I went through a period last month that left my ribs black and blue from so many whiffed hooksets. I was getting a pile of bites on a 1/2-ounce jig, but I just couldn't get them hooked up. They'd hit the jig so hard that I could hear the line slap against my rod blank and when I'd set the hook I wouldn't even feel 'em.
Admittedly, I'm a pretty stubborn angler, so I normally don't change what has always worked for me. But I was sick and tired of all these short strikes, so I really started tinkering with some things to see if I could come up with a solution for my recent woes.
I found a few things that have worked really well. I'll quickly go through them because I think they'll certainly help you put a few more fish in the boat.
Give it a haircut
This will make a huge different in your hookup ratio when you're jig fishing. I became a believer back in college when I won a pretty big tournament after trimming the skirt on my jig. They were short-striking the heck out of my jig, but after trimming an inch or two off of the skirt, I started getting even more bites and hooking up with every single one of them.
It may seem like obvious to some, but trimming your jig skirts give them a much more compact profile. This not only helps the bass get more of the jig in their mouths on the initial strike, but it also helps you get more bites. This creates a much more subtle profile which can pay huge dividends, especially around weather fronts and the spawn.
Luckily, it's very easy to do. I'll just take some scissors or a pair of line cutters and trim the skirt even with the bend of the hook. You can do it a little shorter or longer if you'd like, but cutting it to the hook bend seems to be a really nice length that produces a lot of bites.
Along with trimming the skirt, it's also a good idea to experiment with a smaller, more compact trailer. Instead of using a big chunk or something, try threading a beaver-style bait onto your jig.
Make it stink
It took me a few years to become a believer in scents, but I've seen it work too often to doubt it these days. I've experimented with a bunch of different scents and in my experience, any type of crawfish scent can help you virtually eliminate short strikes.
Do I think adding scent will make a bass swim 15 feet to come eat your jig? Personally, I don't. But I do certainly believe, however, that scent makes bass hold onto your jig longer which gives you more time to execute a solid hookset.
When I finally dug my old, rusted bottle of crawfish spray out of my boat last month, it made a night and day difference. I went from swinging and missing on nearly everything to landing nearly every bass that bit. It was super muddy water and the water level was low, so I think the bass were actually spawning on the front dock posts. I couldn't see them due to the water clarity, but that's my guess.
They'd thump my jig, swim with it for about 6 inches and drop it. I figured they were getting it out of their beds. After dousing is with some crawfish spray, however, they started swimming a few feet with it in their mouths. This gave me plenty of time to get positioned for a hard hookset.
Slow your roll
I never like to get in a "feeling contest" with the fish. Whenever I get a bite, I set the hook. I don't let the fish chew on it and I don't check to make sure they still have it. But this stubborn guy got a little lesson on patience last month when a buddy and I went fishing together.
We were both flipping a jig around boat docks and bank grass. We were in my boat, so I was on the front deck and getting the first crack at most of the fish. As we talked about earlier, these dang fish would thump my jig and drop it every single time. Most likely out of frustration, I started swinging on 'em a little too soon in an attempt to get a hook in 'em before they dropped it.
Well, it didn't work. In fact, my buddy Steven was catching 5-pounders behind me. I got an old-school, country butt whooping but there's a silver lining: It taught me a lesson.
I noticed that whenever Steven would get a bite, he'd say, "There she is!" and he'd let his line go totally slack and just let her swim with it for about 3 or 4 seconds. The fish never even felt him. It made me a nervous wreck for him because that's definitely not how I'm used to setting the hook. But man, when that joker set the hook, he'd absolutely cross their eyes and we could barely get the hook out of the fish. There was no way those fish were getting away.
The next evening, my wife and I got out on the water and of course, I was flipping a jig. This time, however, I was determined to try Steven's interesting hookset method. It was very uncomfortable and I felt super weird doing it, but guess what? It worked. I was swinging all kinds of bass in the boat that evening.
Now, I'm not going to set the hook like that every time I go fishing. But the next time I'm getting a bunch of short strikes, you can bet I'll keep that method in my back pocket so I can try to get some more fish in the boat.
The next time the bass are being obstinate and short-striking your favorite jig, keep your cool and don't get spun out. Keep these three little tips in mind and I truly believe you'll start connecting with a lot more fish. Remember-tinker with your size, smell and patience.