Jigging Down Deep

JD 2

Even traditional ‘bait only’ targets like red emperor will grab jigged soft plastics, octo jigs and metals.

   
JD 3 copy

Drop shotting soft plastics on slightly adapted Paternoster rigs can be a very effective approach for demersals such as pearl perch. It also helps make believers out of dyed in the wool bait fishos!

‘Bottom bashing sucks.’

There, I said it. To me, there’s not too many worse ways to spend a day on the water than dropping ugly great Paternoster rigs down into the depths hoping to fill up an esky with poor, unfortunate reef fish that are dragged unceremoniously from their deep water domain on far over-par tackle.

It’s strictly a meat gathering exercise and I reckon about as entertaining as a train spotting conference. But that’s not to say the fish that lurk in deeper waters suited to the snapper sinker brigade aren’t worth chasing. Lots of them do taste damned nice and some of even fight pretty hard. Could there be a way to actually glean a bit of enjoyment out of targeting these demersals? Thankfully for me, there certainly is. Swapping out the Paternosters for metal jigs or big soft plastics makes the bottom bashing lucky dip that dash more interesting and sporting, while barely diminishing the odds of scoring a few prime fish for the frypan. As a bonus, jigging over reef fish grounds also tends to produce regular cameo hook-ups on harder pulling pelagic fish that can really scratch the sportfishing itch. Here’s how to go about it.

Hard or Soft, Fast or Slow?

There are really two primary lure and technique options for this style of fishing. Either drop down a heavy metal jig and work that lure vertically at a fair to fast pace to elicit an aggressive reaction bite or opt for the slow and soft approach by leisurely working a soft plastic or octo jig along the seafloor. JD 8 number 2 Vertical jigging with heavy metal jigs is great fun, but admittedly not for everyone. It’s high energy, high impact sportfishing that can leave you totally wrecked after only a short time…and that’s without even catching a fish! For demersals, there’s not as much need to go as hell for leather as you have to for the likes of kings, samsons, dogtooth and amberjack, but as a general rule, he who puts the most work on a metal jig will be rewarded with the most fish.

Plastics Down Deep

Heavily weighted soft plastics are deadly on big, aggressive demersal species such as rankin cod. Surprisingly, working these lures on a fast jig can fire up bottom hugging species like rankins.

Heavily weighted soft plastics are deadly on big, aggressive demersal species such as rankin cod. Surprisingly, working these lures on a fast jig can fire up bottom hugging species like rankins.

Soft plastics are as deadly on deep water reef fish as they are in just about any other situation for almost any other fish species. Yet there are some issues that crop up when sinking soft plastics down into deep for demersals. Softies being all but weightless obviously require weighted jigheads to sink them down to any sort of depth, and when this depth starts to become significant, the commensurate jighead weight can kill off the fish fooling action of the lure. To get around this problem, the lure needs to be independent of the weight. This allows the plastic to flick and twitch around in that subtle yet seductive soft plastic way that suckers in so many fish species. JD 4 number 2I guess the easiest way to get a plastic down deep is to not worry about the jighead at all and simply thread it onto a single hook attached to a Paternoster style sinker rig. Technically speaking, this is called ‘drop shotting’; using a sinker at the base of the rig to take an unweighted soft plastic down to the bottom. It works, but is not much higher up the fun scale than bottom bashing with bait.

Extra Weight

Taking things beyond this simple adaptation of standard bottom bashing, we can add ‘non fixed’ weight to the front of a soft plastic by use of a round sinker threaded onto the trace, sliding right down to the hook. The technical jargon for this set up is ‘Texas rigging’, which stems from the origin of this approach, in the largemouth and smallmouth bass fishery of North America. For all intents and purposes, Texas rigging gives you a lure that can be fished just like a normal jighead rigged plastic, yet allows the soft plastic body freedom of movement a giant jighead does not. As a bonus, the weight used can be interchanged quickly and easily, and it’s not an expensive exercise to gear up with a good supply and range of weights.

Taking The Elevator

Part of the fun of jigging for demersals is the greater likelihood of hard fighting sportfish like this big brassy trevally jumping on.

Part of the fun of jigging for demersals is the greater likelihood of hard fighting sportfish like this big brassy trevally jumping on.

There’s a no fuss, store bought option here too that more or less uses the Texas rig philosophy. Nitro Jigheads produce a heavy jighead they call the Elevator Jighead, which features a swinging hook, connected to the weight via a split ring. Again, the purpose of this is to allow the hook/soft plastic freedom of movement despite the heavy weight. Depending on what plastics I’m using and which fish I’m chasing, I often prefer to swap out the hooks these Elevator heads come rigged with for longer, thinner gauge but wider gape versions such as the Gamakatsu SL12S. I find that retro-fitting with better hooks is especially important to boost the hook-up rate on red emperor and jobfish. However you go about rigging, soft plastics can be fished either slow along the bottom to tempt those bottom hugging demersals or jigged up fast through the water column to get the attention of more active predatory fish. This makes them mighty versatile fish catchers and a real laugh to fish down deep.
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Part of the fun of jigging for demersals is the greater likelihood of hard fighting sportfish like this golden trevally jumping on.

 

Putting them to Work

You’d think that for targeting bottom dwelling reefies, slow and subtle would be the way to go, but often an extra bit of speed can get them keener for a feed. Often it’s actually the ‘fall’ part of the retrieve – that is, as the jig is slowly sinking back down after it has been rapidly jigged upwards – when the bites will come. Soft plastics suit this technique down to the ground, but it’s not ordinarily something that you’d advise doing when working a metal jig. Give it a go though and you may be surprised how much the likes of pearl perch/dhufish, jobfish and even rankin cod will respond. Above all, mix up your retrieves when jigging for demersals. Because there’s such a range of fish species likely to eat a lure in these depths, trying a similar range of jigging styles to appeal to the bite triggers of all these varied species is a wise move.
This certainly helps keep this fishing from becoming boring with after all, is the whole point!
Ben Knaggs

About Ben Knaggs

Born and bred in South Australia, Ben’s love of fishing developed from a very early age and evolved to become an obsession which would ultimately shape his life. Actively involved in fishing related journalism from his mid teens, Ben has written articles for most Australian fishing titles and served as editor of Saltwater Fishing magazine for eight years.

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