JB Tackle Articles
2/19/2010 - Learn how to select, modify and fish diamond jigs to catch a variety of Northeast game fish
by Capt. Tom Migdalski
It's hard to think of a more versatile lure than the diamond jig. These heavy chunks of chrome-plated metal plummet through the strongest current, dart and wobble like a wounded baitfish and send out flashes of reflected light that draw the attention of many marine predators.
"Diamond jigging is one of the most effective ways to catch any kind of Northeast game fish," states Capt. Kerry Douton, owner of the charterboat Dot-E-Dee and J&B Tackle in Niantic, Connecticut. "Whether you're working a rip, reef, bank or open water, you can catch lots of different fish by varying the size and presentation of the jig."
Experienced fishermen like Douton know how to select and rig their diamond jigs to match the conditions and the species they're targeting. Here's how they apply that knowledge on the water.
Smaller is Better
"Usually," says Douton, "the smaller the jig, the better it produces. A lot of guys mistakenly go the other way. Many fishermen in The Race (the area between Fishers Island and Little Gull Island) use 16-ounce jigs, and there's no need for it. On my boat we use 8-ounce diamonds with superbraid line, and they fish really well in the deep, swift water of The Race. In places like Long Island Sound, four ounces is all you need."
In Douton's opinion, jig choice should depend most heavily on matching the size of the baitfish, and the majority of forage species in the Northeast are small. These include peanut bunker, juvenile butterfish, baby herring, anchovies, silversides, tinker mackerel, squid and sand eels. Try to imitate these species with your jig whenever possible.
Blues and Bass
When fishing diamonds for large blues and bass, I use 36 to 42 inches of 80-pound-test leader. The long leader reduces cutoffs caused by the hooked fish, as well as by "buddy" fish that may swipe at the lure. For bluefish I simply tie the jig on with an improved clinch knot, but when targeting bass I'll switch to a loop knot to give the lure more action (for a how-to video on tying the loop knot, visit the "Videos" section at www.northeastboating.net).
While most anglers rig their diamond jigs with O'Shaughnessy-style single hooks, Capt. Ricky Mola has enjoyed positive results with circle hooks. The owner of Fisherman's World Tackle Center in Norwalk, Connecticut, Mola began using circles when he noticed that some of the bluefish and stripers he was catching on J-hooks were getting hooked in the throat or gills.
After switching to circles he found that his catch rate actually improved, while the number of deep-hooked fish dropped precipitously. He also discovered that fish caught on circles were less likely to shake the hook loose during the fight.
"Part of the trick to hooking up consistently with circle hooks," says Mola, "is 'squidding' the lure (taking 10 turns of the reel, followed by freespooling the lure back to the bottom) rather than jigging it yo-yo style. It's very important not to allow any slack in the line during the drop."
The other important thing to remember when fishing with circle hooks is not to set the hook hard when you feel a strike, as this will usually pull the hook out of the fish's mouth. Instead, reel steadily until the fish begins taking line against the drag.
Mola modifies his jigs by removing the factory-supplied hook, then adds a 50- to 60-pound-test, stainless-steel split ring to the tail end of the jig. Next he attaches a 75-pound-test barrel swivel to the split ring and adds a 6/0 Gamakatsu offset circle hook. You may need to experiment to find the best circle hook size for your needs, but between 6/0 and 8/0 is a good starting point.
"Often, as we're reeling in a tuna caught on the troll, another tuna will follow it to the boat. These buddy fish will often take a jig that's lobbed up ahead of the boat and allowed to flutter down deep into the wake. It looks just like an injured baitfish."
Another opportunity to use diamond jigs occurs when chumming and drifting baits in an area where commercial dragger fishermen are hauling back and discarding their bycatch. "You'll often mark school bluefin feeding beneath the boat," says Capt. Ned Kittredge of Westport, Massachusetts. "They're usually at a depth of 35 to 50 feet, which is at or near the thermocline. One of the most effective methods of catching them is to send down 4- to 6-ounce diamond jigs. Diamonds simulate a variety of small baitfish, and the tuna--being primarily sight feeders, eat them with abandon."
When Kittredge marks tuna on his sounder, he pulls line off the reel in arm lengths until he has enough loose line on deck to reach the proper depth, then marks the spot with several wraps of rigging twine or dental floss. He then tells his customers to freespool the jigs to the mark on the line and jig them up and down.
"Engage the drag and perform a simple yo-yo jigging motion," Kittredge says. "This keeps the lure in the strike zone. Tuna usually hit the jig as it falls, so it's critical to drop the rod tip quickly on each jigging cycle. This provides slack and allows the jig to flutter downward like a dying baitfish."
Kittredge rigs his diamonds with extra-strong 2/0 trebles attached to the jig's rear swivel via a split ring. The treble provides better odds of a hook-up with a falling jig, and the swivel helps prevent a tuna from wrenching the hook loose.
Cod, Pollock and Haddock
The most efficient way to catch cod is with diamond jigs and soft-plastic teasers. Kittredge modifies his diamonds by removing the factory-supplied treble hook and attaching a No. 8 stainless-steel split ring followed by a Bead Chain 131 swivel and a single Mustad 31022 9/0 or 10/0 Limerick hook.
"A treble hook may give you more hook-ups," says Kittredge, "but a larger percentage of fish will be foul-hooked, so you'll get fewer to the boat. You also a stand a greater chance of hanging up on rough bottom or lobster gear with treble hooks, and trebles make it harder to unhook and release undersize fish."
Kittredge dresses his single hook with a piece of red latex tubing long enough to extend a few inches past the bend. The Bead Chain swivel allows the hook and tube to spin freely when retrieved without tangling the line.
Kittredge completes his cod rig by attaching a teaser to a dropper line tied roughly 18 inches above the jig. He makes the dropper by connecting two long sections of 80-pound mono with a blood knot, leaving two 6- to 8-inch tag ends. He clips off one tag end close to the knot. On the other tag he ties a Red Gill, Delta Eel or Femlee Eel, rigged on an Owner Cutting Point SSW 6/0 hook. The rig is finished with a barrel swivel between the main line and the leader.
As with blues and bass, there are several ways to fish a diamond jig for bottom fish. One involves freespooling the jig to the bottom, taking a couple of turns to clear any hang-ups and giving the rod a brisk snapping motion to make it dart towards the surface. Cod will frequently strike the jig as it flutters to the bottom, so be prepared to set the hook when you feel the slightest bump.
Slow-speed squidding is another groundfish technique. It involves freespooling the lure to the bottom, taking about 10 very slow turns of the reel handle, then repeating the process. This action allows the teaser and the jig's tube to spin seductively and will often prompt lazy cod into striking the sand eel imitation.