Newbie’s Tips for Flipping Jigs and Spinnerbaits
I’ve enjoyed corresponding lately with a gent named Jake who recently moved to Georgia from Michigan. It’s Jake from State Farm.
In Michigan, Jake was a fervent walleye angler. He often participated in walleye tournaments up north over the years. Walleye fishing and tournaments are different from bass fishing. In some walleye tournaments, you are able to use live bait, to troll, to use two rods at once, use downriggers, and even hand line or use wire line in some cases.
Jake is brand new to bass fishing however. Of course he’s eager to learn everything about how to succumb all the bass that Georgia may have in store for him.
Lures like flipping jigs and spinnerbaits were never used by Jake for walleye. So Jake has been studying all the info in magazines and on the Internet, trying to form an idea how he’d use such new baits (to him) for bass.
Jake asked: I’ve read that some super-sharpies trim the skirts on jigs and spinnerbaits. Do you think I should do that?
I confessed to Jake: Years ago, I religiously trimmed all my skirts on all my jigs and spinnerbaits. Basically, the tail end of a new skirt is neatly-aligned and straight-curt which didn’t seem to be a naural profile to me. Most food bass eat has a tapered shape, and I trimmed my skirts to have a tapered shape too. Fast forward to today, Jake, and I do not think it’s so necessary to do that. When I have one or two or three key spinnerbaits or jigs that I am going to depend on during the day to produce fish, I may trim the skirts beforehand.
However I can’t see where it truly makes a major difference to bass. I tend to catch as many fish on untrimmed skirts. Other expert anglers I fish with catch at least as many fish as me – and I’ve never yet fished with another angler who trims their skirts. Most anglers don’t and bass don’t mind.
I summarized: Over four decades of trimming skirts, I can’t say for certain that a trimmed skirt ever made that much difference and it’s certainly not something a new angler should worry about, Jake. As a new bass angler, concentrate on learning to catch fish on jigs and spinnerbaits without trimming the skirts. Besides, you will only worry more if you do trim them, because you’ll have no idea whether you’re trimming the skirt right or wrong. It is hard enough to master a flipping jig or spinnerbait to begin with. So keep it simple and achieve confidence in these lures first without trimming skirts is my advice to a novice.
I told Jake: One thing you can do if the skirt has a rubber retainer collar… carefully wriggle the skirt off the lure. You should see one half of the skirt is left longer and the other half is short. Almost always, the longer side goes on first, so that when the long side bends and folds back over the short side, then they both end up actually being about equal length (squared off at the back). What you can do then is take the skirt off, reverse the direction, and put the skirt back on a spinnerbait so the short side faces the front. When the short side bends and folds back, it will create a short outer layer (like an umbrella), and the long side of the skirt trails out further like a tail. All skirts are pretty much banded the same way because 90% of silicone skirts in the world are manufactured in only two factories in Viet Nam. So they’re all banded identically with the short and long sides.
Reversing the skirt direction his gives a bigger, baitfish-like profile and it is how I routinely dress bigger 3/4 and 1 ounce spinnerbaits, with the short end of the skirt forward, the long end trailing. Everything about a 3/4 or 1 ounce spinnerbait – the head, the blades, the hook, the wire – tends to be bigger. So elongating a skirt (reversing it) is not a bad thing to do with a big spinnerbait for big bass. Big fish are going to engulf the whole bait, so a longer skirt is not a problem.
For small fish, making the skirt appear longer and more tail-like on a small spinnerbait may encourage small fish to strike short at the longer tail. So you may need to add a trailer hook to nab short strikers.
Jake spoke up: That was my next question. I’ve read there are two sides to this trailer hook debate. Some pros who are written about say you should always use a trailer on a spinnerbait. Yet other pros say they never use a trailer. What should I do?
I advised him: As a new angler, always use a trailer hook. You will simply catch more fish, and it is surprisingly snagless. Even with a trailer hook, that big wire arm in front of the spinnerbait makes it one of the most snagless lures you can throw. The wire deflects most snags.
Jake exclaimed: And the further you can throw a lure into snaggy cover, isn’t that where the bass are?
I pointed out to Jake: That’s always the way it’s written up in the magazines, but I find that to be incorrect often. The best thing a bass can have is for bait to hold in the cover instead of the bass in there itself. If the bass is sitting squarely in the cover, the bait is not going to want to hold in the cover also. So the bait will leave and find cover where bass are not in it. To avoid having the bait leave, a bass itself will leave the cover in order so the bait will hold in it – so the bait will not leave the cover. The bass will be nearby, keeping a hungry eye on the bait-filled cover, but the bass will not be in the cover with the bait. It will be hidden nearby keeping an eye on the bait in the cover – kind of like guarding its food supply. Many other predators stash a kill for future meals, and this is somewhat similar as to how bass will manage a food stash by letting it use or keeping it in cover until ready to be eaten. A lot of times, throwing a jig or spinnerbait into the cover upsets this delicate balance between prey and predator, causing the prey fish to bolt and causing the bass to come out of hiding nearby, dashing into the cover see what impuident rascal (your lure) is raiding his fridge. He may strike!
Say there’s a flooded tree, and you can see bait happily flitting through its submerged crown. Look for a rock or ledge or weed clump or small holding spot off to the side where a bass can see the bait frolicking in the branches – but not be in the tree with them. A bass really would like bait to stay right there in the tree, but the bait is not going to want to do that while the bass is in there too. So bass will often be a little distance away from cover in many cases, not always directly in the cover.
I smiled as I revealed this little-known tip to Jake: You may have or will soon read about finding the “spot ON a spot”. I’ll bet I’ve read that advice in magazines hundreds and hundreds of times myself… but what you’ll never read about is finding the “spot OFF a spot.”
Jake inquired about flipping jigs, a lure foreign to him: I read you should use trailers on jigs too. Should I use a trailer hook on flipping jigs like on a spinnerbait?
I explained: Trailer “hooks” are for spinnerbaits. As a novice, you should use trailer hooks on spinnerbaits. You’ll simply land more bass. However, you don’t add trailer hooks to flipping jigs. What you’ve read about is to add trailer “baits” to flipping jigs.
A trailer bait is a completely second bait you add to a jig. 99% of the time the trailer is made of soft plastic. The other 1% of the time is an anachronism that still persists from years ago when brined pork rind trailers were used, a rarity today. There is no advantage to use pork trailers on bass jigs, only disadvantages. But you absolutely MUST use a soft plastic trailer on a jig, Jake. A flipping jig with only the multi-strand skirt on it is like a picnic blanket. Oh, it can be a nice red and white square color pattern; a nice centerpiece platter can be put down on the picnic blanket with fine silverware and such. It creates an appetizing background, but you are not going to try to eat the plaid picnic blanket. Likewise, a bass will rarely try to eat a flipping jig without a soft trailer bait. The jig with only a skirt is like the background setting, the picnic blanket. Adding a soft plastic trailer… that’s like laying out a sliced smoked country ham with all the fixings on the picnic blanket. Now that’s something that will be eaten! Think of the trailer bait as the sumptuous meal, the jig skirt as the tablecloth you present it on.
A spinnerbait is a similar concept in that a spinnerbait skirt by itself is rather unappetizing. If you remove the blades from a spinnerbait wire, and fish with just the spinnerbait head and skirt but no blades, you’re not going to catch very much. The blades add to a spinnerbait the strike motivation that a soft trailer adds to a flipping jig… but in a different way. In the spinnerbait’s case, the blades may appear as smaller fish being pursued by a bigger fish (the painted head/skirt).
If you just pulled the painted head/skirt past a bass without any blades on the arm, the bass may watch it go by, but may not take much action. Now put a blade or two on the arm above the skirt. The skirt now appears as a bigger fish chasing smaller ones. Bass usually won’t tolerate other fish feeding in front of them, especially not subordinate size fish brazenly feeding… and the bass may now take action to strike the out-of-pecking-order skirt, thanks to the blades.
I summarized the two types of trailers for Jake: So trailer hooks are used on spinnerbaits. Trailer baits – soft plastic – are used on flipping jigs. Trailer baits can also be used on spinnerbaits, and there are days when bass prefer if not downright require spinnerbaits to be dressed with soft plastic trailers too. At some point, you may try spinnerbaiting on a hot summer night – and a soft trailer is an absolute must on a spinnerbait at night.
Another type of trailer bait for a spinnerbait is a feather-dressed treble. Indeed it is a trailer “hook” and a trailer “bait” in one, Jake. However, a feather-dressed treble cannot be used as a trailer on a flipping jig. A feather treble will snag constantly on a flipping jig. Yet on a spinnerbait, it is amazingly snagless.
A feather treble is truly adding an additional or second “bait” when used on a spinnerbait. In fact, there are times the fish become more interested in selectively striking the feather treble as an independent bait. That is, fish will move their strike to hit the feather treble only, to pluck that out of the bait ball, without wanting to hit the skirt at all.
By bait ball, I mean you may have two blades (often different hues such as gold and nickel); third, the painted head; fourth, the multi-strand skirt; and fifth, the feathered treble failing to keep up with the others in the bait ball which signals it is easy pickings to bass.
All of these discrete components move in unison since they are all connected – the blades, the painted head, the skirt strands, and the feather treble. They swim synchronously in the instinctively recognized, often unbreakable defense motion of a prey school, which is to move in perfect unison. Yet the feather treble is last in line – and most vulnerable.
So when your strike ratio goes up by adding a feather treble to a spinnerbait, the bass are not always trying to strike the spinnerbait itself any more. They’re trying to snatch the laggard, trying to pick off “Tail End Charlie”… the one who’s dawdling behind the rest of the bait ball.
I sensed Jake was running out of questions and our conversation was drawing to a close…at three in the morning.
I had been waiting to ask Jake something: “What are you wearing, Jake from State Farm?”
He replied: “Uhhh…khakis?”
As you may already know, he sounds hideous.
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