Sunday, June 28, 2015

Doing the Jig

In the spring of 2015 and for the last several weeks of June I have been concentrating on Bass fishing.

There are several things about bass fishing with a fly rod that are super appealing to me.

1.  Bass are a great game fish that can be very difficult at times when bait and spin casters have a definite advantage.  You have to work harder and be creative to score.
2.  The top water take on a bass bug is simply an unforgettable experience.  Hooking a 5-pound or better fish this way is something you will never forget.
3.  When the rivers are blown-out fishing on a bass pond is a great option
4.  Bass are most always found with other attractive targets like carp, walleyes, crappie, bluegills, etc.

The fly and technique discussed in the story that follows I wrote in 2013 is something you need to try.  It is particularly effective in the spring when bass are on the prowl.  However, it is not just for bass.  I have caught almost ever kind of warm water species on this jig including catfish, wipers, Peacock Bass, trout,  and more.

Jig fishing with a fly rod has been around for a long time.  The first time I seriously encountered it was some 20 years ago when our local TU chapter hosted a presentation on Henry's Lake in Idaho.  The presenter was selling a line of "spin flies" constructed on a black minnow head jig hook using a two tone marabou body.  You'll never guess where he got his start fishing - Crappies in Georgia.  I met up with him that summer in West Yellowstone and we had an epic day on the lake.  He sold me some of his special heads and I used them every so often with varying degrees of success. 

Some 10 years ago jigs for nymph fishing introduced by Europeans competitive anglers started showing up in the fly boxes of Fly Fishing Team USA members.  Articles and patterns began surfacing in the popular press and the demand for jig style hooks with the accompanying slotted beads grew steadily.  Over two years ago Tiemco brought on a complete line of Hanak hooks including the jig configuration to meet the increasing demand by American anglers.  At the same time jig hooks with 60-degree bends weighted with cones or dumbbell eyes were becoming very popular in warm water and saltwater patterns.

If you think about it, the jig fly concept irrespective of the hook and the application of weight if far and away one of the most popular and productive ways to fish.  The Clouser Minnow is effectively such a fly and it' must be the most popular fly ever created.

Several years ago Mark Tracy started thinking and experimenting with jig hooks on a fly rod for warm water species.  Adjacent to his home Windsor, Colorado there are numerous public lakes holding just about any warm or cold-water species you might imagine.  Mark spent a lot of years spin fishing with a particular affinity for chasing Walleyes.  He understood that keeping a lure at the right depth for suspended fish, ability to exert exact amounts of control over the retrieve, and detecting strikes were all part of the game.  For Mark the solution was obvious combine a jig fly with an indicator that could be moved as needed up and down a 9 to12-foot leader.

This seems simple enough, but the Devil is in the details.  Figuring out what kind of indicator and what kind of fly took a lot of trial and error but Mark loves a challenge and he jumped in with both feet.  The starting point for the fly was to emulate the primary forage fish in the local later, Gizzard Shad.  A fly that was all white and 2 to 3-inches was the objective.
Next came the indicator.  It had to be adjustable, visible, small yet cable of supporting the weight of the fly, and easy to make with readily available materials.  Foam seemed the best all around choice.  Working with sheets of 2 mm closed cell foam and polyethylene open cell foam used in packaging, pool noodles, fitness products, etc.  Mark created sandwich sheets held together with waterproof adhesive from which he could cut out a cylinder using a sharpened tube.  Unlike the closed cell foam the open cell acted like a sponge meaning the water could pass through it while floating.  The combination of the two let the indicator float exactly at the right height will supporting the jig.  Attachment to the leader was accomplished by threading an "o" ring through the center.

When Mark showed me the fly and told me how he fished it with the indicator I was immediately interested.  When I inquired about how he specifically fished it he answered, "You need to see how I fish it and I know a spot where a number big Crappies hang out."  A few days later were on shore casting to a spot 20 to 30 feet away.  As we started out Mark indicated that the number one ingredient for success was getting the depth right and then figuring out the retrieve.  That morning it was 4 feet and a pause and 4-inch strip every 5 to 10 seconds.  We were getting hits on just about every cast with a hookup more often than not.

"What about other species like carp, bass, wipers, and so on" I asked. "They all fall for this setup" replied Mark.  As we landed fish after fish it became very apparent why this worked so well.  You had complete control over how the fly was presented and the offering was ideally position for a hookup.  Moreover the design of the fly with the fluttering tail and UV enhanced body drew fish like a magnet.  I also understood why a 6 to 8-weight rod with floating line and a 9 to 12 foot tapered leader was the right setup.  You need an outfit that can handle the weight and enough room to adjust the indicator.

Now completely sold on the system, we discussed the assembly process
Click on the picture for an enlarged version

1.  Clean off any rough edges around the painted head and lay down a thread base
2.  Tie in the legs so that they flare out on either side of the hook
3.  Tie in a clump of baitfish emulator so that it encircles the legs
4.  Advance the thread over the emulator and tie in Estaz adjacent to the head.
5.  Once the Estaz is secure advance the thread to the head
6. Wind the body material clockwise in tight wraps to the head whip finish

Material List -  Fly
Thread:  Ultra GSP white
Hook:  Size 6 1/32 oz lead jig hook painted white
Body: UV Estaz in pearl
Tail:  Clump of Baitfish Emulator in pearl with white synthetic legs on each side.  They should be 1.5 the hook length and half the size of the Baitfish Emulator.  Crazy Legs, Flexfloss, and similar products work. Another possibility is stretch cord from craft stores used for making jewelry.  It must be flat, translucent white, and capable of pulsating motion in the water.

Coating the heads:  It’s important to coat the heads with paint or a silicone covering.  The most durable finish comes from a powder paint like Pro Tec which is reasonably easy to apply after heating the lead head for a few seconds.  There are numerous options for the heat source ranging from a candle to a heat gun.  The key is to take your time and not get the head too hot. After the paint sets up you will need to set the finish in an oven -10 minutes at 350 degrees.  Another option that works pretty well is several coats of cheap white fingernail polish.
Color options:  White is the best all around color but there are times when other possibilities like chartreuse, silver, copper, and can be effective.  The real question is what is primary shade of the prey.
Hook Size: 80% or more of the time you will find that the 1/32 oz head on a size 6 hook is what to throw.  However, in between sizes  sizes 1/64 oz and 1/80 oz are worth having in your fly box
Buying vs Making Hooks:  There is no question about saving over the long run if you make the hooks, but the front end cost of Do It Molds, Lead Pot, and so on will probably set you back about $100+.  However, there is a definite advantage – you can use hooks from different manufacturers and customize the hook size/weight configurations.  If you buy hooks with collars you ought to trim them off with a pair of nippers

Material List – indicator
Foam: A foam sandwich with 2mm closed cell foam on each side and open cell 8mm foam in the center.  The cap is a third piece of 2 mm closed cell foam.  Taken together the indicator will be 13 to 14 mm high and 15 to 16 mm in diameter.
Adhesive:  3M Super 77 Spray Adhesive.  Super Glue is used to attach the cap after the “O” ring is secured with the thread.
Thread: Rod building thread or comparable product
Ring:  ?-inch (outside diameter) “O” ring

Cutting out the indicator:  Use a brass or stainless 5/8-inch steel tube sharpened to cut through the foam sandwich and then the foam cap.  Twist it by hand.
Securing the “O” Ring:  After threading the needle and tying a knot at the end push it through the foam sandwich (slightly offset from center).  Put it through the “o” ring and back through the center of the indicator.  Push the needle through the tie-off knot and pull tight.  Coat the top with super glue and secure the cap.
You can Jerry-rig the cutter with a hand drill or drill press to eliminate manual punch-out approach