Jigging for Lake Trout: Technique: The Jig in Motion
Here is where it all comes together. Properly equipped, a pod of feeding fish located, and with the boat at rest (or nearly so) it's time to bring lakers to the net! It starts above the water, in your mind. Remember, the task is to imitate a baitfish in motion- ideally an injured or dying one. On the retreive, a quickly moving jig gives the impression of fleeing bait. With few exceptions, your jig, either spoon or lead-head, should act accordingly, every moment that it is underwater.
Many times the fish will follow your jig high in the water column, sometimes striking just a few feet below the surface. On the FF often your jig and the fish are indistinguishable as they are closely following it. If you don't see the fish turn away, chances are high it's still following. If this fails, and you reel up to the surface without getting a strike, immediately drop the jig back down again. At this point it's a good idea to watch for strikes on the drop- if you didn't get a take by reeling, often the lakers will grab it on the way down and they may still be close to the surface. I think they feel cheated- I imagine the fish 'thinking', well, that was a waste of energy for nothing... and just then, your jig goes flashing past on the way down again. Chomp!
The main disadvantage to fishing blind and not constantly watching the FF is on the drop. If a monster laker rises from the depths to take the jig, you won't know until it's too late. The fish could rise, strike, and be gone, all while the jig is falling. There are things you can do to help with detecting these hits- baitcasting reels help and having a sense of how deep you are and how long it takes the jig to reach bottom is good too. Watch the surface of the water for changes in your line. You may see a loop or two of line form on the surface- set the hook. You may think, "huh, did that just speed up a little?" Set the hook.
Given the limitations of not seeing the lakers chasing, and if they aren't being aggressive on the retrieve, sometimes it's good to focus on bottom-oriented techniques. Work the jig like an injured baitfish flopping around. Try a small jigging motion of 1' up and down, and then maybe 2' up and down. Let it rest on the bottom for a few seconds or up to 20-30 seconds before lifting it again. Many times it seems like the fish moves under your jig and you just drop it into its mouth, so always be prepared when your jig is nearing the bottom.
Strikes can take many forms. The easy ones to detect nearly rip your rod out of your hand while many are much harder to detect. When I'm on the water, everything I do is designed to increase the amount of time the jig is in motion, decrease the amount of drag on the line, and maintain light contact with the jig. All of these things will help to detect the lighter hits. Jig contact is very important- if you pull it three feet up and drop it, many times lakers will hit the jig as it falls again. Will you be ready? Raise and lower your rod with the jig, don't just yank it upwards and let it free fall. If you feel anything different- anything at all- set the hook.
If you get hit on the retreive one of two things will happen. Either your rod doubles over or the weight of the jig will disappear as the laker takes in the jig while swimming upwards. If you feel this loss of weight or anything else feels off, set the hook. If you feel a slight tap, even the littlest little bump, start reeling- often the fish will come right back and wack it again. With aggressive fish you will catch most of your fish on the retreive, in these conditions you don't need to do much except drop and reel. If you are retrieving and feel a little bump, keep going and even increase the speed. They'll often come back for a more substantial bite.
Movement is key. But how to impart movement to your jig in such a manner as to drive fish absolutely nuts? Sometimes it's a no-brainer, and the trout are hitting hard and often. Aggressive, hungry lakers love a simple retrieve. Drop to the bottom, and start jigging. If you haven't gotten any takes within a short time- 30-60 seconds- start reeling fairly quickly. If you've gained the attention of a fish or two (or six!) they will give chase and strike your jig. These hits most often occur within the first 30 feet or so, but can, and do, happen at any depth, especially when the water is cold throughout the water column. When jigging, a gentle up and down motion with a range of 1-3 feet is all you need. Unless snap-jigging a spoon, don't rip the jig up and let it fall back, this doesn't look natural and you will have a hard time detecting strikes on the drop.
Nearly every tactic is a variation of these basic techniques. When the fish aren't actively feeding, they will need a little coaching from you. Vary the speed of your retrieve- try slowing down a little at first. Pause between jigs, leaving the lure laying on the mud and rocks. Sometimes lakers will pick a lure right off the bottom, so if you feel a little resistance when lifting the rod again, set the hook! Change the height of your jigging motion- instead of working the bottom foot, work the bottom three feet. If your fluke is two-toned, put it on upside down to imitate a dead, belly-up baitfish. Try a more horizontal jigging approach, drifting or casting off the vertical before reeling in. Hook the soft plastic through the side to give it a spinning motion when retrieved. Change size, color, or style of jig... in short, try everything when conditions get tough.