Sink or Swim?
The experts keep telling us there's no such thing as a magic lure. Still, we are always looking. Few of us will ever find it. But at least one top pro angler, Tom Monsoor from Wisconsin feels he may have discovered such a magic lure - the swimming jig dressed with a Gary Yamamoto grub trailer.
Forever we've been sinking jigs and bouncing them up and down on the bottom, feeling it imitates a crawdad. It took Tom Monsoor to teach us all to swim jigs to imitate shad, bluegill and assorted shore minnows. As fundamental as swimming a jig sounds, it really wasn't done by anyone before Monsoor.
Monsoor's first inkling that he may be on to something big began in the mid-1980's when he first began to intentionally swim a jig. Steadily, Tom and his swimming jigs grew to dominate tournaments within the northern states region of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois. By the late 1990's, Monsoor had perfected the swimming jig with devastating tournament results. With a heavy onslaught of wins and top-tens, Monsoor wore the BFL Great Lakes Division AOY crown from 1999 through 2001, and Monsoor netted the EverStart Series Northern Division title in 2001. Some accounts credit Monsoor with over one hundred local and regional tournament wins, all on his swimming jig.
The mother of all swimming jigs - an original hand-made by Tom Monsoor
Not only did Monsoor believe he had a magic lure, but the many competitors he crushed began to believe it too. They desperately began to try to copy Monsoor's swimming jig the best they could. Many co-anglers had been in the back of Tom's boat as draw tournament partners. That's one way the word spread about what Tom was doing. Yet Monsoor had played his money-making jig close to his life vest. As a result, few knew the necessary details of how or why Tom made or used them. Nevertheless, a number of look-alikes - sparsely-skirted, bullet-nosed jigs with low-angled hook eyes - began to appear everywhere in the North Central states wherever Tom had whipped them.
By 2002, Monsoor stepped up to the national pro level, and he has not seriously fished northern states regional events since 2002. The pressure was off them, but the schooling he gave his Northern brethren is still not forgotten. To this day, the swimming jig is used heavily in the northern region where Monsoor reigned. There isn't anyone fishing a tournament in the area of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois who doesn't have one, or more like a couple dozen swimming jigs in his bag.
Monsoor brought the swimming jig to national attention in early 2004 when Tom had two top finishes swimming jigs on the prestigious FLW Pro Tour. He backed up a second place finish on Atchafalaya Basin, Louisiana with a third place finish on Beaver Lake, Arkansas. It's puzzling that something so fundamental and effective as swimming a jig had not been done before. But truly, no one really did it before Monsoor.
A swimming jig is a different animal than other jigs.
Since 2004, thanks to Tom's example, many of the USA's top pros have learned how to swim jigs. Top pros have consistently scored high by swimming jigs in most top national events since 2004. As a consequence, there are numerous brands of swimming jigs on the market now. Most (not all) aim to be about as close as possible to emulate Tom's swimming jig in a general way. Most (not all) tend to have a bullet head, a low angle hook eye, a slightly lighter wire hook and lighter fiberguard than found on a flipping jig, for instance. Most tend to have a sparser skirt with less strands in it. A sparse skirt is required because a full skirt tends to upset the delicate balance caused by the low angle eye of most swimming jigs. They'd veer off and swim sideways instead of upright due to the water drag with a full skirt. That's an inherent problem in most all bullet-nosed swimming jigs, even those hand-made by the master Monsoor himself. It's critical to balance the skirt material just right, and less skirt material is necessary so the jig head doesn't roll over or swim crooked. You wouldn't think it would matter to fish, but truth is, fish don't want anything to do with swimming jigs that roll over and don't stay upright.
With a good swimming jig design, it's not uncommon to go through a dozen and discard the ones that don't swim true. That's the price you pay for the privilege to fish with the remaining jigs that do pass muster. When you get one that is balanced perfectly, it will buzz across the surface like a soft plastic frog or toad, and remain true and upright even on high speed retrieves. But others, even out of the same mold, will roll over and play dead. This is not something that applies only to swimming jigs. Even the best crankbaits, topwaters or whatever you care to name have below-average, average and above-average performers in every dozen. If you don't weed them out, you will waste your time fishing with them.
Swimming jigs excel for fishing in vegetation, grass, reeds, brush or wood. Yes, they will work other ways, but swimming jigs are at their best as shallow water weed and wood lures. These are the choicest types of spots that fish favor on any body of water, and practically every anglers knows that. These shallow fish in prime spots know all about anglers, boats and baits. They get peppered with lures, and have gone through catch and release. They've learned to bypass the bad presentations, turn down the less-than-perfect jigs and reject all the other lures chucked at them by every passing boat. But a well-made swimming jig, although the experts tell us there's no such thing, has a magic charm in shallow weeds and wood that other jigs and lures do not.
Couple clear to stained water with shallow, weedy, woody, brushy areas, and you have the best situation for swimming jigs. Keep in mind, "clear" water is a relative term, and many lakes have relatively "clearer" water in certain areas, especially areas of thick weed growth may tend to be relatively clearer. Even in stained water, swimming jig experts feel resident bass eyesight can become accustomed to the water stain (unless its quickly darkening) as if to see right through it.
A shad imitation swimming jig.
There's not a lot of noise or vibration that you are accustomed to with other types of baits (crankbaits, topwaters, spinnerbaits, etc). Rattles are rarely used on swimming jigs. Since it's relatively "quiet," a swimming jig doesn't seem to "announce" itself or alert fish within an area (as would say, a Rat-L-Trap), and you can catch multiple fish out of an area.
So much of the strike appeal is visual with swimming jigs, and color is an important aspect of the appeal. It's not just the primary color (black, brown, green, etc.), but second and third accent colors plus metallic flash colors are considered critical on swimming jig heads, in the skirts and via soft plastic trailers. Therefore, color, changing colors and trying new colors throughout the day are key to swimming jig success. Whitish/silvery patterns keying on shad, shiners or shore minnows, plus dark patterns (black/brown/greenish/purplish, etc.) keying on bluegill are most popular. However, imitating any currently plentiful baitfish or aquatic critter - matching the hatch - is basic and reliable. Other times, it's not matching anything in nature that provokes strikes. It's the visibility, visual affect and attraction of color and flash in the swimming jig head, skirt and trailer.
Another important point is that long casts are best. This is not a pitching or flipping approach. Long casts are an essential part of the application, as far away from the boat as possible. Plan for the furthest part of the retrieve to come through isolated clumps of grass and cover, usually within a foot of the surface. You'll get to see lots of your strikes, and it's especially exciting to see the bulging wakes of fish that are zeroing in on the swimming jig from 5-10 feet away in the grass. Hits tend to come at the end of the cast, when coming across the top of or skimming the outskirts of fish-holding cover. You don't necessarily need to jig or pop or pause a swimming jig. Just swim it steadily. Of course, as it comes into open pockets in the weeds, let it drop in, or let it sink to bottom on the shady side of any rock or log it swims over. But most of the time, just swim it steadily, and get ready whenever it trips over or stutters through stuff in its path.
As the lightweight jig recoils off anything it encounters, the deflection moment is a great strike trigger. The jig gets stunned by the impact, the upright balance becomes unsettled, and when it comes free it arights itself. Ker-pow! As a swimming jig deflects off weeds or wood or whatever, bass go bonkers for it. Since it's a lightweight lure, the supple fiberguard is more like a bumper or pusher that moves or flexes the swimming jig off obstructions, while attempting to stay upright and not bow the hook point over toward the snag. The fiberguard is not so much there for protection such as with a heavy duty power jig flipped into the heart of dense cover. Instead of muscling their way through obstructions, the swimming jig is designed to shunt aside from them and stay upright without rolling over, swimming steadily all the while without stopping. That steady swimming momentum keeps its nose from digging into snags too as opposed to being hopped, bounced or paused right on bottom debris.
In open water (sandy flats for instance), swimming jigs work well too, even though there may not be that much to deflect off. Yet strikes still tend to come on the end of a long cast on a steady retrieve. Because of the long distance at which many strikes happen, the softer than usual fiberguard and slightly finer than usual needle point hook are important. Due to the softness of the fiberguard and the needle-like nature of the hook used, fish come up and grab it, swim off to the side and sometimes they are already hooked - no hookset per se.
On the other hand, at other times you can suspect a fish is there but not be sure for several seconds whether it is a fish or not? While you are reeling in, you'll find fish often just grab on and swim with the jig. Sometimes the fish may almost imperceptibly hold on, and as long as you don't pull hard, neither will the fish. If you just keep reeling, it will happily keep swimming at you. Since these fish are just grabbing on and swimming at you at the end of a long cast, you'll find it necessary to hit them hard. So you must whack them and reel as fast as possible to try to get a tight connection. Sometimes you cannot get the hook sunk as they swim at you from a distance, and they shake the jig out of their mouth before it sticks. That is one of your weakest moments when you can lose them - within the first few seconds of the hookset (or lack thereof). Also, a forgiving drag setting is important for when you get them up to the boat. If the drag is too tight when they make a final surge at boatside, they often tend to pull themselves off the hook after the long-distance fight. That is your second weak moment when you can lose them - or anytime they leap.
Swimming jig with heavy duty flipping hook to handle the biggest bass on the heaviest tackle.
Bottom line, the most productive tactic is to swim a 1/4 oz jig just under the surface over the tops of submerged or emergent weeds and wood. It is the 1/4 oz size that's best around heavy weeds and matted grass beds growing to the surface and laying over on top. Where there is dense grass, throw on top of the mats and the 1/4 oz jig will not get hung up or bogged down on top. Just stop the revolving spool with your thumb and start reeling before the jig even hits the slop. In this way, it won't sink into the soft, mushy canopy of greenery, and you may swim the light jig across the surface of the mats, pausing it to drop down into sparse open pockets. The 3/8 oz size will bog down in thick surface grass more than the 1/4 oz size.
Overall, the 1/4 oz size is the mainstay most of the time. The 3/8 oz size is better when a breeze makes it too difficult to cast or feel the 1/4 oz size. Plus you may find the 3/8 oz size better suited to the irregular outside edges of a deeper weed line or to swim over the tops of weeds that are still submerged deeper under the water. Where the outside weedlines drop off to open water, the 3/8 oz size excels for swimming barely above the sloping open bottom in slightly deeper water, say down to 12 feet.
However, most of the time, the jig is kept up, swimming high in the water column from just below to within a few feet of the surface, and fish will barrel up off the bottom, out from under logs or arise suddenly out of dense weed clumps in order to swat down the swimming jig up near the top - especially when the jig bumps and pushes off something. In grass, you can watch it swimming through grass and see the grass part, fish swim out and bust it. That's something you'll never grow tired of seeing.
It's not the crawling, hopping, bottom-bumping approach taken with other jigs. Quite the opposite. The swimming jig is kept moving in the top of the water column. Although, if you did want to pitch, flip or fish bottom with it, a swimming jig will certainly do that too, as good as any other jig (keeping in mind it's a medium/heavy hook, not a heavy wire flipping hook).
There are some brands of swimming jigs now that do have the heavy duty flipping strength hook to land the biggest bass with the heaviest tackle. Yet it was only a few years ago that there weren't any low-angle hook eyes necessary to strike the delicate swimming balance. If you wanted a swimming jig hook two years ago, you had to heat and hand-bend the hooks yourself.
But since 2004 when swimming jigs rose to national attention, low-angle hook eyes in a range of light, medium and heavy strength wire have been made widely available to accommodate the many new swimming jig designs out there.
Keep in mind, the "Wisconsin style" swimming jig is most popular, especially in northern states, and the hook wire is medium/heavy, but not as heavy as a flipping jig hook. It has a medium/heavy strength wire for landing big bass with medium/heavy tackle, say anything from 12 to 16 pound test line, and a baitcasting rod that's designed for jigs, just more forgiving than a flipping stick.
Four grub sizes and 2 jig sizes (1/4 & 3/8) enable 8 different speed/depth/profile variations. However the 1/4 oz dressed with the 5" (18-series) grub is preferred over all.
A soft plastic trailer is always necessary. A swimming jig will not work without a soft plastic trailer, which is often a single tail grub. The single tail of a grub should always face downward, perfectly centered and straight in line with the hook without rigging a kink or bend in the grub. The world's top swimming jig experts tend to recommend Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits. GYCB offers four sizes of single tail grubs from 4 to 6 inches that go great on all swimming jigs. The four sizes of Yamamoto grubs are the 40, 18, 19 and 2 series.
Bottom line, a swimming jig always requires a Yamamoto single tail grub or other trailer - or else a swimming jig simply isn't effective.
The single tail 18-series five-inch grub works so superbly that many experts don't use any other grub size or any other style trailer. However, the range of Yamamoto single tails from 4" to 6" will work. By varying the four Yamamoto single tail grub trailers with the two standard jig sizes (1/4 and 3/8 oz), eight different swimming speed/depth and profile variations are possible - and well worth experimenting with.
Another important component to swimming jig presentation is Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits liquid scent attractant. First of all, the oily liquid scent is like a lubricant which keeps the tail from sticking, helps the grub swim, flow and flex better. Then when a fish gets near it, behind it, it smells it. The liquid leaves a scent trail, and when the fish gets close enough to smell the scent, they devour the jig more.
Even if a bass strikes short and tears the grub tail off, it will come back a second time to get the rest of the swimming jig because of the taste of the torn-off tail. It smells good enough to nip, the tail tastes good, and then they strike again in order to eat the entire jig.
You'll learn to favor the days they tear the tail off. Learn to let the first tentative bite pass by without setting the hook. You'll lose the tail, but it's like letting them have an appetizer or delicious hors d'oeuvre first. It gives you a heads-up, a warning that you should ready yourself. They've taste-tested the sacrificial tail, are convinced it's food, and will return for the main course, hitting solidly this time.
Another reason to use Yamamoto's liquid attractant is to give a glistening life-like sheen to the grub. This is especially true on translucent colors, and the sheen coat heightens light hitting the bait and it helps heighten the reflective sparkle flakes if any.
Simply drip a few drops of Yamamoto's liquid attractant into the plastic bag the single tail grubs are packaged in. In this way, the grubs all get a sparkly sheen coating, get a life-like luster to them, and, if there are ten to twenty baits in the bag, you do not need to stop fishing to re-apply fish attractant ten or twenty times during the day. Only once.
Equally important, the lubricated baits tend to relax and unwind any kinks or bends they may have gotten during storage. You would not think it matters to a bass, but grubs do catch more fish when they are straight. Grubs catch less fish when kinked, bent or twisted badly. Anointing the baits in the bag with Yamamoto's liquid attractant will tend to return the grub's back to the perfect shape they were originally molded in, thanks to the restorative effect that Yamamoto's attractant can have on Yamamoto's grubs. And when bass smell and taste it, they're hooked. Plus, applying a coating of attractant in the bag instead of on the jig, helps keep the individual skirt strands from getting congealed and stuck together like poorly cooked spaghetti. The grubs in the bag are well-coated, but the skirt strands don't get as greasy or matted down.
Thanks for reading along. I hope you've realized a swimming jig is a different animal. It's something top pros have scored highly with in most every major tournament the past two years. Prior to that, we'd only sink jigs like rocks. But now we know, jigs work swimmingly too.