Artificial baits (also called “lures”) are designed to imitate natural food. They are most often associated with fishing for bass and other sport fish, but when downsized to match the size of panfish, they can be very effective.
Jigs are one of the most common lures used for panfish. They are particularly effective for crappies, but work for sunfish as well. Jigs are essentially a hook with a lead weight molded around the shank, right behind the hook eye. They are generally categorized by their weight, with 1/16-ounce and 1/8-ounce being the most popular sizes for panfish. However, some advanced situations may require smaller jig sizes.
Jigs are also categorized by their hook size. For example, a 1/16-ounce jig may be available with size #2, #4, #6, or #8 hooks. Hook size becomes important when using different presentations.
Jig “heads” (the molded lead portion) are often painted, but also are available un-painted. Jigs made with non-lead material may be required in some states, and also may be available in some fishing specialty stores in other areas.
The hook shank of a jig may be “tied,” or wrapped, with a variety of materials, such as feathers, tinsel, fur, wire, or other ‘craft’ material to create a “body.” Tied jigs are particularly effective for crappies. Jig bodies are available in a wide variety of colors. It is a good idea to carry a variety of colors with you, so you are ready to try different combinations for finicky fish.
Plastic lure bodies that are threaded onto jigs are also very popular. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. “Curly-tailed grubs,” fish-shaped bodies and “tubes” are commonly used. It is important that they are carefully threaded onto the hook so the hook shank is down the center of the plastic body. Having the body properly centered allows the jig to “swim” straight. Off-center bodies will cause the jig to twirl, which twists the line and is much less likely to catch fish. Some plastic lure bodies have specific jig hooks designed for their use.
Plastic bodies may be inserted onto the jig hook so that the hook is “exposed” and sticking out of the top of the plastic body, or “weedless,” where the hook point is buried within or rides along the top edge of the plastic body. Weedless set ups generally require special jig designs.
At times, both crappies and sunfish can be very selective, and will only bite certain material and/or certain color combinations. Their preferences may change from day-to-day; water body-to-water body; or even hourly! It pays to experiment until a “pattern” is identified and fish can be reliably caught.
Jigs are often cast out and slowly reeled in. Anglers often pause and “count down” before they start reeling. The pause allows the jig to sink to a specific level in the water column; counting allows the angler to reliably repeat how deep the jig was allowed to sink before they started reeling it in. In addition, the speed of the retrieve can also be important, so counting how long it takes to make a one-half, or full, revolution of the reel handle may be helpful.
Once a fish is caught, you will want to repeat the depth and speed of the presentation. Fish often are located at the same depth and in similar locations around the water body, and other fish in the school often will respond to the same lure/bait presentation.
One way to accomplish precise depth control is to suspend the jig under a bobber. Slip bobbers may be needed for deeper presentations. If using a bobber, generally a reel-pause-reel-pause cadence is used. This allows the jig to slowly “swim” to a position under the bobber when the reeling is paused and swim faster (and slightly shallower) when reeled.
Jigs are also used with long rods for “dapping” presentations in shallow water in thick brush.
Be prepared to get snagged and lose jigs! Jigs made with fine wire hooks will bend and may become un-snagged with a slow steady pull. Long-nosed pliers are used to re-shape the hook after a snag.
In some situations, tied jigs are “tipped” with live bait to improve their effectiveness. Tipping is simply adding a worm, cricket or minnow to the hook of the jig. This adds scent, changes the profile of the lure (by potentially making it larger and longer) and may slow the rate that the jig sinks.
Small “spinners” are another lure type that is often used for panfish. Spinners have a curved (concave) egg-shaped piece(s) of metal that revolve when pulled through the water. The spinner can be “in-line” where the piece of metal revolves around a center wire, or a “safety pin” style where the spinning metal is offset and attached to a wire “arm.”
The “safety pin” style often incorporates a jig body into the lure design. These types of lures are a bit more resistant to snagging than plain jigs or “in-line” spinners.
“Stick baits” are minnow-imitating lures made of wood or plastic. They often have a small plastic “lip” embedded at an angle right below the line attachment loop. This lip causes the lure to dive and wobble when reeled in. Some stick baits float, some sink and others will “suspend” at a certain level. Twitching a floating stick bait – making it dive slightly and then float back to the surface – is a very effective technique. Similarly, using a reel-pause-reel retrieve while the stick bait is under water can also be effective. Don’t be surprised if a larger bass or other game fish attacks your stick bait when fished in this manner.