Spin-casting, little jigs work wonders in freshwater


Mar 11, 2001
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June 26, 2002

Spin-casting, little jigs work wonders in freshwater

By SHANNON TOMPKINS, Houston Chronicle

A string of young anglers and a couple of adult novices have spent mornings in my boat over the past couple of months, and every one of them has caught fish from the sloughs, bayous and little lakes we visited.

Sometimes, they caught a lot of fish. A couple of times, fairly large fish.

As much as I'd like to lay that success on my guiding talents, the real credit goes to two pieces of fishing gear -- a spin-casting reel and a little lead-head jig onto which a plastic grub has been threaded.

If forced to pick a rig for fundamental freshwater fishing and choose a single lure that would catch the widest variety of fish across the range of fishing situations, the inexpensive spin-cast reel and small jig/grub combination would be the choice.

The closed-face reels and little lures are simplicity manifested; the only thing more basic is a cane pole and a live night crawler. Most important, they work -- particularly well for young and novice anglers.

A closed-face reel holding 6-to-10-pound-test line and mated to a medium or light action casting rod is the easiest rig with which to learn the basics of casting and line control.

A spin-cast reel never backlashes like a bait-casting reel, the most difficult reel to master. And a spin-caster doesn't produce a tangled ball of line as can a spinning reel in inexperienced hands.

Learning to cast is simple. Push the reel's line release button, hold it down, whip the rod forward and release the button as the rod springs forward.

A young angler, particularly one who has played sports of some kind, figures a spin-cast rig in a half-dozen attempts. With a little practice learning the physics of casting and how to feather the line as it exits the reel, a novice quickly becomes accurate enough to put a lure in the water and not the shoreline trees.

A spin-cast reel is not a finely machined piece of gear -- certainly not on a par with the $350 bait-casting reels marketers these days seem so intent on hawking as keys to fishing success.

Some spin-cast reels are better than others. But even the best invariably have poor part tolerances, making them sound like coffee grinders.

Their drags perform erratically. Most have a flimsy feel to them and are built with lots of plastic and thin metal parts that don't stand up to much abuse.

But a top-of-the-line spin-cast reel suitable for typical freshwater use -- panfish to catfish and bass -- costs less than $50. And a perfectly good one costs less than $20. For the occasional angler who takes decent care of gear, that reel can last a decade or more.

One of the advantages of a spin-cast reel is that it can handle a fairly light lure. Because line on a spin-cast reel peels off a stationary spool (as with a spinning reel) instead of having the extra duty of pulling a revolving spool (as in a bait-casting reel), the rig can make relatively long casts with light lures.

This is important because in almost all freshwater applications, small, light lures draw more attention from a larger variety of fish species than larger lures typically aimed at largemouth bass.

And with young anglers, novices and others not infected with the disease that makes them target one species to the exclusion of all others, catching fish -- any fish -- is the goal.

In that arena, small lures almost always outperform large ones. And in the world of small lures, a jig may be the best of the lot. A lead-lead jig weighing as much as an 1/8-ounce or as little as -ounce can be used to imitate almost any kind of forage and hook almost any freshwater fish.

The trick is to pick the right kind of dressing for the jig.

A soft-plastic curl-tail in white or pearl or other light color looks like a small shad or other forage fish. Same with a jig sporting maribou dressing.

Put a brown or red or orange soft-plastic crawfish on the jig, and it looks like a crawfish. Thread a plain-looking grub -- yellow and black or similar pattern -- on the jig and it looks like a grub, caterpillar or other terrestrial insect that fell into the water.

The jig is small enough that it'll work on panfish, particularly aggressive sunfish in the shallows. The jig also is a killer on crappie concentrated around stumps or other cover.

White bass will eat them, as will just about every other freshwater species. That includes largemouth bass, the most popular target of Texas anglers.

Truth is, there aren't many freshwater fish that won't grab a small jig danced in front of them. And there aren't many freshwater fish that a decent spin-cast reel can't handle.

Both points were driven home this past weekend. Water in the old slough and adjacent bayous was clear and calm, with the only disturbance made by sheets of threadfin shad shimmering on the surface.

The place holds a lot of largemouth bass, and it was hard not to grab the bait-casting rig holding the plastic worm and work the cypress bases and knees. But seeing the shad, I grabbed a 5-foot casting rod holding a spin-casting reel spooled with 8-pound-test line.

I tied a -ounce lead-head jig and threaded a white curl-tail grub onto the hook. When worked through the water, the curl-tail grub wriggled just like an addled shad.

The slough calls for a lot of tight, precise casting, bouncing the jig off cypress bases, pitching it along pilings and letting the bait fall beside the cover or firing the lure under overhanging limbs. The short rod and the spin-cast reel was the perfect combination. For short-range accuracy, nothing beats it.

The first fish was a largemouth, and a good one. It hit the jig as it fluttered past a cypress stump. The fish weighed maybe 3 pounds and was a handful on the light line and short rod.

The next fish was a mean-tempered, red-eyed warmouth sunfish -- a goggle-eye, also called "stumpknocker" for their habit of holding tight to stumps and other woody cover. It was the first of more than a dozen goggle-eye to grab the jig that morning.

Then there was the 5-pound freshwater drum. The gaspergou was the heaviest fish of the day, and the silvery, deep-bodied "gou" was the hardest fighter of the lot. It was a tougher battler than the 5-pound largemouth that later grabbed the jig and somehow couldn't manage to bend the thin-wire hook and pull loose.

The jig located what turned out to be a nice school of crappie holding around a bunch of pilings in about 6 feet of water. I caught maybe 10 "white perch" by pitching the jig against the pilings, letting it fall to the bottom, then slowly hopping it back.

The crappie, unlike their bass and goggle-eye relatives, wouldn't hammer the lure. Rather, they'd just delicately take the bait, and it would have been easy to miss them if I hadn't kept the line between my thumb and forefinger so as to feel the light strike.

Sunfish were just the opposite in aggressiveness. And they were everywhere. Hand-size bluegills and big long-ears in their psychedelic blue/orange/red/ yellow spawning colors would pound the little jig, often stripping the plastic from the hook. But a lot of them felt the barb.

When the little jig fell beside a log lying perpendicular to the bank, the line jerked sideways and I set the hook into what turned out to be a 17-inch channel catfish.

Over the morning, the little spin-casting rig and a handful of jigs accounted for nearly a score of fish covering seven species.

Not a single one of those fish complained about being caught on gear typically associated with youngsters and "amateurs."

Shannon Tompkins covers the outdoors for the Chronicle. His column appears on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays.


May 30, 2001
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I started out fishing on a red and white Zebco spincast rig. I wonder if its still in my parent's attic....


Well-known member
Feb 14, 2002
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Hey Jesse....man does that hit home ! You see, i only recently became a lure angler, having always used nite crawlers and other types of worms before. Anyway, i've been using a lot of plastics, especially roboworms, and a few crankbaits and spinners. But i never used a grub and jighead till recently. I was very impressed to find that i could not only catch many species with it, but that it seems more productive than just about any other lure !!! I love them grubs ! I tried em on trout today, and they hit em but never took them in so i could set the hook. But i suspect if i'd tried longer they'd have worked. (i was only there about 30 min.)

Anyway, you hit the nail on the head with that one...........grubs are now an essential lure in my tackle box, and i intend to try a lot of colors to see what works best. (so far clear or smoke with black flake seems to work best)

(Edited by dazco at 5:21 pm on July 13, 2002)

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