Troutbitten Fly Box — The Jig Streamers

by | Feb 24, 2019 | 35 comments

A lot of things in fly fishing are borrowed and re-branded as something new. And the further along we travel into the age of information, the more accepting the average angler becomes to these new ideas (or old ideas re-branded).

Once upon a time, cones and beadheads were frowned upon. When Fish Skulls first hit fly shop shelves, there were furrowed brows and head shakes. Now molded heads and rubber parts tied to a streamer are common. Whatever improves catch rates and keeps new ideas flowing forward is good with me. This fly fishing game holds our interest because there’s always a next thing to learn. That’s valuable. Progress keeps all of us moving on, wondering, learning and sharing ideas.

The jig is timeless. Its simplicity of design inspires variations. It begs for adaptation. The heavy head provides an angler with control, and the extra weight aids in the cast. The design of a jig hook inverts the pattern, hook point up, and the extreme weight-forward design makes it . . . well . . . jig. Open your fly tying drawer, close your eyes and pick out any material. Now tie that to a jig hook and you probably have a lure that gets eaten.

What kind of fish do you want to catch? The jig will do it. As a kid, I caught trout, panfish and bass on jigs. This past summer, I was introduced to the idea of fishing bucktail jigs for fluke and striper in the salt. I’ll be back next year with a thoughtful box of hand tied jigs twice the size of my favorite trout jig streamers.

READ: Troutbitten | A Fish Out of Fresh Water

So how can we best use the jig for fly fishing?

Here I’m not referring to nymph sized creations with beadheads on #10-16 jig hooks. I’m talking about streamer-sized meals that attract trout in a whole different way, and (at times) peak the interest of another class of trout.

Get the Jig

It took me a while to dial in exactly how I wanted to work the jigs into my system. There’s not a lot of overlap among the techniques I swap through while on the river. Everything has its place, and the same goes for the flies. But when I tied the first jig streamer to my line, I knew it had the potential to fill in a system gap. It just took me a long time to get it right. In fact, it took me about five years.

That gap in my system was an inability to truly ride the bottom. Ever since I’d first gone underneath with nymphs and streamers, I’d been frustrated by getting my flies low enough to catch trout, but dealing with the inevitable hang ups that followed. “Get the nymphs to the bottom and stay there,” they say. “Put your streamer in the strike zone, right on the bottom where trout hold.” And I wanted to do that, but I hung up too often. And so, like most anglers, I did a dance between low enough and too low. (I still do that dance. And it’s a good one for regular nymph fishing.)

READ: Troutbitten | Tight Lining — Not all that tight

With the jig tied in, I quickly learned that nothing rides the bottom of the river like a ball jig. It bounces, canters, pivots and tap dances around rocks and gravel like nothing else. The ball itself is the key. It allows for some very unique presentations and movements. And when you really want to hug the bottom, you can set up your rig to feel those taps, as the jig glides and scratches along the river bed.

That’s not to suggest that I constantly present a jig deep down and glued to the rocks. Not at all. But when I do want to touch the bottom, to feel the rocks, hold a position or reach into the depths with precision, a jig is the perfect vehicle. That is the key. That’s the special sauce of a jig streamer.

Technique

I love a jig as the primary fly in what I call the Big Rig. And I use it as my favorite fly choice in a crossover technique.

READ: Troutbitten | The Big Rig — The Two Plus One — Two Nymphs and a Streamer

Just yesterday, I had a wonderful day with nymphs. Wherever I expected a trout, there seemed to be two fish ready to eat my fly when the presentation was right. I had a great time with a full net. And after about six hours of non-stop action, I’d rounded many river bends and needed a change. So I smoothly swapped the nymphs out for two streamers . . . and the action stalled. In the next hour I moved just one trout, all while mixing in every streamer technique I know, and covering a lot more water than I had all day.

So I switched back to nymphs, and the previous action returned. Fun? Sure. But I still needed something different. I wanted to cover more water with every cast, to pick up the pace against the driving sleet that chilled my frame. I wanted to show trout the nymphs. But I also wanted to show them a larger meal, all while covering big swaths of pocket water with one cast and targeting a five foot bucket on the next. So I fished the Big Rig, and they ate all three flies.

Pairing the jig with a nymph or two allows you to tight line at great distances. It’s not a perfect dead drift, but it’s not supposed to be. We already know how to get those types of dead drifts. The jig is unique in its ability to hold the bottom without hanging up (much), providing the angler with contact, and getting mistaken for something yummy all at once.

Other times, I fish jig streamers by themselves or with a regular fly line and a streamer leader. The jig’s same advantage remains. It gets down, rides the bottom and is easy to control. Not only do I jig it (of course), I strip it, head flip it, swing it, glide it and jerk it, just like any other streamer. And I’ve had trout eat a jig in every way I’ve presented it. Think about that. I don’t know if the same can be said for any other type of fly.

Patterns

You can surely tie up any of your own creations on a jig and expect success — and you should. Experimenting is half the fun.

But for my own designs and preferences, simplicity wins the day.

I use a jig streamer to get low, to deliberately touch rocks and probe the depths of the river. And while a jig rarely hangs on stones, it certainly finds its share of sticks. So I lose a lot of flies —  some days. But that’s all part of the plan.

With that in mind, I refuse to tie elaborate patterns on a jig platform. And the trout have told me they don’t mind. In fact, I often say that trout are looking for reasons not to take a fly, and keeping our patterns limited in materials gives them less to reject outright.

I’ve settled on three basic designs, and I only alter them in color. None of them take more than five minutes to tie, and none have more than three materials.

I tie ball head jigs with no collar, in three sizes: 1/8 oz, 1/16 oz and 1/32 oz. I buy the jigs with the lead heads pre-molded and unpainted. Then I use Pro-Tec Powder Paint to apply the color.

I most often choose Wapsi Super Jigs. They are easy to find, consistent in size, and built with quality steel. I also buy lead ball jigs from FishCentWilliams on ebay.

These are ball jigs by FishCentWilliams

Buy ball jigs from FishCentWilliams here

Or track down Wapsi Super Jig Hooks, which are also a high quality option.

Buy Wapsi Super Jig Heads here

Now let’s get to the patterns . . .

The Bunny Flash Jig

I wanted a jig version of my Bunny Bullet Sculpin. I tied variations of it, and they all caught trout. But I learned that I wanted something different. Like I said, there’s not much overlap in my system. So I took the rabbit strip tail with the Hareline dubbing, and I added some sparkle — something the Bunny Bullet (purposely) doesn’t have much of. I love the Bunny Flash, and it has become a staple in my fly box.

Bunny Flash Jig in olive and black

Tail: Magnum Rabbit Strip (cut to a V at the tip)

Body: Hareline Rabbit Dubbing (red, then olive or black)

Collar: EP Minnow Head Brush 1.5”. It takes 4-6 wraps to fill out a good head. (Everglades for an olive fly and Misty Black for a black fly)

The Craft Fur Jig

Craft fur jigs are popular in the bass world. And years ago, a Google search turned up a lot of results for fishy looking patterns. I was largely inspired by the jig designs I found on Pup’s Jig Works. And digging through the archives there will provide an endless array of ideas. This is my other go-to jig streamer.

The Craft Fur Jig in olive over tan, and in all white. The ice dub bodies on the hook shank give an interior flash when wet, although difficult to see here.

Outer body: Super Select Craft Fur (Dark top, Light bottom — or just all one color)

Inner body: Thin layer of Ice dub in a dubbing loop

I like a hot collar of red or orange thread on the Craft Fur Jig.

The Sparkle Jig

This one just makes sense. And my friend Josh first showed it to me a couple years back. Josh’s flies are an adaptation of a Sparkle Minnow, with two tone tails and multi colored bodies. I don’t even take that extra step. I simply tie in a marabou tail and whip up an ice dub body. Trout eat them.

The Sparkle Jig

Tail: Marabou

Body: Ice Dub in a dubbing loop

Others

A Bugger Jig works well. Just tie your favorite Wooly Bugger pattern on a jig. I carried them for a while in many variations. Slumpbusters on a jig are another that I’ve had success with. I tied my Half Pint on a jig for a while too. But for whatever reason, the three patterns listed above are the ones that clearly rose to the top for me. Your results may vary.

George Daniel recently posted a video of the Bunker Buster. So give that a look. He also lists a different version in his book, Strip Set, that is similar to the Bunny Flash.

Rich Strolis has a fly called Marvin the Martian. The head is not a ball jig, technically, so its performance won’t be exactly the same. But you do get those crazy eyes with it! And it looks like a great pattern.

Try them all, and then trust the fish. At some point in our ongoing experimentation on the river, we must learn to believe in the results. After seasons of data gathered, I think it’s okay to say hey, this works best for me.

Ball Painting Parties

Some of my Troutbitten friends came along for the ride of experimentation on these jigs. But I don’t think any of them fell as hard for the jig as I did. Nevertheless, we had some fun sharing beers and painting balls. Yes, I just wrote that.

The Pro-Tec paint is inexpensive.

Buy Pro Tec Powder Paint Here

Painting your jigs is an easy process of heating the lead head over a flame for about fifteen seconds, then quickly swishing it in the powder. The color melts onto the lead. Now clear the hook eye with a bodkin, and set it aside.

Do at least a dozen, heat your kitchen oven to 350 f, and bake the jigs for twenty minutes to secure an enamel-like finish that takes a lot of abuse from river rocks.

What colors? I use Watermelon, Black, Glow in the Dark (white), Copperhead, and Candy Blue. Try whatever inspires you. And have fun.

Mixing up these Jiggy patterns and learning to use the advantages of a ball jig is sure to provide you with years of exploration on the river.

You gotta love it.

 

** Note ** The links to products above are affiliate links. Meaning, at no additional cost to you, Troutbitten will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. So, thank you for your support.

 

Fish hard, friends.

 

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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35 Comments

  1. Another great post! I tried clicking on the link for hooks and paint. A box opened that says it will open in another application. I click on open and nothing happens? Any ideas?
    P.S.
    If you decide to pre-sell your book; I’ll try to be first in line!

    Reply
    • Hi Gary. I appreciate that. I’ll get to the books someday, but right now most of my writing energies go here to Troutbitten.

      Hey, the links seem to be working fine. Will you email me a screenshot of what you are seeing?

      Cheers.

      Reply
    • I get the same on my iPad.

      Reply
      • Thanks Rich. I’d like to take a look at that, so please email me a screenshot what you’re seeing. All my browser tests are opening as they should. domenick@troutbitten.com

        Reply
  2. Dom, don’t you think heating your hooks at 350F will untemper (soften) them?

    Reply
    • I Gary. That’s a good question. No, I don’t. I think you’d have to go higher than 350 to make that happen, but I’m not a scientist, either.

      I never thought about that, really. I just bake the paint to cure it, because that’s what the Pro Tec powder paint instructions recommend.

      I can tell you that this is a very common process, though. Painting jigs this way is super popular outside of the fly fishing world. I’ve also fished hundreds of jigs this way and I’ve not had any of them break or bend out.

      That’s what I can tell you from my own experience.

      Cheers.

      Dom

      Reply
      • You could be correct. I was thinking 350F sounds high, but I think I was recalling the temperatures for copper.
        Wikipedia seems to agree:
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tempering_%28metallurgy%29

        “Tempering quenched-steel at very low temperatures, between 66 and 148 °C (151 and 298 °F), will usually not have much effect other than a slight relief of some of the internal stresses and a decrease in brittleness. Tempering at higher temperatures, from 148 to 205 °C (298 to 401 °F), will produce a slight reduction in hardness, but will primarily relieve much of the internal stresses. “

        Reply
  3. Domenick,
    I love the idea but have a hurdle. Most of my fishing is done in Maine and New Hampshire where lead jigs and lead shot less than one ounce are prohibited. Any suggestions? Thanks!
    Alton

    Reply
      • Thanks Domenick. Pricey little devils aren’t they? Do you think a slotted tungsten bead on a 60 or 90 degree fly jig hook would work as well to produce the same action as the Jiggy Fly?

        Reply
        • also in Maine with the same legal concerns. Im playing around with a 4.5 and 5.5 slotted tungsten bead on 90 degree hooks(#4) They are weighing out to .87gm and 1.5gm respectively with hook – so that’s pretty close to the 1/32 and 1/16 weights. I will let you know how they fish

          Reply
          • They sure look good coming out of the vise.Too bad that’s now the only criteria… to be continued

      • Very hard to find lead free jigs without a collar though. None on the link you provided. Do you have a good contact for fishcentwilliams? Perhaps he would mold some lead free jigs?

        Reply
  4. You ever try tying a fluoro weedguard on those? Do that all the time on heavy saltwater flies and for bass flies/jigs. No reason you couldn’t adapt it to those trout jigs and cut your losses. And this is prob sacrilege but I have thrown small weedless-rigged plastic tubes on a fly rod for smallmouth…works extremely well, sure those big browns would also eat it up if you can handle the stares from the purists.

    Reply
  5. Thank you for sharing. I have found these flies are mostly balanced in a horizontal position in the water. I was using nail polish with a hardner finish coat to color the weight. I will have to try the powder paint in some of the colors not found at Wallgreens :).

    Reply
  6. When baking the powder coated jigs, are they on an aluminum pie pan or do you have them hanging from the wire oven racks?

    Reply
    • I “painted” a bunch of jig heads today and found the lead can melt and fall off the hook. This happened twice. A wooden work block came in handy to rest the hook eye against when picking the paint from the eye. I have the uncured jigs hanging on an oven rack while the oven heats to 350. Can’t wait to tie up some jiggies!! Y’all have fun. Big thanks to Dom for a great blog and tips. I’m an old fart and I still like to learn. That’s one thing I like about fly fishing, you can always learn.

      Reply
  7. Love the post. All of them.
    Although I think I’ve figured it out,
    I’d still love to see a video on the Bunny Flash Jiggy.
    Thanks
    Cam

    Reply
    • Thanks Cameron. I’ll try to do it this spring.

      Lots on the table.

      Cheers.

      Reply
  8. I loved this post. I purchased all the ingredients and tied up some sparkle jiggys in tan, white, black, and pink. This past weekend I went to my nearby stream, which was stocked several weeks ago, in search of trout in pools far away from where the stocking took place. I wanted to practice my Mono Rig casting on my new rod, and see if there were any adventurous stockers which made the trip far from where they were put in. The sparkle jiggy allowed me to cover a lot of water, but more importantly they got low in the water column without getting hung up on the bottom. After experimenting with dead drifting the streamer, I decided to slowly strip it after it passed me downstream but just before the swing. I had a miss and then on my next cast I hooked into a rainbow just as my slow strip was moving it across the seem. This was my first time using the Mono Rig. I’m still getting comfortable with it, but I’m convinced now more than ever this is the way to go. Thanks for sharing all your knowledge.

    Reply
  9. Wouldn’t some of the new colored UV resins work as well on the lead jigheads as the powder paint?

    Reply
  10. I have a question about the Bunny Flash Jig. I assume you put the jig in the vise with the hook curving and eye pointing down. Then you tie the body, both colors. Then you lash on the rabbit strip. Do you tie that in near the jig head or further back? Do you tie it fur up (which means leather up when the fly is drifting) or fur down, (which means the fur lies against the hook shank, but points upwards as the fly drifts)? How much room do you leave at the front to wrap the EP brush? These babies are crying for a video, buddy!

    Reply
    • Hi Leigh.

      I agree, it needs a video. I just need more time. My plate is very full right now — well, it always is.

      Process:
      Lead wraps behind the ball jig, and cover with flat, wide thread.
      Change to 6/0 or 8/0 thread.
      Dub the body, and leave space behind the ball jig for the flash wraps.
      Poke the rabbit strip onto the hook point and snug it up to rear part of the dubbed body,
      Bring rabbit strip over dubbed body and tie down tight, a little behind the ball.
      Tie in and wrap the ep flash.
      Tie off and whip finish.

      The hide of the strip (the light part without the fur) faces down, remembering that jigs like this invert.

      Make sense, Leigh?

      Cheers.
      Dom

      Reply
      • Yep. Thanks.

        Reply
  11. Dominic, Great article on jigs. I can’t tell from the photo how you are attaching the bunny strip. Is it tied in near the top of the jig and swings free?

    Thanks, one more great tool.

    Reply
    • Hi Stephen,

      No. It is tied Zonker style. Or, like a Slumpbuster, without the rib.

      Make sense?

      Dom

      Reply
  12. Hi Dom,
    What do you think of jigging dumbbell eye streamers like a modified wooly bugger?
    How might they differ or not be as effective?

    Mike

    Reply
    • Should be good. The dumbells don’t bounce the bottom nearly as well as a ball jig. That’s the main difference.

      Dom

      Reply
  13. Great article, Dom, thanks so much for educating this old “fart” on the finer points of fly fishing! I listen to the podcasts, and I learn something new every time.

    Reply
  14. on the bunny flash jig, awesome by the way, what is hareline dubbin’ – can you be more specific – hareline makes so many…

    Mike

    Reply
    • Good question. They just call it Hareline Rabbit Dubbing. Use it in whatever color you might like. I often choose red, olive and black.

      Reply
  15. Hello, Was there ever a video made of the Bunny flash jig? It looks amazing but am a little lost in what to do. Thanks for the help!

    Reply
    • Sorry, but no. Haven’t had time for that one yet. But it’s just a rabbit strip, some dubbing and a 1,5 inch EP streamer brush.

      Reply

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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