Jig Fishing Techniques
With any steelheading technique presentation is the key to success, and fishing a jig under a float is no different. Jigs are effective in a wide range of river conditions and even when they’re fished improperly will still catch steelhead. Present them correctly, however, and they will no doubt become one of the most effective techniques in your steelheading arsenal.
After reading the article on Steelhead Holding Water, you’ll hopefully have a better idea of where steelhead tend to hold in the river. In that article I talk about the holding zone over larger, basketball-sized rocks and how the current in areas like this is actually slower on the bottom of the river than at the surface. Understanding this difference in current speed is the key to effectively presenting a jig or anything else under a float.
Since your float is at the surface and your jig is traveling near the bottom this difference in current speed can present a problem. By simply letting line out off the reel in an uncontrolled manner as the float makes it’s way downriver the float will be moving faster than the jig. In this scenario the float will essentially pull the jig downstream and usually causes it to lift out of the strike zone. (Figure 1)
The second negative effect this has is that excess line invariably forms between the angler and the float, making a hook set nearly impossible should a steelhead pick up the jig. With the jig being dragged downstream and out of the strike zone by the float, a large amount of excess line between the rod tip and the float, and the drag of the water on all that line, you’re chances of successfully hooking a fish in this situation are drastically reduced. (Figure 2)
In contrast, releasing line from the spool too slowly hinders the floats downstream travel too much and will cause the current to lift the jig from the strike zone. (Figure 3)
By paying the right amount of line from the spool, however, the jig swims enticingly thru the steelhead’s holding water, grabbing the attention of the steelhead. This has the dual effect of also maintaining a near straight line from the rod tip to the float, so if the float goes down or a strike is detected a solid hook set can be delivered immediately. (Figure 4)
With level wind reels all that's needed is to apply slight pressure to the spool with the thumb as line is leaving the reel. As with anything, a "feel" for how the jig and float are performing is critical.
In low water conditions where the use of a light spinning reel is beneficial, try resting the forefinger on the edge of the spool to check the release of line.
Jigs are extremely effective for taking steelhead on nearly any river system in the Pacific Northwest and compared to other methods the learning curve with jigs can be quite short, making them a great place to start for the novice steelheader. In addition, most experienced steelheaders will have the jig in their bag of tricks. Master the use of the float and jig and this technique will no doubt become a "go-to" method in your steelheading arsenal.
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