Micro Management

Microjigs -- those jigs as light as (this is no misprint) 1/300 of an ounce -- are stock-in-trade for crappie fishermen...

Outdoor Life Online Editor

Let me warn you right now:
In the hierarchy of macho fishing styles, the equipment and techniques discussed in this month's column rank far below chunkin', winding or any other vigorous technique practiced from the testosterone pit of an 18-foot metalflake monster. The reason for their appearance here is simple: There are times when an aggressive fishing approach is futile, when the ultimate finesse baits -- the world's tiniest jigs -- catch fish they seemingly shouldn't and, in fact, do it better than anything else in the tackle box.

Microjigs -- those jigs as light as (this is no misprint) 1/300 of an ounce -- are stock-in-trade for crappie fishermen, an addiction for some trout specialists and panfishermen and, more recently, the leadhead of choice for a growing coterie of light-tackle river bass anglers. A few minor design variances aside, most of these lures are the same basic thing flyfishers drift below "strike indicators" (known as "bobbers" before fishing jargon went uptown). Micros come in plain models intended to be tipped with natural bait and dressed with plastic, hair, fur, feathers or other materials.

Beyond Panfish
If you've just finished dragging a shanty off the ice, you're probably familiar with microjigs, most likely in teardrop shapes that maximize their fluttering action while slowing their drop. Don't put them up for the summer just yet. The same lures are incredibly effective for trout, as the record book will support: The four-pound-test -- and all-tackle -- world-record brown gobbled a 1/64-ounce micro pitched by the late Howard "Rip" Collins in Arkansas's Little Red River. It weighed 40 lb. 4 oz. -- so much for that adage about "big lure, big fish." Smallmouth, spotted, white and largemouth bass also eat micros from early spring through the rest of the year.

In dealing with good-sized largemouths, there is usually little problem sinking the fine dmeter point of a microjig hook into the fish's mouth. Then comes the challenge of maneuvering the fish through cover without opening the hook or breaking it. Typical heave-ho largemouth tactics won't hack it, and not just because of the delicate hardware; this is a two-, four- and (at the outside) six-pound-line game.

Smallmouths in more open water, including rivers, are an entirely different proposition, as are trout and other fish that have room to run. A fine-tuned reel drag, a longish rod with ample cushioning flex and a healthy portion of self-control on the angler's part are the keys to success hereänot to mention a little luck.

The History
Microjigs are hardly new to the fishing scene. In the 1970s and early '80s, Missouri's Tanneycomo Lake was peaking as a trout fishery. Before overstocked trout wreaked havoc on the protein-rich scuds and mysis shrimp responsible for the splendid fish growth in this serpentine impoundment, anglers used micros to imitate the tiny crustacea. At first, 1/64- and 1/32-ounce jigs were the norm, but some experimenters soon discovered that 1/80- to 1/100-ounce micros did even better. Because 1/32-ounce jigs are about the lightest a spinning outfit can cast effectively, the standard rig evolved into a 91/2-foot fly rod or panfish pole spooled with two- or four-pound-test leader and a tiny toothpick-snubbed strike indicator on the leader. The fisherman would roll-cast or simply lob the rig and let the jig settle at some depth less than 10 feet -- the limit for mysis in Tanneycomo.

You need not "match the hatch" exactly with micros to trigger trout, panfish or other gamefish. However, the smallest jigs in black, brown, gray, olive drab and other subdued colors are the best bets when no fish are showing. During those slow times you'll also do well to use a vertical presentation beneath a float rather than trying a swimming approach. Tiny teardrop-shaped icefishing jigs tipped with a smidgen of bait also work well beneath floats when you're targeting sluggish fish.

Active fish, on the other hand, are vulnerable to a swimming presentation below a float. Here you want to choose a bright-colored microjig with a bit of flash, the desired effect being one of a fleeing scud, minnow or fry.

You might also consider suspending a micro below a small floating minnow lure, popper, chugger or shallow-running crankbait. Simply tie the jig to the lure's rear hook with light monofilament. As fish begin actively feeding, they'll sometimes hit the larger lure. You might as well be using a "float" with its own bite.

On the Market
Not all of the currently available microjigs evolved from the Tanneycomo experience. Frank McKane of McKala Fishing in Trumbull, Conn., created his Match-the-Hatch Reel Jig micros to meet the challenges of flycasting in tight trout-stream conditions. "At first I tried using ultralight spin tackle and small plastic grubs," says McKane. "It was an improvement, but I still wasn't doing as well as nymph fishermen." That spurred McKane and his partner Jamie Kalanta to create tiny plastic nymphs that mimicked the fishing flies, which in turn were imitating bugs or crustacea. They worked so well that crappie anglers gobbled them up like chocolate cherries, as did their quarry. That success spawned the creation rop-shaped icefishing jigs tipped with a smidgen of bait also work well beneath floats when you're targeting sluggish fish.

Active fish, on the other hand, are vulnerable to a swimming presentation below a float. Here you want to choose a bright-colored microjig with a bit of flash, the desired effect being one of a fleeing scud, minnow or fry.

You might also consider suspending a micro below a small floating minnow lure, popper, chugger or shallow-running crankbait. Simply tie the jig to the lure's rear hook with light monofilament. As fish begin actively feeding, they'll sometimes hit the larger lure. You might as well be using a "float" with its own bite.

On the Market
Not all of the currently available microjigs evolved from the Tanneycomo experience. Frank McKane of McKala Fishing in Trumbull, Conn., created his Match-the-Hatch Reel Jig micros to meet the challenges of flycasting in tight trout-stream conditions. "At first I tried using ultralight spin tackle and small plastic grubs," says McKane. "It was an improvement, but I still wasn't doing as well as nymph fishermen." That spurred McKane and his partner Jamie Kalanta to create tiny plastic nymphs that mimicked the fishing flies, which in turn were imitating bugs or crustacea. They worked so well that crappie anglers gobbled them up like chocolate cherries, as did their quarry. That success spawned the creation