by Jim Niemiec
Trout anglers throughout the West are shaking their heads when they see photos of double-digit trout caught by anglers fishing with mini-jigs rigged on a lead head jig weighing as little as 1/80 of an ounce. Yes, that’s tiny. Teeny-tiny.
Fishing with mini-jigs is not new to the world of trout fishing, but in the past decade new techniques have greatly improved the number of trophy trout caught on these jigs, and manufactures have been creative in developing hot new colors that trout have not been able to resist.
Marlon Meade has been fishing for trout with mini-jigs since 1984. He is a master at catching huge trout while fishing the creeks, rivers and lakes of the High Sierra as well as local lakes that stock trophy-sized trout.
“When I started bagging German browns, I was totally convinced on the effectiveness of mini-jigs,” Meade recalls. “I figured if I could catch elusive, wary browns, I could clean up on trophy rainbows.”
Early in his mini-jig exploration process, Meade set a record at Anaheim Lake in southern California by catching 50 five-fish limits out of 51 trips to the heavily stocked fishery.
Meade traveled from one fishing spot to another catching quick limits that were often topped with double-digit rainbows. In May 2000, Meade teamed up with Wyle Ishii to post two five-fish limits of trophy trout at a single lake that tipped certified scales at 91 3/4 pounds. The largest weighed 15 pounds. All of the fish were caught on mini-jigs.
Meade concedes that when all other trout fishing techniques fail, he turns to mini-jigs. They have helped him out-fish almost all other anglers. “I love the jig’s action in the water,” he says. “When retrieved on a long, whippy rod, the jig darts and flutters kind of like an injured minnow, and trout just get crazy over it.”
Mini-jigs are effective in spring creeks, beaver ponds, big-river pocketwater and mountain lakes.
Tackle shops carry a wide variety of mini-jigs, and anglers can choose between more than 200 color patterns.
“When fishing clear water conditions in the (mountains), my number one color is pearl white,” Meade said. “It’s dynamite when fishing during the morning and night bite, especially during the fall spawning season (for brown trout). This color closely resembles the melt of spawning males, which seems to get fish into a feeding mood. My drop-back color is perch. They are the favorite forage bait for shore-feeding ‘bows and browns.”
On bright days Meade switches to a rainbow sparkle mini-jig, and when all else fails, he works deep water with a jig the shade of motor oil.
Anglers spend more time fishing locally stocked lakes than they do on trips to the high country, and mini-jigs are perfectly designed for those hatchery fish. For such urban fisheries, Meade goes with a mini-jig in the by-yellow pattern, which is yellow with flaked pearl highlights.
Urban lakes can take on an off-color appearance during the spring run-off, and mountain lakes can often be stained during the early season, conditions that call for subtle color changes. Meade will switch over to straight yellow in his mini-jig – for the ultimate in brightness under water – and will often fish the new shad pattern in any lake that has a population of small threadfin shad. That’s the pattern he used to catch the lake-record stringer mentioned earlier.
Most all anglers fishing mini-jigs highly recommend a 7-foot e-glass rod for maximum tip action. You want a rod that’s manufactured of light graphite and imparts good action to any size mini-jig. There are several on the market from low to high end.
Ultralight spinning reels should match the length and action of the rod and be comfortable enough on the rod seat to allow an angler to finger his retrieve when imparting extra action to the slowly moving mini-jig. It’s important that your reel casts well and has an extremely smooth drag system to accommodate fishing light monofilament line for trophy trout. The weight of the reel is also a consideration; Meade prefers those ranging from 5.1 to 7.5 ounces.
For those looking to get started on a mini-jig fishing system, the Spinmatic-X ultra light reel is a good buy, and Shimano and Shakespeare reels are also good choices for quality tackle at reasonable prices.
Line selection is extremely important when fishing mini-jigs. The best lines are those with small diameter, reasonable line stretch, strong knot strength, not too limp and have a high abrasion factor. Meade suggests that the best line to fish is Maxima 2-pound-test in the ultra green color, while his partner Ishii prefers to spool up with P-line. Both lines are high quality and possess all the necessary ingredients for landing a big trophy trout. Other lines that adapt well to mini-jig fishing techniques are Berkley’s Vanish and Stren’s Magnathin line.
Some anglers are experimenting with fluorocarbon line, but it’s difficult to keep tightly spooled on a small spinning reel, even though it casts farther and is not as visible to trout as traditional mono lines.
For most local lake fishing and when tubing on mountain lakes, mini-jigs can be fished effectively with only 2-pound-test line. In rivers or lakes that hold a population of double-digit trophy rainbow, brown or brook trout, the choice of line weight would be nothing less than 3-pound-test and preferably high-quality 4-pound mono. When fishing bigger Western rivers, mini-jigs can be fished with 4-pound-test line as it holds up better when fished around rocks and through snags and has the strength to control the run of a hard fighting rainbow trout.
Creeks, irrigation ditches and small streams are also ideally suited for catching trout on mini-jigs. Whether pocket fishing, dropping a mini-jig in behind boulders or allowing the jig to run down a current line, the key to getting hookups is to watch the tip of the rod or any movement of the line. Casts should be made quartering upstream and then a straight line held from the tip of the rod to where the line goes into the moving water. By holding the rod at about 110 degrees and moving it with the line you will be able to feel the take of a trout. Some trout will be aggressive when hitting the jig while with other fish you might just feel slight pressure as the trout moves off with the mini-jig in its mouth. A short, quick set is all that it takes on most hits for a solid hookset, but be ready to start running up or downstream as the big trout makes its first strong run.
Smaller creeks and rivers are ideally suited for mini-jigs, which account for good numbers of all species of trout found in these waters.
To be effective when fishing for trophy trout, one has to fish the mini-jig properly. Water conditions can vary, as do the feeding patterns of trout, when one season moves into the next.
Some general tips when fishing a lake are: look for dark color patches on the surface that will indicate pockets of deeper water that could be holding schooled-up trout. Concentrate on shallower coves early in the morning and under cloudy skies.
One trick that has often paid off for Meade is to watch for slurping trout as they feed along the surface of a lake. Meade suggests making a long cast just in front of the dimple and slowly bring the mini-jig across the ripples, as this will often entice a feeding trout to bite.
Hatchery-raised rainbows, some of which can weigh in the 20- to 26- pound class, are raised in shallow runs and then released into a lake to seek out similar surroundings before adapting to their environment. Concentrate along sandy shores for trophy trout just after a lake has dropped off a load of big trout.
Bill Andrews, head of the popular Santa Ana River Lakes in southern California, knows the best way to catch big rainbow trout. “Anchor about 75 yards from a sandy shore and cast toward the shore line,” he says. “Work the mini-jig back to the boat, allowing it to rise and fall on the retrieve; 85 percent of the big trout caught at our chain of lakes come from this technique that has been an effective pattern since our tremendous stocking program started.” Bill’s choice of mini-jig is black with a pearl or silver flake fished on a 1/32-ounce jig head.
Mini-jigs can be fished with or without a bobber. Under calm conditions, simply cast out the smallest weight jig head possible and allow it to slowly sink to the bottom. Aggressive trout may hit the mini-jig as it sinks, so be prepared to set the hook when the line jumps or begins moving off to the side.
Once the jig hits bottom, start a slow retrieve back to the boat or shore, pausing often to allow the mini-jig to sink a couple of feet. Traditionally the bite will come on the fall of the jig, but there are those times when an aggressively feeding trout will chase a mini-jig right out of the water.
“It’s easier to see this bobber and detect the subtle take of a feeding trout,” Meade said. “Clear bobbers become invisible to the eye under many conditions. When the wind comes up I will take a bobber that I have filled with a few split shot and then resealed with glue. The added weight allows me to make longer casts and the rattle of the shot in the plastic bobber seems to attract trout to the mini-jig.”
Mini-jig fishing with a bobber allows for an option in rigging. A small snap swivel can be attached to the line and then on to a bobber while leader material of various lengths can be made up of fluorocarbon which has really improved the fish-catching ability for many anglers who regularly trout fish with mini-jigs.
With a ripple on the water, look for feeding trout closer to the surface, but on calm days more strikes will come on mini-jigs fished in deeper water often with the added weight of a split shot or two about two feet above the mini-jig. Here again look for a slow retrieve to out-produce a fast one as a trout moves in to selectively look over the jig.
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, in addition to catching trophy-class rainbow tr
out, mini-jigs are equally effective on native and stocked browns and colorful brook trout. Big fall-run spawning browns and brookies are very aggressive fall feeders and won’t hesitate to jump all over a mini-jig fished in a pocket or the dark waters of a submerged tree stump. The presentation should be a little slower when fishing beaver ponds, slow moving under cut banks and quiet holding pockets of Western creeks. In faster water, don’t hesitate to move up to a heavier lead head jig to get down into deep holes and through faster runs.
Discover even more in our monthly magazine,
and have it delivered to your door!