How to

Northern creek jigging

WHETHER you’re new to fishing or a seasoned pro, hooking a quality fish can get those knees really trembling, a feeling not too dissimilar to the first time you set eyes on the love of your life, which for some need not even be human (a dream boat perhaps?). Hopefully non-fishing/boating partners are not reading this piece over your shoulder … Yes, we’ve all had jelly legs at one time or another and it’s that kind of emotional rush and uncertainty of outcome that hooks many fishos for life. Part of the uncertainty of fishing starts well before a fish is fooled into hitting a lure.

First up, you need to find where the fish are, which is often the hardest part of the angling puzzle. Once this piece falls into place, then the next step is to work how best to get a lure past their noses to attract attention. Last but not least is the essential need to get the target species to actually strike the presented lure.

For northern lure fishos chasing barramundi and threadfin salmon, the techniques most often employed involve casting lures or trolling them at depths where such fish are holding. However, some are now adding in a third technique – vertical jigging – as they pursue their beloved saltwater barra and other targets. Dropping sinking lures straight up and down is a well-established and deadly technique for targeting both pelagic and bottom dwelling species in the bluewater. Similarly, the use of vibe-style lures is popular on the east coast impoundment scene for chasing freshwater barra and bass. Many years back the use of sinking lures like the old Rattlin’ Spots did indeed win a Barra Classic comp or two before the pack moved back to trolling as the preferred tournament fishing technique.

But for many northern barra-chasers, a move away from trolling lures at fish on their sounder screens is difficult, as most big barra are caught on the troll. However, if it’s a choice between catching or not catching fish, then switched-on anglers will modify their tactics to meet the changing circumstances they find out on the water. This comes back to an earlier point:made: after finding fish you need to be able to get a lure to them so they can eat it. Following is a useful example of how effective vertically jigging can be for northern creek species.

Deep hole

Earlier this year I took my boat Barraddiction down the coast to a small tidal creek located south-west of Darwin. Aboard for the ride were a couple of mates who are born and bred Darwinian anglers. The aim of the trip was to chase barra and threadies by casting to snags and trolling edges, submerged structure and deep holes. After searching around the system for a while, we eventually came across a deep hole on a bend in the creek. The sounder was showing lots of bait higher up, as well as plenty of bigger arches down near the bottom in 30 feet of water. After three trolls of the hole with deep-diving minnows we hadn’t registered a touch. Given that the maximum running depth of our lures was around 15-20 feet, it was pretty clear that these fish were not interested in rising off the bottom to eat one. Thus we needed another tactic to try and get an offering past their noses.

Being an avid bluewater jigger, I wasted little time in calling for a lure change. Trolling lures were quickly swapped over for sinking hard-bodies and the boat re-positioned so a drift would take us over the fish marking on the sounder. Thumb-bars were pressed and bail arms opened as three Halco Tremblers dropped down through the water column. With enticing lift and drop rod movements, it wasn’t long before Nathan Mappas on the front casting deck hooked a solid fish. A couple of minutes later a nice threadfin salmon was in the landing net with smiles all around. That was the start of an amazing session with close to 20 threadies and a few barra landed on a combination of Tremblers and soft plastic vibes fished straight up and down.

As a result of this particular trip (and a few subsequent others), both Nathan and his dad Brian have now become converts of vertically jigging for barra and threadies when the right circumstances make this style of fishing the obvious technique to try. Over the past five years or so, similar vertical jigging tactics aboard Barraddiction have accounted for just about every other northern creek species you can think of including black jewfish, golden snapper, mangrove jack, javelin fish, various cod, tarpon, blue salmon, trevally and queenfish.

Techniques & Gear

During this year’s barra-run off season I have been surprised at how often a hard plastic Trembler-style lure has out fished both soft plastics and rubber vibes. This has mainly happened when casting into feeder creeks pumping fresh tannin-stained water back into the main river. Usually such scenarios are the domain of small soft plastics, but in 2015 this has not been the case. After a fair bit of consideration I think the presence of an internal rattle in Tremblers has been the main reason accounting for the difference in strike rates. If you’ve been around long enough you will have picked up that fishing tactics and lure styles are pretty cyclical in nature. Often what was once old can become new again, given the passage of enough time. The resurgence of the humble but deadly Trembler is a good case in point.

As alluded to earlier in this piece, one of the keys to jigging creek dwelling species is to ensure that any vertically worked lure stays in close contact with the bottom, as well as being imparted with an enticing yo-yo action. Sometimes a single or double lift of the rod tip works, as does a series of short shakes during each lift. Like fishing soft plastics or bottom bouncing metal jigs out in the blue, most strikes take place when the lure is dropping back to the bottom. Thus on the drop it’s important to keep an eye on the line for any small deflections which can signify that the lure has been tapped by a fish – meaning it’s time to immediately strike to set the hooks.Thinner gauge hooks work best in these situations, as often fish annoyed into striking a lure don’t hit as hard as when actively feeding.

As always, leader choice depends on the size of the fish being targeted. If there are big barra around then hard-wearing mono or fluorocarbon 50-60lb leaders will help prevent rub-offs from sandpaper-like mouths if your lure is engulfed. However, for most vertical jigging scenarios 30-40lb leaders will do the job nicely. Gear-wise, barra casting and trolling outfits are ideal for fishing in the vertical. Some find using a lighter spin rod gives them a better “feel” when working a sinking hard-body or plastic down deep. Personally, I tend to use a low profile baitcaster like a Shimano Curado as I find it easier to press a thumb-bar to free-spool a lure back down than repeatedly flicking over a bail arm.

Jiggy haunts

Exploring the deep holes often found on creek bends is always a good place to start looking for fish that might be partial to snaffling a sinking hard-body vibe lure or a rubber alternative. Trolling these holes first up is a good way to check to see if there are any fish holding down deep, which may be out of range of your deeper trolling lures. Similarly, rock bars and submerged trees are great fish holding structures and are always worth a good look.

Of course, dropping down lures swinging a couple of sets of trebles into structure increases the chances of getting snagged up. One way to lessen this is to remove one set of trebles from the lure, usually the one attached to the tail. Another option is to swap the trebles over to singles, or even better, to twin hooks formed out of the same piece of hook wire. Instead of hanging these with the hook points below the shanks, flip them over so the points are above the shanks. In this way when jigged upwards they tuck up either side of the lure body, thus making them more snag resistant. However, they flare out on the fall, increasing hook exposure when fish are most likely to strike.

As cited earlier, successful anglers are always trying to work out how to catch fish wherever they find them. Prospecting deep holes and submerged structure vertically can pay big dividends in the creeks and rivers of the tropical north. And always remember … you’re only ever one drop away from another knee trembling experience!

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