Live Bait Jigging

By: John Myhre 2011


The StrikeSlowly and precisely we backtrolled along the steep drop-off. The liquid crystal graph provided a detailed view of the underwater world below. It constantly kept us informed of not only depth changes but also the presence of structure, cover, and baitfish. Almost methodically we probed our "jig and minnow" combinations around each brush pile or crib that came across the screen. Every once in a while, as we were working out jigs around a crib, one of our minnows would become extremely nervous. This always altered us to the presence of a predator in the area and put us on guard for that tell tale "thump" when a fish takes the bait.

No, I haven't been out in the sun too long, nor has someone really screwed up and printed a walleye article in a musky magazine. While this sounds like a typical fall walleye fishing scenario, it's not. The "jig and minnows" I am referring to are just a tad bit bigger than most anglers would use for walleyes. The jig and minnow alone would be more than the average walleye rod can handle. By jigs I mean those weighing 1 to 1 ounces with a 5/0 treble "stinger hook" attached. For the "minnow" part we're talking 12 to 14 inch suckers. Aside from these differences and the fact that your tackle is a lot heavier, there really are a lot of similarities between this method and jigging for fall walleyes.

For years the common lead head jig tipped with a minnow has been popular with many anglers. It alone has been responsible for catching countless numbers of walleyes, bass and panfish. So why not use them for muskies? Simply, the normal sized jig and minnow presentations, that are commonly used for walleyes, just won't do much to excite a big musky in the late fall. Sure there are always a few nice muskies caught accidentally each year by walleye fishermen. However, for the trophy musky hunter this is not a high-percentage approach. Upsizing your presentation to a magnum sized jig and minnow adds a whole new dimension to your fall trophy hunting.

There's a lot more to it than just tying on a huge jig. Everything's important - from your rod and reel to the way you rig the jig. For a jigging rod I prefer a good quality six foot tubular or solid fiberglass model. Almost any reel that has a good drag and a bait clicker will work fine for jigging. Line choice is a little more critical. For jigging, monofilament and cofilament lines that have low stretch definitely perform best. There are some new Kevlar lines that may all work well and be worth checking out. Whichever line you choose, it should be low-stretch and highly abrasion resistant. Generally any of these lines in the 30 to 50 pound test will work well.

How you rig a jig is also very important. Almost everyone now knows that once a musky gets a good hold on a sucker there is no way that you are going to move it to get a good hookset. To increase your hooking percentages, rig a jig just like you would a quickstrike rig. The hooks must be rigged to the sucker lightly enough so that they will break free from the bait on the hookset. Another advantage of the jig is that like a quickstrike rig, muskies are hooked in the mouth and are easy to release.

Color is important but almost always overlooked when it comes to live bait fishing for muskies. Walleye, bass and panfish anglers have long known that color can make the difference on live bait presentations. Therefore, overlooking jig color may be a big mistake. Many times I have seen jig color make a difference. Most muskies are solidly hooked on the jig hook and not the stingerhook. This leads me to believe that the musky hits the colored jig head because it could see it better than the sucker.

Another aspect of using a jigs is overall bait size. Adding a bucktail or rubber dressing to a lead head jig not only adds color but also size to the bait. In effect, one can make a 12 inch sucker look 16 inches to the musky.

The CatchWorking a jig and sucker for muskies is actually very similar to jigging for walleyes. Normally I either just drag the jig along the bottom or actively use a lift and drop presentation. The lift and drop presentation is basically the same as you would use when walleye fishing with some minor differences. The weight of the jig allows for more control of the sucker so it will always be exactly where you want it. In short, this jigging system lets you fish structure and cover with precision.

As with all live bait presentations, location is of prime importance. Areas with steep dropoffs adjacent to the main lake basin or the original river channel in reservoirs are often excellent fall areas. Points, inside turns and transitions from hard to soft bottom along this drop off are key areas. To further refine the spot on a spot, look for cover in the form of wood fish cribs, or boulders on this structure. These are the high percentage areas where using this jigging system will really pay off.

This fall, instead of using the same old live bait presentations, give jigging a try. Over the last few years it has accounted for several big muskies for myself and several of my friends, and I know it can do the same for you.