Throwback Technique: Lost Art of Jiggerpole Bass Fishing

Some anglers are returning to an old, highly productive bass fishing technique called jiggerpoling

Fishermen tend to be fickle. They’re always searching for a new strategy, a magic lure and a better way to catch bass. That’s why, I think, many bass anglers are returning to a technique from the past called jiggerpoling.

I first learned jiggerpoling in the mid-1960s. It was a common bassing method then on the Mississippi River oxbow lakes I fished with my Uncle Guy. While trolling for crappie, we’d watch other anglers working shallow shoreline cover with their jiggerpoles. It wasn’t unusual to see a dozen bassers using this technique along a half-mile stretch of shore. And if the crappie weren’t biting, more often than not we’d join them.

For jiggerpoling, we employed the same 14-foot cane poles we used for crappie. The light line was replaced by heavy dacron run along the length of the pole, from butt to tip, and secured at regular intervals with strips of electrical tape. A 12-inch length of line extended beyond the tip. To this was attached a big topwater lure, usually a Heddon Dowagiac or Creek Chub Pikie.

“You want to make it look like a little fish is chasing an even littler fish on the surface,” Uncle Guy explained. “You do this by tapping your rod tip on the water ahead of the lure as you pull it around. This makes it look like the lure is chasing a tiny minnow, and when a big bass sees this, he’ll rush in and grab a meal.”

Back and forth went Guy’s rod tip, tapping vigorously on the surface as he explained. He held the jiggerpole in his left hand, and balanced it across his right knee. Then, he would gently shake the pole with his right hand, flipping the water with the pole’s tip. If all worked as intended, within a few minutes the water would boil like someone flushed a toilet, and my old uncle would set the hook with a hard upward flip of the wrist. Bass on! Uncle Guy would back the pole in and hoist another largemouth into the boat.

We stayed near the banks, thoroughly working every bit of cover. This provided a sure advantage. Anglers who cast and retrieve may miss fish lying between targets, but with a jiggerpole, you can cover an entire shoreline. And because the pole is so long, you can lift your lure and put it in pockets in the weeds and brush that might otherwise be missed. You can fish the lure in the center of log jams, under low-hanging boat docks and behind weeds, stumps and bushes. Few places exist where a jiggerpole won’t swim a topwater.

Reason two for jiggerpoling’s effectiveness: the lure remains longer in the fish’s strike zone than a lure being cast and retrieved. Bass can see and hear the lure coming down the bank and wait in ambush. When fish aren’t feeding aggressively, an angler can slow the pole’s rhythm and make the lure look so tempting the bass will strike even if it’s not hungry.

When jiggerpoling was at the peak of its popularity, cane poles were used, but many modern practitioners prefer 12- to 16-foot fiberglass or graphite/composite jigging poles. Dacron was the line of choice for old-timers, but folks now often use modern braided lines. The line should be stout, 30-pound-test minimum, though 50- to 80-pound-test is commonly used. To avoid losing fish if the pole’s tip breaks, run line along the whole length, and tape it at several evenly spaced points. Leave only a foot or so beyond the tip, and place a snap swivel at line’s end to lessen the likelihood of line twist as the lure is worked.

I suppose any topwater lure could be used, but prop baits seem especially effective. My favorite was always the big Heddon Dowagiac, a model with propellers fore and aft, which was armed with five sets of treble hooks. In fact, this bassing technique once was called “dowjacking,” a name that originated from the use of this venerable old lure. Other lures I have employed successfully include the Smithwick Devil’s Horse, Cordell’s Boy Howdy, Luhr-Jensen’s Nip-I-Diddee, Mann’s Two-Fer and the Heddon Torpedo.

Landing a bass on a jiggerpole requires the artistry and coordination of a tightrope walker. But don’t let that discourage you. Give this old-fashioned tactic a try this season. It may seem like an out-of-date way for catching today’s largemouths, but the art of jiggerpoling is just as relevant and potent now as it was so many years ago when I was a barefoot kid fishing with Uncle Guy.

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