Lots of people have some exciting times when they’re young and carefree, but my old high school friend, Joe Jacobs, kind of wrote the book on that. Without going into great detail, think of a pirate living in St. Barts, illicit cargoes, Princess Caroline of Monaco, and starting a new country with your partner Mikhail Baryshnikov. But I digress. After escaping the Caribbean, Joe hosted a TV show, did some guiding in our home town of Lake Worth, Florida, and embarked on an adventure in documentary film-making involving rare and lost cultures…naturally with a tie-in with fishing. His films are currently being considered in several markets, and for an interesting preview, please note this link.
Now given Joe’s vast world-wide experience at fishing, one would be led to believe that he is an expert in the latest high-tech tackle, lures, and obscure techniques. Actually he considers himself a true world-class expert in only one kind of fishing…using jigs and soft plastic tails. In his travels around the world, jigs were easy to carry and replace and were usually the only tackle he had with him, except for a fly rod or two. Now if you’ve been following my blog at all, you realize by now that I don’t usually fish with jigs. I lean toward lures, primarily topwaters, but suspending lures as well, especially in the winter. Over the years I have become convinced that while catching fewer fish, they tend to be larger with lures….and I love big fish. I fish with jigs when forced….drifting for sand trout, or fishing in holes for seatrout. Oh, at one point years ago I used to fish with live shrimp, or cut bait, or popping corks, but left to my own devices, it’s plugs.
In my last blog post from November 1 I talked about a hot day for redfish while fishing with Joe. While I didn’t give specifics, the fact is that during that trip, I caught all the redfish and the one trout. Joe was skunked. He fished jigs with soft plastic tails, and then switched to a topwater I gave him which he claims had lost its ability to rattle. The water was flat, calm, clear, and very shallow, warming up after a cold front, and we were fishing over a mud bottom. That’s the kind of day that can make you want to try again, and Joe and Capt. Tommy Thompson and I went fishing yesterday. It was a cold windy morning but warmed up nicely, and unlike the last time we fished, the water temperature was in the high 50’s and we had a good mid-morning high tide. We ran to fish some points that had rocks around them (which describes just about every point in Steinhatchee) a few hours before the high. There were good concentrations of mullet. Joe was fishing his secret weapon soft plastic while Tommy and I fished topwaters and suspending lures, and at one point I tried a soft weightless jerkbait. Joe started catching redfish, and he was catching them in exactly the places where we were throwing plugs. In fact, he caught 8 redfish before we caught anything; finally Tommy got a trout, the only one of the day. As the tide peaked and started moving, the fish became more active and we started to catch some fish on plugs, but Joe still was killing us. We ended up with 22 redfish; 17 were caught by Joe using his jig and soft plastic tail. The largest was 24 inches, but all were quality fish.
Now if that kind of result doesn’t lead to a reflective re-examination of your fishing philosophies, as I mentioned in my previous post, you are in for a rough fishing career. I asked him to give me some tips about his passion for jigs.
Joe doesn’t just LIKE fishing jigs with soft plastic tails; he has studied heads and tails for years, and has strong feelings about how they should be fished and how they should be rigged. He also believes color and the transparency of the tail is significant. He stores his favorite tails in plastic bags with mineral oil to keep them slick. In terms of colors, he likes to use light colors in clear water (like many people) but favors translucent bodies with or without glitter. In darker water he chooses a jig tail to match the water. If mildly turbid, he might choose a midrange brown or gray translucent tail. To him, the fact that light can pass through the tail is important. I have always tended to use light colored lures in any conditions, assuming that the contrast makes the plug easier to see in turbid water, but Joe feels that real forage (shrimp, pinfish, mullet, crabs) are almost never as brightly colored as my lures; therefore, fish see those colors as abnormal and not likely to be what they are looking for. Rigging is important to Joe; he feels he catches a lot more fish if the rigged jig runs perfectly straight through the water, with no cartwheeling or asymmetrical motion. He uses a variety of heads and tails, choosing the heads based on depth and water color as well, with unpainted heads getting used frequently in clearer conditions. Most of his tails are simple, without shad tails and some are very simple, like the Mirrolure Little John tail (click on these pictures for more detail).
Rigging is something that has to be just right, according to Joe. As mentioned, the combination has to run perfectly straight….or he will re-rig it immediately.
What he is looking for when working the jig is for it to bounce off the bottom and settle back down. As he points out, that gives the jig both an active motion (during the quick jerk) and a more passive motion as it settles and sits on the bottom. He notes that live shrimp have a similar kind of motion. It means you may end up getting soft plastics hung in rocks or in heavy grass, but at least they cost considerably less than a $14 plug. And with practice you can learn to use the spring of the rod to loosen many jigs that do get hung up.
What’s the take-home message? Well….Joe and I fished one day and I caught all the fish using topwaters; the next time we fished he caught almost all the fish using jigs. You don’t have to be a member of MENSA to determine a useful message. It’s actually implementing it that’s the challenge for me. Many fishermen fall in love with one type of fishing….they have confidence in what they are using, it’s worked in the past, and it’s what they do. The flexibility to move on and try something different seems to get worse with age, just like actual physical flexibility. In fact, probably the best fisherman I know, Jerry McBride (please don’t let him see this) moves easily from jigs with soft plastics to lures to artificial shrimp without a thought. Can I change my approach to my plan when things aren’t working? I’ve got first-hand side-by-side evidence now that suggests that would be a wise move…thanks to Joe for expanding my horizons. Now to figure out that precise rigging…