Seasoned largemouth bass anglers profess that for large bass throughout the seasons, a rubber or silicon-skirted jig with a pork or plastic trailer is hard to beat.
For that other “black bass”, however, hair is the way to go. Smallmouth bass in Pennsylvania’s fertile rivers prefer hair jigs to silicon or rubber skirted jigs, hands down. It has been a popular mistruth over the years that smallmouth do not eat or that they lay dormant when the water temperature holds in the 30′s, as it does during the cold water winter period. The cold water period is an excellent time for anglers to catch trophy river smallmouth bass, and a hair jig may be the best lure to use.
Most smallmouth that have made it to my boat during the cold water period have fallen for hair jigs. Hair jigs are subtle, yet they create curiosity in smallmouth that won’t be tempted by other productive lures. Hair jigs come in various sizes, colors and styles. Bucktails, deer hair and marabou style jigs are productive on many game fish, including smallmouth bass.
Don’s Handcrafted Jigs makes a jig called the Millennium Jig. This jig is constructed from rabbit hair and top quality jig heads and is the choice for trophy cold water smallies. When dropped into the water, the rabbit hair pulsates giving the lure an almost lifelike quality that will catch the attention of smallies even in water temperatures in the 30′s.
The key to fishing hair jigs effectively is the key to success with any other lure: Find the fish. A hair jig will produce as well as a rattling crankbait if fished in an area that isn’t holding bass. Target eddies and related break lines, mid-depth rocky flats and rocky drop offs adjacent to wintering holes for the most aggressive smallies during the cold water period. Rocky drop offs near holding areas warm first on sunny days or during a warming trend. Smallmouth gravitate to these areas searching for a quick, big meal. Remember, they aren’t inclined to expend a lot of energy in cold water. Fish any concrete or wood structure within the targeted area for less active bass.
Cast a hair jig to drop offs and structure near these feeding areas. Lift the rod tip in line with your forehead. This allows the jig to fall straight and keeps the line tight. Many strikes occur on the fall immediately following the cast. Strikes can feel like mushy weight, similar to grass or a small stick. Or the strike may be a bit more evident, and a “tick” or “tap” will vibrate through the rod. Quality graphite rods like Quarrow’s ML3 and ML4 series rods are important for this application. Set the hook hard if either of these conditions occur. Many anglers use the “I’m not sure if it’s a fish” theory if the bite isn’t obvious. That theory is good for loosing trophy smallmouth, so we’ll stay away from it. We teach the “When in doubt, set the hook!” theory.
To work the jig, keep the rod tip high and the line tight and move the jig across the river floor or structure slowly. The jig shouldn’t move more than several inches to a foot at a time. There is a time when swimming hair jigs is effective, when fish are chasing lures. That occurs when water temperatures are in the forties.
For cold smallies, slow and deliberate dragging, hopping or jigging is best. And when fish are extremely sluggish, as was the case much of the month of January, the jig is effective when motionless on the river bottom. Remember, the rabbit hair Millennium Jig creates its own “life”. Most effective colors are black and brown for PA river smallies. Olive, gray, tan and white can work as well. Many jigs have combinations of several of the above colors. Jigs can be tipped with plastic or small pork trailers for more profile. Black trailers have produced the best results, with brown, green pumpkin, and smoke also being viable options. Jigs can be thrown on medium action rods equipped with 6-10 pound McCoy Mean Green line.
River smallmouth bass in Pennsylvania provide tremendous fishing opportunities for beginning and advanced anglers twelve months per year. Hair jigs, especially Millennium Jigs from Dan’s Handcrafted Jigs, are excellent lures for fooling smallmouth bass from these rivers even when the smallies have “stopped eating” or gone dormant” for the winter period. Find the fish holding areas and choose the best equipment for the job at hand. Remember to fish slowly and do not “overwork” the jig. The result of using hair jigs and following these simple rules can be quite satisfying.
By: Blaine Mengel, Originally Published: November 2004
The Backwoods Angler, a smallmouth bass guide service on the Delaware, Susquehanna and Schuylkill Rivers of PA.