by Austyn Butler
For most fishermen, the bait of choice is usually minnows and various types of worms while targeting pan fish. For those of us who do not have a bait shop in the area, or the patience to dig our own worms, we are forced to use whatever lures and tackle we have on hand. For me, I like to use jigs nearly every time I go pan fishing. Over the last 25 years I have noticed that, if presented correctly, you can have just as much success catching fish on artificial baits as on live bait. Many anglers, including myself, feel that jigs are the most versatile and productive of all artificial lures.
Today, I would like to share a few tips that I have learned over the years. I have found these tactics to be very effective when I am out hunting for crappies, bluegill, and perch. Moreover, I will give you my personal guidelines for selecting the right jig color to match the color of the water. Lastly, I will explain the importance of watching your line instead of relying on feel while jig fishing.
Jigs for Success
Don’t be afraid to try different color combinations! Fishing is all about reading what the fish tell you, then your giving them what they want. Yes, I confess - I am formerly guilty of using only two or three colors throughout the year and usually only one style of tube jig and one type of jig head. Basically, if it wasn’t black, white, chartreuse, or a combination of the three, I wanted nothing to do with it. One specific tube and three colors were what I was most confident with when live bait wasn’t available. So, like the old saying goes, I stuck to the “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” motto.
Well, that abruptly came to an end when I moved to Northern Illinois. I was quickly introduced to a wide variety of jig heads and jig styles that I would have never thought to use back in the past. Naturally, I was hesitant to explore outside of my normal jig and plastic color spectrum. However, I quickly realized that I was holding myself back from a whole new level of fishing. By broadening my use of different jig sizes, styles, weights, and colors, then matching them to the conditions I was fishing in, I ultimately increased my odds of finding what the fish wanted to eat. I have learned over the past several years just how important it is to have variety in your jig selection, especially when it comes to fishing an unfamiliar body of water.
Whether it is slab crappies, big perch, or bull bluegills that I am targeting, I always bring a variety of colorful grubs, tubes, and minnow relics. As far as sizes go, I prefer using a Lindy 1/32oz Micro Slick Jig tipped with Gulp Waxies for bluegill and perch. You can find them just about anywhere that sells tackle. They are very affordable and come in many different colors.
When it comes to crappie, I like to use a 2 inch, or 2.5 inch (3 inch when fishing deeper, darker water) Mister Twister or similar style curly tail grub. I often experiment with different colors, but nine times out of ten I will catch them on chartreuse and another color, usually pearl with silver flake, red, orange, or white. I also like black/green, solid pink, pink/white, yellow/white, and red/white tube jigs. I use different sized jig heads, usually 1/32oz, 1/16oz, or 1/8oz depending on fishing depth, water current, and weather conditions. You can also experiment with jig head styles and colors, though I usually use round or fish head style in white, green, orange, or pink.
Last but not least, one of my new favorite baits to use in murky or muddy water is The Pro Series Road Runner with gold willow leaf blade and red hook. It is a very versatile lure, as it can be casted, trolled, and jigged. More importantly, the blade is easily seen in muddy water and puts off a vibration that fish can’t resist!
Keep in mind, the lighter the jig you choose, the slower it falls in the water. Using a smaller, lighter jig earlier in the year seems to work a little better for me as it matches the mood of the fish. Once the water warms up, a faster jig presentation should produce more fish.
Recommendations for Selecting Colors
1. Clear water- red, orange, white, green, blue
2. Murky water- pink, yellow, chartreuse, light blue, and black
3. Muddy water- darker color combos and/or Underspin head
Eyes on Your Line
If you are casting or vertical jigging, it is imperative to watch your line the entire time your jig is descending to the bottom. A lot of times the fish will hit the jig as it is falling, so if you aren’t paying attention you could easily lose a fish. You have no idea how many times I’ve had a fish bite my jig without even feeling it hit. In fact, some of the bigger crappies I have caught earlier this year were caught by closely watching my line. You’ll know you have a strike when your slack line has a twitching or jolting action at the surface.
By adding these three simple tactics to your arsenal (jig variety / color matching to water conditions / watching your line), you will easily improve your pan fishing game, improve your confidence in jig selection, and improve the chances of making your next fishing adventure a successful one!