fishing flutter jigs
Capt. Mark Schmidt hits the nail on the head when questioned about the hype with flutter-style jigs. “It shows the fish something different and provokes a reaction,” quips the veteran light-tackle Key West, Florida, guide. Schmidt then lends an example from when he was fishing for mangrove snapper alongside another boat using live bait. “On that particular day, I was outfishing that boat 3-to-1 with a ½-ounce flutter-style jig,” says Schmidt. “That’s how hot these things can be, and I have many more examples where they’ve really stood out and put fish in the boat.”
Since they’ve come onto the market, flutter-style jigs have caught countless fish, ranging from inshore species such as striped bass, bluefish, snapper and grouper to offshore warriors the likes of bluefin and yellowfin tuna, wahoo and dolphin. Nearly everything eats them, and you don’t have to be a seasoned veteran to fool fish with them. Traditional jigs, such as arrowhead and deep-jig designs, descend straight and rapidly through the water column, while flutter-style jigs have an inherent erratic action, coupled with a slightly slower and wandering descent. They’re designed to imitate an injured or frantically fleeing baitfish scrambling in confusion. This action evokes an instinctive kill response from game fish, even from those that aren’t hungry.
With traditional jigging, it’s the angler who must impart the action and continually dial it in until the fish respond. Success is basically 90 percent angler skill and 10 percent jig. With flutter-style jigging, conversely, it’s 90 percent jig and 10 percent angler skill. This is a result of flutter jigs’ fatter, wider and often slightly contorted bodies, which catch water and increase resistance when descending through the water column, and their precision weight distribution — whether top- or bottom-heavy, or somewhere in between. These factors combine to produce an erratic fluttering action. When fish are present, anglers merely need to get a flutter-style jig into the zone, whip the rod and let the actions draw strikes. These jigs are the great equalizers in the deep-jigging arena.
Schmidt on the Stand
Despite their effectiveness, there is still concern over choosing the right type, the best color and the best action. Schmidt says choosing the right flutter-style jig is no different from selecting a traditional deep jig. “I like to pick the lightest flutter jig that I can still hold bottom with and fish for grouper and snapper,” says Schmidt. “If my jig stays on the bottom for only a few seconds before drifting up the water column — where the amberjack are — I switch to a heavier one. When fishing shallow wrecks and rock piles in 25 to 30 feet of water, I prefer the 112- and 2-ounce flutter jigs if they hold bottom well. And for small snapper like those leery mangroves, I’ll even scale down to a 12-ounce jig, just like I did that day in the boat when I outfished anglers who were using live bait.
“For grouper, snapper and amberjack on wrecks in 180 feet or more, I first try getting down with a 212-ounce jig but will go as heavy as 5 ounces if current and drift require it,” he says. “If the current is really cooking, I’ll select a more streamlined jig, which cuts through the water with less resistance and gets down faster.”
As for hot colors, Schmidt’s extensive flutter-jigging experience has taught him one important thing: “It’s not so much about picking the right color as it is choosing a jig with some prominent glow paint in its pattern,” he says. “This is especially important in deep water, where I believe the glow provides for a better target. Given a choice between, say, a flutter jig with natural colors and one with natural colors but with some glow features in the paint, I’m picking the one containing the glow. It’s like the old deep-jigging days when we tipped our lead-heads with a glow worm or glow tail. There’s just something about glow that fish like.”
Schmidt always has at least one rod rigged with a flutter-style jig, no matter what he’s fishing for. “One April we were on a Gulf wreck catching bait and looking for permit,” says Schmidt. “I handed my customer a flutter-jigging outfit and told him to go prospecting. He immediately began catching kingfish we didn’t know were there. So the flutter jig sees a lot of action on my boat, even when it’s not our primary tactic.”
Darren Blum, an accomplished southwest Florida-based offshore and bottomfishing specialist, is a big proponent of flutter jigging. “Off Sarasota, it’s a long run to reach deep water, but the fishing out here can be amazing,” says Blum. “We flutter jig for groupers and snappers over Swiss-cheese bottom, rock piles and wrecks, and we’re also set to pitch them at pelagics like dolphin, blackfins, kingfish and wahoo. For me, they’re most effective out beyond 120 feet of water. I prefer the natural patterns, like mackerel or even mullet, in water up to 200 feet deep. But beyond that, it’s strictly glow patterns or pink for us, as they get bit the most. As far as dialing in the best weight, a 412-ounce jig is good overall, yet sometimes I’ll bump up to 612 ounces when the drift or current is too fast. And when a fast current or drift becomes a real issue, I’ll switch to a pencil-style speed jig to reach and hold bottom faster and easier. Remember, I’m referring to deepwater flutter jigging here.”
Blum also reveals his most potent flutter-jig action — the vertical walk-the-dog. That is, after the jig reaches bottom, he’ll let it settle for two or three seconds. He then jigs it upward and lets it descend, keeping within 15 feet of the bottom. He repeats this tactic a half-dozen times. “This makes the jig appear as if it’s a wounded baitfish,” says Blum. Then after jigging near the bottom, he’ll continue the vertical walk-the-dog beat right back to the boat, but in a quicker, more radical fashion than the initial half-dozen strokes. “And this makes the jig appear more like a fleeing baitfish,” says Blum. His initial effort focuses on groupers and snappers, while the effort back to the boat is intended for jacks, kings, wahoo, blackfins and dolphin. Blum believes that if a fish isn’t turned on by the wounded action, the fleeing action just might do the trick, and vice versa.
Blum is quick to point out that, when flutter jigging, he prefers a vigorous action. He jerks the rod up hard and rapidly and only reels to catch up with the slack line. It’s the rod that is lifting the lure up, not the reeling. Because of the size of some of these offshore bottomfish, especially those around wrecks, he uses 80-pound-test braided line and a 20-foot top shot of 80-pound-test fluorocarbon. His jigging rods carry a minimum rating of 80-pound-test.
When offshore trolling, Blum keeps handy spin tackle spooled with 50-pound braid and rigged with flutter jigs on 60-pound-test fluorocarbon leaders. “We keep these ready, should we see busting pelagics like tuna,” says Blum. “But if we see an attractive piece of structure on the fish finder, we’ll mark it and circle back around. Then, when we’re back on top of the find, we’ll pause above it for a minute or so, put a couple of anglers in the bow and have them drop the flutter jigs. We’ve caught impressive bottomfish this way and acquired new spots. I don’t think there’s a snapper or grouper I haven’t caught on these jigs. I’ve taken mangroves, true reds, scamps, yellow-eyes, snowies, gags, blacks, warsaw and even triggerfish!”
Global in Concept
Both the general concepts and specific tactics used by Schmidt and Blum apply wherever flutter jigging is practiced, whether it’s in the inshore or offshore waters of the Northeast, mid-Atlantic, Southeast, Gulf of Mexico or Pacific. I’ve flutter jigged with good success for black sea bass off Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts; bluefish and striped bass off Connecticut; amberjack from Virginia Beach down through Key West; and tuna and wahoo off south Florida and in the Bahamas and Gulf of Mexico. Of course, there are subtleties involved with being species-specific, including leader selection and adapting to the environment you’re fishing (i.e., in channels, bays, inlets, passes or canyons; over reefs or wrecks; or under bait and birds).
When fishing for toothy pelagics, I’ll still stick with a fluorocarbon leader — unless the fish are so solid they’re not deterred by a light (38- to 40-pound-test) single-strand wire leader. However, I’ll change my retrieve. When dropping under floating debris and dolphin schools for wahoo, I’ll let the flutter jig fall about 100 feet, then engage the drag and retrieve the jig as quickly and as straight as possible, so it looks like a healthy bait racing for the surface. That way if a wahoo strikes, it just may catch the flutter jig below the head and miss the fluorocarbon leader. If the jig were whipped in traditional fashion, a fish would likely strike on the fall, when the jig is ahead of the leader. When that happens, the fish catches the jig and leader on the bite, and you lose both jig and target!
Regardless of species, two things should remain foremost when selecting or rigging a flutter-style jig. Since line twist can become an issue due to the jigs’ inherent erratic action, a swivel should be incorporated into the system, whether it’s joining the leader and the fishing line or it’s on the jig itself. This is especially true when you’re using a flutter jig in conjunction with spin tackle. It’s also important to add or make sure the jig has a solid eye ring. Avoid tying your line directly to the split-ring eye, as stories continue to mount on how fish are lost when the fishing line slides into the split ring — and eventually off of it.
Once you try flutter jigs over the course of several trips and review your score cards, you’ll wonder why you didn’t jump on the flutter-jig bandwagon a long time ago.
Flutter Jigging 101
1. Braided line is a must, because its thin diameter cuts through the water better than a monofilament of the same breaking strength. This enables lighter jigs to reach and hold bottom better. Braid telegraphs the feel and action of the jig and even the subtlest strike. There’s no stretch, so positive hookups soar, especially with deep bottomfish.
2. Use small conventional reels and the new generation of light yet strong jigging and casting rods. Flutter jigging requires elbow grease, and lightweight tackle eliminates early fatigue.
3. Even though a flutter jig eye has a solid ring to tie to, use an overhand loop knot to join leader to lure. This will provide a bit more freedom for the jig to dance and maximize its action.
4. A single hook is proving just as effective as a dual setup. It’s also easier on fish and the angler doing the releasing.
5. An increasing number of anglers have been replacing the standard J hook with an in-line circle hook and discovering better hookup and landing results.
6. Make sure a swivel is incorporated into the flutter-jig system. This will alleviate line twist caused by the action of the jig, particularly when fishing on spin tackle.
7. Avoid tying the leader to a split ring. There’s a risk of losing your jig and fish because the leader can slip through the ring.