area thoroughly.
When panfish suspend around deep ledges, sunken islands, isolated brush piles and other such cover, position your boat directly over the target structure, then lower a curly-tail jig to the bottom. Engage your reel and take up slack. Then begin a delicate upward sweep of the rod tip to activate the lure. Move the rod tip as little as 12 inches or as much as 36, experimenting to determine if the fish have a preference. Then slowly drop the rod tip, letting the lure drift back down. Maneuver your boat around the structure, working the jig this way.
The Step Down
Hopping a jig down a steep rock bluff, hump or long-sloping point works great at times. Cast the jig to the shallowest part of the structure, allow it to sink to the bottom, then give the lure a quick jerk and allow it to settle again. Jerk it again, let it settle to the bottom and so forth. In effect, this is like bringing the lure down stair steps, from shallow water to deep.
If the lake level starts falling fast due to power generation, try fishing points using a panfish jig with an added safety-pin spinner. Retrieve the lure with a steady yo-yo motion -up, down, up, down-by raising and lowering the rod tip as you retrieve. Position your boat in deep water and cast toward the shallow part of the point, or vice versa.
The Stump Bump
Stump fields in mid-depths are prime holding areas for spring and fall panfish, but stumps often snag so many tube jigs you do more retying than fishing. In this situation, try a weedless jig like Blakemore’s Road Runner Jaker Jig or Charlie Brewer’s Crappie Slider. Cast past stumps, let the lure settle, then retrieve the lure slow and steady. Bump every stump you can find, a tactic that for some reason incites fast strikes from nearby crappie and bream.
This technique uses a short fishing rod to catapult a jig beneath a dock or boathouse where shade-loving panfish often lurk. Use a 4-1/2- to 5-1/2-foot, medium-action rod with a spincasting reel or an autocast spinning reel that allows you to pick up the line and flip the bail simultaneously. Pinch the jig carefully between the thumb and index finger of your free hand, pull the rod back like a slingshot, then aim and release the lure, letting it fly beneath the structure. With practice, you can shoot a jig 20 feet under a dock where panfish hide.
This method of working a jig beneath a bobber often entices inactive, suspended panfish. Determine the fishes’ depth on sonar, then rig your jig beneath a bobber at the same depth. Use a sliding bobber if necessary to allow easy casting. Tie your jig securely so it sits perpendicular to the line. Cast to fish you’ve pinpointed, then allow the jig to settle beneath the bobber. Do not move the jig at all. Let it drift with the breeze if one is present, but don’t let it drift off the fish. Watch the bobber closely. When a fish inhales the jig, the disappearing float lets you know.
The Cast and Reel
Sometimes the best method is also the easiest. Just cast a panfish jig and reel it in. Don’t worry how fast or how slow or how deep or how shallow. Just cast and reel. It’ll work more often than you think.