Diamond jigs are the hot ticket for fast Mid-Atlantic action from now through year-end. Fishing along the Mid-Atlantic coast isn’t over so keep the boat in the water, break out the cold weather gear and enjoy some of the best inshore fishing of the year.
One of the most productive techniques available from fall into early winter is vertical jigging using the simplest of lures, the venerable diamond jig.
It’s just a long, shiny, four-sided piece of metal with a swinging tail hook, but this gem of a lure has been catching gamefish for a hundred years, and it is still one of the most productive you can fish with in saltwater.
Talk about staying power; the diamond jig has it.
You can make a diamond jig dance in a number of different ways to imitate a variety of baitfish and in the process attract the attention of pretty much any gamefish you come across. This time of year the primary baitfish on the inshore grounds is a slender silver and olive-colored fish called a sand eel. They are found in enormous schools from a few miles offshore to right in the wash, and are feasted upon by striped bass, weakfish, bluefish and bottom species like sea bass and codfish. Even whales can be found swimming through the schools devouring them by the ton.
Sand eels get their name because of their eel-like shape and because they will frequently dive into sandy sections of ocean bottom in a bid to escape the jaws of hungry predators trying to eat them. Diamond and a variety of similar metal jigs are among the best imitation of the look and swimming motion of sand eels. They come in a variety of weights, but for stripers and bluefish, which will rarely be found in water deeper than 70 feet at this time of year, the two- and four-ounce models are ideal. Most jigs are chrome with a plain or tube tail hook, but painted diamond jigs are also becoming popular. They can be fished using spinning or light conventional outfits. The most popular are saltwater size baitcasting reels on medium action trigger stick rods loaded with braided line for extra sensitivity. Top that off with a 3- or 4-foot length of fluorocarbon leader material and a clip to make it easy to change lures quickly, and you’re ready to go.
Vertical jigging is a simple and effective technique, but it relies on more than just rods, reels and lures. Unlike trolling, you have to find schools of bait and gamefish and position the boat on top of them before you start fishing. That means you have to be adept at using your fish finder to identify the right targets and position the boat above or close by. When schools of bait are thick and the gamefish are mixing it up, that’s pretty easy to accomplish. But when the bait is scattered and the gamefish are in smaller pods, it takes a bit more concentration and search time. Vertical jigging over empty ocean bottom is not very productive, so there’s no sense wasting time and energy when you don’t have fish showing on the sonar screen. It’s best to hunt until you find them.
Identifying where fish are holding in the water column is also important. If the bait and gamefish are holding right on the bottom, then you want to keep you jigs near the bottom. If they are holding mid water, you’ll want to work them up higher in the water column so your lures spend the maximum time in the strike zone.
Bringing a jig to life is pretty easy. Drop it with the reel in free spool, but watch the line as it sinks. If you see the line slow or jump, get in gear, tighten up and set the hook. If it reaches the desired depth or strikes bottom, then start a moderate retrieve that incorporates a lift and drop motion. If the fish are holding near the bottom, don’t reel at all. With the reel in gear, lift the jig until the rod tip is high, then drop it so the jig flutters back down. When the jig is dropping, try to follow its descent with the rod tip so the line doesn’t have too much slack. Gamefish frequently grab the lure while it’s sinking, and you want to be able to feel any subtle strikes. When you do, set the hook.
Remember that sand eels sometimes dive into the bottom to get away from predators. When they emerge they leave a little puff of sand behind. You can imitate this behavior by allowing the jig to strike the bottom before each lift. If you’re not getting bites while actively working the jig, try dropping it all the way to the bottom and reeling it back up at a slow to moderate pace. There are days when stripers will follow a jig almost to the surface and grab it just before you’re ready to lift it out of the water for the next drop or cast.
Speaking of casting, you can reach out with jigs by casting them well away from the boat and letting them sink to the bottom. Then start a lift-and-drop motion with a turn or two of the reel handle after each lift. This will walk the jig back to the boat with an up-and-down action that can be extremely effective and covers more area than just dropping the jig straight down.
Fishing jigs is a favorite technique for catching striped bass and bluefish, and the bonus is you can do it on very light tackle, which makes battling these able fighters all the more fun. Give it a try; it doesn’t take long to get the hang of it, and you will have a technique to add to your arsenal that you can rely on year after year – because diamond jigs are forever..