Artificial Leech Jigs for Smallmouth Bass
Several brands of synthetically produced leeches are on the market, three to five-inch lengths serving as great trailers for 1/8th to ¼-ounce jigs, wide gap hooks not necessary with the leech riding behind the hook’s curve. Bass’s eagerness to gobble them sometimes involves the scent, the mixture tank tested for effectiveness by at least one company, and artificial leeches have a fluttering action like no other bait or lure. Actually, they’re a combination of bait and lure. On descent and retrieve, the leech waggles up and down similarly as natural leeches swim by ribbon-like undulation.
In reservoirs, lakes and rivers where leeches lurk, smallmouths eat them aggressively. If leeches aren’t nearby, smallmouths will grab your bait anyhow, opportunistic feeders fooled by natural quality to quick response, a plastic bait perhaps ignored when an artificial leech works. In any case, as an alternative to twister tails and tubes, leeches may whet your own curiosity. On one occasion, I used a three-inch size on a round-headed jig in the North Branch Raritan while seated in a canoe. Casting to four feet of water, I let the jig and leech descend to bottom and rest a full 20 seconds or so before, sure enough, I got a pick-up and caught an average stream bass. Sure that scent did the trick, I knew lake and reservoir bottoms or deep holes of the Delaware can produce the same way.
Regardless, essentially a jig is a tool to tap rocks when it comes to smallmouths. Whether or not the sound emitted makes any difference seems irrelevant, because the action of the jig on the bottom is lifelike, the best cadences requiring subtle skill. I don’t always achieve them.
The most sustained jigging skill involves a trance-like state, not merely of mental concentration, but bodily dexterity from arms, hands and fingers. It’s no big deal to people who don’t reflect on it, but rather than being mechanical technique, jigging is not a calculated rhythm, but motion from nature within an individual going on down the line and behaving like something alive in the water. It’s like performing music. Art imitates life, it’s said, and this is possible fishing a jig. It’s not something anyone can always do to peak performance, since inspiration is episodic, though practice invites this controlled play and can create a magic touch to some degree anytime you fish, and most of the time the bass display some reluctance to hit and need to be teased.
The slightest difference in how a jig is fished by irregular cadence on stone, compared to just jerking the rod tip, can result in a take. Look at the minute irregularities of creatures like crayfish moving on stream bottoms. They give you some idea of what pains can be taken to retrieve a jig with a bass anticipated nearby. When fishing rivers, let current work in your favor. Forage gets swept into places bass await, as does your jig. It’s not always so easy in still water.
Be aware of rocks with space underneath. Whether you fish an undercut river ledge or let a jig drop off the edge of a big submerged lake boulder with space underneath, the sudden appearance in free fall amounts to a deadly tactic. If you’ve ever caught a really dark, if not black, smallmouth bass, it came from deep remove away from daylight. Bass hide back under stones if they can. More often they wait in ambush at an open area underneath or just under a ledge. When a jig falls right in front, the bass has little more to do than suck it in. Flathead swimming jigs work best this way.
If you fish 35 feet deep along a drop-off where a point deepens, you’ll need at least a quarter ounce on six-pound test monofilament. It’s easy to get lost in depths greater than 20 feet. A half-ounce football jig will give you good solid contact on six-pound test quality braid. Some anglers have no qualms about going this heavy or heavier, but my own preference for going light involves subtlety I try to present. I lose feel, but with each tap—if that much is felt before the lug of a bass—connection increases and the difficulty diminishes.
It’s a lot easier to let fast current sweep a jig into an eddy where a bass nails it hard, but current also takes some work. Keep enough tension in the line to feel a tap and set the hook, without dragging the jig unnaturally in the flow. If you fish the river, it’s best to cast upstream at about a 45-degree angle, but if you’re floating fast in a canoe through riffles, just pitching the jig across to get it behind boulders in shallow water is very effective. Haul the bass over the gunnel and release it quick, because opportunities pass you by in no time. Always carry a 10-pound mushroom anchor in a canoe, raft or kayak. All sorts of deep, fast runs with enticing boulders, slower stretches rock strewn, deep black holes and sharp ledges present themselves in a wonderland of bass opportunity.
Working a jig on bottom isn’t the only way to fish. Artificial leeches move with an undulating rhythm on retrieve, just as real leeches swim. So a jig can glide on a slow to moderate, steadily arching retrieve back to the boat, thus possibly being effective for bass in limbo over anoxic water. In any case, experimenting with retrieves and flat-headed swimming jigs can yield results, so long as you get the lures where bass await.
I’ve witnessed a lot of impatience and blind casting over the years. It’s not enough to know a structure. The jig has to get on the spot, or very close to attract a bass to give chase. Bass have lateral lines sensing anything in the water for yards around, but typically they won’t move five yards to overtake a lure just cast out and reeled back. Too much gets compromised for demon speed on the water. An electric motor is a great—f necessary—tool. Falling to the temptation to letting it carry the excursion away invalidates use.
On the other hand, sometimes bass surge with life and no point exists in painstakingly detailed
cadences to get them to bite. A quicker retrieve and heavier jig takes heavy hits. These may be the
times best remembered, especially if the action dies before we’ve had enough.
P.S. Sorry about the odd typography of this last paragraph. It's not intended. For some odd reason, Blogger won't cooperate.