ith this February being one of the coldest in history, it is likely that thick and safe ice will be on our local lakes and ponds well into March. To me, that's not good, especially this year.
Having had back surgery on Jan. 19 of this year, I can tell you that warm weather and open water can't come soon enough. I haven't fished since Jan. 4, and that makes it the longest gap between fishing trips that I can personally remember.
You can only live so long watching fishing shows on the tube.
However, I summoned all my recuperative strength and sat down and tied about 200 jigs the past several weeks.
Hopefully, I came up with some winners for the spring bite of bass and panfish. I tie panfish jigs almost exclusively, but do push the envelope with deer hair and crafthair creations to temp river and stream smallmouth bass in our local waters. Over the years I have found that making, and catching fish, on my own lures just brings more joy and satisfaction to my efforts on the water.
I first started tying jigs about 23 years ago when the famous crafthair jigs from Charlie Nuckols came out and Tennessee smallmouth gurus were pounding winter smallies on his "float-n-fly" patterns. I said, "I can make those," and so I set out to duplicate and refine the minnow and crayfish in our local waters.
Over time, I got better and better at it and began making panfish patterns that were quite successful. I never did it for money or fame, I just wanted to give the fish, and my friends, jig options that were simply not in mainstream angling circles.
For more than two decades I have fished my jigs almost exclusively for a variety of gamefish and seldom use a store-bought item. The fish get caught, I feel good … everybody's happy!
It doesn't take too much initial investment to be able to tie hairjigs that will catch you some fish.
A quality fly-tying vise is an essential tool, and bobbins that will hold your thread that will tie the lure. Add a variety of painted or un-painted jigheads from 1/8 ounce down to 1/64th ounce. Number 6 or 8 waxed fly-tying thread will cover a lot of bases and red, black and brown is just a basic starting point in colors.
Body wrapping material like chenille in brown, black, white, olive, chartreuse or pink will cover a lot of critter-imitating bases as well.
Toss in some flashabou accent or crystal flash for scale patterns, some clear head cement and you're almost there. Jig paint, either powder or acrylic, is needed unless you plan on leaving you jigs unpainted, which some people do. A pair of scissors and hackle pliers and now we're cookin'! Add marabou, crafthair or bucktail material and you're set.
It would be a good idea to invest in a tying kit that would carry these items and explain their use.
Or, money well spent at a fly tying class would aid in the understanding and function of each tool.
At the Bass Pro Shops in Arrundel Mills, the White River Fly Shop can get you started if you have the hankerin' to tie jigs. You won't need a whole lot of cash to get in on the game, but you will need time and patience to learn the skills involved in fly and jig tying.
Over the years, I have attempted to imitate either minnows or crayfish with the majority of my patterns. On our local creeks and rivers, crayfish are an abundant food source for smallmouth bass, hence, I try to replicate these guys a lot. My series of "Triple S Jigs" … (small stream smallmouth) are tied in 1/16th and 1/8th ounce football-style jighead and I prefer crafthair, but sometimes favor bucktail.
Most patterns have black, brown, orange or olive as the colors to mimic these crustaceans. I throw them on 6 or 8 pound mono and often tip them with some sort of a small, plastic trailer.
Last spring, before a pair of major rain events sloshed the Monocacy, Jud Larrimore and I caught and released dozens of smallmouths on our own jigs, with numerous fish nearing the three-pound mark.
No, not earth-shattering, but pretty darn cool, considering we didn't have to run out and buy commercially made jigs. Additionally, every fish was released and us semi-elderly anglers felt pretty good about our own creations doing the damage.
One of the easiest patterns to tie in the simple Gronaw Grass Shrimp. Take a 1/32 ounce round jighead, tie on a feather or hair tail to your liking, then wrap a layer of pearl chenille from the back to the front, and tie it off with a couple of half hitches. Not much to it, and it'll catch just about any fish that swims.
Color patterns range from white, silver, olive, pink and light brown and if you use jigheads with larger No. 6 or No. 8 long-shanked hooks, you can add live baits like worms or crickets. Fished below a bobber, bluegill guru Jeff Abney swears by this simple combo in the blackwater rivers of the Albermarle Sound in North Carolina.
Other patterns and ideas will emerge as you experiment and get comfortable with the jig tying experience.
Two of my personal favorite for crusher gills and crappies are the "Dixie Crickets" and my simple "Pink Things," most of which are tied in 1/32nd or 1/64th ounce heads.
For more info on tying jigs check out bigbluegill.com for tutorials and chuckanddebs.com for tying supplies and materials at the best price around.
Jim Gronaw is a Times outdoors writer. His column appears every other Sunday. Reach him at 410-857-7896 or sports@carrollcoun