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Introduction to Eelskin Jigs & Squids

By Russ Bassdozer

Most surfcasters have fished with live eels at one time or another. There is even an elite cadre that fish with  rigged eels, which are dead eels securely threaded and lashed onto hooks with or without a metal wobble plate up front. This article, however, is about eelskin jigs and squids. Eelskin jigs are still commonly used by Cape Cod Canal anglers, but virtually inknown lures elsewhere. That's a shame, because they may very well be the absolutely deadliest styles of jigs for stripers. So please read on if you are interested to learn a little bit about them as follows!

Most eelskin jigs have holes in the head of the jig to allow water to flow through them. There are two common varieties of head styles:

1) Center hole styles are made for rocky areas where you kind of keep the lure pumping just above bottom for fear of snagging. These styles characteristically have the hole in the "face" of the jig. Some of these can be cylindrical (barrel-shaped or bullet-shaped), with the hole dead center straight down the cylinder barrel. Other center hole styles are designed with thinner dorsal areas and wider bottom sections to allow a wide hole drilled straight through the lure in the wider bottom half of the jig underneath where the hook shank runs through the lure.

2) Shoulder hole styles are made with two smaller diameter holes drilled up high on coin-shaped shoulders behind the hook eye. These styles inhibit sand, marl and mud from clogging the skin as invariably happens with the above-mentioned center hole style heads. The face of a shoulder hole jig is often wide and hammer-shaped (sometimes called a bug eye), to give stability and to allow a good drift on a quartering current whereby you cast uptide and let the lure swing downtide, bouncing bottom occasionally. These are great for jetties or open beaches with sweeping tides. Heck, anywhere with a tide will do!

Well, I said the above two styles are common varieties, but I am not so sure how common the coin shoulders are anymore. I have a stock of 'em from many years ago. Does anyone know where any coin shoulder eelskin jigs are available? If so, please email me at I don't know, maybe they are not too common any longer, and I use two other styles of eelskin "tins" that are probably less common styles too:

3) Double arrow tin squid. This style looks like a wide, flattened tin squid, with a grommet to attach your line via a snap, and either a molded-in hook or a brass eye to attach a swinging hook. The tin shape is wide and flat, like a figure eight, except that both ends are arrow-shaped where a figure eight would be rounded at the top and bottom. You just tie the skin onto the narrower middle waist of the tin. This one does not have water flow through it, but it still seems to billow out upon use. It is best for a gentle surf, especially when it gets sucked back up into the "tube" of a wave, riding up from the base of the wave to the top of the curl, wiggling frantically. Then just pump it forward as it reaches the crest of the wave, and let it ride the forward motion of the wave coming at you like a little eelskin surfboard! Let it tumble around in the white water when the wave breaks. It's a great thing to watch this lure get sucked up the face of the tube and to see a bass materialize and body surf in the tube a foot or two to the lure's side, then angle over and slash it, often poking it's head out in front of the lure, and head-slashing at it sideways in the curl.

4) S-shaped tin squid. This style looks like the standard style of tin squid head to which you attach rigged eels. Often, the hook is molded in, and the squids body is S-shaped, meaning that the squid is bent twice - the front third of the squid is often horizontal, then the middle third of the squid angles down and back. Finally, the last third of the squid is horizontal again, but on a lower plane than the front third of the squid. So, if we left the lure like that, you could easily lash a whole rigged eel onto it and do well. This is fairly common, but what you don't see so often is where a little round sleeve goes onto that last third of the squid. Those sleeves can be brass or stainless, sometimes it is just a half-section of tin sleeve that is molded as a separate piece and then soldered onto the back section of the tin as a later step in the lure-making process. In any event, the sleeve is ridged so you lash your eelskin onto it. Works well in a moderate to heavy surf, depending on the weight distribution and shape of the tin. By the way, there is also a variant of this where instead of a ring, there are just deep notches scored in the sides of the squid where you just lash the skin down to the last third of the tin. Still works well like that!

5) Chapter Twelve. Finally, there is Captain John DeMaio's revelation about how to make his version of an eelskin jig lure in chapter 12 of his book, "The Art of Bucktailing." Basically, I like a bullet-shaped or arrow-shaped jig head. Just use a normal jig head with an extra wide lead collar that you would normally use to wrap on bucktail hair. Instead of hair however, slip a short piece of surgical tubing onto the lead collar. The surgical tubing can extend about one inch beyond the hook bend. Do not cut the tail end of the surgical tubing square, but kind of make it a little pointy. Of course, you have to pre-measure where the hook comes out the top of the tubing, and you have to measure an eelskin that you will slip over the tubing; then wrap it onto the tube as you would normally lash on bucktail hair. I use red size E rod-wrapping thread, I often let the wraps semi-dry out for a minute, and put a little shot of superglue on them too. I leave about 1/2 inch of the cut end of the eelskin to fold back over the thread when in use, thereby covering the wraps. Now the tapering tail end of the skin can extend out several inches or more past the hook. If you are concerned that the long tail will whip back and foul the hook when you cast, then you can tie a big loop of heavy mono or braid onto the hook shank first, and thread this loop up through the surge tube and up through the skin when you slip both those items onto the jig. In this way, the heavy loop of line will discourage some of the whippiness in the tail section, and the loop doesn't interfere with the tail's rippling action. Yes, this lure will billow out and appear as if the skin os inflated, even though there is no hole in the head. Sometimes I mold these heads with pure tin or with more economical 60/40, which is available at plumber supply houses. It's 60% tin and 40% lead. It allows me to make bigger heads to use wider diameter tubes and skins. For instance, I can use a head that would weigh 2 oz if pure lead - but it is just over an ounce in 60/40 - and even lighter with pure tin! Again, the reason to use these metals is to get lightweight heads with the widest possible tying collars, thereby allowing you to use bigger-diameter surgical tubing and wider-bodied eelskins.

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