By Jon Bondy
For some anglers, jigging for deep water muskies is not by any means a new technique, but if you look at the increasing sales of my original Bondy Bait and other rubber jigging baits, the targeting of deeper fish has clearly been embraced by serious musky anglers and has gained many new and curious followers.
The reasons people venture deep are varied. It could be the result of increased fishing pressure, better understanding of graphs, seasonal baitfish repositioning, hot summers, all of the above or just plain angler inquisitiveness. Whatever the reason behind the decision, once that bow steers toward deep water, there is often no looking back.
Jigging is such a basic technique — just a simple up and down movement of the bait done long enough in the right spot will work. After more than 30 years of angling experience, and more than 20 years as a guide, I firmly believe some of the biggest and unmolested fish, of all species, spend at least part of their season in deep water.
I fish the Detroit River and Lake St. Clair. This is where the Bondy Bait originated when I realized there was a void in the marketplace for musky-sized jigs. Jigging in our deep river channels is great when fish are migrating, which will primarily be during the months before and after the spawn and the entire fall. The fish in this area love the current and I believe it is a dominant factor in their daily activity level. Their lives are wrapped around it in this area, but the following tips could be adapted to just about everywhere.
1. Deep Water “Follows”
Often while vertical jigging, a musky will enter the picture of my graph, looking at the jigged bait. In an instant a musky enters the picture but is tentative about eating the bait. At this point, before we drift away, I try multiple things to get that fish to snap and grab the bait. First I will try sudden, faster and higher lifts right in front of it. If that fails, I will try to simulate a fleeing baitfish (almost like a figure-8) by pulling the bait along horizontally six to 10 feet away from the fish. If that fails I will quickly reel the bait halfway up and stop it dead and just hold it steady in mid-column. That last tip probably elicits more bites than the others, but I always do it last because you are pulling it out of the strike zone, potentially ending contact with the fish.
Often we will be drifting along and see a large arch suspended halfway up off the bottom, just hanging there. It may be convenient to just lift that 8-foot rod way over your head to bring it to the level of the fish, but I can tell you from experience you have about a 10 percent chance of hooking that fish if it bites. One of the hardest things to do is to hold that rod level and simply reel the bait up to the musky, but it will usually grab it and you will land way more fish.
2. Add A Stinger Hook
I firmly believe some muskies in deep water will follow a bait a good distance, almost in a stalking manner, until they get in a proper position to bite it at the angle they think is most advantageous to them. When jigging a Bondy in a river, the bait will always face upcurrent because of the hydrodynamics of this narrow bait combined with the tail blade which creates a drag on the tail. But still I am amazed that the majority of fish grab this bait completely by the side, as if they follow it along and come in at it from a better angle. Good hook-ups are usually the result.
However, in cases when they just seem to knock the bait to stun it like lake trout do, or if I have a client with little musky experience, I will often place a stinger hook on the top of the bait.
3. Be Aware
The professional bass fishing world has studied this for decades but it is not often talked about in the musky world. When I fish I try to focus on what’s going on around me, like looking for baitfish clutter along the bottom as I look at the graph, or birds diving on baitfish, etc. Keeping a sharp eye out for such cues before and after the fish bite is important.
In my area I have found two telltale signs to musky activity. When I’m on the river, I look for muskies to be surfacing in the river channel, often out in the middle in the deepest part. They are not chasing prey because I see them up close a lot just coming up, lifting their head and going back down. If I see none of this activity at all, the day is almost always a bad one.
The other sign is when I am out on the open waters of Lake St. Clair casting at what traditionally would be trolling water. I know this sounds strange and I can’t explain it, but I look for jumping sturgeon. When I see 10 to 20 sturgeon jump, I can count on a good day.
I have also noticed when I was a kid that the faster the current, the better the fishing. I want those buoys to be tipped over and rocking back and forth. Keep your awareness level up and you will soon figure out the quirks of your local fishery.
4. Collection Points
Find where the pinch points — places where fish collect — are on your waterway, which on the Detroit River are the river ledges. If you were hitchhiking you obviously would be way better off standing on the side of the road than in the middle of a farmer’s field, and it’s no different for river muskies. I always try to fish along their pathway. Much like the casting guides on St. Clair who troll until they find fish, I use current to bring me to them. I can cover 10 miles of water a day in a 3- to 5-mph current, so I will eventually run into a spot along an edge where for that day and time muskies will be on the feed.
An interesting point I have come across when jigging rivers is that when you catch one, it is usually not alone. I may not find what spot they are on until late in the day, but when I do there be multiple fish there. I truly believe a musky downriver can smell or taste another farther up river from them and then will pull in to take part on whatever feeding opportunity is present.
5. Going Light
For a change of pace, if you live on a tough fishery or one with smaller fish, or have back or neck issues, try rigging up a bass flipping stick and some 20-pound test braid and attach a smaller jig with fine wire hooks like a Bondy Mini Wobbler. In 2014, my clients and I had a blast using this set-up to catch muskies up to 48 as well as just about every other species in our waters.
It is a fun set-up to use and will give your body a break. Plus, the outfit is heavy enough that you can still land the fish relatively quickly and get them back to the water safely with minimal stress.
6. Getting Out Snags
If your waterway is anything like my home waters, you may have sacrificed a favorite bait to a watery grave, but you don’t have to. When my clients or I hang up, before we drift too far we do a few quick snaps of the rod to try to pop the bait off the snag. If that fails, we move upriver or upwind of the bait and quickly wrap the braid around a boat cleat about six to eight times. Be careful to keep your fingers away from the braid or you may be badly cut. Let the boat tighten up the line and it will more often than not pull the bait out.
7. Think Outside The Box
We also do a lot of open water jigging on my home water. I attach a bigger blade to the tail of the Bondy to slow the fall and then cast the jig out, making it slap hard on the surface to garner attention. The lure is then retrieved with large upward sweeps through the water column.
On southern reservoirs, the bait has won several tournaments by anglers jigging through standing timber or under floating docks as crappies and bluegills make movements into those areas. On big water like Georgian Bay, a number of anglers have been literally idling around over deep water looking for suspended muskies and then dropping the bait on their heads. On rainy days when fish roam more, I have even had success just jigging the bait halfway down instead of along the bottom.
The ideas are literally endless when it comes to deep water so give it a try on your home waters this season.