Retrieving baits and lures in a horizontal fashion is one of the most commonly utilized and effective techniques in fishing today. There are times, however, when a vertical approach may be your best bet when dealing with certain situations. Smallmouth that suspend in open water is one key period where vertical jigging a lure will outshine and out produce any other methods on the market. Next time you come across some suspended smallies, change things up and trick them into biting your lure “vertical style.”

Finding the Fish
Smallmouth bass are renowned for grouping up off prime structure areas throughout a lake system. Directly after the spawn, this area will most likely be the first drop-off or hump found adjacent to their spawning grounds. The summer months will usually find the bass hovering over deep offshore humps and islands. Moreover, during the fall months, smallies will congregate close by to deep over-wintering areas. Let’s face it, a large part of the smallmouth’s life is spent suspended in prime areas, making it often difficult to find and locate, and also harder to catch, without the proper tools and techniques.
In order to locate a school of suspended smallmouth, the use of electronics become paramount in order to “view” what is happening below the surface of the water. Start by slowly motoring over prime areas of the lake that you think the smallmouth may be relating too. Gradually move out from structure until you begin to mark fish on your sonar or fish finder. Once a school has been located, it is often best to throw out a marker buoy to pinpoint the location should you lose your bearings, and to anchor as vertical jigging requires direct surface to bottom contact with the school. Depths can vary greatly when dealing with suspended smallmouth. I have caught fish in eight feet of water all the way up to forty feet. Experimenting and searching the water thoroughly will help hone your skills in locating these schools more efficiently.

Tackle Talk
The equipment that is needed for vertical jigging is fairly basic. I prefer to use a six-and-a-half foot to seven-foot medium action spinning rod coupled with six to eight-pound test monofilament. Make sure the rod has some backbone to it, as smallies are notoriously hard fighters. Some of the new Firelines and Braided Lines on the market are also ideal for this application – make sure that you do not pull or horse the hook out of the fish’s mouth due to the low-stretch line capabilities.

There are a variety of different lures and baits that can be used for vertical jigging, yet the predominant two are spoons and jigs. Spoons have extraordinary flash and vibration, plus the fluttering motion they exhibit on the fall is enticing to the smallmouth bass. A few of my favourites are the Williams Wobbler, the Cicada and the Deadly Dick. Experiment with different styles and thicknesses of metal as each will have its own motion and flutter in the water that will work in different conditions.

Jigs are another useful bait for using vertical, although I have found that bucktails rein supreme in this category. The hair of these jigs moves and undulates on the lift and fall – something that seems intoxicating and attractive to even the most neutral fish. Choose a variety of colours and sizes and see which works best on your home lake.

Tricks and Techniques
The art of vertical jigging is quite straightforward and simple. Once you have located a school of fish and have figured out the approximate depth, let out enough line directly beside the boat to reach this “magical depth.” With slow and deliberate movements, lift the rod tip up a few inches and slowly lower in a controlled state. If the fish are very aggressive, lift speeds and distances can be exaggerated and raised. (Neutral or negative fish require extremely slow and short lifts.)    Many of the fish you encounter will strike while the lure is fluttering back to the start position. Keeping a careful watch on the line for any taps or sudden movements is key to hooking these feisty fish. Extremely finicky fish can be coaxed into hitting by tipping your spoon or jig with livebait – namely a nightcrawler or minnow. In all cases, it is best to apply a scent product to your bait in order to attract and maintain a curiosity level to your presentation.

If action begins to die down and become slow, do not be afraid to spice things up with large lifts, pulls and flutters. This added movement can sometimes draw in fish from afar and convince one to take a bite.

Vertical jigging for smallies is an extremely effective technique that is often overlooked and underutilized. Horizontal presentations will never go out of style, yet, in order to up your catch ratio during certain conditions, don’t be afraid to give it to them vertical style.

“Vertical Jigging for Suspended Smallies”
By…. Justin Hoffman.

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