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March 22, 2013

Get the Lead Out

An inside look into the world of the lead-head jig

If you’ve fished saltwater for any length of time, it’s all but a given that you’ve used lead-head jigs a time or two — probably much more than that. One of the most universal and effective artificial lures of all time, jigs catch fish, period.


It’s a lead-head jig’s simplicity that makes it a winner. Comprised of nothing more than a weighted hook, usually with some natural or synthetic materials tied into the upper portion of the shank and adorned with a soft plastic, jigs are designed to simulate injured prey and can be worked at virtually any level of the water column.


But there’s more to lead-heads than meets the eye. Let’s take a closer look at these seductive lures and how they’re made.


The Foundation

 

 

Lead-head jigs can be small and designed for soft plastics, like these VMC inshore models (above), or large and adorned with materials (top) for beasts such as jobfish.

Any jig, whether designed for bonefish on the flats or giant grouper lurking around deep reefs, starts with a hook. The hook provides the spine of a finished lure, and jig hooks generally have long shanks with a distinctive bend toward the eye.


“Strong hooks with substantial wire diameters and corrosion resistance are critical in the salt,” says Matt Gray, category manager at Eagle Claw Fishing Tackle, which makes several models of O’Shaughnessy saltwater-grade jig hooks. “But eye angle is one of the most important and ­distinguishing characteristics of jig hooks.”


This “eye angle” Gray refers to is the bend in the upper shank, usually imparted a centimeter or two below the hook eye. Sometimes the bend is severe, 90 degrees or so, but it can be as little as 25 percent. Why the variance?


“Different techniques of jigging can be more beneficial with alternate eye angles,” Gray explains. “Jigging with a direct vertical ­presentation might be better suited with a 90-degree eye, while pulling a swimming jig would be better with a more opened eye angle.”


It’s all about angle of pull, keeping a more direct connection between rod tip and jig to create a natural presentation. If the jig is being worked in the upper portion of the water column or gliding over a shallow flat, the lesser the eye angle, the more direct that connection remains, allowing not only for better swimming action, but higher hookup percentages.


Getting It Down


Swimming action means everything when it comes to generating strikes with lead-head jigs, and while that’s controlled partially by hook-eye angle and angler skill, it also is dictated by the shape of a jig’s head.

 

 

eagle claw hooks
The 60-degree hook-eye angle (left) on this Eagle Claw O’Shaughnessy jig hook is ideal for use with swimming jigs, while a 90-degree version (right) is better suited for use with jigs designed for vertical use.

 

But, first, what exactly is this head?


For decades, as its name applies, lead has served as the primary source of weight in lead-head jigs (not to mention sinkers of all shapes and sizes). Lead is soft and malleable, easy to melt and cast, and has served as a manufacturing material for decades.
“The lead is poured into a mold with the hook in place,” says Dan Quinn, field promotions manager at Normark, which owns the VMC hook brand and Williamson Lures


With molten lead encompassing the hook-eye angle, the hot metal then cools and hardens into place, says Quinn. Then, VMC lead-head jigs — both the inshore saltwater Flat Shad and Boxer models — are painted with a high-end metallic paint, equipped with 3-D eyes and coated with a clear epoxy for durability.


One glance at these heads, however, and you’ll notice they’re shaped differently. That’s by design to help enhance different swimming actions.


“The Flat Shad is triangle-shaped and aerodynamic, designed for swimming,” Quinn says. “The Boxer is designed more for traditional jigging.”


Hook-eye angle and jig-head shape work hand in hand to determine exactly how any given jig will react in the water. But a simple hook with a colorful lead-head won’t catch fish. Something else is needed.


The Materials


The answer lies with the third ­component of lead-head jigs, the body material, or — in some cases — the ­addition of a soft, artificial tail.


Just like a fly used by a saltwater fly-fisherman, natural (usually meaning bird feathers or animal hair) or synthetic (man-made) materials are often used to embellish action. Positioned alongside the hook’s shank, they’re tied into place with fine thread just below the lead-head.


These materials are what bring a lead-head jig to life, adding the final touch of wavering undulations that draw game-fish strikes to an otherwise unattractive piece of metal.

anatomy of a jig head


Materials are tied in either sparsely or densely, depending on the type of prey that’s being mimicked. A lead-head jig simulating a sand eel would be dressed sparsely with a thin profile, while one mimicking a bunker would be dressed heavily. Different-color ­materials are used; shiny synthetics such as Flashabou or Polar Flash can offer a hint of reflection. Soft plastics can be rigged onto the dressed or plain hook shank to provide action.


Of all the materials available, natural bucktail in lead-head jigs has been a favorite for years.


“Bucktail is perfect for colder water or when you’re fishing fast because it easily collapses for a sure hookup,” says Lawrence Taylor, a representative of Bomber Saltwater Grade, which makes several varieties of bucktail lead-head jigs.