Swim jigs: north vs. south

John Neporadny Jr.

Swimming a jig has become an effective way to catch bass throughout the country, but the technique and gear for this tactic can differ on different sides of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Bigger bass, murky water and heavy cover in Southern waters require power- fishing tactics with a bulky jig and thick line. Southern anglers need a jig with a heavy wire hook to winch bass out of bushes and thick vegetation such as hydrilla or lily pads.

“If you go to Guntersville, you might hook a 10-pounder in that thick cover,” Michigan pro Kevin VanDam said.

Some Northern waters with thick vegetation also call for power fishing with a swim jig, but most lakes in the North have clear water with scattered weed growth that allows northern anglers to swim a finesse-style jig on lighter line.

“It’s kind of like fishing a spinnerbait without all the flash and vibration,” VanDam said.

Both VanDam and Alabama angler Jimmy Mason rely on different types of swim jigs for fishing in the North and South. VanDam points out that Southern anglers have been swimming conventional jigs on their home waters for a long time, but Northern anglers have adopted a jig with a balanced head design that won’t roll when they swim it.

“Initially, there weren’t many jigs you could swim that would keep balanced,” VanDam said.

VanDam has designed two versions of a swim jig: one heavy-cover version with a thick gauge hook for power fishing the Southern waters, and a smaller profile model with a thinner skirt and light wire hook for finesse fishing in the North and in the clear lakes of Florida.
The two-time Bassmaster Classic champion throws his Southern-style swim jigs on a 6-foot, 10-inch casting rod and uses the same length spinning rod with 8- to 10-pound test line for swimming a finesse jig. When fishing heavier cover in dirty water, VanDam combines his swim jig with a Rage Tail Craw, but in the clear waters of the North, he swims his finesse-style jig with a single-tail plastic grub. 

“I want a subtle smaller trailer then or even just a standard Denny Brauer Junior Chunk that has less action and a smaller profile,” VanDam explained.

The main forage for Northern bass is a bluegill, so VanDam opts for swim jigs and trailers in watermelon and green pumpkin hues that match the bass’ favorite food. In Southern waters filled with shad, VanDam uses white and other spinnerbait colors to match the forage. He prefers a black-and-blue combo for swimming his jigs in dirty water.

The Michigan angler uses 1/4 to 1/2 ounce swim jigs, but throws mostly 1/4-ounce models in clearer water.

“You want something that you can swim along, but the depth and the type of cover determine that. A lot of times I want to swim the jig a little faster, and I use a heavier head so I can keep it down and move it around.”

Experimenting with swim jig retrieves sometimes produces the best results.

“A lot of times during the retrieve I will let the jig fall for a minute and then speed it up a little bit.”

One of VanDam’s favorite retrieves is a constant four- to six-inch snapping of his rod on a slack line, a presentation similar to working a Zara Spook. He suggests using a steady retrieve for swimming jigs in the spring and fall, but switches to a more erratic presentation with short twitches during the summer.

Two lures produce best for Mason whenever he swims a jig in Dixieland. He selects a Swim’n Jig with a diamond-shaped head that allows him to swim the jig through lily pads and over thick emergent grass. Another favorite for swimming is a 1/2-ounce jig for working in water willows and other types of open vegetation.

“I fish it in a pumping motion and use a 3 1/2-inch Craw Papi (which he uses as a trailer for both jigs),” Mason said. “I try to get a motion where my trailer doesn’t break the surface, but it bulges it as I am swimming the jig.”
This swimming jig tactic works best for Mason when the lakes in his area are at or near full pool and the banks are full of shoreline vegetation. The Alabama angler tosses his jig as far back as possible into the grass and swims it through holes in the vegetation. He said the tactic is especially effective in the weed openings next to the banks. “It is really deadly for that.”

A 5/16-ounce Baby BOO Bug with a thinned-out skirt is Mason’s choice for swimming a jig northern style.

“That style is closer to swimming a grub than anything.”

He matches his finesse jig with a four-inch Muy grub or a Muy Grande grub and always attaches his trailer with the tail curled downward for better action. His favorite spots for swimming a jig in the north are in the vegetation along wing dams on the Mississippi River and in sloughs loaded with coontail moss, milfoil and other emergent grasses.

For swimming a jig southern style, Mason uses a seven-foot heavy-action rod and 65-pound braided line. A six-foot, eight-inch Kistler rod with a limber tip n with 12- to 14-pound fluorocarbon line are Mason’s gear for swimming jigs in the North.

So whenever you fish north of the Mason-Dixon line go light with a swim jig, but bulk up your swim jig when you try Dixie waters.

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