It is a wise and likely successful angler who is equally familiar with the latest technology and the old school, tried and true methods. Fall temperatures have given way to the cold of winter, so it is time to break out the cold water techniques. One of the best of the old school methods for cold water bass is the hair jig. Anyone who has opened an old tackle box has seen them, but a lot fewer have actually tied one on. The first time I used one was fishing fluke off the beaches of New Jersey. Smaller versions were considered crappie candy when I moved to Minnesota. But it wasn’t until more recently that I learned how effective they could be for cold water bass.
The first thing I learned about cold water hair jigging was that “cold water” was relative.
In the Midwest, Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, cold water is considered water ranging from thirty to fifty degrees. From Florida across to Texas, “cold water can be fifty to sixty degrees. So it is not so much the absolute temperature that dictates the use of cold water tecnhiques, it is the effect temperature changes have on the fish. When a change in water temperature brings on tough bite conditions, fishing hair jigs can mean the difference between a few nice fish day and a no fish day.
But you don’t have to only take out the hair jigs during winter’s chill. They can be just the ticket on heavily pressured waters of summer when traditional worm rigs, big rubber skirted jigs and spinnerbaits fail to draw strikes. Under pressured conditions, just as in the cold, hair jigs work for the same reason- their natural, neutral action. The subtle motion of the hair mimics the slower movements of bait under these circumstances. In the colder water, just as when waters are pressured, crawfish, minnows, leaches and other bottom forage don’t exhibit a lot of action. They move slowly and naturally, a type of action best mimicked with finesse presentations such as the hair jig.
One other condition requiring a similar approach is fishing very clear water- defined as
visibility of two feet or greater. The presence of zebra mussels has made waters like Oneida, St. Clair and Erie clear to twenty feet. An examination of what a bass is eating under cold, pressured and super clear conditions will often reveal small bug larvae, crawfish and other bottom dwellers. Under these circumstances the bass’s metabolism is slower, the fish are sitting on bottom structure feeding on the easier, slower moving meals. The finesse movements of the hair jig provide a match to this “hatch”. Black, brown and olive hair jigs match the color of the bottom dwelling fare. Generally the color rule of thumb for hair jig colors dictates that black best represents larvae, crawfish, and leeches. Browns match larvae and crawfish.
It will come as no surprise that when it comes to size, the lighter the better in a range from 1/16th ounce to 3/8th ounce. I think 1/8th , 3/16th and 1/4th ounce are probably the most commonly used. Just as you do when fishing drop shot or a tube, try to pick a weight that’s heavy enough to maintain bottom contact without snagging. Go heavier on windy days or in deeper water.
iBass360 ProStaff Matt Parylak and James Buonanno Jr. are young anglers in close touch with the latest in lure technology. But this time of year you can also find them at the tying bench with materials like marabou, deer hair, some synthetics and perhaps even some bear hair working on new jigs for their next outing. Tie a variety and see what works best in your favorite body of water.
Now that we’ve established what to put on the business end of the line, let’s consider how to fish the hair jig. We are talking about finesse and light weight jigs so the ideal rod and real combo is a spinning outfit- no more than a seven-foot rod with medium action and a fast tip. A light reel- 100 to 200 sized- spooled with fluorocarbon. Fluorocarbon line is perfect for hair jigs because it sinks, giving the hair jig a more natural presentation, and of course, the “invisible” characteristics of fluoro add to the natural appearance of the jig.
Hair jigs have a definite place in the bass fisherman’s bag of tricks. They should not be
relegated to use only once every five years. They shouldn’t be buried deep in your tackle box. Keep them at the ready for those clear or cold water finesse situations. They shine when you need them to… on those tough condition days. Tie some up and get out there and #LiveThePassion.