Wednesday, February 9, 2011

FISHING HOW-TO: Getting Vertical - What's All That Jigging About?

[This article was written by Peter J. Park for and first posted on their site on Jan. 16, 2010]

We’re 60 miles offshore and the ocean is calm. I can hear my heart pounding through my chest. Then Captain Mike Jackson shouts, “The screen is lit. Let ‘em drop!” I release the jig, hit the bottom, close the bail, and then start cranking fast and furious. Then, it happened - an impact so hard that it shocked every bit of bone in my body. “Welcome to North Carolina, boys,” shouts Captain Mike. This was the scene from my very first vertical jigging experience. I’d like to share a little bit about what my friends and I have learned along the way just in case you’re considering such a trip.

What is Vertical Jigging? Unlike jigging for bluefish or cod, vertical jigging (also known as “deepwater jigging”, “speed jigging”, or “Japanese-style jigging”) involves using all of your arms, legs, and back muscles to rapidly “rip” a jig at blistering speeds through the water column in well over 300 ft of water. Vertical jigging has been developed over decades predominantly in countries surrounding the Indian and Pacific oceans, but in the US, it seems like the vertical jigging bug is just catching on. The Gulf Stream, which runs just offshore along the eastern US coastline, is ideal for this form of fishing. Here, the water is deep and warm, and the fish are big and hungry all year round.

Author with wahoo caught while vertical jigging on June 14,
2009 aboard Liveline Charters (Wilmington, NC).

Tackle – Leaders, Knots, Terminal Tackle and Assist Hooks (Fig. 1). Like in inshore waters, Gulf Stream bait fish and their predators congregate around structure. For example, Greater Amberjack (Seriola dumerili), the most common gamefish you will encounter in these waters, are also called “reef donkeys” because they love to prowl ledges and rock piles. Once hooked, they will dive right down into nearby structure much like tautog, but with about ten thousand times more force! Therefore, your choice of main line and leader is important. For the main line, we use anything between 60-100lb test braid. The shock leader is usually 100-200lb test, either fluorocarbon or monofilament.

Consideration of the knot connecting the main line to the shock leader cannot be taken lightly. Two types of knots fit for vertical jigging are the Page Ranking (or “PR Knot”) for a direct connection to the leader or the Bimini Twist to a wind-on leader.

With such thick leaders, all versions of Albright knots are strongly discouraged because any bend on the leader will cause the main line at the knot to be worn down as it repeatedly passes through the guides during fishing. Once you’ve decided on the knot, the leader should be set as long as 10-12 ft. Justification? Trimming will be required as you keep fishing, grazing structures, and/or changing terminal tackle. The longer line may also help hide the braided main line from a fish’s view.

This leads us to the business end of things- one’s connection to the jig. Generally, we choose between a 200-300lb rated solid ring or ball-bearing swivel. As its name suggests, the solid ring is a relatively immobile connection, which allows a more swinging motion of the jig, especially in strong currents. Unlike a solid ring, a ball-bearing swivel prevents spinning (and thus, weakening your connection to the leader) of the main line after a full day’s jigging. The terminal connection can be established with a simple clinch knot (not improved clinch knot!) with minimally four wraps. On the solid ring or ball-bearing swivel goes one or two assist hooks. An assist hook is a hook attached a short strip of specialized rope or metal. Unlike a diamond or Viking jig, there is no hook connected directly to the jig itself.
Fig.1. Cartoon summarizing lines, knots, and terminal tackle ready for vertical
jigging. Inset diagram modified from image on

As a rule, larger hooks and longer assist lengths go with bigger jigs. Only one assist hook is usually sufficient for most purposes and will also minimize tangles with the leader. However, when the bite is finicky, two short (3-4”) or one long (6+”) with one short assist hook may be an option. If you are going to use two assist hooks, make sure to fasten them such that the end of each hook points away from the other. Finally, your jig can be connected to the solid ring or ball-bearing swivel with a strong 200-300lb split-ring.

Jigs. Selection of the right vertical jig is the foundation of one’s arsenal. Generally, the shape of these jigs range from long-and-thin to short-and-fat. Since the thrust of the vertical jigging market has occurred outside the US, jigs are rated in metric units. Depending on depth and current strength, the jig to use can be anywhere between 150 grams – 450 grams (1 gram = 0.035 ounce). Each lure is designed to dance differently, and it will take a lot of trial-and-error to figure what works when. I find this to be the fun part. The following is a list of some companies that make jigs that my friends and I have tried and with which we have caught fish – Braid, Shimano (Butterfly), Williamson, River2Sea, Jigging Master, Smith, HOT’s, and FISHERMAN. As in any form of fishing, always keep an open mind. I’ve heard stories of anglers catching some of the most rare and largest species with the good ole’ classic diamond jig. Sometimes, style matters, but other times, it may just be the technique.

Rods and Reels. Vertical jigging can be accomplished with spinning gear or conventional reels. Arguably, this is THE most important investment for a vertical jigging first timer. On my first trip, I made the mistake of bringing a $250 reel (that shall remain nameless) advertised as a “high speed jigging reel.” I didn’t want to spend the money and buy a high-priced Shimano Stella, Daiwa Dogfight, or Accurate TwinSpin. So what, right? Who really needs the advertised 55lbs of drag? Well, as I quickly learned, it matters. Towards the end of my first trip, an estimated 50” Amberjack took some serious drag on me and broke the anti-reverse on my new reel. On that same trip, I also heard the drag on my friend’s high-priced “all purpose” spinning reel (that shall also remain nameless) slip and crack. Suffice it to say, you absolutely need to do the research and purchase the right reel. Another friend tried the Shimano Saragosa, but it held up just fine. So, whichever reel you choose, in our experience, at least the top-shelf three listed above and the Saragosa seem up to the task.

When it comes to vertical jigging, make sure you invest in the right
gear. The fish of a lifetime will make short  work of shoddy equipment.

Vertical jigging rods need to be light but strong. Generally, they range from 4’8” to 5’6” feet. These rods are rated based on the average weight of the jig that you plan to use as well as the style of jigging style you prefer. Short rapid strokes work best with a shorter rod, but longer rods allow more whipping action. Again, trial-and-error is most important here. Consider the domestic brands such OTI, Ocean Revolution, VanStaal, Accurate, and Daiwa as well as overseas companies such as HOT’s, Smith, Jigging Master, and FISHERMAN. Remember, the lighter the rod, the less it’ll wear down the angler after a whole day of ripping jigs, but if you hook up a monster, that rod better have some serious backbone.
Matt Derba with 65” (fork-length) amberjack caught
aboard Liveline Charters (Wilmington, NC) while
vertical jigging on October 4, 2009. The right rod and
 reel makes all the difference when the fish of a
lifetime finds your jig.

Fish Species. This part is really left for you to discover. I will say that almost every offshore species can be enticed by a jig in deepwater. In the warm tropical waters of the Gulf Stream, you never know what you’re gonna catch! In addition to amberjack, we’ve seen wahoo, grouper, mahi mahi, tuna, coronet fish, snapper, hogfish, and even heard of a sailfish caught on a jig! 

Jigging also produces monster hauls. Personally, I’ve seen 70+lb wahoo, 110+lb amberjack, and 300+lb sharks fall to a jig. If you’ve ever wanted to land a fish that tests “extreme” in extreme sportfishing, this is it. Each species will test you in different ways. For instance, the Greater Amberjack is an incredible fighter. The best way to describe the spirit of an amberjack is an all-in-one fish bearing the best fighting qualities of all our NY local species: they run like a mammoth striped bass, dive like a slob tog, and never gives up like a bluefish.

Capt. Mike Jackson, owner of Liveline Charters, with a 16lb hogfish caught
while vertical jigging on November 30, 2009. Photo courtesy of M. Jackson.
So, Why Vertical Jigging? I’ve asked around and have put together the following short list of reasons why so many have recently become addicted to vertical jigging. First, “It’s something new.” Many of my friends tried jigging because they just wanted to try something different. Whether they were surf fishermen or freshwater specialists, they just wanted a new and bold thrill. Second, “No conventions.” Once the captain puts you on the spot, it’s left to the angler to entice and fight the fish. There is no set rule on how to jig. For every style, there is a counter style. The only indicator of success is the hook up. Many feel that vertical jigging in the eastern US is relatively new since age-old conventions and how-to books on this form are virtually non-existent. You do what you want, not what “they say.” Furthermore, I’ve witnessed first and second time-ever jigging fisherman land 100+lb amberjack. Eastern US vertical jigging is a relatively untapped resource for the birth of genuinely new ideas and traditions. Third, “You earn your catch.” Like any form of lure fishing, it is all up the angler to make it happen. The way you dance your jig is the only thing that stands between you and the fish. Lastly, you never know when you’ll hook a true giant.

Happy anglers with Amberjack caught aboard Liveline Charter (all fish released)

Giving Credit Where It’s Due. Over coffee at a diner one December 2008 night, a friend (who insists on remaining anonymous) said to me, “Peter, next year we gotta try something new. Ever heard of vertical jigging?” At first, I gave him a skeptic’s glare and replied, “Dude, I’m perfectly okay with striped bass and trout fishing for now.” Obviously, I eventually came around.  As I reminisce, I am indebted now to this friend who encouraged me to take that leap of faith in trying something new in fishing. With only one year of experience, he and I can’t believe that our local fishing this year has been kept to such a minimum with every dollar saved for the next drive down to North Carolina for an offshore “jigging fix.”

Therefore, I cannot take any credit for the suggestions listed above. No one really can. Every tip and trick came from a friend, forum, or fellow fanatic. Most importantly, Captain Mike Jackson, owner Liveline Charters, truly made the experience real and exhilarating by putting us on the fish. The best part is, there are plenty of new things left to learn! Like my friend did for me, I want to encourage you to not let the thought of vertical jigging intimidate you as it first did me. You just need to prepare the right equipment and keep an open mind. If you want to try vertical jigging, you can make it happen. If fact, if done right, it may very well change your perspective on fishing forever. It did me in.

Web Resources:

Liveline Charters
Capt. Mike Jackson
Tel1: 910-686-7271
Tel2: 910-470-7274

Shops and Stores:
Kilsong’s Jigging World:
Salty Water Tackle:

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