Summer Fishing

Master the Football Jig with Mike McClelland

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Down.

Set.

Green Pumpkin  44.

Peanut Butter Jelly 22.

Hut 1 ounce.

Hut 3/4 ounce.

Okay. The cadence would come off a little odd at the line of scrimmage, but combining the football shape with offshore jig fishing has created one of the top producers in bass fishing, especially on the tournament trail. Many top professional bass anglers will start fishing the football jig in the prespawn and won’t put it down until late fall. That’s a sign of how effective a fish catcher the football jig has become.

This lure easily covers water from 2 feet deep out to 40 feet deep effectively. All you have to do is change the weight. For guys that hated dragging a Carolina rig, the football jig offered an alternative that didn’t just have to be drug on the bottom. It’s equally effective being hopped, ripped or stroked off structure for fish not hugging the contours. In the last five years of bass fishing, it’s become the workhorse of the tackle box.

One of the best football jig fishermen on the Bassmaster Elite Series is Mike McClelland. He may be more well-known for his jerkbait fishing and his signature McStick bait from SPRO. He’s certainly cashed several checks with that bait. However he’s equally effective armed with a football jig. He helped perfect the unique football jig offered by Jewel Bait Company. He has a signature series Jig Rod from Falcon Rods. So he’s got the offshore jig fishing dialed. His football rod begins its spring training when the bass start leaving the banks and moving to offshore structure.

Targets and Tackle

“I’ll catch bass on flat shallow points all the way out to steep deep ledges,” Mclelland said. “You can do so many different things with a football jig. I drag it. I hop it down slopes. I’ll stroke it to get a school of fish fired up.”There really isn’t a wrong way to fish the football jig with McClelland. But, the question that comes up most with novice anglers is where should the jig be thrown.  What situations call for a football jig?

Any time the bass get out of the shallow pockets and coves and start moving to the points, humps and creek channel ledges, a football jig really shines,” McClelland said.

He’ll throw the jig on the flatter points right after the spawn when bass first come out of the pockets or even on flat points where he thinks the bass might have spawned inside some of the major creeks. From there he’ll move to the deeper and steeper points leading out to the main lake and continue working humps and ledges out to the main river channel.

“I’m guilty of probably working parallel to a ledge and fishing down it, hunting for schools of fish, but I really prefer when they get on the edges or ends of the ledges,” he said. “I do better when the fish get out of the ends of the ledges a little deeper. The Navionics chips and advanced sonars have made it a lot easier to go offshore.”

When McClelland fishes shallower on the points and shallow river bars and the wind and weather are calm, he likes a smaller 3/8-ounce football jig. As the wind picks up or as he moves out deeper, he will opt for heavier jigs all the way up to 1-ounce. Anglers must maintain contact with the jig, whether you’re hopping it or dragging it. You have to always feel the jig and detect when the jig feels different.

For McClelland, his tackle is the key to his success. “I use my signature series Falcon Jig Rod and 14-16 pound fluorocarbon line usually,” he said. “If I can get away with it, I’ll go up to 20-pound Sunline Fluorocarbon.”

He also likes a high-speed reel to take up slack quickly and to reel the jig up quickly to make a next cast. The right tackle lends itself to being more efficient and covering water quickly while seemingly fishing slowly and methodically. He likes to keep it all fairly simple. Having good equipment does that.

The only other variable is the color choice. He’ll throw a variety of colors depending on depth, water clarity, and locally popular colors. Some of his favorite colors though include Peanut Butter Jelly, Green Pumpkin Candy Flash, Green Gourde Orange, and Black Blue Flash.

Persistence and Patience

Two things McClelland thinks separate good football jig fishermen from those just starting out are persistence and patience. The persistence comes in sticking with your area and working through the area to see if the fish have maybe repositioned or maybe just not feeding.

“Guys think I’m crazy for hitting a spot 7 or 8 times in a day,” McClelland said, “but I can’t tell you how many times that’s paid off for me and got me a check or a great finish. People give up on their areas too quick and don’t work them thoroughly enough.”Sometimes you can pull up on a ledge and make 5 casts and know they are biting or not. Other times, McClelland has learned you have to slow down and keep dragging the bait by the bass. Especially when the current slows down or stops completely. The fish have a tendency to scatter and you’ve got to expand the area if you’ve caught fish there before like in practice and feel they are still there but not feeding as actively.

The other thing is patience. One place this really comes into play for McClelland is on the hookset.

“I’ve seen guys snap-set on fish as soon they feel a tick,” he said. “I feel like that initial tap sometimes is just the bass trying to kill the jig and he really doesn’t have it yet. I like to reel down and feel them load into the rod. Then I sort of lean into them with a long sweeping set and keep reeling.  It’s sort of like a Carolina rig hookset.”

His Jewel Football jig has a unique head shape and a special hook that makes this type of hookset work perfectly for him. Sometimes the bass are biting so good, it doesn’t matter how you set the hook. But when the bite is few and far between, the worst thing you can do is get in too big of a hurry.

McClelland throws crankbaits, big worms, and even a Carolina rig on occasion, but he always has the football jig tied on this time of year, and he’s always looking for those fish that are will willing to take the jig out deep.

Most of us love our football, and some of us love our football jigs, but hopefully now a few more will join our huddle after seeing how many touchdowns this overlooked jig scores. It’s provided Elite Series and FLW Tour wins in recent years, countless regional and local wins and plenty of life-long memories of bass fishing for anglers just fishing for fun. It’s another bread and butter play in the bass fishing playbook.