I was introduced to twitching jigs for fall coho one early December day on the Humptulips River.
What my fishing partner and I thought was supposed to be an early trip for steelhead ended up being a very cold surprise. Our guide explained how we would be fishing for late coho as we floated down the river and through the famed boat chute in the dark to get to the “twitching hole” first.
It was 19 degrees out and for some reason the guide wouldn’t turn the heaters on. As he showed us the technique of casting, counting to five and then yanking the rod up and dropping the tip back to the rivers surface just as fast I thought to myself at least this technique would warm me up a bit.
I learned a few things on that day including: no matter how much we were paying this guy he would interrupt our fishing to row into a hole and retrieve a spinner hanging from a tree; propane apparently isn’t cheap and heaters are overrated; to clear rod guides of ice all you have to do is dip them into the river, but this won’t work for spooled up braided line; and more importantly that twitching jigs for salmon does work. We were taught to fish deep holes where fish were stacked and holding.
Foul hooking fish was part of the game and though we released all that weren’t hooked in the mouth it was still a fifty-fifty chance if the fish bit the jig or it was snagged. This is what gives twitching a bad name with a game warden telling us one day that it’s just an attempt at people trying to justify snagging.
For those whom don’t know how to twitch jigs or do use them as a tool to snag fish then it is true that using a hook with a heavy amount of lead attached will snag fish easily in deep holes but truly twitching jigs catch a lot of biting fish and it can be done in more places than just the deep holding holes were stacked up fish are vulnerable.
Much like how drift fishing can be used to “line” fish twitching can be used to snag fish and those that do it for that reason are breaking the law, deserving of a citation and making it hard for others to legally fish with jigs. It has taken me several years to learn how to properly twitch jigs in several types of water and fishing conditions, but it can be done.
Over time as I continued to fish jigs by twitching them I found that I had less foul hooked fish if I kept from letting the jig fall all the way to the bottom.
Just as important it so make sure you are jigging through the fish’s holding column. Since the fish bite the jig on the fall out of a reactive strike then it is important to keep the jig “in the zone.”
On another fall day the same fishing partner and I were back on the Humptulips fishing the same “twitching holes.” For several hours he put on a clinic catching fish after fish, even hitting three fish in three casts. I only got one fish the entire day and it wasn’t until the end of the trip that he told me he thought I was twitching too fast.
What I had been doing was twitching and reeling at the same time.
This kept the jig high in the water closer to the surface than the bottom where the fish were holding. I simply never put the jig in front of the fish for them to reactively strike.
After that day I have made a mental note to make sure I am putting the jig in the zone of the fish, where they will have it jerking up and down right in front of their face, teasing them and causing a strike.
The first lesson in twitching is that you need to put it in front of the fish, where the fish are. On another cold November day I was fishing with Pete Chadwick of River Bend Jigs and Bait. We drifted along and Pete told me of an underwater shelf where the fish would be holding.
I cast out and began twitching as we continued to float down the river in his drift boat. Though I didn’t change my technique of quickly lifting the rod tip and dropping it, then reel a crank on the handle and repeating. The fact that we continued to drift along allowed my jig to slowly back down into the slot of holding fish where I caught our first fish of the day.
Shortly after that we anchored up and continued to fish but not in a deep hole like I was used to. Instead we anchored along a seam and cast to the river bank where the rising water was slower.
We ended up catching four fish and losing just as many more on this cold rainy day.
Instead of targeting the holding water we ended up fishing the travel lanes.
The river was on the rise and the fish were on the move so for us to put the jigs in front of the fish we had to find an area where the fish were traveling through. The “bite” would come and go with a couple of doubles mixed in for the day and in reality it wasn’t a bite but pods of fish moving through. When the fish moved past the “bite” would go off and once another run came through the “bite” was on. Instead of trying to chase fish we just sat there on anchor waiting for the fish to come to us. Again, it’s important to remember to put the jig in front of the fish to catch the fish.
Pete and I continued to fish together over time and he continued to perfect his twitching techniques and share them with me on rivers while chasing fall salmon.
On a trip meant for chums we caught several coho while twitching on the Satsop.
We anchored along a long flat with a current seam in the middle and some logs and debris lining the bank. I asked if I should throw a spinner or even a spoon out and Pete simply picked up his rod with a jig tied on and said, “I can fish a jig anywhere you can throw a spinner.”
He cast out and began twitching his rod. I noticed he didn’t do the dramatic twitch and pause like I was used to but instead he did an over exaggerated jiggle of his rod tip and more importantly he didn’t reel. I asked him about this and he explained that he was twitching the jig as the current took up the slack, basically dancing it along as the jig was pushed down river in the moving water, much like how you would swing a spoon or spinner.
Since learning what I like to call “drift twitching” I have employed this technique while drifting beside log jams.
The idea is to cast up against the log and drift the jig along, allowing the current to push it under the woody debris and into holding fish while twitching the jig and giving it action. By allowing the current to take up the slack you can feel the jig bouncing with the twitch and feel the strike of the fish. When fishing deep holes you won’t feel the bite since the fish picks the jig up on the fall. Instead what you feel is the resistance when you lift the rod to twitch again and then have to set the hook. With drift twitching there is no pause or slack in the line and very few missed bites because of this.
By reading water conditions and determining where the fish are makes a difference in what jigs you use.
When fishing in log jams or places where you are likely to get your jig stuck, I try to use a light wire or 1x hook so I can pull it free by bending the hook out. For areas where you are not likely to lose jigs, like in deep and slow holding water I will go up to a 2x or 3x wire hook.
This past November I was again floating the Satsop for chums and Pete pulled alongside. He tossed me a few jigs and gave a warning of one that was a real producer but it was tied on a 4x hook that I will not get it back if I hooked a tree with it. I caught several fish that day with that one jig; in fact I probably landed around twenty chums, a few coho and even a wild king with that one jig.
Then as we floated by an overhanging tree were the fish were stacked up underneath I tossed it up and into the branches. I had to cut my braid as there was no pulling that jig free without breaking my rod. Since were are on the topic of the jig itself lets discuss weight and color.
There are several weights being offered for twitching jigs but I have found that a lot of people think that the standard ¼ jig is just fine. In reality it is too light with the exception of low, clear water where the fish are holding in the tall grass of back sloughs. The standard 3/8-ounce jig is a good choice for most water conditions. When drift twitching in slower currents the weight is still light enough for the moving water to push the jig downstream while you keep tension on it and dancing it.
Yet the 3/8 ounce is heavy enough to cast into deep holding water and getting down to the holding zone where the fish are. Plus you can keep it in the zone by allowing it to drop between twitches. However there is a time when an even heavier jig is necessary. I will move up to a ½-ounce and even a 5/8-ounce jig when fishing faster water. We were anchored up on the far side fishing some slower water and watching some bankies float eggs for kings in a deep fast run.
They caught a couple of fish and finally moved on. I tied up a 5/8-ounce jig and cast it up stream from where they were float fishing. I then began twitching the rod in short bounces and left the reel handle alone allowing the jig to drift down to where the kings were holding when the fish slammed the jig. By using the heavier jig I was able to fish the faster water where the Kings were staging to head up to the next run.
What I didn’t mention above is that the second factor in catching the king was the color of my jig.
I wrote all about the “Anatomy of a Jig” in the September 2013 issue and discuss color there as well and the jig I drifted to the kings was Pete Chadwick’s “Funky Chicken” a very bright red, orange and white jig that mimics a glob of milking eggs. These fish had been dodging eggs by the bankies all day and when I twitched that jig past them the jerking motion was too much for that king to handle and he slammed it.
Normally when I fish jigs I just tie on my favorite color and fish most of the day with it. Bright greens, cerise and whites for chums, black and purple or all black for coho, red and orange for kings; I seem to pick my color of jigs by the species of fish I am targeting.
This works for me but for Pete he will have three or four rods all ready to go each with a different color of jig tied on.
He will cast a few times with each into the holding water and if he doesn’t catch a fish he moves on, stating “If there is a fish in there I will get it to hit one of these colors.” Each day a different color might be the “hot” one for the trip. The day on the Satsop where it seemed I couldn’t keep a fish off of my 4x jig I was using a black marabou with a blaze orange head.
We also did well with the same jig but with a chartreuse head. The first time I fished with Pete a few years ago I tied on a blue and black jig. Pete replied how he hasn’t done as well as he thought he should have with that color combo since black and purple is so popular. On my first cast I caught a mid-teen coho buck.
I have caught several more fish including kings and chums with black and blue.
Pete has also tied up another popular jig for the rivers he fishes; aptly named the “Michelle (Obama)” which is black and pink and modeled after the gown she wore to her husband’s second inauguration. It was supposed to be a joke of sort, about fishing with Michelle Obama, but once the jig started producing the joke was on Pete and it has become a great seller of his.
Basically now I choose my colors by what I feel like trying and continue to try different colors until one starts catching fish. Sometimes the color makes the difference and sometimes the fish are so aggressive that no matter the color as long as you put the jig in front of the fish they will strike it.
Aggressive fish are non-stressed and nearing their spawning cycles. This doesn’t mean they are turned fish but just that they have that urge to get up river and find a place to spawn.
Twitching jigs can work early in the seasons but I have had my most success in the latter part of the seasons when the fish’s “biological clock” is ticking.
This past September we floated the lower Humptulips for kings and early coho. We couldn’t get any of the fish to bite jigs, but all of the holding water was great for floating eggs and sand shrimp. Sometimes twitching jigs isn’t the best technique for the day and this is just as important to remember as how to properly twitch jigs.
Fishing all day long by casting and flicking your wrist can cause some serious arm aches.
The heavier the rod the more it takes to twitch it and the longer the rod the more exaggerated the twitch will be. For this reason I know several guys who use 6 ½ foot bass fishing rods with stiff actions. I have found that the trade-off of a light and short rod is that it can be hard to accurately cast a 3/8-ounce jig into a small opening between overhanging branches or alongside a log while floating by.
Plus once you get a fish of any size to it they can be hard to handle on a rod that was designed for a five-pound bass in stagnant water. For a compromise I have changed from my usual 8 ½ to 9 foot drift rod to a 7 foot 9 inch rod rated for 8 to 15 pound line. The exact rod I use is the X11 series by Lamiglas which is moderately priced and fits the build for easy and precise casting with enough backbone to handle big fish yet light enough to twitch all day.
A spinning outfit cast the light jigs easier and farther than a casting outfit and with the eyes of the rod underneath for a spinning rod there is less of a chance of wrapping the tip and breaking it off on a hook set.
It’s very important to use braid since there is no stretch in the line so when you twitch the rod the action is imparted on the jig at the other end and when a fish strikes you can set the hook immediately.
With my longer rods of past I used to use 20-pound braid as I would also use these rods to drift fish with as well. Once I moved to a single rod just for twitching purposes I upped the line to 30 pound since I am now drift twitching in heavy cover with a shorter rod I need to be able to handle and force a fish away from structures.
The gear is pretty simple:
A jig of appropriate weight for the water conditions in a color of your choice tied to braided mainline to a shorter and heavier action spinning rod.
With the confidence of drift twitching a jig in current or targeting stacked up fish in a deep hole heading to the river with nothing but a rod and a handful of jigs in fall are all I need to catch fish.
- Written by Jason Brooks
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