Jigs – A Deadly Lure for Salmon and Steelhead

Over the last few years the use of jigs in BC waters has really taken off. Many anglers who are having success with this lure are hesitant to share their knowledge, as sharing their new discoveries might lead to less success they might feel. I also can relate to this mind set, however, having learned of jig techniques from other fisherman, passing it on is the right thing to do and hopefully it will contribute to more people using this effective and ethical technique.


The amount of jigs on today's market is staggering and although not all of them apply to salmon and steelhead fishing, many do and some will surprise you.

The most common type of jig used for salmon and steelhead is probably the pre poured lead head jig, they come in all shapes and sizes and often come with very poor quality hooks. Finding lead head jigs with quality hooks is often very difficult and as a result I have switched most my jig fishing over to the bead and pin style jigs. One thing that is nice about using the lead jigs is they come in a vast array of shapes and sizes and they are quite cheap if you buy in bulk or even cheaper if you pour your own. Another nice thing about these jig heads is the fact they are unfinished and this allows you the option of painting them yourself to get the exact finish you want, but unpainted jigs will catch fish very well on their own.  Also available to the fisherman are pre painted jig heads, these are often poor quality jig heads in my experience and the finishes are usually a little bright for my liking, look for colors that are not too bright and always give them a bend test, weak hooks will not hold up to salmon or steelhead. If you do go for pre painted jig heads look for ones that are coated with a good paint, they must be durable as I have had far too many jigs lose their paint almost immediately once in the water. One thing to consider is painting them yourself, this way you can get the exact finish you like and can ensure the quality is there. Many paints are available to the consumer, bake on and dip type paints being most durable. When painting your own heads, stick to colors that do not distract the fish from the all important “breathing” part of your jig, as this is what really attracts the fish. I prefer light pink, white and sometimes even black heads on my jigs, and stay away from the crazy fluorescent colors, although I'm sure others will swear by the great big glow in the dark jig heads commercially available, especially for Chum and Pink salmon. This being said, I find it's the action and other materials that really make a jig special.

Another type of jig available and one that I find works very well is the bead and pin type jig. These jigs are made by first acquiring a good quality jig hook and then you tie the bead and pin to the jig, creating your own jig head. These type jig heads are my favorite, as they allow for using top quality hooks and let the user decide what weight they would like to use. On top of that you can find weighted metal beads in a variety of sizes and being metal you can easily coat them with quality paints. These style jig heads also seem better balanced and they always ride horizontally in the water like a good jig should. One more positive attribute with this style jig head is the fact that they allow for a bigger hook gap, which makes for a higher hook to land ratio. The jig weights I find most useful are 1/8oz up to 1/2 oz., with the larger sizes better suited to the jigging technique and the smaller ones for fishing under a float.

On the topic of hook to land ratio ,many top anglers I know swear by jigs when it comes to hooking and landing fish, in fact I myself was astounded by the increase of landed salmon and steelhead when I started to use jigs, especially the bead and pin style with top quality hooks. This high % of landed fish is obviously due to the way the hook rides in the water and the angle of pull that results from this, and also the fact that most fish are hooked in the upper snout area and the hook is penetrating the hard cartilage of the fish's mouth. When using good quality hooks I seldom need to set the hook, usually the pull of the fish is all that is needed to deeply sink the good quality hook.

The next and most important piece of the jig puzzle, is what to tie on your jigs to entice fish to bite. A whole book could and probably has been written on this topic, I will try and give some insight to what myself and other jig anglers have found works well and hopefully this will inspire you to create your own styles and patterns.

For my jig fishing I mostly stick to using materials found in your local fly fishing store and sometimes the craft store as well, the possibilities are however endless. The first thing to consider is how your jig will move under water, and will this in turn make the fish bite.

Probably the number one material used in making jigs is marabou, this fantastic feather is a very useful material when making jigs .Marabou is a very bulky feather and its ability to breathe underwater is most useful when tying jigs, the fact that it comes in a rainbow of colors is also a great attribute. When using marabou, make sure to use the soft tip part of the feather as this is the part that will give you that breathing life like quality. There are many ways to attach marabou to a jig, in clumps, spun on, or stacked along the jig shank, no way is wrong and whatever catches fish is the RIGHT way. Often I use marabou in conjunction with other materials to achieve the presentation that will get the fish biting.

Schlappen is another feather that is very useful in tying jigs, most often this feather is used by spinning it around the shank of the jig hook creating a very large profile that will stay puffed up for the life of the jig, this is known as palmering. I will often use a small piece of schlappen in the tail of my jig to add body to the tail that often is made with marabou.

Chenille, this product is another very useful one for tying jigs; it can give your jig color with a very thin profile, often a positive thing when fishing very low and clear water situations. I like to use chenille to give a jig an attracting color while using the feathers for the attraction qualities, or breathe ability. Chenille comes in a plethora of colors and I am always experimenting with this material, I suggest others do the same.

Dubbing ,this material is another one I use frequently when tying jigs ,mostly it is used to make the bodies of jigs and it helps give them a bug like quality or perhaps to just add some girth to your jig. I especially like the new UV dubbings that really glow under water, they have proven to be real fish catchers, and no one is commercially making them this way that I know of, another advantage in heavily fished waters.

Krystal Flash and other materials of this type are also of great importance when tying jigs; they really seem to add sparkle to a jig and quite possibly will attract fish when used correctly. I will often add a few strands of one of these type materials to the tails of my jigs, giving them some much needed sparkle. I also have been experimenting with very fish like jigs where the entire tail is made of blended styles of these materials and early indications are fish like these jigs and possibly mistake them for the ocean bait fish they so love, when all else fails, swim a sparkle jig through the pool and you may be amazed with the results.

Rabbit fur, this material is absolutely fabulous for tying jigs ,not only is it affordable, but it is very easy to use and comes in a multitude of colors, either used alone or in conjunction with other materials, it is a must have material for tying jigs. The most common method of using rabbit fur is to wrap it around the jig shank with the direction of the material facing away from the head, for this application rabbit strips is the way to go. Another fine use for the rabbit strips is to tie them along the top of the jig shank in a zonker style; this is an excellent method for fishy looking jigs.

There are many other materials you can use in tying jigs, these are my most common materials and I am always looking for new things to try, learning and adapting are a lifelong quest and an open mind is essential in becoming a better fisherman.

Tools for tying jigs, jigs are basically upside down flies, nothing more nothing less and as such you will be using the same tools to tie them as you would flies.

Vise, the vise is the first tool that you will need to get started; a cheap vise will do, as long as it will hold a hook. I prefer the type that clamp to tables and such as opposed to the type that have a heavy base, as the former is much more versatile.

Bobbin the is used for holding the thread you will use to tie your jigs with, again the most basic and cheap bobbin is all you need and I prefer the small simple ones myself.

Scissors are of extreme importance and you will use them often, spend the extra money and get yourself a good small pair of fly tying scissors, you will appreciate them greatly, precision cuts and tight places are the norm, so go with the best you can afford and think small.

Hackle pliers, a very important tool as well, I use these mostly for wrapping materials on the jig ,such as schlappen (palmering) and marabou, the pliers are used to grip the stem of the feather and to wrap it around the shank. I had to go thru numerous pairs before I found one I liked and it was the cheapest ones on the shelf, go figure.

Whip finish tool, this tool is used to finish off the jig by tying off the thread, I personally just use my fingers for this method, as I find it easier and with jigs being mostly larger than flies, I find no need for the whip finish tool, they are handy however.

Head cement, once your jigs are done and tied off you will want to coat the thread at the head with some kind of head cement.  There are head cements available at the tackle store, but I honestly find the “hard as wraps” product at your local make up store to the best thing going, it is cheap, effective and easily obtained.

Thread is what you use to wrap materials to the jig with and is also used to create a finished head to your jig. There are a huge array of threads in a never ending amount of colors, for my tying purposes I use flat waxed thread in red, pink or black, depending on the jig  I'm creating, experiment with all the types available and I'm sure you will find a favorite.

Of course there are other materials and tools used in making jigs, I have tried to give you a basic overview of what I use, and others probably have things they use and if it works for you than it is a useful item.

Fishing the jig

Again I could write a book on all the ways to fish jigs, to keep it simple I will concentrate on the two ways I have found most productive, that being, short floating jigs with a float and simply casting and working your jigs back to you with a jigging motion.

Jigs under a float

This method is one that most accomplished fisherman who have float fished will find easy and effective. The method here is to float your jig slightly above the fish to get their attention and elicit a strike, with this method a very lifelike jig seems to work best.

There are no hard fast rules to this approach, however I find that the dead drift or drag free drift is the most useful, but a jig put under tension to sort of swing it past fish can be effective also. With this technique you simply cast slightly upstream of your position and as the float and jig begin their travel downstream pick up all the slack line and try to keep slack at a minimum, your float should be sitting straight up and down, signaling that it is under no tension, most times when a fish takes it will be pulled right under, be aware of the light bite though, as this will often result in a slowed down float. The use of good quality balsa or hard plastic floats will be essential to detect light biting fish.  When float fishing jigs I find that split shot spread out evenly along your mainline much more effective than pencil lead, it makes for a better drift and avoids the helicopter effect when casting. Keep in mind that fish will often be sitting a bit more off bottom than you expect, short floating jigs can be very rewarding.


This technique is probably most associated with bass fishing or deep ocean bottom fishing, but in our rivers it can be deadly. For whatever reason, but most probably because of a life like action, jigging is a sure fire way to create aggression in fish. I continue to be amazed watching salmon chase jigs, often with four or five fish all following the jig as it is worked along the bottom.

With this technique, simply cast out past the suspected fish “hold” and slowly retrieve the jig by quickly lifting the rod tip and dropping it back down, followed by retrieving the slack with the reel. Once you get the hang of this technique you will quickly recognize the technique that works best on a particular day. Sometimes the fish are hot for a fast retrieve, other days the slow and steady approach is rewarded, this is part of the fun with this method, the angler's actions play a big part in success and that in itself is rewarding.

I personally have found marabou to be a fantastic material for jigs that will be used with the jigging technique, colors are always worth experimenting with as I have had many that work well.

Be aware that when fishing over stacked salmon, foul hook ups can be a problem, I always cast to the perimeter of a group of fish and try and pull fish away from the pack, fortunately this seems to be the most productive method anyhow and foul hook ups are rare.

I hope this article will inspire others to give fishing with jigs a try, with more and more instances of bait fishing being regulated,  jig's are a great alternative and are often just as deadly. Not only is it a deadly effective technique, but fishing and creating your own jigs is very much like fishing and tying flies and has similar rewards. In fact once a person becomes efficient at jig fishing I feel it will help them move into fly fishing rivers, with more confidence and understanding about the effects of fur and feathers on salmon and steelhead.

I have purposely avoided too much reference to jig patterns, specialized techniques and types of water to fish, these are things that should be awarded to an angler with time and practice and along with discovering places to fish, make the sport of angling fantastic.

Good luck on the water, Bent Rods and keep our rivers clean.

Rod Toth, Bent Rods Guiding and fishing Co.

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