An Outdoor View: On the jig

This is about the jig and jigging — not the lively dance with the leaping moves, but the artificial bait that’s jerked up and falls down to attract and hook fish.

I first saw jigs as a young boy, watching my dad make and fish with them. The Old Man, a welder and body-fender man who could work magic with metal, made jigs from melted-down car batteries and brass wire. The only store-bought parts were treble hooks and split rings. Those crude jigs were about 4 inches long and ½-inch in diameter. Tapered at both ends, they weighed about 6 ounces. They required frequent scraping to keep them shiny, but they caught fish.

The Old Man liked to launch his boat at Rosario Beach, near Anacortes, Washington, and run his outboard-powered skiff out to Lawson’s Reef. He’d never drop an anchor, but would simply tie up to the bull kelp that grew on the reef. In an hour or two of jigging with his single-action Pflueger reel on a rod he’d made from Calcutta cane, he’d catch enough lingcod and rockfish to fill a gunnysack or two.

Flash forward half a century, and I’m jigging for lingcod over a reef in Prince William Sound with my friend Doug Green. My gear isn’t as crude as the Old Man’s, and I’m fishing from a 34-foot yacht, and I have to travel farther to find good fishing than he did in the 1940s, but I’m basically doing the same thing.

With chart and depth sounder, Doug and I find a rocky pinnacle where we suspect big lingcod will be hanging out, waiting to ambush a careless passerby. When we arrive above the spot, there’s no wind, and the tide is slack, the only conditions that allow us to fish on that pinnacle. I flip my reel into freespool, and my jig, a 5½-ounce Crippled Herring, flutters toward the bottom, 110 feet down. But it never gets there.

“Fresh fish!” I yell, something the Old Man used to yell when he hooked a fish.

“I didn’t even get my line in the water,” Doug complains.

“Stop whining and get the net,” I say.

We put that one in the fish box, run the boat back to the spot, and Doug catches one. Two 40-pound-plus lingcod in the boat in 15 minutes. Without fast-sinking jigs, we wouldn’t have been able to fish on that spot.

Using that same Crippled Herring jig, I’ve caught lots of halibut, which are suckers for most any jig. If the bite is slow, I’ll sometimes add a sliver of fish skin or belly to the hook. With bait, you don’t even have to jig.

Some of my fondest memories are about fishing with jigs. With Swedish Pimple and other small jigs, I’ve caught rainbow trout through the ice. Two of the largest halibut I’ve ever caught fell for jigs that I made from buckshot and copper pipe.

While fly fishing on the flats at Christmas Island, I’ve caught bonefish with Crazy Charlie jigs. I’ll never forget the day when the silver salmon in a stream near Cordova couldn’t let a black Clouser Minnow jig go by without grabbing it.

No doubt about it. If I had to get by with just one kind of lure, it would be a jig.

Les Palmer can be reached at

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