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Guarded Jigs
Prepping Open, Wire & Fiberguard Jigs

By Russ Bassdozer

Essentially, an open hook jig hooks bass best. Adding a wireguard or a fiberguard is always a compromise that encumbers the hook set but allows you to fish effectively in weeds or cover.

A wireguard is the next step up from an exposed jig hook. Compared to an open hook, you will be more weedless and snagless with a wireguard, but you will have to work harder and time it more precisely when to set the hook when you have a bite on wireguards.

A fiberguard is the ultimate in snag protection but you will need to concentrate far more when setting the hook with a fiberguard. You've got to set the hook with more precision and force with a fiberguard - and it's never guaranteed to succeed, but we'll try to teach you how to do it in this article, okay?

Let's talk about matching tackle. First, let's talk about matching the rest of our outfit. Stepping up from an exposed hook to a wireguard then to a fiberguard often means an increasingly heavier selection of rod/reel/line to accompany the jig choice. For example, I almost always use an open hook for fishing with light jigs on light rods/reels with thin line diameters like 6 to 8 lb. test. On such outfits, I many times use 1/32, 1/16 or 1/8 oz. jigs with thin wire size 1/0 through 3/0 hooks. On the end of a long cast, it is often all you can do just to set these bigger "bass sizes" of exposed hooks on light line/rod/reel.

You can sometimes bend an exposed hook point a few degrees up, down, left or right to assist with the hook set. Start out with a straight point. Keep mental notes about which part of the mouth you are hooking fish in when you land a few. If you are mostly hooking fish in the right jaw, bend or "kirb" the hook a few degrees right. Kirb the hook a few degrees left for the left jaw, and a few degrees up if you are hooking them in the roof of the mouth or the upper lip. If you are encountering problems with snags, bend the hook a few degrees down which will make it more snagless, but you also have to be slightly more deliberate when you set a down-turned hook. What do I mean? Often you can swing and set instantly or with only a slight hesitation when you have a straight hook, bent up or kirbed hook. When you have the point bent down, you should get some deliberate extra tension in the line for an instant before swinging on the hookset. The deliberate extra tension will cause the fish to close its mouth cavity more tightly to grip the bait by compressing its tongue (which is raspy like sandpaper) against the roof of its mouth. So, that deliberate extra deliberate pause to "load" a little tension on the line is often necessary when an exposed point is bent down a few degrees.

To continue talking about tackle coordination with open hook jigs, you can continue to use open hooks with medium wire diameters on medium rods/reels/lines. You can use open hooks with heavy gauge hooks on heavy gear. It's all relative, thin hooks on light outfits, medium hooks on mid-sized gear and heavy hooks on stout rods/reels/lines. That's called balance and it works best if you neither underpower nor overpower the hook.

Let's match in the middle for wireguards. Trying to set the hook with a wireguard (or fiberguard) won't always work well on light outfits. It will always be a problem unless you also step up to a medium weight rod/reel, either spinning or baitcasting, and line diameters like 10 to 12 lb. test work best with wireguards. Use lighter gear than this, and you start having hooksetting problems with wireguards. Use heavier gear than this and you start having problems with the wire collapsing too easily when it hits a snag.

Big guns for fiberguards. You can use the heaviest gear with fiberguards. Because fiberguards are so stiff, I rarely dip below 12 lb. test and a medium/heavy rod/reel. This is relatively "light" gear for fiberguards, and I often have to precisely time when to lay into them on the hookset with medium gear and 12 lb. test. Most often, I use heavy rods with fiberguards, either spinning or conventional, line diameters from 15 to 20, and up to 25 lb. test at times.

Preparing the wireguard for battle. The wireguard is the next step up from an exposed hook in terms of being weedless and snagless. I often use 10 to 12 lb. test, either spinning or baitcasting with wireguard Gitzit tube baits, unskirted single tail grubs and worms, either straight worms or curly-tailed worms. These baits (tubes, single tail grubs, worms) have thin profiles and I personally like the sleek, unobtrusive look of the wireguard on thin profile baits. That is why I will use a wireguard - for the sleek look on baits that I fish horizontally (worms, grubs, tubes). On bulkier baits like rubber or silicone skirted jigs or soft plastic skirted spider grubs, I fish these more vertically on the drop, and I always opt for the sturdier, more durable fiberguards, either thinning them down to a few fibers in light cover, or keeping more fibers intact for heavier cover.

There are three basic styles of wireguards:

First there is just a single prong, usually of flexible thin steel cable, often treated with a thin coated finish on the cable. A good example of this is Bobby Garland's Rocker Jig Head.

Second, there are two prongs of flexible cable which together form a vee. Venom's weedless Super Do and Big Buck jigs are good examples of two pronged wireguards.

Third is a very thin solid steel wire that is doubled over and bent back to hold itself under the hook point with slight tension. Terry Oldham makes some good wireguard jigs like this.

Wireguards are usually very thin - and they are not as snag resistant as a fiberguard but much better than an exposed hook.

There are two models of Oldham wireguards for bass.

First is the Weedless Screwlock Moss Head in 1/8, 1/4, 3/8 and 1/2 oz. sizes. Depending on your rod/reel/line, there is either a medium wire 3/0 bronze or a heavy wire 3/0 bronze hook, both in the 1/8 and 1/4 oz sizes. There's a standard bronze 4/0 in the 3/8 and 1/4 oz. version of this jig. Next step up, there's a pricier version that comes with the best of both worlds - a very strong but thin diameter 3/0 black chrome (presumably Owner?) hook in all four weights. For the ultimate in hook quality, there's a model line with a 2/0 Gamakatsu hook on the 1/8 oz model, a 3/0 Gamakatsu hook on the 1/4 oz model and a 4/0 Gamakatsu hook on the 3/8 oz and 1/2 oz models. All told, that's four weight of the same jig head, but fourteen different hook/weight combos as follows:

Hook Style: Thin Bronze Heavy Bronze Black Chrome Gamakatsu
1/8 oz 3/0 3/0 3/0 2/0
1/4 oz 3/0 3/0 3/0 3/0
3/8 oz 4/0   3/0 4/0
1/2 oz 4/0   3/0 4/0

Regardless of hook style, all these jigs have a nifty screwlock instead of a lead collar to hold the bait. You kind of screw the bait onto the hook shank. It holds very well....the bait is locked on good! It is one of my favorite heads for swimming 4" to 5" single tail grubs through light to medium weed and wood cover. Also super for 4" to 7" plastic worms in light to medium cover.

Second - and BEST for Gitzit tube baits is Oldham's Weedless Tube Head with a 3/0 medium wire hook. It comes in a "tool set" of fill graduations on size from 1/16, 1/8, 3/16 and 1/4 oz. To rig one inside of a Gitzit tube bait, first slowly bend the wireguard all the way straight forward in front of the hook eye. Moisten the tube, and start to insert the wireguard and jig head inside the tube. Poke the wireguard out the top of the tube about 1/4" from its nose. Continue to work the jig head forward until you can also poke the jig eye out the top of the tube, creating a second hole for the hook eye just in front of where the wireguard pokes out of the tube. Now slowly bend the wireguard all the way back to its original shape covering the hook point.

The final step in preparing all varieties of Oldham wireguards is to take the two sides of the wireguard and spread them as far apart to the sides as you can. You do this to make the wireguard protect the hook point from snags when the bait hits bottom or an obstruction and rolls over on its sides. Fanning the wire out to the sides protects from snagging when the bait lays on its side. Even if the wireguard springs open during the retrieve, the fanned wire effect will prevent many snags. However, for the best snag protection, always tuck the wireguard back under the hookpoint if you see that it has sprung open between casts.

During the excitement of catching a few good fish, the wire can become bent up or loosen up. A little drop of superglue where the wire enters the leadhead can stiffen it up again. Eventually, you should just yank the bedraggled wire out with pliers, converting it to an exposed hook jig. But by that time, I am sure you will not mind!

Just keep this in mind: a wireguard works great in all kinds of grass, and in sparse brush, skipping baits under overhanging bushes, under docks and under weeping willow trees. It is not for heavy cover though, you need a fiberguard for that!

Preparing a fiberguard for battle. When I first started fishing fiberguard jigs, I tried the fiberguards long -- they stayed plenty snagless BUT I just could not set the hook into fish with the fiberguards long. By trimming them closer to the hookpoint, I increased my hooksetting abilities to an acceptable level. That was over 20 years ago, and I have used fiberguard jigs trimmed short, thinned out and spread out ever since then.

This was usually how I would read about others doing it in the magazines too. Then, within the last few years, I have recently been hearing a lot about people saying to leave the fibers longer is better.

What Denny Brauer says about trimming weedguards... A few months ago, I had an opportunity to get a few questions about jig fishing answered by Denny Brauer and I decided to ask him about the long versus short fiberguard. I asked: "Denny, how do you trim or prepare your jig's fiberguard? I cut mine just short enough to cover the hook point, then flare them far to the side. However, many people say to keep them the original length as the longer fibers are more flexible (cutting makes them stiff and harder to set a hook, THEY say). What do you say, Denny?" Denny replied: "Something to keep in mind is that the longer your weedguard is the more weedless it is and thus makes it harder to hook fish. The shorter you make it the easier it is to hook fish but also makes it easier to hang. So you have to find the middle area where you can easily hook the fish but yet stay weedless. I trim mine just outside the hook point and I trim it so the end of the weed guard is parallel with the point of the hook."

I guess I am old school and I do what Denny does. Essentially, I prepare a fiberguard first and foremost NOT to hook fish but merely to make the fiber fanguard just snagless enough to get my jig back out of some real nasty places bass use...downed trees, drowned bushes, thick matted weed and pad beds, pools behind tall walls of phragmites or tulles, etc. Hooksetting clearly becomes a secondary consideration to me if my jig is consistently snagging in the cover. If I have to go into the cover to unsnag my jig, then I'm just scaring all the fish off the cover and wasting my time in the process.

Ideally, you want the fiberguard to be just stiff enough to allow you to get the jig back out of where you tossed it. Trimming the fiberguard doesn't have anything to do with how the fish are eating the bait - that gets addressed during the hooksetting phase which we discuss further down. Rather, you make the fiberguard longer, shorter, thicker or thinner solely depending on the type of cover you are fishing.

Jig manufacturers don't know where or how you will be using their jigs, so they usually make the fiberguards extra long and extra thick so you can always cut them shorter or thin out some of the fibers as you see fit. I kind of think of it like when you buy a pair of dress pants. The pants legs come untrimmed but the pants manufacturer never expects you to wear the pants like that! No, you are expected to trim and hem the pants to the ideal length for you. Same thing with a jig's fiberguard - I reckon you are expected to thin them out and trim them down to suit yourself!

Here's how to make a jig that is just snag-resistant enough for you to consistently get it back out of the gnarly places you'll be throwing it:

1) Press the fibers back against the hookpoint and shorten them with a scissors. Never cut them shorter than just beyond the hook point. Better to trim too little instead of too much.

2) It's hard to envision snagging the hook point straight up dead center. Snags happen because the jig flips on its side and gets caught. Therefore, separate the fiber bundle into left and right halves with your fingers and spread them far to the sides of the hookpoint. In fact, it is absolutely perfect if the fibers form a vee well out to the sides of the hook with no fibers at all directly in front of the hook.

3) Put your thumb behind where the fibers are glued into the jighead. Press at the base of the fibers and push towards the hook eye a few times until the fibers stand almost straight up. They also fan out a bit as you do this. Overall, aim to make at least an inch-wide safety zone as far ahead and out to the sides of the hookpoint as possible.

4) Now test the snag-resistance of the fibers by pushing back on them with your index finger. If too resistant, cut away fibers until you achieve your desired snag-resistance, a "feel" which only comes with experience. Cut them at the base of the stem, where they are glued or molded into the leadhead. You will rarely need the full 30-40 fibers the jig comes with fresh out of the package. Rather, most cover can be fished using 12-20 fibers. It's the pants hem thing again...manufacturers put a lot of fibers so you can trim a few off. Needless to say, if you are using Ĺ oz jigs on a pool cue baitcaster with 80 lb. test microdyneema braid, you can handle more resistance and leave more fibers in your fiberguard than if you are using 1/8 oz jigs on 12 lb test spinning tackle.

Bass fishing is the most interesting sport because there is so much room for your own individual style and preferences in fishing! In fact, I have rarely seen two fishermen that fished exactly the same way! So, I am not saying my way is right...or wrong. Try your fiberguards short...and long. See what works best for you, okay?

Setting the hook. Now that we have talked about the preparing the fiberguard, we're ready to move on to the hooksetting phase! Setting the hook is essentially the same process with a fiberguard jig, regardless of whether you keep your fiberguard long or short, thinned out or full, veed to the sides.

Here's how. Let's assume you are fishing thick cover. As a fish picks up the jig, the bass may keep moving towards you swimming straight out of the cover or off to one side. There is speculation that bass may do this because they may expect the bait to be struggling furiously and the bass needs to be prepared to spit out and retake the bait in order to get a better grip or better control of it, they will move out of cover over more open bottom where the bait cannot find hiding as easily. Whatever, you just continue to reel in deliberately and at the same time move the rod tip down and extend your rod arm down in front of you. It is definitely not good to let the line go slack or come too tight when you do this. It is usually perfect to find that you are putting slightly extra steady tension on the line. This all needs to happen in the space of a few seconds, sometimes longer if the fish was way back deep in heavy wood and you want to lead her out of the nasty stuff first. Then start to bring your rod up towards your shoulder as you reel faster and sweep the rod tip back overhead. This stretches the line and starts to pull the jig out of the fish's mouth. At that instant, the fish will clamp down hard on the bait and compress it against the roof of its mouth, thereby depressing the fibers and helping the hook point stick in a spot. The hook point has pierced soft tissue now, but not in past the barb. Doesnít matter if itís hypodermic needle sharp, just aint set yet. When the fish makes its initial run against a tight line, you must follow through with a couple of short tugs to set the hook past the barb into the fish's mouth. You need to follow through properly before the fish jumps. Otherwise, all will be lost.

Hope it helps you pick the right hook and the right hook protection from weeds and snags when you out on the water.

 
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