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Swimming Football Jigs

by Russ Bassdozer

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There's a renaissance of renewed interest in jig fishing the past few seasons. It's in large part due to top BASS and FLW pros who have been throwing more and different jigs than ever before. I'm not really talking about your father's flipping jigs either.

There's a funny scene in the movie titled Forest Gump where the character Bubba is reciting to Gump all the different ways that shrimp may be served. The list seems to never end is the funny part. Likewise with jigs, there are endless ways to present jigs to fish - flipping jigs, Arkey jigs, finesse jigs, tube jigs, shakey jigs, wacky jigs, stand up jigs, darter jigs, jig'n worms, jig n' grubs, jig heads for swimbaits, jigs with spinners under their chins, Slider jigs, float'n fly jigs, hair jigs, bulky softball jigs and on and on.

Two jig styles that pros have been using more often in recent years are: 1) swimming jigs and 2) football jigs. Many (not all) of the pros have really only started using these jig styles recently, but are doing swell with them, and their successes have not gone unnoticed by the ranks of avid bass anglers worldwide.

Swimming Jigs

One pro angler in particular, Tom Monsoor from Wisconsin has dominated the north central regional tournaments whenever he fished them with his swimming jigs over the past decade. Some sources cite Monsoor tallied 100 wins with swimming jigs in regional events. When Monsoor stepped up to the national pro tour in 2004, he took his Wisconsin swimming jigs with him. Monsoor stuck several top finishes in quick order with his swimming jigs. That caused a panic and herd reaction among other top BASS and FLW pros who rushed to add swimming jigs to their bag of tricks. Indeed, pros that tried swimming jigs (which were fairly new to many of them) did quite well in top events from that time on to the present.

Today, nation-wide swimming jig fever has cooled down. As Monsoor's win streak tailed off, swimming jig popularity ebbed also. It probably peaked a few years back (in 2004-2005). Nevertheless, swimming jigs for bass are here to stay, and it is fair to say it really wasn't done much before Monsoor.

Football Jigs

Another region, the far western USA, is the cradle of football jig fishing. I don't know who or how it first started, but the deep clear canyon lakes of Arizona, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico and Southern California are considered the domain where heavy football jigging flourished for bass fishing.

For instance, back in 1995, top pro Gary Yamamoto won the West's biggest event - the US Open in Las Vegas - with a one ounce football jig, a technique largely unknown to pros outside the far west until recently.

In just the last couple seasons on the top BASS and FLW tours, the football jig has become an "overnight success" as one of the winning-est tactics today. Part of the reason is that top pro tour schedule timing has shifted the past couple seasons to include more post-spawn events when fish drift deeper after the spring. So it is no longer "prime time" for the shallow water flipping jig bite by early summer, and pros are finding they have to go deeper to win post-spawn events the past couple seasons. In fact, pros overall are turning more and more to deepwater methods throughout the entire season (not just during post-spawn events) in order to access untapped deepwater bass populations, and they're discovering the heavy football jig is one of the best deepwater lures.

Will the current popularity of the football jig only last a season or two like so many other hot tactics that spurt then wither? Will intense interest in the football jig wane like with the swimming jig? It's too early to say. Right now the football jig is hot, at least until the next hot thing supersedes it.

But one thing's for sure, neither the Western style football jig nor the Wisconsin style swimming jig will ever slip back into being a regional tactic anymore. Both swimming jigs and football jigs work too well and anglers everywhere know about them now. So they're here to stay.

Swimming Football Jigs

The reason pros are going deeper, Tom Monsoor says: "Shallow water weeds and wood are the choicest types of spots that fish favor on any body of water, and practically every anglers knows that. I am convinced these shallow fish in prime spots know all about anglers, boats and baits. They get peppered with lures, have gone through catch and release. They've learned to bypass the bad presentations and turn down the less-than-perfect swimming jigs. On the other hand, the deeper you fish, the more hook-ups you will get even with a less than perfect lure or presentation. Fish are dumber deeper. Find fish deep, and they don't see a lot of lures down there. You don't always need the perfect lure to get fish down deep."

Monsoor's comments really set the stage for something you hardly ever hear about (and I've even read articles that say it won't work). That is swimming football jigs down deep. Football jigs are "supposed" to be bottom-bounced or dragged across bottom in deep water. Swimming jigs are "supposed" to be kept moving up near the surface in thick, shallow vegetation. But swimming football jigs combines those two into a deep swimming presentation.

Honestly, swimming football jigs is fairly simple and effective. It combines 1/2, 3/4 or 1 ounce football jigs with baitfish-colored skirts and grub tail trailers used with a swimming  (as opposed to bottom-bouncing) retrieve. Another "melding" of these techniques you may say are that these football jigs don't have a heavy wire flipping caliber hook. They have a medium (yet still strong) hook that helps set the hook with a swimming retrieve. For whatever reason, a swimming jig retrieve works best with a long cast. Some say in shallow grassy areas, the long cast with a swimming jig is needed not to alert fish to the angler's presence. But there's more to it than that because the long cast also gets more strikes in deep water swimming football jigs. Who knows why but it's true that a long cast is best when swimming jigs.

Another helpful feature for swimming jigs is these footballs don't have the thick, super-stiff brushguards often found on football jigs. Again, the brushguard used here helps fish hook themselves when they hit these football jigs on the end of a long distance cast.

No, these are not finesse jigs - nor are they flipping jigs. For instance, the gear I favor for them is either a Falcon Expert EC-7-MH rod (for the 1/2 oz size) and a Falcon Expert EC-7-H for the 3/4 and 1 ounce swimming football jigs. Both rods I use 16 pound test Yamamoto Sugoi gray fluorocarbon line with Shimano Chronarch 200 reels. So that's certainly not finesse fishing, but the medium/heavy hook wire and fiberguard are excellent in swimming jig situations with medium/heavy (as opposed to flipping) strength gear.

Swimming Football pile-up! 1/2, 3/4 and 1 ounce sizes. Same 5/0 hook in all.

1 oz Swimming Football Jigs. Purple Haze and Smallie Special skirts.

3/4 oz Swimming Football Jigs. Green Shiner and Chartreuse Shad skirts.

1/2 oz Swimming Football Jigs. Spot Special and Pearl Blue Chartreuse skirts.

Swimming Football Grubs. Just like a coin has a head and a tail, so too must a jig head always have a tail or trailer. Shown above are Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits 2-series 6" grub tails in color 031 (top); 2-series grub in color 177 (second); 18T-series grub in color 031 (third); and 19T-series grub in color 150.

1/2 oz Football Jig ~ Chartreuse Shad ~ 18T-031 Yamamoto Grub Tail

3/4 oz Football Jig ~ Green Shiner ~ 2-031 Yamamoto Grub Tail

1 oz Football Jig ~ Purple Haze ~ 19T-150 Yamamoto Grub Tail

Swimming a baitfish pattern jig is a different presentation and gets a different reaction from fish compared to slowly bouncing the bottom with a black blue or brown purple or dark color jig. The swimming football jig is a faster, flashier style of jig fishing. Why not give these swimming football jigs a try today? You'll be glad you did.

Tips for the Swimming Football Technique

It is a misconception that football jigs need to be used RIGHT ON THE VERY BOTTOM. I've even come across articles claiming you can't swim football jigs, but that's not true. Yes, these football jigs can be swam in very close proximity to the bottom, but the best approach is so the jigs rarely touch bottom except when YOU momentarily pause of purposely mend slack line to the jig that allows the jig to sink to seek the bottom in order so you may adjust the depth ABOVE BOTTOM at which you are making your swimming presentation. Otherwise, you really don't need to hit bottom at all, except to stop and let the jig touch down every so often to make sure you are near but not on the bottom. This is the case when you are retrieving down a downhill bottom contour. You will occasionally need to pause to let the jig sink to hunker close to the bottom. But once it touches down, start swimming it again.

On an uphill bottom contour, you'll need to do the opposite. Quicken the retrieve until the football jig can no longer be felt bouncing the bottom. One way to help visualize this is to consider the football jig is like a jet plane taking off on a runway. You want the jig to get airborne (start swimming) and you need to accelerate the retrieve enough so that the jig takes off from bottom. Unlike the jet plane however, you want the jig to ideally hover close to bottom - with minimal subsequent touch-offs just to make sure the jig hasn't risen too high. You want to be off bottom but tracking close to it.

What happens when you are swimming along and there's a sudden rise or obstacle such as a bush, a boulder, a ridge shelf jutting up higher than the rest of the terrain is that the swimming football jig will begin to clutch, bounce off and stutter over and through the object. As the football jig bulldozes its way through and past the object, it will start to get that "floating feeling" as it starts to swim smoothly again. That instant when it clears the obstruction as the grabby, snaggy feel turns into a floating swim feel is a high percentage strike point. As the jig bumbles through and pulls clear of whatever's down there, expect it to get belted hard.

Drifting Football Jigs in Current

One other tip, if the water you fish has current or flow, these same football jig excels when cast cross current and allowed to dead drift down current. Actually, cast slightly upcurrent, starting at a 45 degree angle upcurrent (depending on current speed and depth). The current sweeps the jig back down at you. The jig will sink down and start rolling and dragging along bottom if you don't do anything. If you start reeling in just a little line, the jig will perk up and start methodically bouncing bottom instead of rolling or dragging. If you increase the pace to wind in just a little more line, the jig will reluctantly start to "take off" from the "runway" and become temporarily "airborne." Like a plane that may be overloaded too much and cannot make it off the runway - gravity will return the jig to bottom occasionally until it is perpendicular to you (directly in front of you) in the current when water flow pressure neutralizes and overrides gravity's force, your jig should float away from bottom! That is often the moment when the connection is made between fisherman and fish, when the jig is no longer bouncing bottom, but floating freely above it buffeted by the swirling of the current. The jig is fairly neutral for an instant there, like an astronaut in a weightless environment! What happens next instant is the jig switches to being downcurrent from you. Immediately the jig does an about-face 180 turn and starts rising in the current. This sudden rise is a strike trigger. You can't really do it with the rod tip or with reel and line manipulation. It is only the current and the dead drifting tactic that makes these strike trigger moments possible. If there is any fish-holding boulder, hump, wood jam or whatever may hold fish, you really want to orchestrate the instant of the 180 turn-around and rise to happen right there.

So, if you are going to be fishing current a bottom-bouncing approach like this is a good choice for these football jigs for clean (weed-free) sand, shellfish and rock bottoms, channels or whatever (except weedy bottoms). You will need some current flow from mild to strong, which can be matched with the 1/2, 3/4 and 1 oz weights depending on current flow. But keep in mind, you will rarely catch any fish on the bottom-bouncing part when the jig is coming down current. That's only the part used to set up and prepare for the free float when it gets directly in front of you, the turn-around and rise. Nor will you get  many strikes once the jig drifts past that point and falls down current from you.

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