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SBF Tips: Slow Pitch Jigging vs. Vertical Jigging

SBF Tips: Slow Pitch Jigging vs. Vertical Jigging

By Capt. Pete Rosko

Recently, John Gordon, a friend of mine in Niceville, Fla., asked me, “What is this fishing technique called slow pitch jigging?” In this article, I share my reply to John, as well as provide an in-depth explanation of Slow Pitch Jigging (SBJ) and its effectiveness when using the technique with the Sonic BaitFish (SBF).

What is “Slow Pitch Jigging” (SPJ)?

My reply to John was that it’s not a new technique and it has been around for many years in the U.S. I do not know why it is being treated as a new or special technique. As with many things in life, humans like to tinker with things, including terminology. Over 42 years ago, when I began designing metal jigs, we called it vertical jigging. I like to be descriptive when I talk about fishing techniques and SPJ is generally confusing to many anglers, including me.

In the United States, the term “Slow Pitch Jigging” has questionable relevance to sport fishing. An example is a technique used in Lake Okeechobee (Fla.) where largemouth bass anglers “pitch” (or lob) a variety of heavy lead head-type jigs that pierce through the heavy vegetation in anticipation of a reaction strike from a largemouth bass. That “slow pitch” presentation is more horizontal than vertical. It’s like tossing a horseshoe. Also, I was a young lad in the 1940s when we played “slow pitch” softball.

As I explained to John, my understanding of how the term “Slow Pitch Jigging” started was that, about a decade ago (year, 2013), the technique was coined by Norihito Sato, one of the Japanese inventors of SPJ. He was video demonstrating this technique as a pro staff angler with the Evergreen Company in Japan.

Vertical jigging, and SPJ, are the same technical principals of basically working the lure straight up and down. What is not confusing are the similarities in the equipment being used. The type of rods, reels and line for SPJ are fairly similar to equipment associated with vertical jigging. These are some of the features that I consider important to my success when vertical jigging.

Effective rod types for vertical jigging

The tip section of your rod should not bend more than 25 percent of its total length. It should be strong in structure, but light in weight. A short, fast-action tip is for a quick, inherent reaction to a strike. A strong rod butt section is vital to a good hook set, whereas a medium-heavy (MH) or heavy (HVY) action rod being the most appropriate. I’ll take a “broom handle” over a “buggy whip” when vertical jigging!

Especially in deeper water, the stronger rod gives you a better feel when working the jig and a superior hook set on a strike. Rod length is determined by water, depth and technique. A good fit for me is a 5 1/2- to 6-foot rod in deeper water. Remember, the longer the rod, the less control you will have of your lure presentation and a poorer hook-set. A longer rod may initially feel good in your hand, but over a day’s time, it takes more energy to vertically jig a longer rod than a shorter one.

Effective reel types for vertical jigging

When vertical jigging, use an open baitcasting reel, without a level-wind, if you want the fastest release of the line off the reel. This is critically important when drift jigging in deeper water. Baitcaster reels are either star or lever drag-operated. Lever drag reels are generally used for larger game fish. Star drag reels are adjustable and lever drag reels are preset. Both types are widely available on the market, however line counter reels are a tremendous advantage when vertical jigging to suspended fish. The side-to-side level wind mechanism on a line counter reel does slow the release of the line off the reel due to its non-direct, sideways line release. The trade-off, though, is line accuracy, instead of line speed, in zeroing in on those suspended fish.

Then there are the open- and closed-face spinning reels, which are generally used for shallower water vertical jigging, anywhere from 3- to 75-feet (and no, “3-feet” is not a misprint). Other techniques include casting and trolling. Spinning reels are ideal when used for casting natural and artificial baits. The open-faced reel is the most widely used spinning reel, though this could be a topic of discussion for another day.

Effective line types for vertical jigging

Exclusively braided line, and never monofilament line, should be used! I use a lot of 20-lb. Suffix braid mainline and 25-lb. fluorocarbon leader. Why braid, you may ask? It’s thinner in diameter than monofilament and has virtually no stretch. These two qualities result in less line drag when drift-jigging, faster line release off the reel, better feel of the working jig and better hooksets.

Understanding fish behavior in relation to metal jigs

To understand the differences between Slow Pitch Jigging (SPJ) and Vertical Jigging (VJ), you must fully understand the intricacies of fishing with a metal jig. My passion is fishing with metal jigs and fishing them in many ways because they are the most versatile lure-type in existence. I have been fortunate to have been able to create three different jigs: the Crippled Herring, the Kandlefish and the Sonic BaitFish. Each are basically descriptive in name and stamped in American-recognized ounce weights (and not grams).

Port Angeles (Wash.) gave me the advantage of being exposed firsthand to the intricate predator-prey relationship between the Pacific chinook and the Coho salmon and anchovies, candlefish and herring. That intently took place in the early 1980s. Those waters presented me with a “unique education” in salmon behavior. On a calm day, I could see down to about 25-feet in the clear saltwater that held large schools of salmon working through vast schools of bait fish, mainly herring. That resembled a crash site, saturated with injured and dying herring. It was those crippled and distressed herring that the salmon were most attracted to after the initial “crash, bam, here I am” chaos subsided. Duplicating those erratic actions in a metal jig resulted in the creation of the Crippled Herring. In 1986, it was awarded a U.S. mechanical patent. In its following years, it set a variety of state, Hall of Fame and IGFA records in both fresh and saltwater.

The metal jigs that I have created were with the intent that anyone fishing them would be successful at catching fish – whether cast, jigged or trolled. They are finesse-type jigs with the critical injured bait fish action built into the lure. This means that it takes minimal effort to bring them to life for all ages of anglers that can gently work a rod, especially when bottom-bouncing. I am an advocate of a single siwash-style tail hook, with its deep throat and wide bend, although my jigs can accommodate assist hooks on their nose. However, the pure action of a metal jig body is comprised once components are added to it, like a hook.

Besides jigging, I can still cast and troll my metal jigs extremely effectively because of their design and its tail hook, which mimics a rudder. But that cannot be done with the Japanese version, which has multiple assist hooks.

Presentation differences between Slow Pitch Jigging (SPJ) and Vertical Jigging (VJ)

Although the equipment used with the Japanese “SPJ” technique is relatively similar to the American “vertical jigging” equipment, there is a distinct difference in presentation.

The Japanese Slow Pitch Jigging (SPJ) technique generally employs a slack line while it is being jigged. My method of vertical jigging is on a controlled, tight line. A slack line, however, will miss strikes and have poor hooksets. The “American” Vertical Jigging (VJ) technique employs a controlled, tight line on its fall throughout the water column and while jigging.

Spending countless hours observing fish behavior in an aquarium-like setting was a career eye-opener in the early 1980s. Then, once I tested my prototype jigs on salmon, I knew I was headed in the right direction. A few things I initially discovered are listed below:

  • Jigging wildly is unnatural and spooks fish.
  • Moving my rod tip 1-inch can move my jig 4-inches or more in calm water.
  • On slack line, I was surprised by how many salmon hit my jig without feeling the strike.
  • Chinook salmon will make up to four (4) attempts at striking my jig before leaving it.
  • There were days when “dead sticking” (holding the jig still) hooked more fish than jigging it.
  • Even on a tight line, my jigs had plenty of action and I seldom missed a strike or lost a fish.
  • When jigging in structure, tight line is needed to feel what that jig is doing in and against that structure.
  • I caught fish on a bare, unpainted metal jig when nothing else worked. This has occurred many times over the years on all three of the jigs I have invented.
  • Some of my largest chinook salmon ever caught were not on a tight vertical jig line, rather on a tight horizontal line. Casting down-current during opposing winds, with a 1 oz. Pearl White Crippled Herring, causes the jig to frantically vibrate and dart sideways while suspending within five feet of the surface. This scenario causes salmon to rise towards the surface where schools of bait also concentrate. The resultant strike on the jig is never disappointing.

In conclusion, for me there is no valid reason for a slack lie when fishing with metal jigs that are properly designed, but that is okay when fishing with live or dead natural bait. Jigging is a “smash and grab” bite reaction whereas a natural bait bite is a taste and eat reaction. To me, I always have two initial primary questions regarding jigging on a loose line. Is there a balance problem, or a design problem, with the lure?

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