The finesse jig with pork trailer is one of the most consistent producers of bass when water temperatures tumble into the low 40s and below.
I was half way to the lake when the text message from Ron Urick buzzed.
“Hope you brought a spud or axe,” it read. “We’ve got ice!”
And ice there was! The 42-degree high for the day was a weatherman’s promise and hours away when I arrived. Still, we had the critical tools we needed for our cold weather bass fishing: jigs, “pigs” and a man-sized ice pick.
When I arrived, we chipped, pushed and otherwise goaded ice from the dock area. A 10-acre ice island forced us to detour to reach the flat near the silted-in creek channel where the big bass had been holding faithfully for several weeks.
But the easy pickings of late fall were gone.
We hunted for active fish longer than we should have. Then we slowed our power presentations to half-, then quarter-, then crawl speeds. When those failed, we knew it was time to get small.
Out came our sparsely skirted 1/16- to 1/8-ounce jigs with Ron’s supply of Uncle Josh Mini Frogs to salvage the day!
Several categories of lures come into their own during the coldwater season, but, in my mind, only one combination will produce on any water, any time.
That’s the finesse jig and little pig!
“Jig and pig” – “angler speak” for a skirted weedless jig fitted with a craw- or frog-style pork rind trailer -- may be the most significant lure combination in bass fishing history. From a bass-eye perspective, this versatile bait seems to shape-shift into a crawfish, baitfish or other unknown critter ranked high on the bass’s menu. Equally important, its ability to work its way over and through wood, rock and other cover gives a fisherman the kind of confidence he or she needs to fish where the fish live.
But a standard jig with plastic or pork trailer is a big mouthful that a sluggish bass often finds too much to take on when water temps dip into the mid-to low 40s and below. Size alone isn’t the issue. Heavy, bulky jigs drop and hop with too much energy for hibernal bass.
“I like a downsized finesse jig and a pork Mini Frog because it has a very slow fall and there’s not a lot of weight to it,” says Ron Urick, who has posted an impressive tournament record on bass waters in the Upper Midwest. “It’s easy for a sluggish bass to suck it up.”
Matt Bichanich, marketing manager for Hard and Soft Fishing, formerly known as Uncle Josh Bait Company, agrees that a downsized pork trailer on a finesse jig is the rig of choice whenever water temperatures near or climb out of the freezing range.
“A couple of autumns ago, we busted ice and caught bass after bass all day in scattered weeds with the water temperature at 38 and 39 degrees,” recalls Bichanich who teamed a ¼-ounce Grass Stalker jig from the Bass Stalker line with #101 Spinning Frogs to pull off the feat. “The bass were eating it!”
Bichanich opts for the smallest Grass Stalker jigs (1/4 and 3/8 ounce) to work the edges of vegetation and weed clumps on mid-range to deep flats.
“I also throw a 3/8-ounce Rock Stalker if I find scattered weed or rock,” he adds. “I work it, hop it and drag it slow. That football head works through scattered weed better than most guys give it credit.”
For both styles of jigs, he trims the skirt to create a smaller profile.
“I trim the tentacles of the skirt so about ¼-inch flares around the collar, and I trim around the bottom of the hook to create a smaller profile,” he explains.
Strike King Bitsy Bugs in 1/16 and 1/8 ounce and the 1/8-ounce Nichols Mango Jig are Ron Urick’s mainstays. He’ll go heavier if conditions demand, but the lighter jigs prove consistently better as water temperatures near the 30s.
A range of jig weights come into play when water temperatures climb into the 40s. That’s when, in addition to Ron and Matt’s choices, I’ll add the Northland Jungle Bug and Jewel Pro Spider jigs to my arsenal along with the Booyah Baby Boo and Bed Bug in 3/16- and 5/16-ounce sizes.
Plastic trailers have surpassed pork in popularity over the last couple of decades. But pork has a fat advantage – several in fact -- especially in cold weather!
Pork has a texture that feels real. Bass tend to hold onto it longer. It also absorbs and holds scent and flavor very well.
“A key thing when using a jig in cold water is scent,” says Urick. “In fact, I believe scent is critical.”
The Uncle Josh #101 Spinning Frog has led the Little Pig parade traditionally, but several new products offer their own advantages as pork trailers.
Urick’s Number One choice, the Mini Frog Trailer is 3/8-inch shorter than the Spinning Frog at 1-1/2 inches in length, yet it has slightly longer and more supple legs that add subtle movement to the bait.
Another option is the Diamond Frog, the latest addition to the Uncle Josh MEAT line of skinless pork baits in plastic packages. Its head is more hydrodynamic than the rounded frog chunk heads. It also pulls through cover easily. At 2-1/2 inches long, the Diamond Frog is a bigger mouthful than the Spinning Frog or Mini Frog, but, because there is no tough rind to punch a hook through, it slides up the jig hook shank easily to provide a compact profile that integrates neatly with the jig and also stays in place well with the use of the rubber hook-keeper that comes in each package. What’s more, the MEAT products can be trimmed easily to fashion a shorter and more compact trailer.
“Pork is natural,” notes Bichanich. “It undulates and looks and feels natural.”
You’ll have trouble casting and working these diminutive jig and pig combos on heavy baitcasting gear. Ron Urick employs a 6-10 St Croix Legend Elite medium power, extra-fast action spinning rod and a 7-foot Legend Elite medium fast spinning rod for all his cold water jigging.
A high-quality lightweight superline casts the jig easily without coiling or producing “birdnests,” and it provides excellent sensitivity to help detect light winter bites. Ron spools up with smoke-colored Berkley Fireline, 10-pound test with the diameter of four-pound-test monofilament. Due to the line’s small diameter, he doesn’t feel that he needs to add a fluorocarbon leader.
Less is best
The old cold water maxim “less is best” especially applies to the finesse jig and little pig. “You don’t want to impart a lot of movement to the bait when water is cold,” says Ron Urick. “Sometimes I just shake the bait in place. “
To enhance the drawing power of the subtle crawling bait, he adds a Northland Buckshot Rattle, single or double, in clear, black and watermelon colors.
“The key in cold water is to try not to do too much with a finesse jig,” sums Urick. “I’m not swimming it. I’m not hopping it.
“I’m just finessing it!”