The Versatile Jig

Mike Jeresek is one of the better trout fishermen around Rushford, Minnesota. He's also one of the most unusual. When fishing season is closed, he teaches high school physical education, coaches girls' basketball, and hunts pheasants.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

He's also one of the most unusual. When fishing season is closed, he teaches high school physical education, coaches girls' basketball, and hunts pheasants. Every spring, summer, and fall, however, he catches trout -- usually several hundred of them -- and also works as the stream-improvement chairman for the local Trout Unlimited (TU) chapter. The TU group is notable partly because it is almost evenly divided between flyfishermen and spinning fanatics. There are also a couple of oddballs who throw little jigs -- the ones you'd use for crappies and walleyes -- into trout water. Jeresek is one of the oddballs.

Jigging for trout is not a mainstream technique, a fact that Jeresek both accepts and relishes. "I've tried the other methods," he says. "I started with bait in the 1960s. Got tired of it, then learned to flyfish. I got pretty good at that, then I noticed my brother, who was throwing Rapalas with spinning gear, was catching bigger fish than I was. So I switched again. I liked spinning and caught plenty of fish."

Then he heard from a trout fisherman who used jigs. "He talked about their versatility," Jeresek recalls. "The more I heard, the more sense he made. Of course, he also mentioned that the world-record brown trout was caught on a jig. That didn't hurt, either."

So Jeresek threw himself into jigging. He bought ultralight spinning rods and reels to match them. He studied catalogs aimed at crappie fishermen. And, of course, he spent hundreds of hours flinging jigs at fish. Having built or installed many of the area's trout hidey-holes, Jeresek knew where to experiment. It didn't take him long to find that trout were nuts about his offerings.

Simply Irresistible
"One of the things I immediately liked about jigs was that I controlled the bait," Jeresek says. "Most spinning lures only work at one eed. But I dictate action and speed with jigs. I've caught trout by ripping a jig through a hole, dead-drifting it with the current, or swimming it near the surface. I've even had trout cruise by and pick them off the stream bottom. That's the beauty of it; you can adjust your presentation to how fish behave that day."

Why do trout find these little lures so irresistible? Probably for the same reasons they like Woolly Buggers or small streamers. The undulating silhouette of a small jig suggests a worm, larva, nymph, or minnow that's worth a closer look to a trout. And if you subscribe to the fish-like-to-hit-something-different school of thought, jigs are a superb and simple alternative to the endless parade of common flies and lures that many stream trout both endure and ignore.

Jeresek usually tosses jigs as he would a spinner or small crankbait: up and across stream to pinpoint locations out to about 25 yards. "The majority of streams around here are small, so I fish light jigs weighing 1á32 or 1/64 ounce," he says. "I also figured out in a hurry I needed some special equipment to pitch them where they needed to go."

Rod and Line
Jeresek turned to another avid trout fisherman and rod builder, Jim Reinhart (Rushford's football coach), who built him a 5-foot lightweight rod with a sensitive tip. Equipped with an ultralight reel, the outfit is the spinfisherman's answer to a 4-weight fly rod -- it quivers even when you just pick it up.

"I fill the spool with 4-pound, thin-diameter monofilament," Jeresek points out. "Six-pound is too heavy; 2-pound casts a country mile, but I lost most of the big fish I hooked with it. Thin diameter is important because it allows longer casts. Filling the reel properly (to within approximately 1á8 inch of the spool lip) is important, too. If you don't, the line hangs up on the spool and shortens your casts."

Which Weight?
Southeastern Minnesota isn't the only place where trout eat jigs, of course. They'll work in any trout stream. Jeresek has fished his favorite lures in Western waters, for example, where cutthroats, rainbows, and browns all responded well to the same patterns he uses at home. On a recent float trip along Montana's Kootenai River -- much bigger and faster water than most Minnesota streams -- Jeresek just adapted by throwing larger and heavier jigs ranging up to 1/4 ounce when needed to sink down through a formidable current.

In more modest trout water back home, however, Jeresek has his best luck throwing 1/64-ounce jigs that he ties himself: simple patterns consisting of a cone-shaped metal head, chenille body, and marabou tail. He and his jig-tossing cohorts, Jim Reinhart and Mitch Thompson, have found that dull colors such as brown, black, and olive are the most successful on area stream trout. When these colors fail, sometimes a switch to a white or pearlescent soft-plastic tube-style jig will draw strikes. Other anglers have had good success fishing more garish colors like pink, red, or yellow.

On-Stream Lessons
I went with Jeresek for an on-stream demonstration last spring. Recent rains had the big the spool and shortens your casts."

Which Weight?
Southeastern Minnesota isn't the only place where trout eat jigs, of course. They'll work in any trout stream. Jeresek has fished his favorite lures in Western waters, for example, where cutthroats, rainbows, and browns all responded well to the same patterns he uses at home. On a recent float trip along Montana's Kootenai River -- much bigger and faster water than most Minnesota streams -- Jeresek just adapted by throwing larger and heavier jigs ranging up to 1/4 ounce when needed to sink down through a formidable current.

In more modest trout water back home, however, Jeresek has his best luck throwing 1/64-ounce jigs that he ties himself: simple patterns consisting of a cone-shaped metal head, chenille body, and marabou tail. He and his jig-tossing cohorts, Jim Reinhart and Mitch Thompson, have found that dull colors such as brown, black, and olive are the most successful on area stream trout. When these colors fail, sometimes a switch to a white or pearlescent soft-plastic tube-style jig will draw strikes. Other anglers have had good success fishing more garish colors like pink, red, or yellow.

On-Stream Lessons
I went with Jeresek for an on-stream demonstration last spring. Recent rains had the big