As anglers, we most commonly stimulate fish to bite our lures or baits by either presenting them with something that represents food, or by invoking a reactionary strike by triggering the fish’s predatory instincts. Plentiful natural foods, heavy angling pressure and poor weather conditions are all among the factors that can reduce the effectiveness of food-representing baits, in which case going for the reaction bite is often most effective. Snap-jigging is one such tactic and is particularly effective on walleye and smallmouth bass.
Snap-jigging is not necessarily a family of lures/baits, but rather a way of presenting them is such a manner that a fish, even one in a negative mood, strikes it. Appropriate lures include classic bucktail jigs and leadhead jigs dressed with appropriate soft-body trailers; hard-bodied gliding jigs like Rapala’s Jigging Rap, Moonshine’s Shiver Minnow and Acme’s Hyper Rattle; and vibrating metal blade baits of the Silver Buddy vein. All can be suitable for Pennsylvania angling scenarios.
SNAP-JIGGED LEADHEADS: Bucktail jigs (ones dressed with some sort of hair, feather or combination of the two) and leadhead jigs combined with a soft-bodied trailer are most commonly fished by making a cast, allowing the jig to reach bottom, and then employing a rather subtle retrieve. A lift/drop retrieve sees the rod raised from around 9 o’clock to 11 o’clock, and the angler maintains a tight line to detect a strike as the jig settles back to the bottom.
The same jig setup can be fished much more aggressively by snap-jigging it. Rather than subtle upward lifts that elevate the jig a mere few inches off bottom, use a sharp upward snap of the wrist to rapidly shoot the jig off the bottom. Repeat the process shortly after it touches back down. Both the upward jig and bottom crash can trigger strikes.
Also, use a heavier jig than you normally would. If a quarter-ounce jig would be your normal choice given the situation, up it to three-eighths or a half-ounce. The heavier jig will allow more control when snap-jigged and provide added noise and bottom disturbance (kicking up silt/sand) when it touches back down.
Snap-jigged leadheads can work in a variety of situations, one of my favorites being the deep edge of a weedline. If the wind cooperates, you can drift slowly along the edge of the cover, snap-jigging a leadhead jig trailed behind the boat. If it’s calm, the same can be accomplished by slow-trolling with the electric trolling motor.
HARD-BODIED GLIDING JIGS: It wasn’t that long ago that lures such as Rapala’s Jigging Rap were solely used through a hole in the ice. A few years back, however, Upper Midwest anglers began having success using them in open water for walleye.
Ask several different walleye anglers about the cadence they use to fish a gliding jig and you’re likely to get as many different answers. One thing is consistent, though: They put plenty of energy into the snap of the lure so it jumps off the bottom and glides back down to the bottom. You can snap it once, twice, even three times to get it really moving.
Following the snap(s), give the lure plenty of freedom by allowing it to fall back on a slack (or mostly slack) line; i.e., don’t follow it down on a tight line. You might feel some hits on the fall, but it’s more likely the fish will just “be there” when you follow with the next snap-jig.
Hard-bodied gliding jigs in the half-ounce to ounce-plus size are commonly used for walleye. The lure is also effective on smallmouth bass.
Walleye tournament angler Dylan Nassbaum of St. Marys uses gliding jigs extensively and has experienced excellent results on Kinzua Lake, often targeting small areas of specific structure.
When the bite gets tough this year give your jig a snap. You’re likely to receive another snap on the other end of the line.