Hinged Hair Jigs for Bass, Trout, and Walleye
March 02, 2015
Thankfully, tying hundreds of #12 Adams flies for money — as I did in high school and college — bears little resemblance to the creative process of constructing something fish haven't potentially seen before. So last year when a friend of mine from Colorado caught a massive brown trout on a new articulated fly called the "Game Changer," I pondered the pattern's possibilities if tied on a weighted jighead.
Meanwhile, Gabe Hillebrand of Hill Brand Tackle was already crafting two killer jig patterns sporting a single joint, or point of articulation. I've fished with both his Sculptor and Swamp Donkey often enough to realize they go a step beyond what we know today as "hair jigs." The subtle realism with which these patterns undulate, kick, and swim makes a case for adding articulation to many hair jig patterns. For similar reasons, master fly tier Kelly Galloup — the acknowledged creator of this category — now ties nearly all his streamer patterns with articulation. "Once you've seen these flies swim in the water it's hard to go back to traditional streamers because they're so much more realistic and lifelike, and fish respond to them so aggressively," he says.
In the realm of casting and spinning tackle, while numerous softbaits appear startlingly real, the fluid swimming motions of articulated hair jigs prove the relative importance of outward appearance versus how the lure moves through the water. Adding a single point of articulation to a jighead creates multiple dimensions of movement to an already lively morsel. Two or more articulation points result either in a complete disaster or a lure that imitates aquatic life and folk art simultaneously. I've wasted hours and expensive materials tying lures that should have been have been masterpieces, but that fell flat once in the water.
The goal, I eventually realized, shouldn't be to tie jigs with super accentuated body movements — exaggerated serpentine undulations characteristic of certain swimbaits. Rather, the best articulated "swimming" jigs move with a fluid, understated tail-fluttering action. Hair and feathers pull this off better than any plastisol could.
Tying the patterns takes as little or as much time as your desired level of detail. First, you need a jighead. I tie with Gopher Tackle Mushroom-VMC Barbarian heads. The easiest way to add articulation is with a Fish-Skull Articulated Shank or the complete Fish-Spine system, composed of a series of interconnected, articulated straight wire shanks that combine to add lifelike swimming motions to countless jig patterns. Wrapping each spine section with marabou, rabbit strips, or synthetic hair fibers such as CCT Body Fur produces subtle articulated motion — something never precisely seen before in the world of casting jigs. Further, because some of these materials absorb a lot of water, they become heavy enough to cast, even with minimal lead weight. I've tied 3- to 6-inch jigs using just 1/32 or 1/16 ounce of lead, which allows you to achieve a seductively slow sink or near neutral buoyancy — each devastating presentations at times.
Before trying articulated tying, check the Swamp Donkey and Sculptor from Hill Brand Tackle. When you're ready to sit at the vice and get artsy, the fun begins. Get it right — craft the jig to properly animate underwater — and you'll have bass, trout, and even walleyes attacking it like a barracuda in July.