Jigging Snapper and Grouper
While a frisky live bait is often the best bet for reeling up a big snapper or grouper, there’s no question that getting fresh bait and keeping it alive is a time-consuming and sometimes difficult and expensive challenge. That time might be better spent fishing artificial lures in many cases, which add an element of skill and interest that’s not part of live baiting. And in some cases, particularly on deep water reefs, jigging artificials might actually be more effective than the real thing.
The Benefits of Grouper and Snapper Jigging
No Fishing On Credit
One of the big issues in fishing natural baits is that anglers sometimes wind up ‘fishing on credit’. That is, the live bait wiggles off the hook, or the cut bait gets nipped off by smaller fish before a big one can find it, but the angler does not realize the bait is gone. He continues to fish with a bare hook, sometimes for an extended period, before getting suspicious and reeling up. If the fish are down 300’ or more, that’s a lot of reeling for nothing. This doesn’t happen with a jig, because the lure is always down there in front of the fish, and the combination of life-like movement with attractive colors and shapes very often lures the bite, sometimes even better than the real thing.
While natural cut or live bait does a good job on reef species like snapper and grouper, you don’t often have the interim excitement of a smoker-sized king mackerel, a big cobia or maybe even a blackfin tuna jumping into the game because the bait is essentially fished right against the bottom. But with a jig, the jigging action can pull the bait well up into the water column, depending on how it’s worked, and the strike from a gamefish that reside higher in the water column is not at all rare on these darting, fluttering slabs of metal.
Grouper and Snapper Jig Types
“Jigs” in saltwater are not necessarily the same animal as conventional jigs. While conventional jigs, with a lead head molded to a fixed single hook, do catch plenty of fish offshore, there’s now a better choice. Slab or dart-type jigs, with hooks attached via split ring or heavy microfiber line, not only attract more bites, they keep fish hooked more consistently. Lures made for extreme depth penetration often look more like spoons than like freshwater jigs; they’re basically slabs of lead or steel designed to sink like a dart. There are several types that work for a wide variety of species.
Slow Pitch Jigging for Snapper and Grouper
The “slow pitch” jigging tactic, employing relatively light tackle for offshore reef fishing, has boosted lures of this type. You basically drop the lure all the way to the bottom, pull it upward several feet and then allow it to drop, closely following the drop with the rod tip. If you feel any hesitation in the drop, you set the hook—the tactic has proven highly effective for grouper and snapper. Hayabusa, like several other manufacturers, makes a number of jigs suitable for slow-pitch jig fishing.
The Hayabusa Jack Eye Slow Pitch Jig, available in 60-250g (2.12oz – 7 oz) is designed for luring deep water species including golden tilefish, Scamp grouper, and other denizens of the shelf. The falling leaf wobbling drop also does the job of catching king mackerel on the way down at times. The 7-ounce model can get to the bottom and be fished effectively in 300’ and a bit more on some days.
The Jack Eye Air Jerk is a thin metal dart available in weights from 60 grams (2.12 oz.) up to 200 grams (7 oz.). It’s available in four colors, all with chrome underlayment to add flash. The lure is suitable for depths of 300’ and more targeting red snapper, gag grouper and red grouper, scamp, vermilion snapper, and many other species. The heaviest version could also be used in fishing deeper reefs on the edge of the continental shelf for critters like tilefish and yellowmouth grouper when currents are not too strong for it to hit bottom.
Vertical Jigging For Snapper and Grouper
Vertical jigging is a fishing technique that is often used when targeting species such as snapper and grouper, especially in deep water. This method involves a very specific style of lure and a particular way of moving the lure to attract fish.
Here are the key aspects of vertical jigging:
- Equipment: Vertical jigging requires specific gear. You will need a specialized rod and reel setup that can handle deep water and the weight of the lures used. Usually, a medium-heavy to heavy rod, coupled with a high-capacity reel, spooled with braided line is used. The braided line is preferred because of its high strength-to-diameter ratio, and it has almost no stretch, which is crucial for deep-water fishing.
- Jigs: Vertical jigs are the lures used in this method. They are usually heavy and slim, allowing them to quickly sink to the desired depth. They come in various shapes, sizes, and colors, so you can experiment with different types to see what works best for the fish you’re targeting. Vertical jigs also have one or more hooks attached to them. The Jack Eye Switch Jig has a sliding fall action, great for jerking at various speeds depending on the fish’s activity. The lure is semi-center balanced toward the head and the asymmetric body creates a wobble and vibration as the lure falls. It’s designed both for rapid jigging higher in the water column for kings, tuna, and mahi, or for slow-pitch action where it flutters up and down off the bottom to lure reef species.
- Technique: The technique involves dropping the jig straight down into the water and letting it sink to the bottom. Once the jig reaches the desired depth (often the seafloor), you rapidly retrieve it, moving the rod tip up and down in a rhythmic motion. This movement mimics the erratic behavior of a wounded or fleeing baitfish, triggering predatory instincts in species like snapper and grouper. After a series of these movements, you let the jig fall again, and the cycle is repeated.
- Location: Vertical jigging can be particularly effective around structures like reefs, ledges, or wrecks, where snapper and grouper tend to congregate.
When targeting snapper and grouper specifically, it’s important to understand the species’ behavior and preferred habitats. Both these species are usually found near the bottom and around the structure. They are opportunistic predators and can be enticed by the erratic action of a well-presented jig. It’s worth mentioning that successful vertical jigging requires practice. It can be physically demanding due to the weight of the gear and the constant movement. However, with persistence and experimentation, it can be a very rewarding fishing technique.
Flutter Jig Fishing
A flutter jig is a type of fishing lure that is designed to mimic the erratic movement of a wounded baitfish, making it highly effective for enticing predatory fish species. The unique design of a flutter jig, typically slim and often weighted unevenly, allows it to flutter or spiral downwards on the fall, catching the light and creating a flash, which can attract fish from a distance. Flutter jigs can be used in a wide range of fishing conditions and depths, from shallow flats to deep offshore waters. They are effective for many different types of saltwater and freshwater species.
The fluttering action imitates a wounded or dying baitfish, an easy meal that’s hard for predatory fish to resist. The flash and vibration produced by a flutter jig make it an effective lure even in low-visibility or murky water conditions. Flutter jigs draw strikes on the fall, they can often result in sudden, surprising, and exciting bites.
There are several tips you can remember when working on your flutter jig fishing. Cast the jig out and let it sink. The fluttering action happens on the fall, so you want to give it time to sink and attract fish. Once the jig has sunk to the desired depth, you can retrieve it with a jigging motion. This involves lifting your rod tip quickly to impart action to the jig, then lowering it again to let the jig flutter downwards. The downward flutter is when most strikes occur, so be ready. Vary your retrieve speed and the aggressiveness of your jigging action until you find what works best. Some fish might prefer a slower, subtler flutter, while others might be attracted to a faster, more erratic action. Pay close attention during the fall phase, as the strike often feels like a slight “tick” or a sudden increase in weight.
Assist Hook Jigging Choices
Choosing an assist hook for a jig involves several factors including the size of the jig, target species, and fishing conditions. Below are some guidelines to consider when choosing the size, line length, and pound test for an assist hook. The size of the assist hook should correspond with the size of the jig. The hook should be large enough to effectively hook the target fish but not so large that it inhibits the jig’s action. A common guideline is that the hook gap (the distance between the hook’s point and its shank) should roughly match the width of the jig.
The length of the assist cord should be chosen based on the length of the jig. Ideally, the hook should be positioned near the top of the jig when the jig is hanging vertically. This means that the assist cord needs to be long enough to allow the hook to swing freely, but not so long that the hook reaches past the mid-point of the jig. Adjust this based on the biting habits of the target species. Some species tend to strike at the head of the jig, while others aim for the body.
The pound test, or breaking strength, of the assist cord, should be determined by the size and strength of the target species. The cord should be strong enough to handle the maximum force that the fish can exert. For smaller species, a 50-80 pound test might be sufficient, but for larger, more powerful species, you might need a cord with a breaking strength of 200 pounds or more. Also, consider the potential presence of toothy species that could cut a lighter line.
Hayabusa Assist Hooks are small, very sharp-pointed single or double hooks rigs that dangle from the eye on a short length of heavy braided microfiber. The concept is to stick the fish with the free-swinging hooks as it fights the initial hookup on the tail hook. Because of the flexible fiber connection, the fish rarely shake free from jigs so equipped. The Hayabusa assist hooks, available in 2/0 to 5/0 sizes, can be purchased separately to add to other jigs and lures. They’re tinned for corrosion resistance and come with two sets in a pack.
Jigging Rod and Reel Choices For Grouper and Snapper
Most anglers fishing slow-pitch and vertical jigs choose rods in the 6.5 to 7’ range with a stout butt long enough to go under your armpit and a relatively soft or slow tip. Tsunami makes a number of good slow-pitch rods at prices from about $90 to $120, suitable for lures from 3 to 7 ounces. A sensitive action with a relatively soft tip and a very strong butt are features to look for. The rods are routinely bent almost double when a fish takes hold, so a quality blank is a must. Shimano makes a full lineup of slow-pitch rods, from no-frills models like the Talavera series, at around $120, to the top-end Coltsniper X-Tune series, at around $550. Daiwa is also heavily into the slow-pitch market.
Just remember to choose the rod based on the lure weight you’ll be using (all manufacturers list this on the butt of the rod) and the fish you are most likely to target. Accurate Valiant slow-pitch jigging reels in sizes designed to handle braids from 30 to 65-pound test have heat-treated stainless steel gears and shafts and aluminum frames to stand the pressure of hauling up big reef fish from depths of 200’ and more. 6:1 gearing is typical, some have two gears, 5:1 and 2.2:1 for heavy-duty battles.
Daiwa’s Seaborg 300J is an electric reel built especially for jigging the edge of the shelf, at depths of 500’ and more. Over 300’ an electric reel is a huge advantage on retrieve because of the endless cranking. Lightweight portable lithium battery packs you sling over your shoulder means you’re no longer “tethered” by the cord of the electric reel, a big plus.
How to Fish a Jig for Snapper and Grouper
The rod does the work in slow-pitch jigging, with the rig light enough that it doesn’t wear out the angler. This is a primary advantage of slow-pitch gear over conventional broomstick rods with lever drag reels. A series of erratic upward jerks with hesitation between as the rod springs the lure upward does the job. The butt end of the rod goes under your left forearm (if you’re right-handed) and you flick the lure upward off the bottom by jerking the rod tip upward 1 to 3 feet, then follow it back down as the weight of the jig plummets back to the bottom. Repeat the series steadily as the boat drifts over the structure.
Take a half turn on the reel with each jerk upward, so that you fish the water from the bottom up to about 20’ above the structure. As the boat drifts, you pull up but also in the direction the boat drifts, thus “stitching” the lure repeatedly into bottom contact as the boat slowly moves. If the jig stops on the fall, or if you feel even a slight “tick” on the line, you set the hook and you’re in business. As is common with deep water species, the majority of the fight is in the first 50 to 100 feet, so it’s necessary to really put the heat on the fish for this distance. After that, the changing pressure takes the fight out of the fish and it’s mostly a matter of cranking your prize to the surface.
The Last Word on Jigging for Snapper and Grouper
In conclusion, jigging is a skillful and dynamic technique that holds great potential for successfully catching snapper and grouper. It offers an exciting blend of a physically engaging activity, strategic skill, and the thrill of catching some truly impressive snappers and groupers. By mastering the right equipment selection, understanding the ideal jigs, and honing the jigging technique, you’ll stand a good chance at encountering these coveted species in their deep-water habitats. Most deeper water jigging catches suffer from barotrauma and can’t be released alive without the proper use of descending devices and/or venting tools. Make sure you are in compliance with current regulations and release those undersized or out-of-season fish to fight another day. With patience, practice, and a bit of adventure, jigging can transform your fishing trips into new memories that will last a lifetime.
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