Making It All Work
Once this specialized gear is assembled, it has to be activated. The speed-jigging system provides distinctive action to the jigs, and achieving that action is the angler's job. It's a tough technique to describe, and even those who teach it regularly admit it is a feel that must be acquired.
"The most important thing I teach anglers learning to fish these jigs is to think of the action of the jig as coming from the reel, not the rod," Cummings explains. "Rather than resulting from your jigging the rod, the action is more a rhythm you create when you crank the reel." Imagine cranking the reel hard, in a short burst so the rod tip dips under the load, he explains. Then when the rod straightens, make another fast, short spin of the reel handle to load the tip again and create a pulsating retrieve. When the action is right, the rod tip develops a lively feel of its own. "Everybody has their own cadence with the rod loading and unloading," he says. "Learn to use the gear. It is what makes this type of jigging possible."
Secrest notes a particular association between the type of speed jig and the preferred gear. "There are two types of jigs: a knife jig and a long jig," he says. "The long jig is traditionally fished on a spinning reel, pulled vertically with a three-foot sweep, then released so it falls going right, left, right, left in a pattern that looks like a heart rate monitor, but vertical." This is the traditional Japanese style of jigging. "In California, the only time we fish a long jig is with yellowtail," he adds.
More than 80 percent of West Cost jigging is done with smaller knife jigs on conventional reels, says Secrest. "When you're working the jig with conventional gear, the reel should travel in an eight-inch circle so the jig, instead of going up and down, is constantly moving," he explains, describing the same retrieve that Cummings did, but in completely different words.
"The key is cadence," says Secrest. "What happens is the angler establishes a rhythm, focuses on it and keeps it going." Like any skill, it takes practice to learn the feel and repeat it. "The more you do it, the better you get," he says.
Robby Gant, rod designer for Shimano, offers another entirely different set of instructions. "The technique is rod up, handle up, rod down, handle down," he says. "It is a tight, compact motion, not giant sweeps, very much like working a Zara Spook, barely twitching the rod tip." Beginners, he says, use their arm and get worn out quickly. Experienced jiggers use both hands to work the jig.
It is critical that the rod load and recover at the proper speed, which varies with the weight of the jig. "Beginners should look at the medium-heavy rods for starters," he says. "Those that are built for 110- to 200-gram jigs work in most conditions."
Get It All Together
Light line on a speed-jig outfit is 40-pound-test. More common is 65-pound-test, heavy enough to lie well on the spool and resist burying itself there, where it can bind and create problems ranging from lost fish to broken rods. Just in case it hasn't sunk in, this is not light-line record fishing. Beefy is the word when it comes to tackle, lines, leaders and quarry.
Secrest often loads his reels by stacking line, which maintains reel capacity while providing the advantages of heavy line when fighting fish boat-side.
"I'll put 200 yards of 65-pound braid on the reel, then add 200 yards of 80-pound and top it off with 100 to 200 feet of 100-pound-test," he says. "I get the fish in to the 80-pound, get a couple of wraps on the reel, then add some heat to get the fish swimming in circles. Then when the 100-pound gets on the reel, I can put more pressure on the fish as it gets closer to the boat."
Smooth connections are essential when rigging lines and leaders. Connections, especially when a long leader is used, need to be able to flow through the rod guides and wind smoothly onto the reel. The heart of this system is the loop-to-loop connections made with Bimini twists, whether for stacking the line or adding a fluorocarbon or nylon monofilament leader to the main line.
Bristol knots are used to fasten leaders to braid. Leaders are tied to welded rings with a clinch knot, and assist hooks are girth-hooked to the welded ring. Jigs are fastened to the welded ring with split rings to complete the rig.
Shimano has recently begun marketing PowerPro Hollow Ace, a hollow braided line that can be used to build wind-on leaders by sliding the leader into the center of the line so the braid tightens around the leader Chinese-handcuff style. "I am using a blind splice with the Hollow Ace," says Cummings. "I feed about 4 feet of the leader into the braid, then serve it at each end with a nail knot or with whipping to hold it in place." Hollow Ace can also be spliced into a loop with a splicing needle to allow loop-to-loop connections at any point.