Californians call them knife jigs. East Coast anglers call them metal jigs, and Brazilians call them jumping jigs. These lures gain more fans each day for one simple reason: They catch fish!
As the trend spread and techniques evolved, anglers realized that assist hooks, also known as stingers, deliver more effective hookups than trebles or single hooks secured to jigs via split rings. Assists consist of a hook - typically a short-shank, wide-gap model - tethered to the jig by a short length of Dacron, Spectra or wire.
Capt. Antonio Amaral (locally known as "Tuba"), of Ilhabela, Brazil, drops jumping jigs for everything from bluefish to blackfin tuna and relishes locking horns with burly amberjack. He says trebles attached to the tail of a jig prove inefficient. After hooking up, the heavy jig often applies leverage between the leader and hook that helps a fish work loose. If a fish strikes and feels the sting of the treble without getting hooked, it won't return for another shot. "With assist hooks, if a fish hits the jig but misses the hook, it will keep coming back like a billfish chasing a teaser," he says. "Then when it finally finds the hook, you have him."
Amaral says the hook gap must be wider than the jig's body to keep it from hanging up on the dancing lure. The fact that assist hooks dangle freely on a leader makes them especially effective. "The hooks are lighter than the jig. When a fish opens its mouth to strike, the lighter hook usually gets sucked in first," he says. "So the hook is already in the fish's mouth before it inhales the jig."
Properly rigged assist hooks connect directly to the leader and give the jig no chance to exert fish-liberating leverage after a hookup. Amaral varies the assist's leader length according to jig size. "The hook shouldn't hang below the jig's halfway point. I rig them in the top third of the jig," he says.
Another Brazilian guide and respected jigmeister, Capt. Marcos Malucelli, similarly adjusts his assist-leader lengths; however, he and Amaral differ when it comes to the number of hooks. Amaral only uses single assist hooks, while Malucelli prefers a one-two punch.
"I use double assist hooks, each one a different size," Malucelli says. "On larger jigs, which obviously target larger fish, I use sizes 11/0 and 9/0, or 13/0 and 11/0. Smaller jigs get smaller hooks such as 7/0 and 5/0 or 9/0 and 7/0."
Malucelli makes one leg of the leader slightly shorter than the other and hangs the smaller hook on the shorter leg. He believes this configuration gives him a better hookup ratio as each hook buries in a different place to hold large fish more securely. When making his own assists, he uses Marine Sports 4x Strong assist hooks, which have long, thin points that curve slightly inward. "The barbs are also rather large, which perfectly suits my fishing style," he says. "Here in southern Brazil, we target fleshy-lipped fish like yellowtail and amberjack. Long points and high barbs hold these fish better than shorter, thicker points with small barbs."
Do-it-yourselfers in the United States can use Gamakatsu Single 510 hooks or models from other manufacturers designed specifically for assist-hook applications. Live-bait-style hooks also fit the bill, although Malucelli finds the shanks just a bit longer than ideal. "Long shanks detract from an assist hook's mobility. Short shanks allow hooks to swing freely and give the jig better action," he says.
Next: Making your own assist-hook assembly