Slow Pitch Jigging | The Art of the Presentation
Slow pitch jigging has emerged on the saltwater fishing scene with seemingly little fanfare. In theory, this stye of fishing makes a heck of a lot more sense than traditional high speed jigging, when you look at the behavior of species like grouper, snapper, mackerel, wahoo, amberjack, tuna, stripped bass, haddock and the list goes on. Fish, across the board, move up and down in the water column depending on a host of variables. Pressure, food, oxygen, temperature and safety are among those variables. Now, we could spend days discussing what causes fish to move around, but let's just settle on the fact that they do. Fish that we all like to catch will suspend in a variety of comfort zones. One of the primary reasons for this is food. Baitfish are doing the same thing because of the same variables. Predatory fish follow the food, so you have to target fish where they are holding. Wherever the food is situated in the water column is where those looking to eat them will be. That part is simple.
When you get right down to it, slow-pitch jigging works well. The whole idea is to make your presentation or jig mimic the behavior of a dead or wounded baitfish falling out of the school. Just about any fish you are targeting is a sucker for an easy meal, no matter how gorged they may be. It's an instinctive or primal response. This approach to jigging runs counter to the high speed method, which is meant to imitate a fleeing baitfish.
The concept of jigging in general comes from the idea of moving something vertically through the water column. That is the definition. How you move jigs on the vertical plane is where the paths of slow-pitch and high speed diverge.
The advantage SPJ offers is that it is not a drop and crank back to the surface approach. You drop and pitch or retrieve your jig up and down in the band of water where the fish are holding. You can use your bottom machine to determine the depth to work or if you know you are over good grounds, you can drop to the bottom and work off the bottom to draw fish out.
For more details on the mechanics of slow pitch jigging, check out our basic technique video https://inthespread.com/slow-pitch-jigging-grouper-fishing
Imagine, if you will, that you are watching your favorite sports team. Is it easier to get up and go to the kitchen or concession counter to get a snack or sit there and let it come to you? If there was a conveyor belt running past your seat with endless chicken wings, milk shakes, burgers, beer, etc. and you could just reach out and grab something whenever you had the urge, wouldn't that make for better viewing pleasure. Fish are the same way. They want it easy and the bigger the fish gets, the easier they want it.
This is why fish will stage near food or will work to create a bait ball and then stay with it, picking off an easy meal whenever it suits them. This is a lot more efficient than chasing something down every time hunger hits. Fish don't want to burn energy chasing food, if they can help it. So, you can see why fish might be super responsive to slow pitched jigs versus high speed jigs.
Slow Pitch Jigging vs High Speed Jigging
The roots of slow-pitch jigging can be traced back to Japan, where there is heavy pressure on local fisheries. To answer the age old question of where are the fish and what do you need to do to get them to bite was becoming more difficult to answer. Pressured fish are tough to trigger, so an innovative fishing technique was needed to entice fish into striking.
Slow pitch jigs lift and kick the jigs laterally, like an injured fish struggling to swim upward and away from the bottom prior to wobbling back during the free fall. Predators will instinctively attack an easy meal even if if they do not have the feed bag on. Injured bait fish make random and erratic movements, they dash and stop, dart in irregular directions, shed scales and make flashing actions as they fall to the bottom. The key is the ability to work the water column slowly. How would that be achieved when the prevailing jigging method was to drop a heavy iron down followed by a fast retrieve to the top?
What are the real differences in the jigging methods? The typical traditional style involves the use of heavier spinning tackle and lots of lifting. SPJ utilizes light gear where you point the rod at fish and use reel to winch. Slow-pitch jigging is also considerably less taxing on the angler than the aggressive speed jigging technique since the jig is at its most enticing as it falls, not as it’s retrieved.
Traditional high speed jigging is tough, damn near exhausting. You feel like you have been working out, at the end of the day. It’s still an exciting game and it does work in a lot of situations, but on the other hand, it’s a fact that a lot of people come to jigging and never come back.
There is less benefit in dropping and ripping your metal jig back to the surface than there is in trying to keep your jig in the exact depths where fish are suspending. Working within the specific depth where the fish are by keeping your lures in the zone in and of itself makes more sense. If you can manipulate your jig in such a way as to trick the fish into thinking your lure is a wounded bait fish, you should and usually do catch more fish.
When you compare traditional jigging to the slow pitch method, you can see why fishermen were quick to adopt the new way, especially when targeting fish at depth. Just from a biological perspective, fish have a natural predatory instinct to slam a wounded bait. This behavior parallels precisely with the tendency for fish to hit a lure on the fall. On the flip side, the whole idea of believing fish have the desire to expend energy chasing down fleeing fish has its limitations.
Slow Pitch Jigging Basics
The basic mechanics of slow-pitch jigging start with holding the rod butt under you armpit. Use you shoulder as a pivot point. Hold your arm in a 90 degree orientation. As you move your arm, maintaining the 90, the tip of the rod will move up and down. It is a smooth movement, no whipping the rod up and down. This requires discipline. This is just the basic approach. You can incorporate variations to impart more or less action to the jig.
Start by pulling the rod up and them stop. The jig keeps coming before going flat and fluttering down in the water column. Be mindful of the tension in your line on the fall. Free-fall and tension-fall move differently. It's hard to say from day to day which is better. That’s up to the fish and their feeding behavior at that moment. You will want to really manage your scope. Keeping the line as vertical as possible is the key.
Your jigging technique should be smooth, consistent and efficient. Upon reaching bottom or your target depth, crank the reel as you sweep the rod up. Try to push the rod out a bit during the life to add impart more direction. At the top of the sweep, about 45 degrees upward from parallel to the water, stop the rod and let the jig stall before fluttering down. Do not reel as the jig falls. Repeat until you are out of the strike zone. Then drop the jig to your target depth or the bottom and repeat.
The pitch refers to one full turn of the reel. As you move the rod upward, you crank or pitch the reel and then stop. As you drop the rod, the jig falls, swings out and shimmies. Knowing where the fish are allows you to pitch the jig up a few times and then drop it back down to a specific depth. By doing this, you stay within the zone where the fish are, imitating the action of a dying bait fish.
A falling slow pitch jig whips out, darts, bobs and weaves, covering a wider area than, say, a diamond jig that mainly falls straight down. With experience you will develop more skill in to achieve the best jig action. With so much variation in jig design, you really have to experiment to understand the full performance characteristics of different jig designs.
Tackle for Slow Pitch Jigging
Now this is where things get real interesting. Slow-pitch jigging requires rather specialized tackle. The rods, reels and jigs are purpose built. The rods are constructed to provide maximum bend. There is no backbone in the blank. You don't need the rod for generating lift on the fish, only on the jig. Thus, the long whippy nature of the build. The whip action is what generates the sporadic flightiness in the jigs. Slow pitch reels are high retrieve with quite robust gear and drag systems. As you bring the rod up, the pitch of the reel gathers excess line quickly. You really need a good rod and reel combo for optimal fishing. As a caveat, when you start using more specialized equipment, the price goes up. This alone can create barriers to entry for the average fisherman. Hey, it's worth it though.
High quality slow pitch jigging rods are thin, made of highly resilient prepreg carbon material. Blanks are thin and firm. Rods are designed to bend deeply and spring back deliberately along the whole length of the rod. The higher quality the rod, the more controlled the recoil it will have and the better it works jigs at depth. The idea is not to have a fast action rod that springs back quickly, but rather a rod with a slow even recovery. Rods will have shockingly small guides. This allows for the line to run close to the rod, providing far more sensitivity. The sensitivity affords greater feel to the slightest strike, in even the deepest water. These micro guides require you to tie slim line-to-line connections, such as an FG or PR knots.
The job of these super light rods is to dance the jig and hook the fish. From there, it’s the reel’s job to land the fish. The fight takes place from the reel. It's sort of like having a winch on a retractable dog leash. This necessitates durable reels. Slow pitch jigging is not tuna fishing. There is no pumping. You can expect a far less less taxing angling experience compared to aggressive speed jigging techniques.
When you get down to fighting tactics, it's kind of like fighting without fighting. You are manipulating the movements of the fish with deliberate control. The fundamentals involve holding the rod down into the water and then bringing it back up in a steady fluid motion, finessing the fish with delicate thumb control. Essentially, you are letting the fish run and then bringing the head around to change angle on the fish to guide it in an ever so subtle manner. It is very much, as I mentioned above, like walking a dog on a retractable leash. You are walking the fish to the surface. The reel does the job of releasing tension.
Slow pitch jigging is a precision technique with unique fishing tackle. You are in a dance with the jig, knowing exactly where it is in the water column and what it’s doing.
Jigs for Slow Pitch Jigging
How you approach the choice of jigs is the difference. After all, anything the will fall through the water. There are so many variations in design weight, size and shape depending on the depth and current you are fishing in. Weight obviously helps get to the bottom faster, but that is not the goal. You want to select the lightest iron that holds bottom, with a pair of assist hooks at the top and the bottom. That means each jig has four hooks.
To facilitate the quick change of jigs, a barrel swivel is connected to the leader with a split ring on the other end. Your assist hooks are added to the split ring, not the jig. The jig hangs from the same split ring, as well. So, it goes in this order, line, barrel swivel to which the assist hooks and jig are added. Another set of assist hooks are added to the bottom of the jig.
Slow-pitch jigs are center-weighted. This keeled design creates the flutter, darting, spiral, vibrating, or gliding action, as it falls on a fully slack line. The design incorporates hydrodynamic principles to increase surface area, vibration and to promote suspension in the water as compared to fast jigging jigs, which are designed with a long and slim profile to reach depth as quickly as possible.
Variations in the design of slow-pitch jigs are as abundant as bass fishing lures. No matter the depth, current or conditions, there is a jig to meet your desire. With all kinds of built in action, the smartest thing you can do is just let the jig do its dance and not interfere.
Part of the learning curve requires understanding what a specific jig is designed to do and how to get the most out of it. Knowing when to use a given jig design comes with studied practice.
Like learning anything new or improving upon your existing skills, wrapping your head around the underlying principles and then working to improve your technique is the difference between success and languishing. For many anglers slow pitch jigging runs contrary to everything known about fishing with leverage. Once you get past the cost of entry, this style of fishing is interactive AF and damn fun.
In The Spread