The Ubiquitous Jig Head and Shrimp Rig

News & Tips: The Ubiquitous Jig Head and Shrimp Rig...

If inshore and nearshore marine anglers in the southeast U.S. had to choose an overall one-stop "lurish" offering, they'd be hard-pressed to pick an item more effective than the jig head and shrimp. Before we deal with its many applications, let's examine this wonderful rig.

shrimp jighead1 2012
The jig head and shrimp rig is considered one of the most effective marine fishing rigs on the saltwater scene.

The jig head itself weighs generally anywhere from one-eighth to one-half ounces, but sometimes more, all of which is based on the water depth of the moment as well as sink rate needed. Obviously, the shallower the water, the lighter the jig head that is required. Indeed, when in doubt, use the lightest jig head possible for the stealthiest, most "natural" applications. This is particularly true if you believe that "less is more."

The shape of the jig head is relevant as well. For 10-foot deep waters or more, a standard round or elliptically-shaped head will get the presentation down in quick efficient fashion. For the shallows, a horizontally-flattened, triangular shaped head will keep the lure slowly riding along the bottom with the fish hook facing upward.

The color of the jig head should feature very bright colors, like yellow or black in dirty water. In ultra-clear shallow water, emphasize Earth tones, like tans and browns. If possible, always use jig heads with large visible eyes. There is enough research in angling to suspect that predator game fish associate eyes with the head of their quarry, which is the body part they often strike first. The eyes should be ideally embossed and painted so that they hold up strike after strike. If I like and buy a certain jig head that is manufactured without eyes, I will paint them on.

The jig head hook should be of the finest sharpness even right out of the display bag. These hooks are always J-hooks and necessitate your striking the fish when it "takes" — hence, the necessity for high quality wire, uniform gauge strength and thickness, shanks, bends, barbs and needle-sharp points. Considering the above, it is essential when buying jig heads that you purchase only the best items. jig heads are inexpensive and it does not pay in the long run to buy cheaper items that may go to failure with bent wire or paint loss, for instance.

Shrimp Basics

Ideally, your shrimp should be alive to create the most tantalizing presentation with moving legs and live pulsations that predators immediately detect through their lateral lines. If the shrimp is dead, be sure it is fresh and offers a good scent. While redfish may strike a "ripe" piece of shrimp, snook or redfish will be less likely to grab a foul-smelling offering.

Many snook anglers still prefer to hook the shrimp upward through the head and retrieve this presentation slowly along the bottom with the head leading the body. This was known as the classic "snook hook" rig many years ago. Barring this approach, many other anglers break off the tail tip and run the hook through the opening and then the entire body. In this fashion, the tail stump is closest to the jig head and the shrimp head is "hanging down." Even the removal of more of the tail in this latter method will release considerable scent into the water.

Application Under a Float

When an angler wants to suspend the jig for fish hitting midway in the water column — like seatrout —  it is fine to fish the jig head under a float. For fish that are attracted to feeding sounds like pops and slashes — as with snook, trout or redfish — an old-fashioned popping cork or a Cajun Thunder Float should be utilized.

Attach the jig head with a loop knot to a 2-foot length of 20- to 30-pound fluorocarbon leader. The next step in those cases that a float is employed is to pass the running line from your fishing outfit through the cork or plastic body and attach it to the leader with either a Surgeon's Knot or by using a small dark ball bearing swivel. Most floats have a fixing pin to create an adjustable distance between the float and the jig head and shrimp below. This feature keeps anglers flexible in changing the depth of the offering to match different levels of game fish action in the water column.

The primary attraction with a jig head and shrimp fished under a float is the popping of the float, not any resulting motion of the jig. All of the game fish mentioned above —  especially sea trout and redfish — can and do hit the jig head and shrimp as it is simply suspending under the noisy floatation.

Fishing the jig head "Free"

This is the simplest application of this rig and allows anglers to fish the entire water column. One can fish the jig head and shrimp on the bottom for snapper and grouper over rubble bottom or pompano on sandy channel bottom. This is similar to the classic snapper-knocker rig of a barrel sinker fished against the hook eye. But, now, your sinker has eyes and color — a far better presentation!

Alternatively, the angler can jig it straight to the surface for mid-water gamesters like mackerel and bluefish. When the rig is jigged to the surface, it becomes a unified jig, but the shrimp becomes the "dressing" instead of a bucktail or nylon skirt.

In the Field

I recently spent two days with Captain Richard Stancyzk (out of Bud N' Mary's Marina in the Florida Keys) solely fishing the shrimp and jig head rig. Our battle plans at the outset were to fish the Sprigger Bank grass flats in the Gulf of Mexico the first day and fish the patch reefs of the Atlantic Ocean on the second day.

My research indicated that Stancyzk had a well-known expertise for the jig head and shrimp rig. In our pre-trip talks, Stancyzk mentioned that he favored light to medium spinning tackle featuring braided line and graphite for rod material. He felt this setup afforded maximum sensitivity for detecting nibbles and strikes as well as transmitting maximum power on hooksets.

Our first jaunt to the Sprigger Bank's vast expanse offered a wealth of habitat, but the waters were rough and somewhat dirty. Stancyzk felt we were at a distinct advantage using the jig head and shrimp rig since the game fish would have plenty of scent to "track on" in the diminished visibility. When we lowered our rigs to the bottom 12 feet below and bounced them up and down, we started hooking seatrout, snapper and pompano. If we chose to jig the rigs back to the surface, we began to hook Spanish mackerel and an occasional bluefish.

My next trip with Stancyzk the following day took us to the nearby Atlantic reefs. While we still had the same windy conditions, the water was clearer because of the hard reefy bottom. Because of the coral, rocks and shell aggregation below us, the technique was to let the rigs hit the bottom, then immediately reel it up one or two feet to avoid snagging our rigs.

shrimp jighead2 2012
Try to use jig heads with large visible eyes, as game fish associate eyes with the head of their quarry, which is the body part they often strike first.

In order to attract the largest number of species, Stancyzk supplemented our efforts with a overboard mesh bag full of ground chum. The heaving seas and mesh diameters of the bag afforded a regular dispersal of ground fish parts into the depths below. This method turned out to be extremely productive as our rigs caught yellowtail snapper, mangrove snapper, mutton snapper, hogfish, gag grouper, Nassau grouper and small amberjack.

About a month later, I made another jig head and shrimp trip to fish with Captain Kyle Messier of Crystal River, Fla. This time our two day destination would be the mangrove backcountry on day one and a deep Gulf of Mexico sandbar on day two.

Messier decided that redfish would be our primary target on our first outing. Indeed, I knew they were a perfect game fish candidate since they feed as much by smell as they do with sight. Since we fished on a high tide, Messier eased his vessel close to the mangroves and then anchored. He instructed me to cast as deeply into the shadows of the mangrove canopy as possible, but before I cast he removed a bit more shell off the shrimp to release more scent. Any cast I made that got into the shadows was rewarded with a hard-fighting redfish.

Our second trip into the Gulf was aimed at finding mid-water feeders like mackerel. It was not hard to find them, since we saw the diving birds and showering bait. In this case, Messier pegged a smaller shrimp on the jig head so the action of our lure would not be hampered. He broke the tail off and pushed the back end of the smaller shrimp right to the jig head itself. So we had a lure that featured action first, then scent secondarily. These offerings turned out to be flawless as we hooked mackerel after mackerel.

Anglers that have never tried the jig head and shrimp rig will quickly see what the "veterans" have availed themselves of one of the most effective marine fishing rigs on the saltwater scene.