Tips and Tricks for Fishing a Skirted Jig for Bay Bass

Like their freshwater counterparts, spotted bay bass are generalists, feeding on everything from baitfish and gobies to crabs, clams, worms, and snails. Whilst the classic paddle tail swimbait and other baitfish imitations are considered staples for spotted bay bass, many overlook baits that imitate crustaceans and mollusks. Skirted jigs for spotted bay bass are one type of crustacean imitating baits. Studies have shown that these prey types (think crabs, razor clams, etc) account for a large portion of the bay bass diet, often being the dominant food type.

skirted jig for spotted bay bass

As water temperatures cool and bay bass metabolism slows, a “low and slow” presentation in and around structure can prove to be highly successful. The skirted jig is one such bait that spotted bay bass anglers can carry over from the freshwater bass scene, with many of the same mechanics and nuances staying true. Jig size, color, weight, and trailer can and should be varied, allowing for the skirted jig to imitate many different forages and excel in a variety of conditions. 

The Mechanics

The jig is really at its best in tight quarters and structure such as eelgrass, chunk rock, and dock pilings. Whilst maintaining bottom contact should be a priority, fishing too heavy of a jig will result in constant snagging and frustration. I generally try to fish as light of a jig as I can get away with while still being confident that I’m keeping the bait low in the water column. As a rough starting guide, I’m usually grabbing a 3/8 ounce jig in water under 15 feet and a 1/2 ounce jig for waters between 15-25 feet. 

spotted bay bass caught at night with a jig in its mouth

Jigs with either a weed guard or an EWG (extra wide-gap) style hook that allows you to rig your bait weedless, are also critical in reducing snags. Keeping your rod tip horizontal or pointed slightly upward while fishing the jig also helps to keep the head of the jig up, making coming through cover quite a bit easier.

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Don’t be afraid to use rod lifts/sweeps to impose action. Hopping or “stroking” a jig, a term coined by freshwater bass fishermen, can be highly effective in drawing strikes and bringing the bait over grass and rock. A combination of dragging and hopping on the bottom is a good starting point. There are times when fish will seemingly only eat the jig as it is falling, and times when they will only eat it on a slow and steady drag. Feel free to experiment with cadences.

The jig also lends itself as a highly effective bait for night fishing. Crustaceans such as squat lobsters and shrimp are almost always nocturnal, and apart from the ability to imitate these forages, the jig can be worked and crawled very slowly over the bottom compared to many other baits, with continuous action from the skirt. Deadsticking a jig for multiple seconds followed by a sudden pop or movement can be a great way to trigger a reactionary bite, as the jig skirt will suddenly pulsate and flare. Fishing the jig aggressively through rocks and hard bottom, where the jig is constantly bumping off of cover, can achieve the same result. Bites are hard and violent, so be prepared to swing and pull hard, especially when considering proximity to the structure that fish will naturally seek. 

The Baits 

The vast array of jigs available for freshwater bass fishing gives bay bass anglers a huge array of options, with most tackle stores carrying jigs in all shapes and styles. Football jigs are a great starting point when fishing around rock and hard bottom, as the broad head shape will deflect cover, but not snag as readily as jigs with a pointed head shape. These are my go-to for imitating crustaceans, and I’m generally choosing jigs in “crabby” colors, such as browns, oranges, and reds. Many argue the importance (or lack thereof) of colors when fishing at night, but any darker color, plus blacks, purples, and dark greens are all great choices.

Football jigs are available not only with a variety of weights and colors but with a variety of different hook sizes. Tungsten and “finesse football” jigs will often come with a smaller and thinner gauge hook than a “full size” football jig. Both have their place, but be mindful of the size and thickness of the hook, as the size of your jig trailer and the gear/line you fish should be adjusted accordingly. 

Keitech football skirted jig for spotted bay bass

Jigs such as the Keitech tungsten football jig (shown top above) are unique in that they keep a small hook and profile whilst maintaining heavier weights. This can be crucial if wanting to fish a small profile jig in deeper water or a fast-moving current.

Bass patrol, a staple jig for many southern-California largemouth bass anglers, offers a similarly small profile with a thinner gauge hook, though in a much more affordable and readily available package. Many swear by the “living rubber” skirts that bass patrol use, which provide ample action when the bait is stationary. A 3-3.5” craw-style trailer or slug pairs nicely with these baits.

A more traditional football jig (generally with a 4/0 or 5/0 hook) will provide a larger profile that will pair well with a craw trailer in the 3.5-5” range. Dirty jigs and Dobyns among many others offer quality full-size football jigs, often with a much thicker gauge hook. A heavy power jig rod or light-duty flipping/swimbait stick can help provide the length and power to pull fish away from cover, especially at the end of a long cast.

Barred sand bass caught on a jig at night

Local companies such as Warbaits and Reebs Lures also make quality “swimjig” style jigs with heavy hardware and realistic designs that can match up great with a variety of trailers. In addition to standard jig colors, baitfish colors and 3-D eyes available with these baits make these a great option to imitate finbait. These jigs are generally coming with larger and heavier hooks. 4-5” swimbait trailers are fairly standard here when matched with ½ or  ¾ ounce jig heads.

Dedicated saltwater bass swimbaits from local companies such as Pearl, Sudden Impact, and MC, are great options, with added durability and colors designed for our fisheries. Popular freshwater bass paddletail swimbaits from companies like Keitech and Strike King are also effective, though not as durable.

Smaller 1/4 or 3/8 ounce swimjigs can be paired with 3-4 inch swimbaits when mimicking smaller finbait. A small white jig (such as the squid color made by Warbaits), matched with a 3” pale slug or ned rig trailer, can also be an incredibly realistic imitation of a feeding razor clam. 

Rod and Reel Combos for Jig Fishing

When it comes to rod and reel combos for jig fishing, look for a traditional medium-heavy to heavy powered rod with a fast to extra-fast action. You’ll need this power behind the rod when penetrating a big jig hook into hardened saltwater bass. And when it comes to pulling fish out of heavy cover, a stout rod will help greatly!

For a reel, look for something around the 200 size such as the Tranx 200 from Shimano or the Fathom 200 from Penn. Any smaller than this and it can be challenging to get a proper hold of when fishing tight drags and you really don’t need the line capacity or bulk of larger 300 sized reels.

For line, I rarely fish under 20lb fluorocarbon with jigs and will fish 30lb readily if fishing at night or around particularly rough structure. For smaller swim jigs or finesse jigs, I’m generally fishing 15lb fluorocarbon leader on 30-40lb braid when fishing these smaller-sized jigs. 

Fishing skirted jigs for spotted bay bass can be a highly effective way to target them in heavy structure. Typically, the largest and smartest spotties will live around heavy structure and be very weary of lures. However, a well placed skirted jig with the right rod and reel behind it can be the key to landing your new personal best!

Ira was born and raised in Portland, Oregon where he first found his love of fishing with trout, salmon, and steelhead. Over the years he grew to target any species he could find in the Pacific Northwest including albacore, musky, and sturgeon. After graduating high school, Ira moved to San Diego to...