The Kit's Tackle “Johnson Jig”
Since the month of June is one of our favorite months for jig fishing in Montana we thought we would do a mini seminar on the famous” Johnson Jig” technique. We are so passionate about jig fishing because YOU are imparting the action on the jigs that gets the fish to strike…REWARDING! It is a magical time to keep the jigs flying because it is a multi-species bonanza on the water from Noxon Rapids Reservoir in western Montana all the way to eastern Montana’s massive Fort Peck Lake. Most of our Montana fish species are in the “post spawn” period meaning they have recovered from the rigors of spawning and are ready to devour your Glass Minnows!! Fish head to the shallows and they are ready to attack forage of all kinds. We will focus this clinic on SHALLOW WATER jigging and how to do the “Trevor Stroke”!
Our unorthodox jigging style has landed us thousands of fish including some absolute once in a lifetime specimens. As the saying goes, “Anybody can catch a big fish, but only the elite continually put big fish in the boat.” This is where the phrase, “location plus presentation” comes into play. And along with it comes equipment, jig size, line diameter, boat control and the list goes on and on. I have to say, from the time I’ve spent on the water this spring I have seen a lot of folks adapting to our style of jigging. And their testimonials have been AMAZING! But remember, even the Kit’s Tackle boat has tough days. Just like Tom Petty said, “Some days are diamonds, some days are rocks.” The absolute best thing about fishing is that we all dream of big fish, but if you pay attention, Mother Nature will hand you a gift every day you spend on the water.
Before we get into the nuts and bolts of the “Johnson Jig” we want to mention that this is just a style of jigging that works for us. This doesn’t mean this is the only way for jigs to work; it is just a rhythm that my father Kit pioneered back in the 1970’s. The absolute biggest secret to the “Johnson Jig” is ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, LET YOUR JIG FALL ON A SLACK LINE!! I can see you scratching your head right now saying, “What”?? The first thing we do when we cast a jig out is throw the rod tip towards the water and let the line fall through the air. Then, before the next jig up, we reel in the slack line until it is almost tight, but not quite…so the fish doesn’t feel you. So our rod angle between jig ups is low to the water whereas the traditional jig fisherman holds the rod at a 45 degree angle towards the sky letting the jig fall on a tight line. By letting your jig fall on a slack line you are doing two very important things:
- The jig falls naturally through the water column and looks much more realistic.
- When the fish sucks your jig in, it has no idea the Glass Minnow is attached to a rod.
You always hear walleye fisherman talk about that “thunk” when they get a bite. I have no idea what that “thunk” even feels like. Here’s where it gets crazy, I can count on one hand how many times I’ve felt a big walleye or trout bite. And that’s exactly the goal I’m trying to achieve because fish have such fast reflexes that if the line is tight and they feel resistance, they can spit a jig way faster than you can jerk the rod. And even if you do hook the fish, chances are it will be a poor hookset. When they suck your jig in on slack line the hook will be inside their mouth when you jerk the rod guaranteeing good hook ups! The trick here is, never let your jig sit around long enough a fish could pick it up and spit it out. You will learn to become critical line watchers meaning the slightest “twitch” in your line before it hits the bottom means FISH ON!
I fully understand this is a hard concept to grasp especially in writing so here is a link to a YouTube video of us explaining and demonstrating the “Johnson Jig” with the Glass Minnows at the Gates of the Rocky Mountains:
Go to YouTube and search “Learn how to jig fish with the Kit’s Tackle “Glass Minnows”
Now back to the shallow water concept and why is has been so successful for us over the years. Fish go shallow for one reason and one reason only..TO EAT!! There might be hundreds more fish in deeper water but they are generally inactive fish that either will not bite or will take a lot of convincing. Here is a good example, if I was to take an aerial view of Helena, MT at lunch time during the week there would be people all over the place. There would be way less people at McDonald's than spread out over the city, but the people at the Mickey D’s are there for one reason..BIG MAC, BABY!! It is no different in the water world, the shallow fish are active and hungry and if you get your jig in front of them they will crush it! The deep water fish already ate and are relaxing and digesting food…if you just ate half a pizza and were relaxing on the couch and somebody offered you another slice…NO WAY, right! In the post spawn period (May-Mid July) the deepest we have ever caught a 30’’ walleye is probably eight or nine feet excluding places like Fort Peck that have cisco that drive fish deep to feed. This is a very hard concept for some people to grasp, but trust me on this one folks!
Here is some solid advice to go along with the “Johnson Jig” method to kick some major fish butt!
-Boat control catches fish! People don’t realize how much work is involved to keep your boat in the proper position most of the day. And how many times have you seen a boat nosed into shore where the front angler can cast perfect and the back angler is up a creek!! We run the boat out of the back with the bow mount motor because if the guy in the back of the boat can fish…everybody can fish! To target the shallow water fish we create what we call a buffer zone. Every angler’s buffer zone will be different but here is how to find yours:
**A buffer zone is the distance between your boat and the shoreline. You want to be as far away as possible so you don’t spook the fish, but also close enough that you can confidently and accurately cast your jig and hit within a few inches of shore. You wouldn’t believe the big fish we have caught in sub 3’! And on windy days you will have to shorten your buffer zone up to keep the rhythm going smooth.
-EXTRA FAST ACTION RODS!! For trout we use ultralight power in a 5-6’ rod. For walleye we prefer a medium-light action in a 6-6’3” rod.
-Use light reels! We use the Shimano Ci4 Stratic which is super light. Remember, everything is the world of jig fishing is finesse.
-We use monofilament line (Stren Magnathin) because of its clear and forgiving properties. There is no need for a leader with mono and you also have some stretch which is your friend when fish are lightly hooked. If you have a light hooked fish with braid it is so direct that even if your drag is set perfect you will lose the fish. We use light line, for trout we use 4-6lb test and for walleye, bass, pike we use 6-8lb test.
-Always use the lightest jig possible for the application. Lighter jigs are easier for fish to suck in. Lighter jigs also sink slower giving you more time in the strike zone. My dad, Kit, generally always uses 1/8 ounce and I am mostly a 1/4 ounce guy. Even in windy or tough conditions we stick to our guns on the small jigs. Our biggest recommendation is to use the lightest jig size that you feel confident with.
-Fish are aggressive in the post spawn periods and we generally use plastics with the Glass Minnows like a Berkley Gulp 3” Minnow or a Power Bait 3” Ripple Shad.
-Always fish with the wind! Fish orient into the wind because it brings the food. They will see your jig coming from further away and have better chance of getting a smack at it.
By sharing this information all we ask is that you be mindful and respectful on the water. I am so lucky and have been so blessed by fish of all kinds and sizes that I want the next generations of kiddos to have the same experiences. We are very passionate about advocating for the future of fishing and practicing selective harvest. And remember folks:
“Always keep your gratitude higher than your expectations, and you will have great days”
-Ray Wylie Hubbard