Jigging for Salmon



Jigging is a term used to fish whereby you attach a weighted lure in the end of the line, let it down, raise the rod tip, reel in a few feet, let it back down, and repeat again.   Well, it is not really that simple, as there are a few other ingredients in the mix.

Here, this party of  jiggers are having jolly time in the process, targeting salmon on Hood Canal off the Hoodsport salmon hathery


The salmon you will normally be fishing for, over the longest period of time, if in Washington State, will be Blackmouth, which are resident Chinook.  Blackmouth do not get as large as their ocean going cousins, weighing normally from 6 to 12#.  But they are in a more protected waters, which allows the average small boater better access as compared to fishing the open ocean.  They will normally be bottom feeders, unless they are chasing herring baitballs.


Jigging works best when you can locate a concentration of bait.  This can be from seeing feeding sea birds, or if you know of a specific location where salmon concentrate at that time of the year, like off a river mouth where the fish may stack up, or like the flats off Port Townsend (called Mid-Channel Banks), or when fish can be seen in numbers on your sonar under your boat.  However, just motoring around watching sonar can become boring rather rapidly and unproductful.  So probably the best method of locating salmon is to initially troll for them.  And in Puget Sound, as mentioned previously, Blackmouth will be NEAR the bottom, you need to drag your gear there.  Once you catch a fish, carefully watch your sonar.  In deep water it is hard to target a single fish, but If you can see a number of fish under you on your sonar, then quickly break out your jigging gear, shut off the motor and try to hover over them.  Water depth is not critical if the fish are there.


The wind and tide may move you off your target, so your best fishing time will be slack tides.  If you slide into a tide change, then it may behoove you to use your kicker motor to maintain position or to drop an anchor.    If you are in this tidal movement, you will have to use a heavier jig to maintain your vertical line angle as covered below. 


We might clarify the process here in saying that this is basically vertical jigging.   This means that your line HAS to be as straight up and down as possible as shown in the illustration below.   The reason is that when your jig on the raise of your rod tip, it will of course come up a few feet, they you drop the tip.   The design of jig allows it to level itself HORIZONTALLY, allowing the jig to sea-saw back and forth fluttering downward.   It DOES NOT drop like a bullet nose first.  This fluttering motion is what attracts the fish and entices a strike.  Small fish (bait) do not normally swim vertically.  If the line angle gets enough so that when you drop the rod tip, the jig can not drop vertically, but will be still at the angle of the line, you get no fluttering action and therefore way less fishy enticing action to the lure.


Use the lightest jig you can (usually starting at 2 oz.).  If and when the drift or current gets more and you can not jig vertically then you will have to go to a heavier lure, or use your kicker motor to position you as previously mentioned.


There is JIGGING, and there is SNAGGING (which is illegal if doing it intentionally).   The real difference is that the jigger may only raise his rod tip 2-3' while the SNAGGER  may raise his 6-10' in his efforts to entice the fish to strike even with it's tail.  This taken into account, do you really expect a salmon to chase down a food (a jig) for 10' ?   They will hit something that is close and convenient to them.  If you raise the tip too much, you may well be pulling it away fast enough that they can not catch it.  However snaggers don't care if the fish are hooked in or near the mouth as the law specifies.


Buzz Bomb jigs are used totally differently in that they are cast out, and reeled in, hesitating at intervals letting the lure drop slightly each time.


In the illustration below, the gray line represents the upward pull with the blue the jig's path of falling.  The LH represents a vertical jig being raised and then dropped with the jig laying somewhat horizontal and fluttering as it descends.   The RH illustration will be if the drift has your line angle so much that when you drop the rod tip, the current merely pulls the jig rearward with little fluttering.   These jigs need to flutter to make a bait-fish action.   So, if there is a strong current or wind blowing and you are over the fish, go to a heavier jig to maintain the fluttering action of the jig.


Jig descending patterns, the proper effective way on the left and the ineffective way on the right



Rod :   To do it right, the gear comes into play every bit as much in this method as trolling or mooching, however totally different equipment is used.  You will probably want to use shorter rods with stiff butt sections and fast taper sensitive tip.    Some prefer a 7’ to 7’ 9" length.  These rods are different than a trolling or mooching rod and have more backbone yet a lighter tip section.  The ones that work best are what are called fast action, meaning that only the upper 1/4 of the rod had any real bend to it as compared to a slow or soft action where the whole rod has the arc.  A backbouncing rod like the G. Loomis HSR-932C, Lamiglas Puget Jigger model G1302-T or a Shakespeare Ugly Stick CA110270 work quite well.


Reel :   Since you are cranking a lot here, way more here than in any other method, you need a reel with a retrieve ratio of at least 4 to 1, with upwards with 5 to 1 or higher being better.  You don’t usually want or need a large reel that may be normally used for ocean fishing, so a Steelhead size reel usually works fine.


Knowing your lure's depth is critical in this type of fishing and with the advent of line counter reels, the easiest is to use one of these.  And since the fish may be suspended off the bottom, a line-counter reel will allow you to know exactly where your lure is in relationship to the fish.  Here is where the Abu Garcia's  Ambassadeur 5500LC, Shimano Tekota 400LC, Cabellas DM20 or Okuma's Convector CV 20D or the Magda Pro MA 20 DX or the Magda Pro's narrower smaller brother, the MA 15 DX will prove very beneficial to help you keep the lure within the strike zone once you locate them on your sonar.   These line counter reels may add a few ounces of extra weight, but will be beneficial to improve your catch.  


If you are a old timer who is so in love with your Ambassedeur 5500, Diawa Millionare 35, Shimano Triton 100G or the older Shimano Bantam 100, then use it.  Those that do, have become good at counting levelwind passes, or counting "stripping pulls".


Which ever reel you decide on, it does need to have a good drag system and be BALANCED to your rod because you will be working it a lot, instead of just leaving it in a rodholder.


You will not normally be casting for distance in situations like this as the method is "Vertical Jigging" as seen in the illustration above, so the bass fisherpersons small fine tuned bait casting reels will be of little value here.


It is about impossible to effectively vertical jig with a spinning reel and yet be ready to set the hook on a slack line bite.


Line :  You may want to fill the spool about half full with 20# mono, then top it off with 125 yards or so of one of the new Spectra lines in about 40# to 60# size.  There are many brands that come under this category, Power Pro, or Spiderwire "Stealth" are a couple.  You also need to be sure this spectra line is wound onto the spool very tight, as if not, when it gets wet and then dries, it seems to loosen enough so as to create line cutting into the edges and creating a stoppage of the spool.   This WILL equate to lost fish if they are running when the spool comes to a stop.  This is the reason for the mono backing as it helps eliminate this situation and you probably do not need more than much over 100 yards of line anyway as if you have to chase a fish, and your boating situation is such that you should be able to readily chase the fish.  


This type of fishing is where the spectra type lines really pay off, because it has no stretch, and since it is a very small diameter, this allows you to feel the fish's take on the jig, plus reaching the bottom with less weight.  You might consider using from 2' up to 3’ a stiffer shock leader of 25# mono, preferably IZOR line attached to a mainline with a Sampo ball bearing swivel between.  This leader will help avoid fraying the braid's knot at the terminal end and possibly pulling the hook out of the fish’s mouth during a hook set.  It also may help to camouflage the spectra line to the lure.   This mono acts as a short shock cord and also helps eliminate the possibility of the limper spectra line from getting tangled with the jig's hook on the fall.  Plus, instead of trying to hold onto just the line/leader when releasing a fish.  This swivel can be larger than you would normally use because it also helps as something to grab ahold of if you have to release an untargeted or ESA listed fish at the boat.


On the terminal end of this monofilament shock cord, attach a small Duo-Lock snap (not a swivel snap).  The use of a snap will allow you to change the lure more easily and therefore more often if conditions change, or you are not getting hits.  


Lure :  If you are not sure what bait size is below you, use the smallest jig you can get away with and still reach bottom with as close to a vertical line as possible.  If you have to increase the weight, or after you catch a fish open it up then observe the stomach contents.  This may help you select a jig to “Match the Hatch”.  


Brands of proven lead jigs are Crippled Herring, Point Wilson Dart, and Grim Reefer to name a few.   Even the heavier Coyote or Krocodile spoons have proved effective.  Colors of proven jigs may be green, blue/silver or white.   If fishing for salmon, the WDFW regulations call for single point barbless hooks, so depending on where you are fishing some areas allow triple hooks, others may not, you may have to remove the existing triple hook and replace with a #4/0 Siwash hook.  One suggestion then is to place 2 Siwash hooks one back to back to each other, this increases the catch potential and somewhat eliminates the rock grabbing ability of the lure.   But if you use two, go down one size of hooks.  


Some of these lead jigs, you may read on the package that you can bend them for different results.  Well this may be so, but if you put a bend as if you were if you were trolling allowing the lure to rotate, this negates much horizontal fluttering action.


Some jig manufacturers are now mounting the hook on the front of the jig, instead of the rear, toting that it is more effective.  To each his own, and it could be better if there is debris on the bottom and the front hook could be less prone to grabbing rocks or sticks, while still being a fish catcher.


The photos below are of original manufacturers product.  


Crippled Herring Coyote spoon


It is beneficial to place a barrel swivel between the hook and a heavy lead jig, (as seen in the right hand photo below) this will help keep the fish from using the jig's weight as leverage, when the fish twists and rolls which allows it to pull the hook loose.  This swivel appears to not effect the action of the lure.  This photo below of a Dart shows two 3/0 Sickle Siwash hooks attached back to back to the swivel as mentioned above.  Sickle hooks newer design has proven beneficial when the barbs have to be pinched.

A modified Point Wilson Dart on top & a standard 2 1/4 oz Grim Reefer on bottom Luhr Jenson Krocodile spoon & Buzz-Bomb on bottom

Hooks :
SHARP hooks.  Some lures come with triple hooks, but a single Siwash hooks deeper and loses less fish and is easier to release ESA protected fish unharmed.   Even if the lure comes with a Siwash hook, it may be best to replace it with a slightly larger size for better hooking ability.  The newer Sickle hook by Matsuo or the Big River Open Eye hook by Gamakatsu have proved to be a better holding hook because of their "Vee" shape style.   In the State of Washington, just be sure you are using barbless hooks, or at least pinch the barb over which will save you a $87 fine if those friendly WDFW enforcement officers come calling.


Scent :   Yes, put scent on the lure, it doesn't have to be a lot, because if your jig has much contact with rocky or sandy bottoms, this sticky scent may well attract what debris it can pick up off the bottom.   Smelly Jelly is a good one, a couple of the flavors used can be Anchovie or Herring/Anis, but about anything can be used as these fish are hitting the lure with little reaction time, so scent probably is a masking scent to cover your own smell.


Method :  You need to find the bait school, as jigging in barren water will usually become tiresome and unproductive. Your sonar here is one of your best friends,  preferably finding the bait and salmon below as seen in the photo below.  Sonar alone my take a lot of time covering prospective water, so be on the lookout for working/diving birds. If fishing Puget Sound, remember to fish it like two rivers, (1) the incoming tide and (2) the outgoing tide, and concentrate behind a point of land where the bait may seek refuge from the moving tide.


If fishing for Blackmouth, you want to usually be in the bottom 10' of water, unless you are fishing around a school of bait, but even then you want the lure under the bait fish.   For fall or migrating Chinook, they may be at a higher water column level.  When you find what looks like it may prove productive, spool out the line and jig semi-slow to help eliminate tangles.  On the let down, when you get to above your intended fishing depth, let the line down in 2' increments, stop and let out another 2' until you get to the bottom.  No sense of bypassing fish on the drop, when you can be fishing.


Here is the ideal sonar screen for jigging, with the bait ball near the surface and the salmon below them.


Rod :   To do it right, the gear comes into play every bit as much in this method as trolling or mooching



When searching for fish and you may want to cover say 30' of the bottom water, when you get to the bottom as described above, lift it up a couple of feet, let it fall back, raise it up 3 or 4 feet then let it fall back 2 feet by reeling in, following the jig on it's downward fall with the rod tip.  This keeps you in contact with the lure at all times.  Repeat this procedure over and over, by raising it another 3'-4’ and fall back another 2’ again by reeling in and work your way up past the bait.  Then start over by going back down again if you are still in the bait fish. When the salmon grabs the lure, it can be just like it hit bottom and the line went slack.  The bite is almost always when the jig is fluttering down like a wounded baitfish.  Try to keep the rod tip low to the water so you will have room to make the hookset.  Now comes a critical situation.  As a novice, you will probably not be able to detect a slack line bite on the lure's fall, but if you are only raising say 2', you may well detect the fish on the next upward motion.  Be well prepared to set the hook at the slightest deviation of normal.


There is no need to jerk it the full rod length, as you will probably be pulling it so far that the fish can not keep up with it.  


if you do not connect, change your tactics, don't just get into the rut of casting, reeling and letting it sink with a rhythm.  Change the pace, or the stoke of your uplift until you are sure you have covered the area completely. 


If all else fails and the wind may be pushing you out of the concentration of fish, use a drift sock, or drop your anchor, and/or increase the weight of the jig.  Yah, I know this may not be fishing as vertical as you may like, but it is at least putting you over the fish more time than drifting off and running back all the time.


If you have one of the newer line-counter reels then you can either set it and concentrate on the exact level the fish are at as seen on your sonar, or remember the depth the fish are at.  If you are using an conventional level wind reel, then you can estimate closely your depth by grabbing the line at the reel then stripping it out to at least the first rod guide.  This is usually about 24", if not, then measure a strip out to give you some reference so you can get a pretty good idea of the amount of line pulled out.   In conjunction to this when you start stripping if you glance down and visually locate the location of the level wind line guide, then count the number of pulls/feet that it takes to move this level wind head completely over and back to where it was when you first started.  By doing this, you can then later come close by not stripping, but by just counting the passes of the level wind head.   A Shimano Triton 100G lets out about 10' per complete pass with a full spool.


And as usual the fish will hit when you least expect it, so be ever vigilant.  If you may be letting line out just to get to the bottom in say 90', but if your line hesitates at 40', SET THE HOOK even if it just a hesitation or a tick.


If you are in the outer Straits or open ocean, you may encounter schools of Rockfish (Sea Bass) suspended, or on the bottom.  If you are in an area where the season is open, this can also be a method of getting your fish-box smelly.

 After They Are Hooked :  Fish that are hooked on a jig react differently than in mooching or trolling.  Many times they do not realize what has happened and stay there shaking their heads.  They usually do not run as in trolling where they may have a flasher near their tail chasing them.


One thing you want to prevent is a fish coming to to surface and shaking it's head as chances of the heavy jig being thrown increase considerably here.  Here don't try to hold the line tight, not overly tight, but you do not want to give any slack either.  If need be, if the fish is near the surface or breaks water, poke the rod tip deep in the water which acts as leverage forcing the fish back down.


Also many times the fish may come to the boat before it is tired out, only to get energized when it comes near and sees the boat.


Tips :  If your boat has a high cabin or a flat bottomed sled type boat where the wind can push the boat faster than a ordinary drift, it might be beneficial to try a drift sock or even 2 off the stern.  Some even run the socks off the quarter bow.  Or one off the bow and another off the stern.  This could help slow your drift down and help maintain a more vertical line angle by keeping you in position longer.


If there are other jig fishermen near, watch and see what they are using and how they are using it if they catch fish.  Any boat without binoculars is handicapped.

Casting From Shore :  Many fishermen who pursue the Pink salmon in Puget Sound on their odd year runs will be fishing from shore using jigs.  The desired location will many times be off a gravel beach on a point of land.  The objective is to intercept these fish as they move in and come near land at this choke point.  Here the usual lure would be Buzz Bombs which are designed to function in a more flat lined retrieve as mentioned below and seen in a photo above. 


Exceptions :  Buzz Bombs will work in vertical jigging, but they are better to be cast out and reeled in, hesitate and reel again allowing the lure to sink slightly on each hesitation.  These lures rotate on the line and have a totally different action than a regular jig.  When using them be sure to use the rubber bumper between the lure and the hook which is supplied in the package.  If you forget to use this rubber bumper, when the lure slides on the line, If a fish takes it and is hooked, if the conditions are right/wrong and the lure slides rearward to the fish, just the weight of this lure may damage the knot, thereby loosing your fish.   Another thing to observe is that there is a front and rear of these jigs, READ on the lure which end an arrow is with the word HOOK, as you may attach them differently than other lures and they do not perform as well if tied backwards even though it may appear the same to you.


Where :  For best results,  jigging only works when the fish are stacking up in concentrations, like a river mouth, or on the lea side of a point when they are targeting bait fish like herring or candlefish.  


You do not cover water like trolling when you jig, as you will need to be on top of concentrations of baitfish, after all, you are trying to imitate baitfish with your lure.  Without this you are just getting upper arm and body exercise.   So, most jiggers will do a lot of trolling, covering ground and when a school of baitfish or salmon are located, then pull out your jigging gear.


Other Important Items :  One of the most important items here for a fisherman using a boat, will be a GOOD sonar fishfinder.  You may have noticed I said fishfinder not depthfinder.  Sure you need to know the depth of the water, but more important you need to know where the baitfish are, as where you find these baitfish, that is also where the targeted fish are more likely to be.  Any sonar can give you the bottom depth, but you really need to have one that can be adjusted to show actual fish and the baitfish as well.


Here you will probably be at the whims of the tide or wind, so fishing tide change at slack tide or behind a point of land is way preferable than fighting a full running current. 

Copyright © 2005  - 2019  LeeRoy Wisner  All Rights Reserved

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Originated  08-28-05, Last Updated 12-24-2018

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