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  "Jig Fishing 101"


by Randy Bitner


WARNING:  Steelheading is NOT a hobby!  It’s an addiction or an illness.  Why else would grown men and women do the dance of joy when the first rains fall in September and October?  Every rain or snow melt through April usually draws the same response.  It’s because Steelheaders are addicts craving their next fix.  For some, it’s the unmistakable headshake or watching your float get buried by a hungry steelhead.  For others, it’s just being out there soaking up the surroundings and clearing your head from the everyday chaos.  And for an elite, and I use that term VERY loosely, group of guys that I’ve met over the last twenty-five years, it’s about helping a “newbie” get their first steelhead and the sharing of a wealth of knowledge that books couldn't possibly describe adequately.


Many times people have asked me, ”What’s the easiest way to catch a steelhead?”  My response has remained consistent for nearly twenty-five years…..jig & maggot.  I've also been asked, “How much does it cost to get into fishing for steelhead?”  The answer is quite simply as little or as much as you want to spend.  The focus of this article is going to be an approach toward the beginner or budget minded angler.  First we’ll look at why my answer is jig & maggot, followed by a brief breakdown of the sizes I prefer, types and styles of jigs that are available and some of the other terminal tackle and equipment that you’ll need to be successful in your quest for steel.


            The primary reason for my response " jig & maggot" is because the combination works!  I believe that it is the most effective and productive method across 90% of the condition encountered within Steelhead Alley rivers.  It allows you to cover a great deal of water at various depths with minor adjustments and minimal fuss.


            The most effective sizes of jigs that I have used range from 1/32 oz. down to 1/100 oz with the 1/64oz being my personal preference for most conditions.  As the rivers clear and the fish become easily spooked, I’ll drop to 1/80 oz or 1/100oz.  The most common materials that you’ll find and use for tying are feathers, marabou and soft plastics.  I’ve fished the full spectrum of variations and have been successful, but because of the “breathing” action of marabou, it’s my material of choice.  All of these materials are available in a wide range of colors with black, white, pink, chartreuse, olive, blue, red, purple and a chrome or silver being the primary solid colors you’ll want to consider.  Jigs are available in combinations of the above at most local shops.  You’ll develop a color and pattern preference as you progress.  Some of my personal favorites are a black/chartreuse/red with flash that I call “The Widowmaker” and “Big & Ugly” which is a combination of black/blue and flash. 



          Don’t be afraid to trust your gut on choosing patterns.  If it looks like something that will catch fish, it probably will.  Cost of store bought jigs normally range from $1.25 - $2.00.  Erie Outfitters seems to have the best selection on the West Side of Cleveland and Grand River Tackle on the East Side.  Most of these shops will offer loose jigs that are either hand tied on site or purchased from a local vendor.  You’ll want to carry at least 3 or more of the patterns you choose because YOU WILL LOSE THEM either to fish or snags.  The worst thing that WILL happen is that you find a hot pattern that the fish are hammering and you lose your last one when the fishing is at its best.


            As far as a rod and reel are concerned, we'll assume you already own them.  I’d imagine that what you have will work just fine.  An important consideration is a properly set drag as a hot steelhead can make a 20-30ft run in the blink of an eye and the worst sound that many of us has heard is the shotgun snap of line giving way.  I started out using a 6’6” ML spinning rod with 6lb test.  I would recommend not going lighter than 6lb test on line or lighter on the rod action than ML, UL for the longer (10’6” and larger) rods that are available – but that’s another article.  A peg bobber is the most common and readily available float, as well as the easiest to adjust.  They work wonderfully in this application. For the beginning steelheader, please DO NOT use the big red/white bobbers that we used as kids.  They don’t give as true of a reading of a light bite and they tend to drift faster than normal due to their shape and size.  Setting jig to depth is dictated by the type of water that you’re fishing.  In most cases, I’d use my hat as a guide and work from there.  I’d set my jig in the rod hook keeper or in the top ring of cork and place the float at the brim of my hat.  I’d put a split shot on at the first eye on the rod (usually 12-18 inches from the jig).  You’ll want to watch your first couple drifts carefully to see if you are catching bottom.  I like my presentations to suspend just above bottom without resistance.  You can slide your float up or down and add or remove shot accordingly.  Split shot are an important aspect of the rig because it allows the jig to remain in the strike zone longer, it gets the offering down to depth more efficiently, and it balances the float to neutral for quick dunks and light-bite detection.  I use the BB sized shot with usually a single shot where I indicated earlier.  A bag of 100 should last a full season.

Rod & Reel = Already have
6-10 lb Line = Already on the reel
3 Peg Bobbers = $4.00
Split shot = $1.00
Jigs (Nice assortment) = $15
Maggots = $1.75
Catching 1st Steelhead = PRICELESS
Passing it on = Better than catching one yourself

            We’ve talked about what you’ll need to get started and how much it will cost you to get started.  You have your rod and reel, line, floats, jigs, split shot and maggots, probably all for an initial cost of near $20.  A minimal investment considering the returns inherent in steelhead fishing.  I’ll leave you with two of the most important words you’ll ever say or hear on the water, “FISH ON!”


-Randy Bitner, Jester















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