Vertical jigging, speed jigging, butterfly jigging, yoyo jigging, deep-sea jigging… No matter what you call it, jigging offshore is one of the most exhilarating ways to bring trophy fish over the rail. The excitement of hooking a hefty tuna, amberjack, grouper, or even wahoo while feverishly jigging in hundreds of feet of water can make salty old fishermen smile and laugh like little boys. Nothing gives anglers more pride than catching big fish on artificial baits- it takes skill to convince a fish to bite a skinny piece of lead. Some anglers even have the skill to catch fish on ordinary tablespoons or butter knives rigged up with hooks, butterfly jig style!
For a style of fishing that’s so much fun, it’s impressive just how effective it can be. In this article, we’ll break down one component that can make or break your next jigging trip offshore: Jig selection and how to choose the right vertical jig.
The weight of your jig matters more than the style, color, or just about anything else.
If your jig is too light for the conditions, it’ll have trouble finding the bottom in time for you to effectively fish the spot. The goal in jigging offshore is a vertical presentation- you need enough weight to keep your line directly underneath the boat. It’s the captain’s job to position the boat directly above the structure. It’s your job to get your jig down to the fish.
Too heavy of a jig can make fishing harder for you. Fishing too heavy of a jig is exhausting and your joints won’t thank you for it once you get back to the dock. In light current and light wind, fish a lighter jig. In heavy wind or current, you have to beef up the weight of those jigs so you can continue to fish effectively.
The jigs you’ll find at your tackle shop typically range from 40 to 300 grams. A 150 to 200-gram jig is the Bluefin USA Pro-Staff’s go-to most days. It’s heavy enough to get down to the fish but light enough to fish multiple drifts without fatigue. We typically fish structures in 150 to 260 feet of water, targeting grouper, snapper, amberjack, kingfish, and tuna. Anglers fishing deep water, in the 400-500 foot range, may go as heavy as 12-17 ounces.
“The general rule of thumb is that for every foot of water, you need a gram worth of jig. That means that if you’re trying to jig in 50 feet, you can slide by with a 50-gram jig. 150 feet of water: a 150-gram jig. If your spots are in deep water and you’re facing a strong current, you need a heavy jig. That’s when the big boy jigs come out. I always opt to use the lightest jig I can, but it has to match the spot and conditions. Current plays a huge role.”
-Pro-Staff Angler and Staff Writer, Elijah Bogdansky
Styles of Jigs & Techniques
Speed Style Vertical Jigs
These jigs are usually tail weighted and they’re designed to be worked up through the water column fast. Fish bite speed jigs with a reaction strike as they see them racing upwards towards the surface. Amberjack and pelagic species like yellowfin tuna, wahoo, and kingfish can’t seem to get enough of this style of jig when it is worked fast. When worked slowly in the lower water column, speed jigs prove lethal for snapper and grouper. When people think of “vertical jigging”, this is the jig they usually picture in their mind.
Here are some of our Pro-Staff’s Top Picks for a Speed Style Vertical Jig:
Flutter/ Slow Pitch Vertical Jigs
Another style of the vertical jig, these jigs are center-weighted and designed to be fished more slowly than speed jigs. After letting the jig reach the bottom, anglers reel them up about 20 feet and let them flutter back down for about 5 feet. This action is repeated until the jig reaches the surface. In the Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas, bottom fishermen have found slow pitch jigging to be highly effective for bottom species like snapper and grouper. They keep the jigs low in the water column, fishing where they know bottom fish will hold. Amberjack, tuna, and even Mahi Mahi have been known to demolish these vertical jigs higher in the water column.
Here are some of our Pro-Staff’s favorite Slow Pitch Jigs:
Diamond Style Jigs
Great for deep water in large sizes, diamond jigs have been an offshore fishing staple for decades. Highly versatile, you can also cast them into schools of fish on the surface and work them back to the boat erratically. While rather plain looking, a heavy diamond jig can slay when jigged over deep wrecks- speed jig, or slow pitch jig style. Keep a few of these on board for tuna, amberjack, and grouper. Be weary of that treble hook snagging bottom if you opt to fish a diamond jig deep… or replace the treble hook with an assist hook from a butterfly jig.
Here is our Pro-Staff’s Go to Diamond Jig:
Crippled Herring Style Jigs
Just like diamond jigs, crippled herring jigs are versatile and have been around for ages. You can cast them or jig them and they come in dozens of sizes. Rigged with a single hook on the bottom of the jig, they have less action than speed or flutter jigs. That being said, they are less expensive than high-tech speed jigs and can often produce the same results, depending on offshore conditions. Our Pro-Staff prefers to remove the standard hook set up and replace it with a single assist hook.
Here are a Crippled Herring Style Jigs that our Pro-Staff Captains Recommend:
Heavy Bucktail Style Jigs
Bucktail jigs have to be the most versatile lure in the world. An inshore, offshore, and bottom fishing fundamental, heavy bucktail jigs can also be used for jigging in deep water. Between 3-12 ounces, bucktails are incredible lures for grouper, snapper, and amberjack. When tipped with a soft plastic curly tail or strip of cut bait, the grouper can’t resist them. Fished higher in the water column, they occasionally catch pelagic species like Mahi Mahi and wahoo.
On a trip to the Middle Grounds, out of Madeira, FL, our staff writer, Elijah Bogdansky, landed a 13 lb red grouper in 240′ of water, on a 4 oz bucktail jig tipped with a curly tail grub. It’s an old-school method but it works! This trip, bucktail jigs actually seemed to outproduce newer style “vertical jigs”. Since heavy bucktails are fished vertically offshore, we’ll still throw them into the “vertical jig” category.
The Bucktail Jig our Pro-Staff Can’t Live Without:
The color of a vertical jig may be the first thing to catch your eye as you stroll the isles of your local tackle shop, but fish usually aren’t as picky as you are. There are several things to keep in mind when selecting the color of your jig.
Hundreds of feet down, there isn’t much light. Red is the first color to disappear at depth. It vanishes at around 15 feet below the surface. But, you know what shows up well on a vertical jig 300 feet below the waterline? Glow in the dark paint! Most vertical jigs and slow-pitch jigs incorporate some glow-in-the-dark elements to help with this, and you should buy jigs that do. Patterns like dots and stripes are also vivid, even down deep.
Whites, greens, and blues with glow-in-the-dark elements seem to produce well in deep water. Kingfish, tuna, amberjack, and wahoo love these colors. Match the local bait hatch offshore if you can.
In Florida, some captains seem to prefer pink for snapper and grouper.
Silver is always a good choice, but anything shiny is sure to draw more strikes from toothy critters like kingfish and barracuda. We recommend that you avoid using wire leader with vertical jigs as it can severely impact the action of the jig. You’ll lose more jigs but you’ll also get more strikes. We think it’s worth it…
The Bluefin USA team always starts out with a different color of jig on each rod we fish. If one color seems to outproduce the rest, everyone will quickly switch over to that color. Always begin with lure that you have the most confidence in.