The Anatomy of a Jig by Jason Brooks

The Anatomy of a Jig by Jason Brooks

I was teaching a seminar on twitching jigs for fall coho last September when I was asked by a guy in the audience that had a basket full of bright colored steelhead jigs if they would work.

steelhead salmon jigs fishing

I explained to him that there is a difference when it comes to which jigs are used with floats for steelhead and ones that you twitch for salmon and I held up two jigs for everyone to see.

All of a sudden I got several confused looks at me and I felt my captive audience fading away.

It then hit me that a lot of people who fish don’t understand the design of a jig and why it is built a certain way. With floating jigs for steelhead and twitching jigs for salmon becoming increasing popular it’s important to understand what makes up the jig that you are going to use.

First and probably the most common description of a jig is its size measured by the weight of the jig.

This is done in a fraction of an ounce, such as 1/32, 1/16, 1/8, ¼, 3/8 and ½ ounces being the most common. You might also see some referred to by a nickname for a grouping, such as the “micro jig” which is usually a 1/32nd or 1/16th ounce jig. But the weight of the jig in really only one small part of the size of the jig as the hook size should also be considered when describing a jigs overall size.

When floating jigs for steelhead first became popular commercial jigs being used were mostly made for pan fish since the popular bright colors are also a favorite for crappie and bluegill. The problem became the light wire hooks that were used for these jigs didn’t hold up to high flying aerobatic steelhead.

Fly tiers broke out their vises and started custom tying their own steelhead jigs with larger and stronger hooks. Now when you walk down the jig isle at your local fishing store you will see not only the size of the jig in weight but also the hook size is often marked on the package as well.

Since we are on the topic of jig size by weight and hook size in both actual size and strength then let’s ask “What is the proper size jig I need”.

bucktail jig with prawn

This comes down to two main factors; type of fish and type of fishing.

For instance I like a standard strength hook in a size 1 or 1/0 for steelhead as I feel the hook not only needs to be needle sharp but also thin enough to penetrate the nose of the fish the second the float goes under the water. I also like to float fish for steelhead in typical holding water such as a seam, end of a riffle or at a tail out, all of which is in water that is flowing at a rate of a normal walking pace. For this a 1/8- or ¼-oz jig weight is ideal. Luckily the standard jigs now offered commercially for steelhead in these weights also uses a standard 1 or 1/0 normal wire hook.

If I decide that I am going to twitch a jig for fall coho

...which like to hide in deep pools and under log jams then I want two sizes of jigs in my tackle box. The first for those deep holes will be a jig in 3/8 oz tied with a 2/0 heavy wire or 2x hook. This is because fall coho have tough jaws and their kype is thick and bony. When they pick up that jig as it falls and I go to make another twitch, feel the fish and set the hook I don’t want it to fail as I try and horse that fish around in the hole.

funky chicken coho twitching jig

The second jig I want, though I am going to contradict what I just wrote, is that I want a 3/8 oz jig in a lighter or standard wire hook, if I am fishing in heavy log jams.

This is because I hate to lose jigs.

If I twitch it into a log I can usually pull it free but the hook will be bent out. I simply bend it back and cast again. I keep this in mind when playing a fish. For you, you might be willing to sacrifice a few jigs instead of losing a few fish to the light wire hook. My reasoning for this is because the rods I use could break if I jerk too hard with a heavy wire hook and the braided line I use for twitching, as there is no give in a log unlike a fish.

The last thing about size before moving on to the materials and their functions is to think about the water.

jig fishing steelhead marabou cerise purple black

Like I mentioned before when floating jigs for steelhead in riffles and seams where a 1/8- or ¼-ounce jig works great there are always exceptions and this is where having other weights of jigs comes to play. Micro jigs are often used in small streams for instance. Larger jigs for heavier currents such as using a 3/8-oz jig above or below the many Dam’s on the Columbia for steelhead.

A ½-ounce jig twitched in a deep hole with a back eddy or along a seam that is being used as a travel route is sometimes the only weight that can get down to the fish.

Enough about size, weight, and hook strength, let's discuss materials for jigs and that they might just have a certain purpose. Most lures including jigs are often times made to look a certain way or have certain colors that appease the fisherman more than for catching fish.

Several years ago a friend of mine was telling me how he was killing the summer runs on the Cowlitz with jigs. He brought some to me and all they were made of were a few wraps of black chenille and a small amount of thick red yarn. He even colored the lead jig head with a black sharpie instead of painting it.

I took one look at those ugly jigs and thought to myself “this guy is pulling my leg; those would never catch a steelhead.”

But they did and they caught a lot of steelhead. So even if a jig doesn’t look pretty to you it might look good enough to eat by a steelhead or salmon.


Marabou is probably one of the most common feathers or materials used for jigs.

This is because it can be dyed a multitude of colors and is eye appealing to both fisherman and fish. One really neat thing about marabou is how it “dances” in the water. When it’s wet and drifting down a river it almost flows along and mimics the appearance of rotting salmon flesh much like a flesh fly. It also looks a lot like leeches and even some bugs as they are pushed downstream.

The main draw back about marabou is that if you try and scent your jig with standard oil based or gel scent it kills the action and pretty much ruins the jig for future use as it’s almost impossible to wash the scent out without damaging the delicate quills of the marabou.

marabou with worm jig

However, you can scent marabou jigs without worry.

First there is the option of the new water based scents on the market but I have found that they wash out very quickly so you need to reapply them often (don’t worry, I feel these new water based scents are going to find their place as an additive in curing eggs, but that is another article).

So to add scent to marabou jigs take a look at the jig itself. Most are tied with a chenille collar often in an accenting color. Though the color combination is probably the reason why you bought the jig; for the fish it might be more of an enticement since the chenille collar is actually a “scent” collar. This is where you put your oil or gel based scents. Do this before getting the jig wet since water and oil don’t mix you are more likely to get the scents to stick in the chenille while it’s dry. The scent collar will hold this scent for most of the day with a single application.

Beaded jigs have beads in place of a chenille scent collar on a marabou jig. These jigs are to mimic a small cluster of eggs from a loose skein. The beads represent the eggs while the marabou resembles the skein.

Often times these jigs aren’t tied but glued instead. The bead with a dab or two of glue holds the marabou in place on the hook. They make for a really durable jig and are a great substitute in waters where bait is prohibited but you want to fish eggs. Make sure if this is what you’re using them for that you don’t put any scent on them.

Bucktail jigs.

Bucktail is a jig made of, well, bucktail, or the fine deer hairs near its tail. They too can be dyed in several colors and though they don’t “dance” in the water like a marabou they are an extremely tough jig.

bucktail twitching jig

My favorite jig to twitch is a black and purple 3/8 oz “Rock Dancer” jig made by Mack’s Lure out of Wenatchee, Washington. This is because they use a strong 2x hook in 2/0 with a lead head that is flat on its sides instead of a round head and use bucktail for the body with a chenille scent collar.

The pancake style lead head sinks really fast so there is no need to have ½-ounce jigs for stronger currents. The bucktail holds up to toothy Coho as well as several pitches into the shoreline grass and it doesn’t lose its shape after hours of twitching.

Hoochie skirt jigs are probably the toughest yet simplest jig out there.

I also don’t know of any currently commercially made but that is okay as they are simple to make. All you need is some standard hoochie or squid skirts and some pre-painted collared jig heads. Take a 3- to 4-inch squid in your favorite color combination, say like, oh, I don’t know, how about black and purple, I hear it’s a good one for twitching. Cut the tip off so it’s easier to thread onto the hook (if you don’t cut the tip off you run the risk of poking yourself while trying to get the hook into the skirt, trust me) and then thread it all the way up to the barbed collar of the jig head. That’s it!

In fact they are so easy to make that I keep a few packages of skirts and pre-painted collared jigs in my tackle box while on the river. If I run out of my standard jigs or find a color combo I must try I just make them up right there on the river. Hoochie skirt jigs are great for tipping the hook with a piece of prawn since the rubber can be easily washed at the end of the day. Another great attribute of this jig is that you can fill the inside of the jig with oil or gel based scent and it will milk out as it fishes. But since there are no fine fibers or hairs like in a bucktail jig or a chenille scent collar you will need to re-scent this jig often.

Since I have divulged my favorite color for twitching, that being black and purple in case you haven’t noticed, let’s discuss what the colors of a jig do for us.

Again, most of the time it’s all about personal preference and what the company that makes the jigs will sell the best.

But there is some truth to the color of the jig making a difference.

Long time friend Chad Hurst who lives just minutes away from the confluence of the Wenatchee and Columbia rivers favors a red and black 1/8-ounce Aerojig.

aerojig steelhead fishing

On my way to deer camp one year I detoured to the Wenatchee and fished it for a few hours after stopping off and picking up a few of these Aerojigs. As I stumbled along the riverbank I noticed a hatch was occurring. I am no bug expert by any means but I found what I call a stonefly of some sort perched on a grey rock. Its bright red and black body stood out and then I realized my jig looked just like this bug.

bug fishing match the hatch

So the Wenatchee steelhead are used to seeing this red and black bug about the same size as an 1/8-ounce jig, no wonder Chad swears by it.

Red Rocket Red is a favorite Cowlitz river Lil’ Corky color so why wouldn’t a jig of the same color be popular there too.

For some reason the Chums of the Green River near Seattle like large 3/8-ounce cerise and purple jigs tipped with a chunk raw prawn floated under a bobber. We found one summer run kilt that liked it too last November. I guess the color of the jig comes down to finding out what works in a particular river for a certain kind of fish and then using it.

Don’t be afraid to mix it up a bit too but if you really don’t know what colors to use then remember the old saying “dark day’s dark colors bright days bright colors.”

Specialty jigs are ones that you use in specific conditions or for specific techniques. Pete Chadwick who owns Riverbend Jigs and Bait in Elma, Washington likes to fish coastal rivers for fall salmon. Earlier in the season some of these rivers have bait closures and one of his favorite ways to fish, back bouncing eggs, was not allowed.

That’s when he came up with his “funky chicken” jig.

We were fishing the Satsop last fall and he pulled out this ugly gob of a mess of marabou and other materials that made a golf ball sized fluffy clump of something that resembled a tequila sunrise.

funky chicken jig

I asked “What’s that?” and he said, “It’s the funky chicken” an understatement if you ask me. Pete went on to say if it’s fished right it mimics a big glob of eggs rolling down the river. He tied it on and cast it across a seam.

Pete then softly twitched it back with more of a dancing motion with his rod tip and never reeled instead letting the jig roll or drift down the river a bit further with each twitch. Damn, why didn’t I think of that! This would be considered a “specialty jig”.

funky chicken twitching jig

Another such jig is the dropper jig.

This jig has two eyes to tie your line to it. The first being the standard eye with the jig hook upturned and the second eye is on the bottom of the jig head. This allows you to tie on another leader to either a hook with a yarnie or another jig. One way to run this set up is with a bare jig as the top jig painted in a favorite color. Tip this jig with a piece of prawn and then run a second “dropper” marabou jig about 18 inches underneath. This gives you best of the both world’s offerings with the scent of bait and the action of the marabou jig. When using this jig with a trailing bare hook with bait or a yarnie and scent or bait it doubles your chances of a fish biting one of the hooks.

steelhead jig fishing

I have watched steelhead turn in a river and come over to my jig only to get there just as it passes them and they turn away. If you have a trailing hook then the fish will still have a chance to take the other offering.

As you can see there is more to floating jigs for steelhead and twitching them for salmon than just buying a few jigs and fishing them. By knowing how the jig is suppose to work for the type of water and the type of fish you are fishing then you have a better chance of choosing the right jig.

It’s these subtle differences that can make a good day on the water into a great day on the water.

- Written by Jason Brooks

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Outstanding article by my favorite writer.


Mark- try out Js custom jigs


Who sells jigs with hooks strong enough for steelhead?


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