Vertical Jigs For Rockfish

Longtime readers know of my fondness for catching rockfish and therefore can imagine my excitement as July draws near and I can dust off my shallow water jigging tackle!

Much more than the fact that rockfish fight really well (they don’t) and are particularly hard to catch (they aren’t) is that I never know what will jump on my lure … will it be a china rockfish? Will it be a big red?

Will it even be a rockfish? My record books show that I have caught striped bass, halibut, salmon, calico bass, bay spotted bass, Catalina blue perch, greenlings, sculpin, various weird eel type critters, and even a bowling ball sized rock while vertically jigging for rockfish

I think the mystery of the unknown is one of the biggest draws to rockfishing. I was too young in the 50’s to go out into the salt in a boat, but by the mid 60’s I was saving up all my dimes and quarters in anticipation of getting on another jigging trip. Fish were bigger and more plentiful back then, but fishing for them was much … well … less exciting.

Fish reports were also less exciting back then; it was usually the same ol’ same ol’ about limits caught on one of three things: red/yellow shrimp flies (indeed, this was particularly dull and unexciting as the only shrimp flies you could buy were red/yellow shrimp flies), hex bars, and diamond bars. That was it. Just red/yellow shrimp flies, hex bars, and diamond bars. Dull. Yaaaaaaaaaaawn.

This is not to say that these three lures don’t catch fish, for they did back then and they will still do so now, but c’mon now, isn’t the choice of all these different phones in various sizes, shapes, and colors much more fun than the plain old black phone?

You can stick the dull and boring black handset up to your ear and talk into it and carry on a conversion perfectly fine, but don’t you think talking into a
banana or a bass phone is a little more interesting?

By the 70’s, I was tying my own shrimp flies. I was tying them in color combinations of purple/pink/gold, green/blue/yellow, red/white/green, brown/pink, black/pink/white, just about every combination EXCEPT for red/yellow and I was kicking rockfish butt.

I mean I was totally outfishing every other shrimpfly user by a wide margin! So much for fish not being able to judge color down in the depths we USED to be able to fish.

By the 70’s I was also one of the first to use something other than hex bars and diamond jigs for rockfish. The odd part about this is that I have had various Salas jigs, Tadys, Candy bars, and Straggler jigs in my tackle box for years from my experiences in fishing SoCal waters, but I hadn’t ever thought of using them for rockfish.

On a particularly slow day when rockfish were hard to come by using diamond jigs, I took a chance and tied on a Salas 6X jig in green and white. It was almost
embarrassing how those big reds and lings started jumping on my line almost exclusively while the other 20 or so passengers were giving me the ol’ stinkeye, but it takes a lot to embarrass me. Needless to say,
there was a tremendous increase in the number of anglers tossing something other than diamond jigs and hex bars at rockfish after that!

Since those days (hard to believe that was almost thirty years ago!) a number of jig tossers have experimented with other compact metal jigs for rockfish besides the Salas, Tady, Sumo, SeaStriker, Candy bar, and Straggler jigs. Jigs like the Pt. Wilson Darter, the Scampi Coaster spoon, and Stinger jigs have also caught their share of fish, but one thing they have in common is that these are what I consider general use jigs.

While just about every metal jig can be used for vertical jigging, I have a simple criterion for a true vertical jig. For me, a true vertical jig should be able to sink on its own without tumbling or help from a little back pressure on the line to keep the jig’s nose up.

My good buddy Bob Trice from the lure company River2Sea got my rockfishing juices flowing the other day when he dropped off a couple of samples of their company’s Knife Jig in the smaller 80mm (3 ounce)
and 100mm (3.5 ounce) sizes, just perfect for the upcoming shallow water rockfishing season.

The Knife Jig is an engineering marvel … every taper and cross section is designed to slip through the water
with the least resistance, making it one of the hydrodynamically “slipperiest” lures on the market, meaning it will sink faster and deeper than any other lure its weight or even up to twice its weight!

My good buddy Bob Trice from the lure company River2Sea got my rockfishing juices flowing the other day when he dropped off a couple of samples of their company’s Knife Jig in the smaller 80mm (3 ounce)
and 100mm (3.5 ounce) sizes, just perfect for the upcoming shallow water rockfishing season.

The Knife Jig is an engineering marvel … every taper and cross section is designed to slip through the water
with the least resistance, making it one of the hydrodynamically “slipperiest” lures on the market, meaning it will sink faster and deeper than any other lure its weight or even up to twice its weight!

The Knife Jig is a long skinny obtuse triangle shaped lure with a cross section profile that is similar to an airplane wing. This clever cross section design allows the lure to “fly” through the water with minimum resistance while keeping it from tumbling and spinning. How good is this design?

This past winter, ol’ buddy Bob had the giant squid fever something fierce, so he booked a squid trip aboard the fabulous TIGERFISH out of Half Moon Bay in search of these ten armed wonders. He asked me about picking up a couple of Hawai’ian War Clubs, those big nasty looking 18′ long, 24oz. squid jigs so popular for fishing depths of down to 1000′ for squid, and I asked, “Why not just use a big Knife Jig?”

Well, he hadn’t thought of using a Knife Jig for the big squid because arming a Knife Jig with any sort of hook would make the lure illegal for fishing squid. You see, because a hook could also possibly stick a rockfish, Fish & Game ruled that you couldn’t use any sort of hook on a jig intended for rockfish. He didn’t know that ol’ buddy Hippo could, with a little bit of wire, some crimp sleeves, beads, and squid pins, rig him up with a perfectly legal Knife Jig.

So, equipped with some Hippo modified Knife Jigs, Bob boarded the TIGERFISH and when it came to getting that 14 ounce Knife Jig down to the 500′-600′ depths needed to hook squid, it easily kept pace with the Hawai’ian War Clubs that were a full ten ounces heavier!

This, for me then, is the advantage of a true vertical jig. Through design of shape, especially that of being butt heavy, vertical jigs can sink with very little back pressure, with little concern for tumbling, twisting, spinning, and fouling that can occur with more general use jigs.

While it is easy to sing the praises of the Knife Jig, there are other jigs on the market that would also be worthy of fishing down deep.

River2Sea has another couple of jigs that they market that work very well for vertical jigging, the Sea Rock Jig and the Amoebic Jig. The Sea Rock Jig I have had limited experience with, but the Amoebic Jig is one of my favorites. The Amoebic Jig is a “two-fer” lure, a take-off on the Yo-Zuri Hydrometal Jig.

On one side if the jig is the likeness of a baitfish, on the other side of the jig is the likeness of a squid …
“two-fer” the price of one!
When I was up in Yakutat, Alaska, I was fishing on a spot some eleven miles outside the mouth of Yakutat Bay, jigging a fish looking jig (can’t remember which one), hooking an occasional rockfish. I decided to try an Amoebic Jig when Capt. Chris Eckstrom looked at the jig, then looked at me, then looked at the jig again before declaring, “You fishermen will buy ANYTHING, won’t you?”
Well, the Amoebic Jig hit the bottom, and after a couple of bounces, I was in tight with a BORF (Big Orange Rock Fish). After landing that beautiful BORF, I dropped the Amoebic Jig back down to the bottom and immediately, the rod was bendo again!

Did the fish just decide to turn on just when I changed lures? Landing the second BORF, I dropped down
the original fish looking jig and bounced it up and down for almost ten minutes without a bite. Changing to the Amoebic Jig, I was hooked up again on the second bounce! Having witnessed the effectiveness of the
“two-fer” jig, Capt. Chris felt a little sheepish about making that “buying anything” remark and asked if I could leave a couple of these jigs with him before I left Alaska!

Other good vertical jigs on the market include the Shimano Butterfly Jigs and the Sushi Spoon. The Butterfly jigs were designed specially for vertical jigging so you know they are good for this particular technique.

The Sushi Spoon is a very new lure with the proper butt heavy design, but the real beauty of the jig, the one feature that really sets it apart from othe jigs, is that it is “colored” with genuine abalone shells!

Anyone who has seen how beautiful the inside of an abalone shell is, with its swirling irridescent colors, will be impress with the beauty of the Sushi Spoons. The fish catching ability of abalone shell is legendary, and
rightly so. These jigs are fish catching fools.

These are not the only lures on the market that can be used for vertical jigging, but they do represent the general design features I look for in a good vertical jig. Choosing wisely will certainly increase your success in the upcoming rockfish season.

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