Jigging Part 1

BIG WATER, DEEP WATER, ZANDER

Over the last few years James Gardner and I have devoted much our time to fishing large waters in the Midlands for Zander and Perch, with the occasional trip to much larger waters on the continent. Fishing deep water effectively and efficiently is necessary if you want to catch Zander on a regular basis. It’s not easy at first, especially if you’re not experienced at boat handling and boat fishing techniques. Fortunately James and I have been messing about in boats for nearly thirty years whilst fishing for Trout and Pike. A lot of our previous experience has helped us “fast track” our way to our early success, but as always the rest has been “hard graft” and time on the water but we wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

Understanding the basics is fundamental to success. Location is always the first problem to solve, where and at what depth will they be? We have found that Zander tend to be more concentrated in deeper water, in excess of thirty feet. I have to say at this point that our access to these waters has been in the autumn and winter. This could change in years to come, and it’s quite possible the location of the Zander will be different at other times of the year.

The most efficient way of fishing deep water effectively while searching for fish is to use vertically jigging techniques. This method keeps your lures in the “kill zone” for most of the time, so all you need to do is find the fish.

Let’s start fishing!

Vertical Jigging

Your first drift should be in an area with a steep drop off. Start at the 30’ depth with the wind pushing the boat towards the deeper water. Position your boat across the wind then deploy the drogue which is tied off the up-wind side of the boat. Now facing the wind drop your lure to the bottom. Once the line slackens engage the bail arm and take up the slack. Give the rod a short, approx 12” sharp upwards snap, quickly followed by a 6” drop of the rod tip and then pause. This action sees your lure dart up off the bottom quickly change direction and dive back towards the deck before coming to an abrupt halt. NOW STOP. This is very important as the pause is when most of your takes are going to occur. This period, “the hang time”, can last anything from a few seconds to up to a minute, it varies from day to day. Finally lower the bait on a “controlled drop” to the bottom. This “controlled drop” should also be very gentle, this again being a key element in the jigging action. Continue drifting until you reach the 60’ depth and then wind in and motor back upwind.

Horizontal Shading

This is now one of our favourite methods which we discovered by chance when we were becalmed. As they say “desperate times call for desperate methods” or something like that. I’ve mentioned elsewhere that we believe it’s essential to cover lots of water in order to catch lots of fish, so when we are faced with calm conditions we cast our shads in order to search water and show our lures to the maximum number of fish.

Let me now describe how we do it.

Select a shad with a soft body. I prefer 5” Berkley Split Belly shads mounted on a 20g jig head. I cast my lure across the wind, there’s usually still a little drift remaining. It’s important to cast across the wind not down wind in order to cover as much water as possible. Having cast your lure and allow it to sink to the bottom. When the line goes slack engage the bail arm, take up the slack and start the retrieve. Very slowly wind 3 or 4 turns of the handle then pause. The rod must be pointing directly at the line with no angle between rod and lure if you want to be effective. Even with very little drift and very thin smooth line there’s still a lot of drag and lift when casting into depths of 50’, 60’, 70’ even 80’ of water while using 20g jig heads. We could use heavier weights but then you would loose the “slow drop”, which is so vital.

The slow retrieve lifts the shad off the bottom, the pause allows the bait to “ever so slowly” sink back to the bottom while swinging towards you. Expect a savage take at any moment. Do not add any action with the rod, just wait for “touch down”. Then repeat this very slow retrieve with the same number of turns of the reel handle for the first third of the cast. The middle third of the cast you’ll need to reduce the number of turns of the handle as the line angle increases, in order to keep the lure in the “kill zone” and to allow the lure to descend and “ever so enticingly” swing. The final 3rd of the cast again you’ll need to reduce the number of turns of the reel handle again, the line angle is very steep now and the sink speed of the lure is much slower but be patient because any fish that is following is in for a big surprise as your bait finally stops swimming away and just hovers suspended just off bottom. They just can’t resist -“BANG” fish on!

Dead rod

This “static” rod is fished with a second rod which we position it across the gunnels, in my case close to my left hand so I can adjust the depth easily and of course strike quickly when necessary. On this rod we employ several methods all of which do not require any action to be imparted to the lure, hence the term “dead”.

The easiest presentation is to lower a shad and leave it suspended just off bottom. We sometimes mark large fish on the sounder in mid water. This is where marking your line is handy. If no targets are seen we will set this rod with the lure tracking 1’ or 2’

From the bottom as this can lift fish that have not been seen so far. A take sees the rod tip pulling over at which point all you need to do is set the hook.

When we first started to fish deep we were seeing fish 20’ or 30’ off bottom. We thought too deep for Trout and too high for Pike or Zander, but what could they be? After reading an article about Swedish anglers enjoying success catching Zander “up in the water” I was inspired to try their methods. I could hardly wait to try catching one of these fish myself to see if they were in fact Zander. My next trip saw my shad sitting 40’ off bottom waiting for a fish to appear on screen. Then 30’ off bottom there’s a shape on the sounder. I slowly lowered my lure 5’ towards the fish which instantly lifts upwards like a Polaris straight towards my bait. What should I do now? Before I can think my rod loads up, I strike and its “fish on”. After a short fight a Zander surfaces.

According to the Swedes the Zander we catch near the bottom are not feeding fish but are triggered by our jigging techniques, while feeding Zander are hunting off the bottom high in the water. Their method is referred to as “Pelagic” Zander fishing. I’m sure as we improve our understanding of this technique it will become an essential method on Grafham where we often see these mid water fish. James has a theory about why we don’t see as many Zander off bottom on Rutland, which I believe holds water. He thinks due to their size, the Rutland Zander being much smaller, they feel vulnerable to attack from Pike and with so many 1lb to 3lb Zander about you have to believe that Pike are exploiting this food source.

Another method that works on the “Dead” rod is the “Drop Shot” rig. We have had a fair degree of success using this method. I prefer to think of as a paternoster shad rig. By adjusting the length of the lead link and varying the amount of weight you can present a bait at a set height off the bottom and at a set distance behind the boat. Sometimes a fish that has been attracted to your “active” rod, but has not taken, can be lured by the “static” bait as it comes along behind the active bait.

In fact one of the main reasons we fish a static rod to act as a barometer to the fishes mood. If we are getting more hits on the dead rod it suggests that our active rod is too active!

Depth range

As you drift down wind you will be covering a range of depths. As you drift out over deeper water your bait will loose contact with the bottom, at this point I “back wind” my lure until I make contact with the bottom again. Some anglers prefer to open their bail arm at this point but I think they miss out on potential takes “on the drop” by doing this. As you catch fish on these first drifts you should take note of the depths the Zander are coming from. Once a depth range has been identified I focus further drifts in areas that provide this depth band more consistently. While drifting you may well find special features where you’re catching fish. Mark these locations on your echo sounder if it has ‘GPS’. After a few visits you will have amassed several marks, “way points”, in different depth bands that will produce fish for you in the future.

Echo sounder GPS

If you are going to enjoy above average success you will need a high quality echo sounder as it’s going to be a vital part of your fishing technique. A large “high resolution” screen is essential, making viewing small features in detail easy; being able to split the screen into two enables you to view both, GPS and “Down Imaging” screens, simultaneously. The GPS screen allows you to focus drifts around your “way points” and view your previous drifts allowing you to make a series of close but different passes over an area on interest while all the time viewing the second “Down Imaging” screen searching for bait fish or Zander. Remember Zander and Perch are attracted to structures and are often found here especially when they’re inactive, so finding these spots is vital and as both these species are shoal predators expect to catch several fish off each of these features.

Drift Speed

James Gardner and I like to drift at a reasonable pace as this covers lots of water meaning we show our lures to lots of fish, 0.4 o 0.8mph is our preferred speed, with or without a drogue deployed. As I’ve already mentioned we normally use a drogue, positioned off the side, occasionally off the stern in extremely windy conditions, this “slipstreaming” reduces our drift speed still further, on occasions when we feel our drift speed is too slow we’ll fish without the drogue at all. In our early forays the condition we dreaded the most were the times we were becalmed the lack of movement seriously effected our catch rate our lures lost their appeal “on the drop” even when fished on much lighter jig heads. There are a couple options, one is to move the boat slowly with an electric engine, occasionally injecting a short burst of speed to create your own drift, the other is to cast your lures, both options see your lures searching water again and covering fish.

In Part 2

We will fully cover the tackle required and more importantly, we will discuss fish welfare.

“Tight lines”

Andy Lush