Everyone knows jigs are go-to baits in spring, especially for big pre-spawn bass. In fact, jigs account for many of the fish – including many of the better fish – caught on the Bassmaster and FLW tours. But usually these jigs are flipped or pitched to shallow cover, not cast and retrieved like a grub in water as deep as 30 feet.
Swimming homemade jigs is FLW Tour pro Tom Monsoor's trademark pattern, one that's helped him net two Top 5 finishes in four events this season. Last year, he swam his way through a rookie season that included a 3rd, a 15th and a 34th. Prior to that, he won the first Northern EverStart he fished, and had four more Top 10s in 12 tournaments on that circuit. Even though he used some other techniques in that time, "90 percent of the time" he's swimming a jig.
"I like doing everything – spinnerbaits, crankbaits, you name it," he said. "As a matter of fact, I love topwater so much that it made me develop my jig skills. I got so sick of missing fish that I got really good at following up (a missed topwater bite) with a jig. They nail it almost every time."
Swim, Don't Sink
Although he knows how effective a jig is fished in the conventional manner, he firmly believes swimming it brings out the best in this bait.
"(Swimming a jig) is unobtrusive," he said. "It doesn't make noise. It's a really natural presentation that just trips your trigger. It's almost like something is trying to escape but can't, and (the fish) know they can get it every time, so they nail it regardless of what mood they're in."
Monsoor keeps the jig in constant motion rather than employing a typical hop-and-drop retrieve, or a one-shot flip or pitch. "If you're shallow, you try to swim it just under the surface. If you're deep, you want to crawl it along just above bottom. You don't want to feel the bottom, just every once in a while be able to touch it so you know (where it is)."
His jig weights range from as light as 1/8-ounce in skinny water to 1/2-ounce for deep fish, with 1/4- and 3/8-ounce versions inbetween. "Just like fishing a crankbait, there's one for every depth," he noted.
Long casts are essential to the pattern, both for keeping your distance from shallow fish and for reaching deep fish with a swimming retrieve. "Throw as far as you can possibly throw. I'm in pretty decent shape, and I can get some distance – I probably throw that thing 30 to 40 feet farther than anyone I know."
So how do you stay in contact with a relatively small lure – 1/4 ounce, on average – at such a long distance or a long way down?
"It's taken me my entire life to get the feeling down," he said. "Here's how I describe it, and this is what I say to myself when I'm reeling this thing in: Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. I say that over and over because I'm always trying to slow down. The slower it 'floats' along, the easier it looks to a fish. They know it's not going to get away."
The "stinger," in this case, is the ultra-sharp, thin wire hook on which Monsoor's jigs are built. His main complaint with most over-the-counter jigs is the size of the hooks.
"I've been making jigs for 20 years because I could never find (store-bought jig) with a hook I liked. Most are too thick – they're muskie hooks, not bass hooks. They're too hard to get a good hookset with, especially at long range. I don't want the hook sliding around inside the fish's mouth. I want that fish hooked as soon as he bites it. That's why I buy the sharpest, thinnest-wire hooks I can get my hands on. They make a big difference."
Here's his Swimming Jig with Yamamoto Luminous Grub trailer.
He ties a ton of custom color combinations, sometimes with up to five different color strands in a skirt, and buys the material by the sheet. "There's a place in Minneapolis called Skirts Plus, and they make the meanest looking stuff out there," he said. "They've got the colors to do anything you want."
And while most anglers use some sort of crawfish imitation for a trailer, he relies almost solely on a big curly-tail grub.
"I've used them all, but the best thing I've found for a swimming jig is the Yamamoto Luminous Grub," he said. "Once I started using Senkos, I realized how soft and slimy they got after you used them for a while. That's the exact consistency I want in a trailer, and the grubs are made out of the same stuff. Plus, you can see them underwater from a mile away, which really helps in deep water."
Most of the time he fishes his jig with 15-pound green Trilene Big Game line, but will drop down to 12-pound Berkley Vanish (fluorocarbon) if the water is "really, really clear." His other gear includes a 7' medium-heavy St. Croix Legend Elite rod and a Team Daiwa TDX103 reel.
Monsoor likes to swim a jig anywhere in the country, and largemouths, smallmouths and spotted bass all seem to have the same affinity (or hatred) for his jigs. Want proof? He finished 2nd at the Atchafalaya Basin and 3rd at Beaver Lake, two drastically different waterways.
The only situation in which it doesn't excel is cold, muddy water. "The warmer the better, and I don't like anything under 50 degrees," he said. "At Atchafalaya, I was killing them for the first 3 days. Then the water temp dropped to 46 on the last day. (The fish) no longer wanted to chase anything. They wanted it flipped in their face, so it turned into a flipping bite. I was so into what I was doing (after the first 3 days) that I couldn't switch (to flipping). But generally, I will flip it if I have to."
Atchafalaya isn't exactly clear, nor is the Mississippi River at La Crosse, Wis., where he won a Northern EverStart on swimming jigs. Yet Monsoor insists it's largely a clear-water pattern.
"For some reason I still caught them (at those two tournaments), but that's not how it usually goes," he said. "It's a clear-water sight bait, first and foremost – but I do have an orange color that catches them in dirty water."
> A few lure companies have approached him about manufacturing a line of his jigs, but so far nothing's in the works. Gary Yamamoto, Pure Fishing and FLW Outdoors were among the interested parties, he said.