Wow! March! Isn’t it a little early to take a swim? Heck, No. March is the best time of the year to go for a dip. Most folks think I am a little crazy to think about swimmin’ this time of the year, but boy, if you want to put good stringers of walleye, crappie, smallmouth, and even muskie in the boat, you better think about taking a swim a little sooner than you think.
Now, I don’t want to give people the impression that I am swimming around in the lake with a big net, but rather swimming my jig around looking for aggressive fish. The jig has been a sure-fire way to put big bass and walleyes in the boat during the spring months. But Muskie, oh, yeah. All game fish love a jig.
When most of us think about working a jig in the spring, it is working the jig in a very slow presentation, working drops, cover, or structure. This is a great presentation for very cold water, but what about that time of the season when the water temps reach about 58 degrees, this being the time of the year when you have a hard time hitting fish because they are starting to spread out. It is a little early to start your search patterns with spinners and cranks that you normally would use to locate fish, so you end up working the same structure and shore lines the same way you did at ice out. This is where the jiggin’ begins.
Swimmin’ a jig is not as hard as it may sound. In fact, it is a lot like working a rattling lipless crank or spinner. It is not so much in the retrieve as it is using the proper style head and the weight of the jig. There are three main conditions we must address before we make our choice on which jig to use. The depth of the water we are going to fish, the type of cover present, and last, the water clarity. The depth of the water and clarity will tell us the weight we need to use. The deeper the water, the heavier jig we need to tie on.
For example, if we are hitting a shoreline with depths around 0 to 10 feet with light winds and fairly clear water, a 1/4-ounce jig will do just fine. But say we have a 15 mile an hour wind. I might have to tie on a 3/8 ounce to get the same effect of a 1/4 without the wind, so the conditions will tell me how much weight I will need to swim the jig efficiently.
Water clarity will also come into play. Remember, if they cannot see it, they cannot eat it. So, if the water is dirty, I may not want to go to a heavy jig as the majority of the fish actively feeding will be shallow because of the amount of light that can penetrate the water column. I also may try and add a little sound to help the fish locate my bait by switching to a rattling jig or by adding brass in-line rattles to the line in front of the jig. The weight of the jig will have to be played with during the course of the day because of the ever-so-changing weather conditions we can encounter during the spring months. I always keep four rods handy with several different weights of jigs tied on. I do this so I don’t miss a cast. Take power plant lakes for example. On one side of the levy, there was no wind around the point, gale force over the distance of maybe 50 yards. The conditions have gone from one extreme to the next.
Since we now have an idea of how much weight to use, let’s look at the style of head to tie on. It is really pretty easy. Bullet heads go through weeds great but will wedge in rock so hard you cannot pull them free. Now a wide head will easily bounce off rock and wood but will catch every weed and leaf it comes across. So, it is really easy.
Bullet shaped heads for weeds and debris suspended in the water column.
Round shaped heads in open water and rocky areas.
3.) Wide shaped heads in wood.
The style of head will make or break your day because the more time you spend trying to free snagged jigs is time lost with your bait not in the strike zone.
Now that we have narrowed down which weight and style head to use, let’s look at the type of dressing to use. I go by one rule when it comes to dressing a jig head. The dirtier the water, the more action I want the tail to have. I dress with high action tails, such as Northland Tackle’s double screw tail in dirty water for one reason. The fish can find the bait faster because although the tail is not sending out as much vibration as a crankbait or blade bait, it is still sending out some and some is better than none. In clear water, I can use a longer profile tail such as a minnow or worm type bait like a Berkley 4-inch gulp worm. This type of tail uses its larger profile to be seen at a longer distance. The fish can find it easier because they can see it. In shallow rocky areas I use bucktail. The hair is hollow, thus slowing the rate of fall that keeps the jig out of the rocks.
Now, no article on swimmin’ jigs would be complete without the mention of the swim baits. These baits are nothing but jigs with the lead built into the bodies. We fish them the same way we fish jigs. Swimmin’ a jig is easy once you have the right jig for the conditions. You cast it out and real it back in. Let the fish tell you the speed and depth they want it. You can also experiment with different retrieves and actions, like popping the rod tip every 5th turn of the reel, or pumping the rod as you reel in or moving the rod from right to left which will produce and S type of action. The right rod and reel are also a fairly easy choice. I use a 7-foot, medium light Bass Pro Shop spinning rod HM85 with a Small Pro Qualifier reel and 6-pound mono for light jigs in clear water, and a 7-foot Johnny Morris Series baitcasting rod, medium light, with a JM bait caster reel with a 7:1 gear ratio spooled with 10-pound Fireline for medium to heavy jigs. The high-speed reel lets me vary the retrieve speed with ease.
So don’t let another pre-spring day go by watching John Wayne re-runs. Tell your wife or girlfriend, husband or boyfriend that you are going down to the lake to do a little swimming and watch the reaction on their face. I can tell you from fact the look you get back is priceless!
SEE ‘YA ON THE WATER!