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March 22, 2007

Pickup Sticks

Details make the difference in jigging rods

The constantly evolving sport of fishing finds anglers experimenting with and developing new tactics and strategies. When a technique begins to gain popularity, manufacturers develop specialized tackle for specific styles of fishing and provide anglers the advantage of having the right tools for each job.

The recent boom in deep jigging, spurred in part by Shimano's Butterfly jigging system, represents just such a scenario. As more and more anglers try - and enjoy success with - this technique, manufacturers bring to market rods designed exclusively for jigging devotees.

What makes a jigging rod different from any other kind? The short answer: everything. Requiring no long casts, this style of fishing takes place mainly in the vertical plane. Quality jigging rods ensure proper tip action to effectively work heavy lures far beneath the boat, and after a hookup, they must deliver enough muscle to bring stubborn fish up from the depths.

Shimano designed the Trevala rod series specifically for vertical jigging, so I asked the company's rod product manager, Robby Gant, for a lesson in jigging-rod anatomy that covers the subject from butt cap to tip top.

Get a Grip
Most fishermen hold the rod under an armpit while working jigs, then shift to a fighting stance upon hooking up. A large butt cap allows an angler to jam the rod into his gut for better leverage during a fight. Shimano includes gimbals on its heavy-, extra-heavy- and XX-heavy-action rods since anglers often use these sticks in conjunction with fighting belts for battling big, strong fish.

An appropriate rear-grip length proves fundamental to a jigging rod's effectiveness. A short grip that forces the angler to keep his arms in tight against his body restricts movement and reduces hook- setting power; a grip that's too long gets unwieldy.

"A 13-inch rear grip seems a good all-around length for most people," Gant says. "You can tuck the rod under your arm and palm the reel without holding it too far from or close to your body."

Sport Fishing contributor and world-traveling jigging fanatic Nicola Zingarelli partnered with Lamiglas to design the Tropic Pro Jigging series of rods. He advises anglers to consider their personal preferences when deciding which rear-grip length to use.

"Underarm jiggers should find a 14- to 16-inch grip best, depending on the angler's forearm length. A 12-inch grip makes a good choice for those who jig from a belt," he says.

While few anglers have problems with round grips, Shimano considered typical jigging posture when designing the Trevala. "We flattened out the EVA on the sides of the rear grip to make it almost oval shaped," Gant says. "The flat sides feel more comfortable when you tuck the rod under your arm to jig."

Knowing that jigging involves the use of braided line and heavy lures, as well as heated struggles with hefty fish, manufacturers beef up rods with strong, trustworthy reel seats. Reliable seats become even more important in light of the fact that jiggers don't employ clamps to secure reels to their rods.

"Clamps would get in the way when palming the reel, so we use Fuji seats that can withstand the pressure of high drag settings and large fish," Gant says.

The foregrip comes into play when the angler shifts hands from the reel- palming jigging posture and begins fighting a fish. The Trevala's tapered foregrip starts out with a smaller diameter near the reel seat and gets larger toward the rod blank to create a shape that fills the hand for more comfort when pulling up on the rod. Under extreme loads, the rod's parabolic action allows it to bend in the section between the reel seat and stripper guide, and this detail convinced Shimano's design team to flatten the top of the foregrip.

"With a fully bent rod, the line would dig grooves into a higher, rounded grip," Gant explains. "And although we don't recommend it, some anglers use their thumb to press the line against that flat spot to apply additional pressure when fighting fish."

Blank Check
Unlike the marlin fisherman who can use a chair gimbal to help support thick, heavy rods suitable for taming granders, jiggers must hold their sticks while working lures and fighting fish in a stand-up position. Shimano, Quantum, Lamiglas, Van Staal and other manufacturers strive to combine light weight with the strength and durability that jigging demands. Graphite reinforced with fiberglass proves just the ticket.

Shimano's TC4 rod-construction process - two layers of T-glass sandwiched between outer layers of high-modulus carbon material - serves as one example.

"A rod blank made of only high-modulus carbon would most likely break when loading up under typical jigging conditions because of the pulling power you can apply," Gant says. "TC4 is light in weight, but it provides pulling power, and the rod's tip response works jigs properly."

Reducing rod weight without sacrificing power helps a jigger tremendously.

"Jigging with a standard 7-foot medium- heavy blank puts too much rod in front of an angler and whups him," Gant warns. "Use a heavy rod and reel, and you'll be dead tired after five drops!"

The thickness and placement of various materials along the blank's length determine a rod's action; most jigging rods feature a medium- fast action because it provides the best tip action for working these specialized artificials. As you pump the rod, the tip should recover at a rate that keeps the head of the jig moving in an upright position on the retrieve. If the rod tip recovers too slowly, the jig loses its proper action and won't draw any strikes.

When a fish takes the lure, the rod immediately transitions from jigging to fighting mode. In a typical scenario, anglers may need a rod with the backbone to drive home a hook 300 feet below the hull.

"A rod that's too loose doesn't have the necessary response for confident hook-sets. One that's too fast feels stiff and cumbersome. The right mix of materials makes the rod both comfy and effective to use in the whole range of tasks: jigging, setting the hook, fighting," Gant says.

Observant anglers notice that most jigging rods wear lure-weight ratings in grams rather than ounces. The jigging craze originated outside the U.S., and the majority of lures on the market carry labels that list weights in grams.

Long or Short?
Gant usually employs rods of several different lengths on a jigging trip, varying rod size to match lure weight. "I prefer shorter rods for heavier jigs. For example, a 5-foot-8-inch rod works very well with 200- to 270-gram (7- to 9.5-ounce) jigs," he says. "A 6 1/2-foot, medium-heavy rod performs best with lighter jigs, like those in the 110- to 135-gram (4- to 4.8-ounce) range."

Zingarelli points out that jigging style may also influence one's choice of rod length. "I use a short rod - 5 feet 4 inches to 6 feet - for jigging with short, fast strokes. A rod measuring anywhere from 5 feet 8 inches to 7 feet works better for lifting lures in longer sweeps," he says.

Novice jiggers may not define their preferences before gaining experience in this technique, so Gant recommends starting with a 6 1/2-foot, medium-action rod.

"This rod feels comfortable and helps avoid the fatigue factor because jigging takes a lot out of you. Although designed for 35- to 110-gram (1- to 4-ounce) jigs, it can handle larger or smaller lures while delivering a ton of pulling power," he says.

Serious jiggers carry several rods to handle the entire gamut of situations and jig sizes. Gant's pick for a good all-around set of jigging rods includes: Trevala XXH for jigs up to 270 grams; Trevala 6 1/2-foot MH for 135- to 200-gram (4.8- to 7-ounce) jigs; and Trevala 7-foot ML for 55- to 90-gram (2- to 3-ounce) jigs.

Jigging Rod Manufacturers

Woodland, Washington

Claremore, Oklahoma

Irvine, California

Van Staal
Tulsa, Oklahoma