Up Down and Sideways –

Up Down and Sideways

Two Takes on Jigging Fall Muskies

By Rob Kimm and Pete Maina

From The Next Bite – ESOX Angler Magazine 2006 Fall Issue

Rob Kimm:

Anglers in general, and muskie anglers in particular, have an utterly unreasonable view of angling techniques. We see lures and the techniques used to present them as essentially progressive, a perpetual press of improvement over what was done before and how, and with what, to the point where if you aren’t careful, you can catch yourself looking back at the past wondering how they managed to catch a thing.
This belief in continual progress is, I suppose, an unspoken argument for the absurdities one sees from time to time: spinnerbait skirts made from space age carpet fibers, bucktails the size of wombats, super magnum plugs that weigh in at a pound and change, wiggly rubbertailed gee-gaws beyond number. It may even explain the khaki-clad sport I ran into on the water a few weeks back who asked if I might have a black Magic Marker in the boat so he could dull the finish on his blades just a bit. Shiny blades, apparently, are last year’s news.Muskie Released

Admitting this irrational view on lures is a roundabout means of apology for writing about something as mundane as jigs and jigging, when this inevitable innovation leaves so many other topics unexplored. The reality, though, is this: the fundamental building blocks of presentation haven’t changed, and wont. Speed, depth, color, and size, attraction, and triggering ability are still at the core of even the most innovative lures or methods of presenting them. The belief in progression is simply an example of endless variations on fairly basic themes, with varying degrees of success or failure. It’s a reason to slink through the tackle shops like grave robbers each spring, looking for the next new thing.

But jigging gets scant attention from the vast majority of muskie anglers. Perhaps it’s that assumption of progress that gets in the way. Because jigging is certainly nothing new when it comes to muskies.

Truth be told, jigging could rightly be called one of the first modern muskie techniques, tracing its roots back to the dawn of modern angling, when anglers like Tony Portincaso, a pair of young, energetic Chicago area anglers named Al and Ron Lindner, and a handful of others began fishing early version of today’s soft plastics on Deer, Bone, and a handful of other Polk County, Wisconsin lakes.

“Tony and a few other guys from the Rockford, Illinois area started using 5-inch Reaper for largemouth bass on those Polk County lakes,” says legendary angler and Lindner’s Angling Edge host Al Lindner. “Lo and behold, they started catching lots of muskies. That is truly where it began. At first they thought it was just a fall thing when the weeds were thin, but the system developed over time. We got bit off, so we added leaders, then graduated to bigger baitsthe 8-inch Reapers , fished on spinning gear with monofilament and fairly short wire leaders.” As the system evolved, jigs were not only lures but interpretive tools, used to probe weedlines and discover points, inside turns and rock piles that had previously been invisible. In experienced hands, a jig was—and is—as precise and informative about what lies beneath the water’s surface as the most sophisticated modern graph.Muskie Released

From Deer and Bone, Portincaso, the Lindners, and others, began to expand jigging into new territories. “It worked everywhere we tried it,”says Lindner. “There were guys on Pymatuning catching muskies on jigs like crazy; it worked in Minnesota too.” Publication of the technique in Fishing Facts magazine was a landmark in modern muskie fishing. “It really was a major breakthrough,” said Lindner. “This was still the ‘fish of 10,000 casts,’ and we were catching 3 to 5 a day. Guys wouldn’t believe it when we told them how many fish we were catching.

”Still, despite its long history, not to mention its effectiveness, jigging for muskies has seldom sustained more than isolated regional popularity. Though it has enjoyed a resurgence of late, due in large part to an excellent series of articles on the subject by In-Fisherman Editor-in-Chief Doug Stange, jigging is still overlooked by most muskie anglers. At best, it’s a cold front technique, and at worst it’s ignored altogether. “As far as a presentation system,” says Lindner, “it’s still under-utilized.”

Vertical jigging gets even less attention. Once again, outside isolated pockets scattered across the muskie’s range, vertical jigging for muskies is next to unheard of.

It’s a shame, really.

Jigging, you see, is—or can be—more than just a different presentation choice. Jigging can be a system for approaching angling situations where each aspect of presentation, each block, differs from more standard muskie tactics. There are few angling situations, especially in the cold water period of fall, to which jigging techniques can’t be applied effectively. There are some situations where nothing’s more efficient and effective.

What follows are two looks at jigging up fall muskies…



By Rob Kimm

From The Next Bite – ESOX Angler Magazine 2006 Fall Issue

I fish a fair numbers of hours nearly every week of the Minnesota muskie season. The odd trip to more exotic destinations aside, I spend much of this time on a fairly small number of favorite waters. Totaled up over the season, I’ve booked a lot of time on these lakes by the end of August. By the time fall rolls around, I’ve got a pretty good handle on what’s happening—which spots have been consistently good, and which, for whatever reason, have been stinkers this year, which techniques have been working and which ones, due to overuse by other anglers or changes in fish location and activity, haven’t done much.

Come fall, I’m in a pretty comfortable relationship with these lakes. Oh, day to day things change somewhat. Weather, fishing pressure, water conditions—these things can all stir up the mix now and then. But by and large, as things swing from summer into early fall, and on to the end of the season, life’s good. The kerfuffles, flubulations, the wherefores and why’s of why muskies do what they do and why the don’t do what they should, the hyperkinetic gotta get at ‘em-ness of early season, all long past. I’m ready to just go fish for the things. I will catch them, or I will not.

On these lakes, and on many of your favorites in the same part of the country (and I say this with certainty), one of the best ways to stay away from the ‘will not’ side of that equation is to fish jigs.

With so many more traditional fall tactics like jerkbaits, cast or trolled cranks, even live bait, jigs don’t often find a place in the arsenal for most fall muskie anglers. They should. Few baits better cover the range of location possibilities with less fuss, from fish deep on hard bottomed edges like points and reefs, to mid-depth flats where muskies prowl the remnants of summer’s weedbeds, to shallow sand, rock, or gravel bars. Fewer still cover the range of potential fish moods you’re likely to find in fall so thoroughly.

What’s great about jigs this time of year is they can be what you need them to be simply by changing the way they’re fished. Active fish on a shallow rock reef? Zip them along just under the surface, with just a pause now and then to trigger following fish. Fish parked on a deep weedline? Count them down so they’re just ticking the weed tops, and swim them in, wobbling and thumping along.

But hold on. Before we get too far into that part of the story, better talk about the jigs themselves a little bit first, as in, which ones I’m talking about, and which ones I’m not.

The Cobra Jig came about as a result of conversations between Steve Herbeck and I that began about 5 years ago, says Bait Rigs Tackle Co. co-owner Joe Puccio. When we looked at a lot of the jigs out there, all of them were lacking something, whether it was head design, weight distribution, hook design or quality. Steve recognized the need for a better tool what the world needed was a true muskie jig. It was something I d wanted to do for a while: build a muskie jig that was really a tool built for that purpose.

Developing the Esox Cobra Jig

Esox Cobra Jig Available in 4 Sizes

Esox Cobra Jig Available in 4 Sizes

The Esox Cobra Jig is a prime example of muskie and pike jigs evolving past plain ball or dart heads to purpose-built swimming jigs, with design features specifically crafted to optimize performance using horizontal presentations.
Key to the Esox Cobra Jig s performance is a unique head design, built on a modified Kahle Mustad UltraPoint hook. The wedge-shaped head places the center of balance of the head slightly farther back on the hook. Most jigs are a weight-forward design, says Puccio, which is great for a vertical presentation, but not necessarily for horizontal or semi-horizontal approaches. The Cobra head is a weight-center head. The weight is distributed so the bait stays horizontal on the retrieve, and when paused.

ESOX Cobra Shadtail Swimbait 6 Inch

ESOX Cobra Shadtail Swimbait 6 Inch

The weight-center design is complimented by a unique feature of the Cobra a concave rather than flat bottom on the jighead. Most jigs have no inherent action of their own, says Puccio. We wanted something that.

Many of the jigs currently being marketed as muskie jigs aren’t much more than outsized bass jigs. Bass jigs, big or not, aren’t muskie jigs. They have to do different things, and what makes a good muskie jig doesn’t necessarily make a good bass jig. Bass jigs often have hooks that just aren’t up to snuff for penetrating bony mouths. In many cases, the fiber weedguards are far too stiff, and frankly, they’re often not needed at all. Bulbous rounded jigheads are ideal for a well-balanced vertical fall, but poorly suited for the horizontal presentation most often used with muskies, where staying flat while swimming over and through modestly dense cabbage and coontail, or over sand and rocks, is a much more important capability than punching vertically through heavy vegetation.

The jig I’m looking at as I write this, an Esox Cobra head from Bait Rigs Tackle, is a good example of what a good muskie jig should be. The head is wedge-shaped with the hook eye at the very point to slide through weeds, pushing stalks away from the hook point. The balance is right for a horizontal retrieve, with the weight set back on the hook rather than centered under the line tie, so the bait falls horizontally, and rides slightly nose-up on the retrieve. A slight concave dish to the flat bottom of the head gives these jigs a subtle action of their own—a slight shimmy on a straight retrieve, and a gliding swim on the fall. A rubber skirt adds bulk and movement. The hook is a modified Kahle-style Mustad Ultrapoint. At 5/0, it’s not overly-large, and fairly light wire actually, but with a wide bite, and scary sharp. Many muskies that hit jigs will be hooked right in the top of the mouth, and a razor sharp but thinner diameter hook is easier to sink into a bony mouth than heavier hooks. There’s no weedguard on the standard Cobra, and often they’re not necessary anyhow. The wedge head is weed free enough— surprisingly so in fact—for most situations, especially in fall. Throughout spring and summer, I’ll generally use 1/2 or 3/4 ounce Cobras. In fall, 3/4 or 1 ounce models are a little more efficient.

Other jigs out there too of course. In heavy cover, particularly around rushes or for zipping over the tops of thick mid-depth weeds, Musky Mania’s Jig-A-Beast or the Lil’ Hustler Super Swim Jig have thick weedguards and solid hooks. Pat Smith’s Stick-um Jig is another fine option. In real thick stuff, Pat’s Sick-Um Stealth is tops. No weedguard on the Stealth, but rather a coil spring screw doohickey on the line tie for rigging plastic trailers Texas-style. There is weedless as in “doesn’t pick up weeds too bad” and there is weedless as in weedless. The Stick-Um Stealth is weedless.

Esox Cobra® MAGNUM Musky Jig

Esox Cobra® MAGNUM Musky Jig

The Bait Rigs Cobra Magnum is a monster jig, complete with an attachment for adding a stinger hook to the 10 inch grub or 9 inch shad trailer. These large profile baits are great for slow swimming, or as throwback lures once you’ve located a fish. Cobra Magnum heads also pair extremely well with giant Red October tube baits – a compact, fast-sinking package for casting in high winds and casting or vertical jigging deep breaks. It’s a combo I haven’t had a chance to use much yet, but by this fall, I will have used it quite a bit, I think.

Pair the jigheads with shad-style thumper plastics like a Lunker City Salt Shaker, or an Action Plastics 6-inch Shad. Earlier in the season, swimming tail grubs can work extremely well, especially Action Plastics Twin Tail Shrimp grubs used to slow the fall rate of jigs fished over shallow weeds. But in fall, thumpers get bit more. On Cobra jigs, shads can be rigged vertically, with the hook coming through the back of the bait, or flat, with the hook out the side. Vertically rigged shad wobble extremely well, fall slightly faster, and dart more on the drop. Rigged flat, the drop rate slows slightly, the wobble is less pronounced, and the bait has a somewhat bigger profile. On bullet-head jigs like the Jig-A-Beast, rig shads flat.

Finish the package with a leader. I prefer uncoated, stranded leaders in the 90 pound range. Others prefer single strand leaders. In either case, fix the wire directly to the jighead. Don’t mess with snaps. They just collect weeds and gunk.

So about the where and how of jigging in fall. During the transition from summer temperatures and locations through early fall, turnover, and the cold water post turnover period, muskies change locations several times. Often, different fish or groups of fish will be at different stages of this transition at once. Only in extreme late fall, just before freeze-up (and sometimes not even then) will you find even a slim majority of fish holding on the same types of structure, or at the same depths. Jigs shine this period of constant transition for lots of reasons, but foremost perhaps is their versatility when you need to probe several different depths and cover types quickly and efficiently.Take a typical flat on a mid-Mesotrophic muskie lake. You’ll have a shallow, inside weedline, maybe even a stretch of sand between the weedline and shore, the flat itself, covered with patchy clumps of remaining weeds, then the break itself, and the adjacent to structure confined open water beyond. Covering each of these options across the full range of depths and speeds with more traditional fall baits would generally mean switching lures multiple times. By comparison, the same jig can fish each piece of structure, at depths from a couple feet to, say, 15 to 18 feet, simply by adjusting the retrieve speed and how long they’re allowed to sink.

When I can, I prefer to work shallow first, then move outward. Backwards from most anglers I think, but that’s fine. I prefer this approach though because shallow water can be fished quickly, and if I’m finding fish shallow, I can fish several spots rapidly, making the most of a short day. Plus, in fall’s clear water, you can often see hits when fishing shallow, which I like simply because it’s fun. So I’ll begin at the shallow sand and inside weedline, with my boat a long cast length from shore. A long cast with a jig is a long cast. Fling them as far as you can. With today’s superlines, there’s no line stretch to contend with, so why not. I’ll begin reeling as soon as the jig lands, scooting it quickly over the sand and inside weedline, occasionally making a long cast in front of the boat to cover portions of the flat my boat is about to pass over.

After fishing the inside line to shore, the flat is next. Again, long casts, but count the jig down a few beats to run at mid-depth. Ideally, it’ll be ticking the tops of any remaining weeds. If I count down six seconds and don’t make weed contact, then next cast will be seven or eight seconds. Weed growth on flats is seldom uniform, so constant adjustments are necessary. As I fish the flat I’ll make note of where thicker stands of cabbage or coontail are. We’re talking a weed flat here, but the approach is the same over sand or gravel/rock flats. Run the jig mid-way down in the water column most often, although occasionally dropping them all the way to the bottom briefly doesn’t hurt. The outside break is a little different. I generally keep the boat 1/3 of a long cast length away from the break itself. Count the jig down, work it to the edge of the break, then let it drop down the weedline before bringing it back to the boat. Dropping it all the way to the bottom isn’t usually necessary. Active fish will most often be higher in the water column at least until very late in the year or unless the weather’s bad. If fish are tight to the bottom there are better ways to get jigs to them than casting—but that’s another article.

Retrieves with jigs aren’t complicated, which is part of the beauty of it all. You can catch a lot of fish just by holding your rod tip at about the 10 o’clock position and reeling steadily, pausing for a second or so every few feet to let the jig do a dive and glide briefly.

Retrieves with jigs aren’t complicated, which is part of the beauty of it all. You can catch a lot of fish just by holding your rod tip at about the 10 o’clock position and reeling steadily, pausing for a second or so every few feet to let the jig do a dive and glide briefly. Better though to work the jig a little more. Reel steadily, but nod the rod tip as you reel. Not a true lift/drop—you aren’t bass fishing—but rather a subtle, steady nod of 4 or 5 inches, performed with your wrist. Then pause periodically. Or: Start at 10 o’clock, reel as you lift the rod tip to 11:30, then drop the rod back to 10, reeling back down as your rod tip drops. The jig will rise and fall, doing a steady stutter-step shimmy, then briefly stall and swim down before scooting off again. The point is, do it how you want to from a mechanics standpoint, but make the jig lively. Attract fish, and trigger them. If you hang on weeds, a quick snap of the wrist will pop them off. Jigs figure-8 exceptionally well, but most fish hit during the retrieve. If you’re doing it right, the depth and direction changes that trigger fish at boat side with other lures occur multiple times during the retrieve.

Strikes on jigs nearly always occur as the bait drops. Muskies seem to take jigs by rushing them from behind or quartering behind, engulfing them, and turning. The feeling is a solid and satisfying whump. At times, the line will simply go slack as a muskie overtakes the jig and rushes forward. Most fish will be hooked either solidly in the corner of the mouth, or right in the roof of the mouth. Unhooking and releasing fish with jigs is a joy. Usually a firm twist with a pliers is all it takes. Few baits are more fish friendly.

Jigging muskies is a quiet game with a lot of how it’s done left in the angler’s hands. Doesn’t take a lot of effort, but rewards concentration and attention to details of presentation like depth, speed, and applying basic mechanical skills to trigger fish. Not complex, just versatile and effective. About right for fall, when all there’s left to do is go fishing.


By Pete Maina

From The Next Bite – ESOX Angler Magazine 2006 Fall Issue

I’ve been lucky in a lot of ways when it comes to fishing vertical for muskies.

Years back, a great friend and guide in my home area of Hayward, Wisconsin, Bill (Fuzzy) Shumway, created a sonar-style lure intended for muskies. I remember pondering the whole thing when he showed me the Fuzzy Duzzit while fishing together. I was one of the first to get a hold of one.

Just prior to this, I’d gotten to know a guy who very quietly (‘quiet’ is a rare trait these days, but I recall him telling me if I ever took his picture or mentioned his name publicly, there’d be no more friendship) caught more big fall muskies from area lakes than anyone. He was ahead of his time on bottom-hugging muskies and hard-to-soft bottom transitions.

Vertical is also perfect for small, precise spots of any kind. Smaller reefs, especially sharp edged ones, distinct holes and any deeper current breaks created by natural or wind-induced current are examples. Distinct holes can be a great fall target, especially on reservoirs, and are best fished vertically.

I recall some joy back then when I started to realize the potential in coupling his knowledge and Fuzzy’s new lure to fish an area body of water that was generally thought to be a tough fall lake. I found fish in different areas and on totally different structures from where most of the pressure was directed. It was a tough pattern to figure out on this water, since the forage didn’t expose itself on electronics well at all. And, it generally meant working the deep edges of very sharp, irregular breaklines. I quickly found the best way to fish these areas effectively was to fish them vertically.

But other than heavily-weighted live baits, I’d never had the tools for the job. To fish 15 feet deep or deeper, fish vertically, and still cover some water, requires specific stuff. Sure, jigs were around and used, but 3/4 or 1 ounce jigs don’t cut it here, unless you’re willing to accept moving at a snail’s pace. Apex predators are present in the lowest densities, and you have to cover some water to increase your odds of coming in contact with them. Waiting for them to come to you gets old (as you will, from boredom if nothing else).

The combination of a vertical presentations with good boat control is just flat effective, especially for fall muskies. Yet, since vertical isn’t nearly as glamorous as casting, it’s easy to simply forget how well it works, even when you should know better.

I was reminded, again, of the effectiveness of vertical jigging last fall while filming a muskie episode for The Next Bite television show. Huge northwest cold-front winds changed my plans quite drastically the first day of the shoot. I was limited to a sharp, western-shore rock break—only place I could hold the boat position well enough to effectively fish. None of our casting presentations were working, but I noticed the forage seemed to be tight to the bottom on the base of the break. I dug in the box for old Fuzzy. Three muskies were taken vertically while other presentations didn’t work all day. Later, a nice muskie on a Jake too, but remembering to think vertical turned what would have been one-fish day to a four-fish day. Big difference.

Certainly, how effective or appropriate the vertical jigging approach will be depends on the body of water and its make-up. It has to do with a combination of things, one of the most significant being the lake makeup mentioned above: sharp and irregular breaklines. If fish are holding tight, especially if at the base of the break, vertical presentations become the most efficient way to go. Sometimes, it can be the only way to go. If the fishery has bottom-hugging forage species as the predominant food source, you have the ultimate case for vertical approaches.Well, wait…Add in tough conditions, cold water and/or just fish with bad attitudes that just aren’t willing to exercise much for a meal. Nothing says “in your face” like vertical presentations. For fish not wanting to move for food, consider what an irregular, sharp breakline means for a normally very effective water-covering tool: trolling. Trolling becomes less and less efficient the more complex the cover gets, and the tighter fish are holding to it. If it’s really sharpbreaking, it can just be hard to place the right lures, at the right depth and coordinate that with boat control. Perfection is almost required—tough to pull off at 3+ miles per hour, in wind and waves. Suppose though you can do all of that perfectly. You can crash rock points effectively, and even cover very sharp edges, pretty well—as long as those steep breaks are fairly straight. Released Muskie

But, there’s simply nothing at all that you can do with sharp inside turns—often where the fish are under tough conditions. You really can’t hit them effectively trolling. Now, “can’t” is a big word. But where inside swings are fairly tight, and getting bit means triggering muskies at the base of the break—a muskie that’s backed in and parked perfectly at the base of the inside turn—it’s nearly impossible to get to that fish with a single trolling pass. Think about how things would work on a sharp edge: if your lure climbs up the edge prior to the inside turn area without fouling, once it blasts off on the other side, it’s likely 10 feet or more above the fish on a sharp-break. The majority of the time, that just won’t work—they aren’t going to move that far. Using multiple passes with lure depth adjustments and different angles, it becomes possible to get in the face of fish on inside turns, but the efficiency that is usually trolling’s advantage is completely lost.

The same efficiency problems exist when casting these areas. Especially in deeper water, sinking baits are a good tool, but letting them sink to get where they need to be is time consuming, and they often have to be fished slowly to keep them there. Deep divers can work too, but how much of their time is spent in the effective zone when targeting bottom-related fish? When there are sharp, twisting breaks, multiple casts in tight repetition are necessary to attempt to cover it. All things considered, the efficiency is lost here too.

Vertical is also perfect for small, precise spots of any kind. Smaller reefs, especially sharp edged ones, distinct holes and any deeper current breaks created by natural or wind-induced current are examples. Distinct holes can be a great fall target, especially on reservoirs, and are best fished vertically. Current breaks may be mid-channel hump, logs—whatever. Fish cribs are another fine example where fish may be tight, and here, trolling and casting become not only hard to do, but time-consuming and expensive. Though I have very little experience with it, standing timber is another place where a vertical presentation makes tons of sense.

When faced with situations like the one’s I’ve described, what I’ve found to ultimately be the most effective is precise boat control coupled with a combination of vertical and casting presentations. It pays to have help—two or three anglers are much more efficient that going solo. Basically, my usual method is to move the boat along the break, zig-zagging up and down the break as I move along it, making certain to cover the base of break, and occasionally creeping a little on to adjacent flats. Keep the idea of covering everything—the whole break, from lip to base—in mind all the time. At least one presentation should be vertical. Different casting presentations can be used to check the shallower zones, parallel edges, and for suspended fish.

By far the most important job here is boat control. Simple as that. The person in charge of the boat really has to be concentrating at all times, making certain that not only is there consideration for covering the different areas of a break for potential patterns, but also to control speed and movement to make certain no fish are passed by. It’s not easy when calm, and it’s even harder with gusty fall winds.

Anyone using a vertical presentation should be watching a graph at all times. It aids in keeping up with depth adjustments, and obviously you want to be watching for big marks. Truly, if there was ever an ultimate case for quality electronics for esox fishing, this is it. When precise boat control is made difficult by gusty winds, or if you feel two passes on a structure to be necessary to cover it thoroughly, plotter trails on a GPS unit are invaluable in making certain everything is covered. And, it’s simply a huge aide to have the large, color screen as on the unit I use, the Lowrance 111C, to really be able to best distinguish bottom-hugging fish. A split-screen with zoom on these units is frankly almost unfair when it comes to being able to see fish. (Of course you still have to make them bite…) It helps to distinguish forage, and bigger fish show up even better. While filming the episode of The Next Bite Television I mentioned earlier, I had just started filming a “tip” about vertical jigging when I glanced at my graph, saw a large mark, forgot all about the tip I was supposed to be doing, dropped Fuzzy down … one pump, drop …bang.

Jigging muskies is a quiet game with a lot of how it’s done left in the angler’s hands. Doesn’t take a lot of effort, but rewards concentration and attention to details of presentation like depth, speed, and applying basic mechanical skills to trigger fish.

These days the door is opening wider, as there are quite a few new options coming in lures specifically designed for vertical use. It really is, and it almost seems odd to say it these days, something quite new in tactics for esoxchasers. And it’s got me thinking all over again. In sharing the above story with Bill Shumway at a sport show over the wintermonths, he mentioned that he had been successful on the Fuzzy Duzzit as a “comeback” presentation on a big fish. He’d raised it, and returned again with other presentations, only raising the fish again. Since the fish was located on a break, he thought of his bait, tried the fish again, and caught it. How many times have you heard about coming back on a raised fish with a vertical jigging approach? Hmmmmm. Like Pearson says: thinking is just being thoughtful.


The Slo-Poke GrubMaster

Slo-Poke GrubMaster Jig

Slo-Poke GrubMaster Rigged on Grub available in the SS-75 kit


The Slo-Poke GrubMaster (The best Bass Jig that you’ve never heard of)


The invention of the Worlds best Smallmouth Bass Jig came about as have so many other products, because necessity is the mother of invention. In this case the need was for a jig that could swim naturally and horizontally in the water column while being compatible with a wide variety soft plastic lures. In the early 1990’s, I discovered that Smallmouth Bass in the Great Lakes would readily hit grub tails that swam horizontally. Yes, there were many lures that would attract these fish, but nothing was easier to use, more consistent throughout the seasons, and was more adaptable than a jig tipped with a soft plastic grub tail. Simply put, this presentation worked more effectively than anything else. The problem that existed was that standard weight-forward jigs, like ball jigs and power heads, didn’t fit the bill for “swimming” plastics horizontally. Someone needed to build a jig specifically suited to this application. That someone was Joe Puccio, co-owner of Bait Rigs Tackle and an expert jig designer. Joe saw the presentation that I was using and we immediately started designing a jig to suit the application.

Slo-Poke Grubmasters

Slo-Poke Grubmasters


Joe utilized the basic design of the original weight-centered Slo-Poke Jig™. The jig featured a forward eyelet with the lead distributed evenly along the entire length of the shank. With the eye in the front of the jig, rather than on the top, combined with a long thin body, now made it possible to insert the jig completely inside a plastic body. In addition to giving the bait a soft feel, the weight distribution was perfectly balanced, to keep the jig in a horizontal position. After several prototypes were produced and tested, the final version of the GrubMaster was introduced and it is the perfect jig for swimming plastics. The final design included a small keel at the rear of the shank that doubled as a keeper. This improved the jig’s ability to run in an upright position, keeping the hook out of snags and improving hook sets. Joe also added another innovative and important feature to the GrubMaster series, a color enhancing system. This system takes advantage of the jigs ability to be inserted completely inside a plastic body. By using some very brilliant colors on the GrubMaster, the jigs vibrant hues will shine through and combine with the translucent color of plastic bodies. This phenomena creates an all new approach to fine tuning colors to match the hatch or fine tune a bait fish pattern. The Bass angler now has the ability to combine and contrast jig color and plastics to create an infinite number of color patterns.


Let’s take a closer look at the advantages of the GrubMaster Jig as compared to conventional designs. As a professional guide I have observed that minnows and small fish are beyond a doubt the preferred choice of most game fish. Fishing catalogs will show pages of minnow imitating baits in all shapes, sizes, colors, and type. If you’ve ever closely watched a minnow swim through the water, it does so by wiggling its tail. Minnows are soft to the touch, and in most cases natural in color. Inserting a GrubMaster into a grub tail will do the very best job of imitating the action of a swimming minnow. The soft bodied GrubMaster has a natural bait fish feel and the tail wiggles behind the body with both flash and vibration. Contrasted this to a hard bodied crank bait, where the entire body wiggles instead of just the tail section. GrubMaster’s have a soft and natural feel when tipped with a plastic grub, tube, craw or lizard and exhibit a more natural subtle action. This is what triggers fish, especially under tough conditions! Another advantage of the GrubMaster is its versatility. Changing or fine tuning colors is as simple as matching both jig and grub to the preferred bait fish.
It is easier and cheaper than changing a crank bait, which may cost anywhere from $5.00 to as much as $20.00. The GrubMaster is also versatile in depth control. Adjustments in depth can be made in several ways. One method is to simply vary the weight of the jig. For shallow water, use light jigs in the 1/16 and 1/8 oz. range. For deeper water, use the 1/4 oz. version. When fishing river systems go with the heavier weights and long line the bait so it can tick the bottom and swim in the current. This method is deadly on Bass and Walleye. The other method of depth control is to vary the retrieve speed. The faster you reel, the higher it runs, a slower retrieve allows the bait to run deeper. A stop and go retrieve will allow the bait to run even deeper.

Crappie Grubmaster Jig

Crappie Grubmaster Jig


Let’s discuss the fundamentals for using the GrubMaster. Coined with the name, Insert Jig by In-Fisherman Magazine, the GrubMaster is very simple to rig. Simply insert the jig from the point of the hook, pushing the jig down the center of the plastic body and exiting at the rear. This places the entire jig body inside the plastic. No tying and untying for rigging or poking the eye through the body. There is one trick however. All plastics have a “seam” or center-line. Following the “seam” from entry to exit when putting the plastic on the jig. This will insure that the bait will run straight and true.

Presentation of the GrubMaster is simple. Most of the time I just throw it out and reel it in with a moderate retrieve speed. Increasing or decreasing reel speed will change the depth. GrubMaster’s work well on the bottom but must be “hopped” to achieve tail wiggle when using grubs. Because the GrubMaster is weight centered, plastics will fall horizontally, which attracts bites. Another choice is using tube bodies, which can be presented very slowly on the bottom. Using a lift and drag presentation works best. The GrubMaster’s forward eye allows it to slide up and over bottom structure, unlike conventional jigs, that tend to “shovel” into rocks and other snags. Less lost jigs and more fishing time makes sense!
Using a hybrid fishing line, such as Berkley Fireline, will improve “feel” of the lure and improve hook sets. Don’t forget the color enhancing feature of the GrubMaster. Use your imagination and experiment with colors.

The GrubMaster remains my favorite way to fish. It is also my “confidence bait” that I have the most faith in and the method I use most. My customers comment on how easy it is to use and how well it works. Many of my clients have taken this method to their home waters and have told me it works just as well there. I have caught Smallmouth, Largemouth, Walleye, Northern Pike, Brown Trout, and Salmon on GrubMasters. The GrubMaster is the ultimate presentation, no noisy blades, no diving bills, no finesse presentation. Just subtle fish catching action. My suggestion is to try the Grubmaster on your favorite fish, on your favorite lake or river. It will become your favorite lure too.Grubmasters Rigging with a Craw spider grub 4" tube and worm.

Gary Nault – Fishing Guide, Sturgeon Bay, WI

Muskie Jig Proclaimed World’s Best Pike Jig

Henk Rusman of Holland with a Monster

Henk Rusman of Holland with a Monster
Pike caught using a Esox Cobra Jig

One of Europe’s most respected Pike anglers, Henk Rusman of Holland, considers The Esox Cobra® Jig to be the Worlds best Pike jig. According to Henk, the Esox Cobra Jig excels in Dutch waters using a variety of plastic body baits. What follows is a translation taken from the Dutch magazine De Roofvis (The Predator Fish) of Henk’s field report using the Esox Cobra Jig. Field report by Henk Rusman An excellent presentation is to fish the Esox Cobra from the shallows into deeper water. That way it makes the nicest little jumps and won’t get stuck to the bottom so often.
To avoid getting stuck on the bottom, the choice of jig head is very important.

Round jig heads get stuck easier then flatted ones, but the best thing is to choose a so-called ‘ swimming’ jig head. And one of the best, if not the best for this type of fishing for me is the Esox Cobra. Because of the flatted bottom, this jig head seldom gets stuck. On top of that, this jig head stands almost upright on the bottom, which means that even mister Northern Pike can pick up your lure from the bottom. In contrary to many other jig heads, the Esox Cobra is made with an excellent and wide hook, on which even shad bodies and thick big grubs will find a place.

Esox Cobra Jig Available in 4 Sizes

Esox Cobra Jig Available in 4 Sizes

The Patented and Trademarked Esox Cobra is designed and manufactured in the USA by Bait Rigs Tackle Company. This jig head that is excellent for the Dutch waters. The Esox Cobra looks like a crossover between a Erie jig and a banana model. The name ‘Cobra’ gives a good idea of it’s shape. With the 1/2oz weight this is a nice model to hold big grub tails and shad bodies and the shape of it prevents the whole thing from bulleting down to the bottom. When you retrieve this combination with this jig head it will go somewhat “planing” through the water, so that it will go through the striking zone. The sturdy hook is upright to prevent sticking to the bottom.

Henk Rusman

Worms with a Twist

Worms with a twist. You may know them as corkscrew worms, snelled worms, molded worms, twisty worms or just plain, wacky worms. All of these nicknames refer to just one basic worm, the pre-rig worm. What makes these pre-rig worms unique is that they are designed and molded in such a way as to make them spin or corkscrew in the water when they are retrieved. They have their own unique fish catching action right out of the package, which you may or may not have seen before. The worms are generally used for Bass but can and will catch all species of fish, including Walleye, Northern Pike, White bass, Crappie and many others. Now let’s dive deeper into the world of a worm, that is so easy to fish, catches big fish, and will make a weekend angler seem like a “Pro”, that you will wonder why you haven’t tried using them before.


Bills Scented Worms

Pre Rigged Worms from Bill’s Scented Lures

Pre-rig worms are designed to spin or corkscrew in the water as mentioned before, but you might be asking yourself “what makes them spin by just retrieving them in the water”? Well the worms are molded in such a way as to have a kink or about an 80-degree bend in the upper portion in the worm closest to the pre tied loop. This bend or kink in the worm allows it to corkscrew in the water by just reeling it in slow. They come with 3 pre-tied hooks embedded in them. One hook is in the front, one in the middle, and one in the tail of the worm, which are all tied together. The line is usually 8, 10, or 12-pound test. Out of the nose of the worm, is the remaining line, which is usually 3-5 inches in length, which is then tied into a loop, to be used for a snap swivel so that it spins freely on the line. The hooks generally are between sizes 4 and 8 and come in weedless and non-weed less styles. These worms come in many, many different colors and a few sizes. 4 inch, 6 inch, 8 inch, and a big 11-inch size are the ones most commonly made. The most common ones that are used are the 6-inch and 8 inch sizes. Most of these worms also come with a scent molded right into the worm. Raspberry, black licorice, and Anise, are the main scents that are used. These scents give the worm an irresistible, fish catching ability that no fish can refuse. There are quite a few manufacturers of Pre-rigged worms, some of the most well known ones are Willy’s Worm from Innovative Sports Group (ISG), Bill’s Scented Lures, Ike-Con and Little Action Mac. Now that you know how the worm is made, let’s now take a look at how we rig it for different fishing situations.
Rigging the Worm

Rigging the pre-rigged worm is actually very simple. All you really need, is a high quality, ball bearing snap swivel and a few split shot sinkers for added weight, especially on days that are windy. I prefer a spinning rod with 6-8lb. Berkley Trilene XT green line, and a good quality ball bearing snap swivel, black in color to deter any fish seeing it, with a duo lock or snap lock and in sizes 1, 2, or 3. Use a high quality ball bearing swivel because the worm is made to twist and spin through the water and will kink up your line if one is not used. Some manufacturers that make high quality ball bearing swivels that I recommend are Sampo, Spro, Cabela’s and Berkley. All you need to do is open the snap swivel and place the loop end of line of the worm into it. Then close the swivel and you are now ready to fish!
Where to use Pre-Rig Worms
Docks Piers and Boathouses

One of the most well known places to use these worms is under docks, piers, and boathouses. Skipping these worms under this type of structure makes for an exciting way to fish. Here is an inside tip on how I personally fish it. What I generally like to do is have the swivel of the worm about 3 inches from the tip of my fishing rod, this enables me more control of the rig when I try to skip it under the pier or dock. I get as close as I can to the structure without spooking any fish, crouch down low and sidearm cast the worm under it. This may take several attempts to get it under the pier or dock, but once you do, hold on, because if there are fish underneath it, 9 times out of 10 they will smack it willingly and there will be no question about it. Now, let’s take a look how we can put these worms to good use on weed lines and weed beds.
Weed lines and Weed beds

It’s a no-brainer that fish use weed beds and weed lines as cover, to ambush their prey from. So what’s a better way to use the pre-rigged worm, than to use them on the structure that fish relate to most of the time? Weed beds provide cover, oxygen and most importantly, food for predator fish. A high percentage way to boat more fish with these pre-rig worms is to fish the deeper, inside, and shallower weed lines and edges. A good way to start fishing it is to cast out the rig and let it settle down to the bottom. Be sure to watch your line as it is settling, to make sure a fish hasn’t inhaled it on the way down towards the bottom. As the worm lies on the bottom, give the rod tip a quick “snap” and start reeling the rig back in. More times than not, you will have a strike at the initial first “snap” and start of the retrieve. I try to work the weed lines and edges first, then work my way into the weed bed itself. This enables me to precisely work the high percentage inside turns, points, and irregularities of the weed lines and edges first, without spooking any fish that may be in there. I will also fish parallel with the weed lines, so that the worm stays in the strike zone longer, thereby increasing my chances of hooking into a fish.
Wood Stumps and Snags

Fishing in wooded cover, can be a fisherman’s worst nightmare. There aren’t many lures that will enable a fisherman to get into those hard to reach snaggy places. Hooks on most lures, tend to snag deep into the wood, thus making it virtually impossible to get down into those areas where fish relate to for cover. The weed less variety (Shown at right) of Pre-Rigs are a godsend for those hard to reach places. On each of the 3 hooks on the pre-rig, there are small thin wire guards, that guard and protect the points and barbs of the hooks, so that it can be fished easily in those hard to reach places without snagging. Just fish it as you would a normal weedbed cast it out, retrieve, and hang on to your rod!
Advanced Pro Tips

Reading the above article will teach you how to fish with pre-rigged worms right out of the package. But if you want to add even more fish to your bag, use these advanced, tried and true tips that will make you an even better angler out on the water.
In the beginning of the article I mentioned that you should use a black ball bearing swivel, well that’s a good baseline to start out with, but on days that the sun is high and bright, you can actually catch more fish by using a chrome ball bearing swivel, which will enable more “flash” to the presentation and will attract more fish to it, thereby increasing the actual percentage of fish to your pre-rig worm.
When the sun is high and bright, the colors of clear metal flake, purple metal flake, blue metal flake, green metal flake, and red, white, and blue metal flake will increase your bag limits, because of the extra sparkle in the water as the worm is retrieved. It really throws off the shine when it is twisting through the water!
When fishing on weed beds and weed lines you will increase your catch by finding the small indentations or pockets, if you will, in the weed line. Fish tend to hold tight on these spots and are a gold mine, if you can locate them without spooking the fish that may be there, before getting a chance to fish it.
If the normal cast and retrieve system doesn’t seem to be working for some reason, whether it be a cold front, dirty water, or the fish are just “off”, instead, try quickly jerking the rod tip as you work it back in. Kind of like a jerkbait retrieve, but with smaller, tighter pulls of the rod tip. This makes the action of the worm very erratic and may turn on those harder to please fish.
These pre-rigged worms can also be used slow trolling for Walleyes. Just add a 1-2 ounce snap weight about 5-8 feet in front of the swivel and slow troll along points, rock bars and mud flats as you would a crankbait or spoon.
Now that you know what the Pre-rigged worm is, how to successfully fish it, and some key areas to look for when trying to find some fish, you can apply all of this knowledge out on the water and hopefully increase your catch of fish.

Best of luck and please practice C.P.R of the bigger female “spawner” fish.
Bill Lodi

Rippn-Lip Guide Service