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Tungsten Jigs and Panfish

by Jason Mitchell

When it comes to presentation talk concerning bluegills, tungsten has dominated the discussions the past few years.

Tungsten jigs have become popular because it’s much heavier than traditional lead.

An angler can go a couple different directions with tungsten. You can use a much smaller profile or size with tungsten or you can use the same mass or size as traditional lead, but increase the sensitivity because of the increase in weight.

The extra weight also seems to not only increase sensitivity but also seems to give more action or kick to traditional soft plastics and also displaces water better for putting out a cadence that calls fish in.

If you want to see a very well thought-out line up of tungsten for bluegill, check out Dave Genz’s Clam Tackle Drop Series of tungsten jigs.

The Drop Jig

Typically, Drop Jigs are the answer for most fish. They’re heavy enough for getting down through the water column fast -- a great choice for the first drop down the hole. They cut through slush well, and maintain sensitivity outside in the elements when wind is pushing the line around. They’re also sensitive and fast.

Yes, there’s not much not to like about tungsten -- until fish start to “stall out” before they get to you. As anglers, we have to balance between efficiency vs. effectiveness. This balance becomes extremely evident with sunfish.

Tungsten rocks when fish are in at least a neutral mood and want to eat. Frequently, the first look fish give you is often going to be the best look, and after you wear out your welcome, you’ll see fish “stall” as they come in on you. No acceleration or rise in the water column. When fish (especially bluegills) get tough, they peddle real slowly up to the presentation and analyze it from further away, essentially stopping off the lure. Bluegill anglers are accustomed to this, especially seeing it on a underwater camera. Fishing pressure is the usual culprit for creating much more difficult-to-trigger fish.

Always Light Line

There are situations where you won’t get bit if you use line heavier than two-pound test. There are bites that require extreme finesse. The action on the jig has to be controlled with the most delicate dabble to float the jig without any twisting or spinning. Ultra-light spring bobbers, one-pound monofilament and micro-size jigs can make a big difference in catching some fish.

When things get really tough, move away from tungsten and incorporate presentations that drop or hang slowly down through the water column.

Imagine pinching a wax worm and dropping it into the hole. The wax worm falls painstakingly slow down the hole and takes forever to drift slowly toward the bottom. This ultra slow descent usually snaps the self-restraint of any bluegill in the area.

How can you mimic this descent? There are a couple of options. Where legal, a very effective method is to tie a small wet nymph a few feet above the jig using a loop knot tied inline. This is extremely deadly over the top of weeds. Simply lay the bottom jig on the weed stalks and let the wet nymph do the slow descent on semi-slack line. Sometimes referred to as a “Michigan Rig” in some parts of the country, this ice fishing variation of a drop shot rig can also be modified to use a plain hook and soft plastic.

Shallow Water

In water less than 10 feet, another option to accomplish this descent is to simply free-fall a small plain hook rigged with a soft plastic so that the action is smooth and sliding as the plastic falls through the water column. No quivering or pounding to get the lure to kick and dance, the action is simply the slow descent that’s painstakingly slow, but seductive. An ultra-slow drop will catch the most difficult fish left in a school, even catching fish that have been hooked or rolled just previously.

Because this presentation wrinkle is slow and sometimes tedious, this is not necessarily the best strategy to start in a hole or spot, and is definitely not the best choice for finding fish.

What this finesse tactic will do however, is round you out as a more complete angler. The more tools and presentations you have to throw at fish, the more effective you will be.

On a typical school of fish, we will often start out using tungsten, and as conditions get more difficult and we start to wear out our welcome in a spot, we can pull more fish off the spot with some of the finesse tactics described in this article. In some areas where there’s intense fishing pressure, anglers have to shift to some of these strategies sooner.

If you have yet to embrace the new tungsten jigs, I strongly encourage you to do so and also recognize situations where tungsten can be put to the best use. A pitcher however, has to have more than one pitch. The slow fall finesse game is the change-up ball. Master both pitches and you’re on your way to striking out a lot more big bluegill and sunfish this winter.