February 27, 2023
A surprising number of the world’s problems can be solved with the right jig. No, it’s not a medical cure-all, and it won’t bring peace where there is strife, but if you’re trying to unlock the mysteries of February bass, the venerable jig is the key. You just have to pick the right one.
Depending on where you live in the West, your bass fishing could be anywhere along the seasonal spectrum, from late winter (in the northern parts of the region) to post-spawn (farther south). With such a wide range of possibilities, it helps to narrow things down by answering a simple question: What’s the water temperature on your favorite bass water?
The warmer it is, the more likely you’ll find fish shallow and active. But whether the water temperature is in the 40s or the 70s, a jig is very likely the best tool for the job—not just for numbers of bass, but also for lunkers.
Since February can run the gamut from winter to post-spawn—and we have to start somewhere—let’s begin with late winter and then cover warmer options.
Many anglers tend to underestimate where the bass are in their annual cycle, especially at this time of year. Though it might be cold, and the fish can seem lethargic, the power of the spawn and the annual mating urge is considerable and should never be ignored. Even in areas where the bass are two or even three months away from laying eggs, at least part of the bass population is already being influenced by the need to spawn, by the moon phases, by the lengthening days and by whatever else tells a fish that it’s time to procreate.
That means that even though most of the bass are deep, they’ll typically be in water quite near their eventual spawning grounds. Of course, "deep" is a relative term, and what’s deep in one lake or reservoir might be considered shallow in another. On some waters, 15 feet is deep, on others, it might be 50 feet or more. Water clarity is another factor that impacts what is considered deep. Generally, the clearer the water, the deeper the bass will go in winter.
And when you know the bass are deep, a football jig with a soft-plastic chunk-style trailer is tough to beat. The football jig is a great design for crawling through rocks and other cover, while the chunk trailer is subtle—just right for bass when their metabolisms are slow. At this time of year, if the fish are deep, you don’t want your bait to have a lot of action.
That would be unnatural. Instead, you want to crawl and drag it around main-lake and secondary points near spawning grounds. Slower is usually better under these conditions. Bites can be subtle, and because the water is often clear and the fish are getting a good look at the lure, try to "match the hatch" as best you can.
Your jig can emulate anything from a crawfish to a baitfish, depending upon the color you select and the retrieve you give it. Green pumpkin and other natural colors are usually best. Stay away from the gaudy stuff unless you know the area forage is garish. Retrieve your jig across long points, starting deep—where the point intersects a channel or drop—and gradually work your way shallower. When you get a bite, make note of the depth and stick with it. There’s likely more than one fish there.
There are plenty of great football jigs on the market. Berkley, Jewel, Missile, Strike King and Z-Man all make fine models. Choose your weights based on the depths you’ll be fishing (usually 3/8 to 1 ounce), but err on the heavy side to ensure you maintain good bottom contact.
For decades, many of us thought of jigs as slow-moving lures to be dragged across the bottom, emulating a crawfish. Well, that works, but jigs can do a lot more. Over the past 30 years or so, swimming a jig has become a thing as we realize the extraordinary versatility of what must be one of the oldest lure types ever devised.
You can swim any jig in your tackle box, but you’ll likely have more success if you use one that’s made for the job. A good swim jig is balanced so that it swims straight through the water; has a good weed guard to fend off snags; carries a quality hook—heavy gauge for heavy cover and lighter wire for open water; and has a good trailer keeper since the trailer must provide a lot of the action.
Swimming a jig has at least three great benefits. First, it allows you to cover a lot of water relatively quickly since it’s a cast-and-crank technique. Shaking the rod tip as you reel will add some action that often draws strikes, but that’s usually best in water temperatures of 60 degrees and warmer.
Second, a swim jig can cover all levels of the water column—from inches below the surface to 20 or 30 feet down—though it’s most effective in water less than 10 feet deep. Just adjust your jig weight and retrieve speed until you zero-in on what the bass want at that time.
Finally, the swim jig can emulate virtually anything on a bass’ diet, from crawfish to shad to bluegills to anything else that swims. All you must do is adjust the color and retrieve.
With the swim jig, your soft-plastic trailer is almost as important as the jig itself. And in February, when water temperatures tend to be on the low side, you’ll generally need to opt for a trailer without a lot of action. Forget the craw-style trailers with big appendages that flop around. Instead, try a paddle-tail swimbait or chunk trailer that’s more subtle and in tune with the metabolism of the bass.
Davis Bait Company, Dirty Jigs and Berkley all make fine swim jigs. Keep an arsenal of three or four colors (white, green pumpkin and black-and-blue, for instance) in sizes from 1/4 to 1/2 ounce to cover the bases.
GO IN AFTER ’EM
When your buddies are telling you that the bite is slow and all the fish are deep, nod in agreement and get your flipping and pitching gear ready. The conventional "wisdom" they’re spreading is probably wrong.
Fact is, there are always some bass in shallow water. It’s the nature of the beast. And if you can find them, they’re usually ready to bite. The key to putting them in the boat is the proper presentation, and that usually means flipping and pitching.
For this style of fishing you want—you guessed it—a flipping jig. This usually means a bait with an Arkie-style head and heavy-duty hook that will stand up to jackhammer hooksets with heavy lines and stiff rods.
Target heavy shallow cover (less than 10 feet deep) and put your jig and soft plastic chunk right in the heart of it. Don’t dilly-dally around the edges hoping to draw fish out; you’re more likely to spook a bass holding in the densest part of the cover than you are to accomplish anything else. Most of your strikes will come on the initial fall, but hop the jig a time or two before lifting it out and presenting it to the next target.
Strike King, Medlock and Berkley are all known for their excellent flipping and pitching jigs. Models weighing between 3/8 and 1 ounce will tackle most any job.
THE RIGHT STUFF
Rod and reel choices for fishing with jigs
Every type of fishing is made easier and more productive with the right gear. And while the ideal jig gear can vary from waterbody to waterbody and cover type to cover type, some general parameters will help.
A good swim-jig outfit will include a 7-foot to 7-foot-6-inch, medium-heavy-action graphite casting rod with a fast tip; a smooth baitcasting reel with a gear ratio of 7:1 or faster; and either 30- to 65-pound braided line (in heavy vegetative cover) or 15- to 20-pound fluorocarbon line (for clear water or around wood or rock). Such a combo is capable of long casts and solid hooksets.
A similar combo is usually best for football jigs or swing-head jigs, but you should probably forget about the braided line; fluorocarbon is a better choice. For flipping and pitching, beef up to a 7-foot-6-inch to 8-foot medium-heavy or heavy casting rod and a casting reel spooled with 20-pound fluorocarbon or, in heavy vegetation, 50- to 65-pound braid.