Few techniques are unique to a specific state or body of water, but ultra-finesse hair jigging for Wisconsin Great Lake smallies comes close.
Sturgeon Bay, Wis. was recently featured as the number one bass fishing destination in the United States, according to the Top 100 Bass Lakes of 2014 by Bassmaster. The news came as no surprise to bass anglers who have had the opportunity to sample this fertile stretch of the Green Bay, but the lures and techniques often used to land smallmouth bass here as big as eight and a half pounds may surprise you.
In recent years especially, the talk amongst tight-knit local bass tournament angler groups has been hair jigs- and probably not the kind that you’re thinking of either. We’re talking about 1/16-, 3/32-, and 1/8-ounce jigs that look like they should be used for catching bluegills through the ice.
In order to gain a better understanding on the technique, I caught up with Ben Otto, a Shawano, Wis. resident and avid Great Lakes bass fisherman. Ben and partner Casey Gallagher also won the 2014 NABC Championship in October on the Mississippi River. Ben has been fishing finesse hair jigs in the Sturgeon Bay area for the last few years, and described the technique as one of his absolute favorite ways to catch big smallmouth in the early spring. While Otto notes that the more traditional tube jigs are a very effective way to catch Sturgeon Bay smallmouths at any time of the year, the hair jig often out-fishes the old standby by a landslide.
“Everyone and their brother is out there throwing tubes,” said Otto. “The hair jig is something different, and not a lot of people have confidence using it yet.”
Another plus to using the hair jigs over tubes is the ability to keep the bait out of “snot weed,” a form of aquatic vegetation that is common on the Great Lakes especially around the rocky transition areas that big smallmouth gravitate to in the prespawn.
According to Otto, the ultra light-weight and extreme slow fall of the hair jig makes it possible to drag the bait across rocky rubble bottoms without picking up the dreaded snot weed. This keeps your bait cleaner and more appealing to large, intelligent fish that can see every detail of your bait in the crystal clear waters commonly found in the Sturgeon Bay area. As a result, tournament anglers can become more efficient using hair jigs by eliminating wasted casts where the bait was fouled up by vegetation.
Rod: Otto likes to use the longest spinning rod he can find. He prefers a seven-foot, six-inch medium light St. Croix Legend Tournament. The length and limberness of this set up allows you to maximize your casting distance with such a light presentation.
Reel: Otto went on to say that that when it comes to your reel, bigger is better. Larger-than-average spinning reels with large spools allow for the line to come off the spool easier, allowing for longer casts.
Line: When it comes to line, Otto prefers six- or eight-pound fluorocarbon, depending on water clarity, wind, or bait size. Depending on preference, anglers could also experiment with using light braid as your main line and tying a six- to eight-pound fluorocarbon leader using a uni-uni knot or blood knot. It is important to consider the buoyancy of these different line types, and how they will affect the action of your bait.
Hair Jigs: The three main sizes most commonly used for this technique include 1/16 ounces, 3/32 ounces, and 1/8 ounces. Wind, depth, line size, and how fast you plan to work the bait should all be considered when choosing the bait size that will work best on any given day. A typical rule of thumb is to use the lightest presentation that you can get away with. The slow fall of these baits enables an angler to fish the bait horizontally through the water column at a very slow pace.
This subtle retrieve is irresistible to giant smallmouth bass. In clear waters like Sturgeon Bay, matching the hatch is usually a necessity. Natural crawfish colors like black, brown, or green pumpkin are safe choices. When bass are keying on baitfish, iridescent shad or shiner colors also work well. Some common hair jig brands include: Jimmy D’s River Bugs and Spro Phat Fly.
For more information on the ultra-finesse hair jigging technique, watch this video.
While many different variations of hair jigs are used throughout the U.S., you won’t find this ultra-finesse hair jig approach dominating tournament standings anywhere but Sturgeon Bay, Wis.
At least, not yet.