A little jig and a smile

You might call it dinking, what Steve Hathaway and I were doing. Or small-ball if you are a baseball fan – no swinging for the fences, but singles and sacrifice bunts and stolen bases.

We were poking along silently on a trolling motor in my little 13-foot Whaler, tiptoeing amid a maze of canals at a marina and cottage development along western Lake Erie on a lazy spring afternoon. Tiny sixteenth-ounce jigs and plastic tails, flipping and casting and vertical jigging as the cover demanded. Finessing the fish.

Imagine Steve’s surprise – he had not done this before – when we started landing fish. Sunfish, bluegills, black crappies, white crappies, and largemouth bass, one of them to three pounds. Right under the docks of summer cottagers and party-makers. And we weren’t even trying that hard. It seemed that any color of tail — from chartreuse to white, yellow, black, smoke, and pink — worked just fine.

Dinking, as I call it, is slow, easy, simple, and makes no demands other than patience and a willingness to slow down from the amped-up high-tech mania of big fish and big water. But if you match your tackle – ultralight spinning rigs and four-pound-test line, small jigs – to the quarry, pure fun is the result. And a chunky largemouth taking the bait at point-blank range is a hand full, to be sure. Keep your drag set light.

The simple leadhead jigs we were using are about as unsophisticated as you can get, short of a bent safety pin and a worm rigged on kite string and a cut of willow sapling (which actually works for spring bullheads at night, as I once found out). But it may be the most indispensable bait in your tackle box, the first bait in and the last one tossed.

I have friends who vertically fish 1/32-ounce jigs with dropper flies from docks on short ice-fishing rods until ice-up in late fall and after ice-out in early spring. They catch fish. I shudder at all the expensive plastic hardbaits that collect dust after purchase during market hysteria; not so the jigs.

When you use them the way Steve Hathaway and I did recently, you just sit back and smile. And get ready to enjoy a fried panfish supper.

(Note: Most marina and shoreline cottage complexes, such as where we fished, are private property. In Ohio you are OK as long as you remain on the “public” water in a boat. But as soon as you land to fish, you must have permission from the landowner. Respect that and act accordingly.)

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