My fishing companion and I had spent a fruitless day casting jerkbaits, spinners and spoons for trout in a swift Tennessee tailrace, and with only an hour of daylight remaining, we were looking for an exit strategy. I dug frantically through my tackle bag for anything that might trigger a strike. What I came up with provoked a chuckle from my fishing buddy: A neon yellow marabou jig, the same lure we’d used on crappie trips last spring.
“That groaning sound you hear is Ernest Hemingway rolling over in his grave!” he laughed. “That’s gotta be the least subtle trout lure I’ve ever seen!”
I tied on the jig, chunked it to the river’s shoreline, hopped it a couple of times, then suddenly my spinning rod bowed under the weight of a huge trout – a mustard-bellied brown that looked to be eight pounds! I hung on while the hook-jawed male powered for deep water, letting it fight the rod in the swift current. Eventually I worked it close enough to the boat so my partner could net it.
“Well, whaddaya know!” he laughed as I removed the jig from its jaw and released it into the frigid current. “I guess you showed me and Ernest a thing or two!”
Marabou jigs catch trout because, under the command of a skilled angler, they can be made to mimic everything from live crayfish and injured minnows to hatchery pellets and whole kernel corn. The fluffy marabou material has the added benefit of “breathing” when submerged, giving these lures a more lifelike appearance than other jig styles.
Serious trout anglers accustomed to shelling out top dollar for their equipment may be surprised to learn that marabou jigs are among the cheapest lures on the planet, a huge bargain considering how well they work for big browns and rainbows. A card of eight to a dozen marabous usually sells for less than two bucks at most tackle shops. They come in weights ranging from 1/32- to ¼-ounce in a wide array of colors -- for starters, I’d recommend stocking up on brown, orange, black, white, chartreuse and yellow. Use the darker colors in low and/or super-clear water, where trout tend to scrutinize your offerings more closely. In high and/or stained water, the brighter colors are more visible and often score more strikes.
I like a long, whippy spinning rod when fishing marabou jigs – like a flyrod, it provides maximum shock absorption and is capable of wearing down a big fish. The 7-foot Lamiglas 702UL is a good choice (www.lamiglas.com). I pair this two-piece stick with a Doug Hannon WaveSpin reel (www.wavespinreel.com) spooled with 6-pound mono.
Retrieves to Try
Unlike an in-line spinner or crankbait, a jig has no built-in action of its own -- you control its movements entirely with your rod and reel. Experimentation with your retrieve is mandatory. On some days, trout want the jig to hop and dart erratically; on other days they want it to sink slowly. Then again, merely reeling in the lure quickly can provoke a savage reaction strike, especially in high water. I’ve taken some of my biggest browns on this rapid retrieve.
Depth and current speed determine the weight of the jig you should use. In low water and during periods of light or no generation, I’ll fish 1/32- or 1/16-ounce jigs, and find that I get most of my strikes as the lure sinks slowly. But during periods of heavy generation, and in deep holes regardless of current intensity, I’ll switch to eighth- and quarter-ounce marabous and a high-speed swimming presentation.
Fall tailrace fishing invariably means leaves floating on the surface, and here’s an approach you must try: Cast the jig on top of a mat of leaves in a swirling eddy or slack-water pocket, shake your rod tip until the jig works its way through the floating debris, then get ready for a strike – often there’s a big trout hanging under the mat, and it’ll grab the jig the instant it sinks past its nose.
Tricks to Try
• Marabou jigs usually come with their hook eyes painted shut. To save time and minimize frustration, pick up an inexpensive “eye poker” tool that removes the paint from the lure’s line tie where you purchase your jigs.
• When trout repeatedly follow or dart at your jig but won’t strike it, the lure is probably either too big or too brightly colored to be convincing. Use scissors to trim some of the marabou off the jig, or switch to a more realistic color.
• Store marabou jigs in a clear plastic utility tacklebox and sort them by weight and color, noting the weights of the lures in each compartment on the box lid with a waterproof CD marker.