Words & Images: Colby Lesko
Back in 2014 it seemed like Australia was starting to embrace the idea of slow pitch jigging, a Japanese technique with specialist tackle that changed how anglers could target fish on the bottom in deep and shallow water. It did away with the heavy broomstick-like jig rods and instead offered a slower, less physically taxing method of jigging that was effective and fun. At this time there was a lot of confusion between slow jigs, knife jigs, tai kabura, inchiku jigs and micro jigs and it all seemed to get rolled into the one category of ‘micro jigs’. This led to confusion, and the wrong tackle and outfits being put together. The equipment and technique is really quite simple but if you don’t get it right in set-up and application, it isn’t very effective.
The past few years have seen a resurgence in slow pitch and with it some better clarification of product and technique. This article will present the fundamentals of slow pitch and how you can use it wherever you’re located, on a huge range of species.
What To Target
The idea of slow jigging is to present a slow-action jig with light lines and small but powerful rods and reels to target both demersal and pelagic species in fast and slow currents, and at depths from 20m through to 500m. The list of species that will eat slow jigs is endless. The obvious target species are snapper, kingfish and tropical reef species, but anglers in Queensland are consistently catching mulloway and even bass in dams on slow pitch jigs.
It’s an exciting style of fishing as you never know what you might hook up to. Pretty much any bottom fish that eats shrimp, squid, octopus or baitfish will hit a slow jig. Not only do tasty reef species eat your slow jig, but pelagics can also be the by-catch or specifically targeted. Amberjack and kingfish are two of the original target species of slow jigging in Japan while species such as trevally, tuna, kingfish and mackerel will also quite often eat your slow jig.
There are now a large range of slow jigging rods on the market in Australia. The first real slow pitch rod – considered the forefather and still an amazing rod – is the Evergreen Poseidon Slow Jerker, which retails for around $800. Since then, and especially in the past few years, many companies have developed slow pitch rods and the good models are specially designed for slow jigging. It’s worth the investment to present the jig properly and fight the fish.
A true slow pitch rod is imperative as the blank is designed to do most of the work by imparting action to the jig just with half and quarter turns of the reel. A good slow pitch rod will state its recommended line (in PE), its best lure weight and is designed to specifically work in these parameters. The rod tip should fold over with each short crank of the reel and bounce back, which imparts action on the jig. Proper slow pitch rods are light and don’t apply pressure on the angler while jigging and when fighting fish as they have a parabolic action. The idea is you can drop a jig down to great depths with light lines from PE0.6 through to PE3 and catch large fish without requiring ultra-heavy drag pressures. The thin line keeps you in contact with your jig at great depths, whereas thicker lines would create a belly in the line, diminishing contact with the jig and therefore action. Slow pitch rods are available in both spin and overhead, but my preference is the latter as overhead reels allow you to keep tension on your jig as it falls, and this set-up offers better ergonomics when jigging and fighting fish vertically.
As slow pitch has really hit the market with a bang recently and many rods have come out claiming to be slow pitch rods, it pays to do your research and speak with a knowledgeable tackle retailer about getting a rod that suits your species, location and budget. Fortunately, you can now pick up some pretty good slow pitch rods for around $300.
As far as line goes, you must use braid and you want to use a PE line that suits the rod. By using super-thin braid, the line is less affected by drag or line belly when the boat is drifting, or the jig is affected by current. The idea of these pencil-thin rods and very thin lines may seem daunting at first but high-quality braid and rod blanks allow you to hook and land large fish. Thin PE will keep the rod tip and jig in vertical contact thus allowing you to impart maximum action to the jig, which is obviously appealing to your target species. There are some amazing braids on the market, and I simply choose my rod and braid based on my location and target species. If I’m fishing for snapper and smaller reef fish I will go as light as PE0.6 (10-14lb breaking strain) but if fishing for bigger fish or around areas where sharks are prevalent I will run PE1.5 or PE3 (30lb to 45lb).
Try to pick braids that offer the PE rating and breaking strain and choose lines that have the lowest diameter to breaking strain. They do get more expensive as the range between diameter and breaking strain increases but the pay-off is obviously highly beneficial. It’s great to pick a braid that changes colour every 5m or 10m as this will give you a rough idea how far you have brought your jig off the bottom and when you should be dropping back down. I run the braid down to a 2m fluorocarbon leader; as a general rule I opt for line that is 10lb heavier than the braid but it’s important you keep the diameters similar, so again, look for quality leaders that are thin for their breaking strain.
Slow pitch jigging uses a variety of jigs that can be rear or centre weighted, and they offer strong action on the drop. It’s important you choose the right style for the conditions you’re fishing. Centre weighted jigs will sink to the bottom on their side with a swaying or shimmying action as they flutter down. This action triggers bites from fish on the drop as it looks like a squid, shrimp or injured baitfish heading for the bottom. This type of jig is great for slower currents. Rear weighted jigs are better for fast currents where you want the jig to get to the bottom. They have less action on the way down but a 150g rear weighted jig will get to the bottom more efficiently and faster than a 200g centre weighted jig. It’s therefore good to have a variety of styles and weights on hand to use in varying conditions.
You will need a selection of differing weight jigs for different depths and current. As a general rule, one gram per one metre of water will you get you down if wind and current is low; so, a 50g jig in 50m of water or a 100g jig in 100m of water. However, if the current or wind is strong you may have to double that, with a 200g jig in 100m of water. There is a massive choice of slow jigs now on the market in Australia, but centre weighted jigs seem to be far more accessible than rear weighted jigs. The Palms Slow Blatt is a personal favourite and available in both rear and centre weighted.
Rigging Your Jig
Most slow jigs can be rigged with assist hooks at each end to allow for a more secure hook-up when a fish strikes on the drop, but if you’re fishing over heavy reef or kelp it’s best to just leave the assist hooks at the top to prevent snags. I like to rig my slow jigs with multiple razor-sharp assist hooks, which are a much finer gauge than I would use for high-speed jigging as I’m user lighter lines and lighter drag. The advantage of these fine-gauge razor-sharp assist hooks is that you will hook most of the fish that hit your jig on the drop. By using multiple assist hooks, you will put yourself in with the best chance of hooking fish while also helping share the load once a fish is hooked. The second assist hook will often stick in as the fish begins to fight and help share the pressure, which avoids straightening the fine-gauge hooks. Multiple assists adorned with flashy fly materials also add to the jig’s appeal and increase bites. You can also add small soft plastic squid skirts to your assists to increase action. I will always run at least two assist hooks on my slow jigs for snaggy bottom but if fishing over light or sandy bottom I will increase this to 3 or 4 hooks.
The two most important factors in this technique is your jig hitting the bottom and staying in vertical contact with the jig. Slow pitch uses two main retrieves: slow-pitch and long-fall, and it’s best to mix it up each time you go out to find out what the fish like as this can change from day to day. The slow pitch technique requires no angler input on rod action and is all done with the reel. Just simple quarter or half-turns with a slow pitch rod and reel is enough to get the jig dancing as the rod folds over and springs back up again. This is a popular technique for kingfish and snapper but will work on a host of species. Long fall is simply dropping the jig to the bottom, taking up the slack then raising the rod with a long slow lift to bring the jig a metre or two off the bottom. You then slowly drop the rod back down, keeping just in contact with the jig as it sinks. Once the jig is back down I simply repeat. After 5 or 6 jigs off the bottom, I will wind up a metre or two of line and work the jig again like this a couple of metres above the bottom, before dropping the jig back down to the bottom. It often doesn’t really matter what technique you use as long as your jig is staying close to the bottom, and with plenty of drops/flutters back down to the bottom you are going to get bites. Remember, techniques invented in Japan in highly pressured waters don’t need to be followed as strictly here. Try to keep your jig in the strike zone where you are marking the fish on the sounder, keep your retrieve nice and slow in this area, and try to remain in vertical contact with the jig.
Most of my slow jigging is done in 20m of water out to 120m. In 20m of water my jig is ultra-responsive to rod movement as long as the current isn’t too strong. However, out in 120m of water there is often a much larger belly in my line and a big lift of my rod may have only minimal effect. Due to this I often get a little more aggressive with my rod movements the deeper I’m fishing. If fishing over sand, I will let my jig hit the bottom to stir up some sand. If fishing over reef I will keep the jig just above the bottom to prevent snagging, only touching the bottom to confirm how far down it is.
The depth of water you fish depends on the target species and slow jigging is effective for blue-eye and ruby snapper in 300m and 400m of water, right up to snapper fishing in 10m of water. As a general rule I will head out deep during the slack water or calmest period of the day and move shallower as the current or wind increases. You want to stay in good vertical contact with your jig and keep your jig directly below the boat. Reversing into the current or wind with the boat is perfect to keep you over the top of your jig; however, once the angle increases and your jig drifts away from below you, just wind up and drop again. Centre weighted slow jigs fall horizontally and swim all the way down on a slack line, so will take a long time to reach the bottom – meaning you can lose that precious vertical contact. One technique to help your slow jig reach the bottom quicker is to apply some tension with your fingers or the reel’s free spool to pull the end of the jig up and get it falling vertical. This will stop the jig’s slow sinking action or shimmying and often get your jig to sink faster.
Use Your Sounder
Your sounder is your best friend when slow jigging and you really want to be dropping your jig down to fish on the screen every time. Big individual marks are always worth a drop but while out deeper you may only mark bait on the bottom and this can produce bites as you drift through the area. Keep a keen eye on the sounder whenever you are driving around as random bumps or drop-offs are worth a mark and a drop.
There you have it – the basics of slow jigging, still a fairly new technique in Australia and something I am still building confidence in myself. My catches on the slow jig have been great and they’ve come from both ends of the country. It’s an exciting form of lure fishing to adopt for your sub-surface range of techniques.