By Scott Bestul
My friend Mike Jeresek retired from teaching and coaching at Rushford-Peterson High School a few years ago. Since then, he’s devoted his considerable post-career energy to at least two outdoor pursuits: shepherding area bluebird populations and catching trout.
Naturally, bluff country is a perfect locale for both, but last week Jeresek gave the bluebirds a rest and invited me along for a morning of trouting. Never one to turn down a chance to fish with an expert, I readily agreed.
One of the things I’ve always admired about Jeresek is his willingness to experiment with different techniques, and among his favorites is to use jigs – those same lures adored by walleye and panfish guys – to tempt area browns.
“I started with bait, back in the 1960s,” Jeresek said as he steered his vehicle down the gravel road leading to the South Branch stream. “I got tired of that and learned to fly-fish. Then I noticed my brother, who was throwing Rapalas with spinning gear, was catching better fish than I was, so I switched again.”
Then Jeresek talked to a guy who fished jigs – the same things most guys use for walleyes and crappies – for trout. The acquaintance talked about the versatility of jigs, and also mentioned that the world-record brown trout was caught on a jig. That information boosted their credibility for Jeresek.
So he started pitching jigs and, as the then-habitat improvement chair for his local (Win-Cres) Trout Unlimited chapter, he knew the absolute best places to start. He found out in a hurry that the guy who endorsed jigs was right.
“The thing I like most about them – besides the fact that trout hit them like crazy – is that I can control the action of the bait,” he said.
Most spinning lures work at only one speed, but Jeresek can work a jig at most any speed and give it the action he desires. He’s taken browns by ripping a jig through a hole, dead-drifting it with the current, pitching it downstream and working it up, or swimming it near the surface.
“I’ve even had trout cruise by and pick a jig off the bottom. That’s the beauty of it; you can adjust your presentation with how the fish are behaving that day,” he said.
After gearing up, I trailed Jeresek as he followed the wooded banks downstream. We both toted ultralight spinning rods crafted by local trouter Jim Reinhardt, another retired R-P math teacher and high school Hall of Fame football coach. At 5 feet, the rods are the spin-fisherman’s answer to a 4-weight fly rod – highly sensitive at the tip but with enough backbone to fight all but the biggest browns.
Our open-face reels were spooled with 4-pound mono for backing and 20 yards of 4-pound NanoFil at the tip. Über-tough yet thin-diameter, the Nano “casts a mile but doesn’t tangle, and trout don’t see it,” Jeresek promised.
After a 30-minute walk, Jeresek finally stopped at a pool with a slight bend and gurgling current. Pitching a 3-inch minnow he’d cemented to a jig hook with Gorilla Glue, Jeresek was into a pulsing brown on his third cast. While the fish wasn’t huge, the 14-inch trout used the current and structure to provide all the fight my partner wanted before coming to hand.
Jeresek smiled, released the fish, and proceeded to land two more fish on successive casts.
“Your turn,” he said, waving me ahead.
My first cast was a tad long, but bounced nicely off the bank and slid into the water. I’d made only two cranks on the reel when I felt a strong tap that turned out to be a rock, but on the next cast – a little more accurate this time – a sleek but scrappy brown smacked my lure.
“Atta boy,” Jeresek said in his best retired-coach voice.
I’d fished with Jeresek before and noted that the plastic minnows were a new twist.
“I just enjoy experimenting and found these are effective, fun, and simple,” he said. “I’ve tied my own jigs with marabou and other materials, used tube jigs and other plastics, then settled on these – at least for now. I can make them up so fast. I just slide a body on a jig hook, cement that to the head with the glue, and hang it upside down to dry overnight. I can do a dozen in a few minutes and it’s as simple as can be. A while back, the TU chapter was going to have a fly-tying night. I wanted to show up with my little box of gear and say, ‘Where do I set up?’”
It took us the better part of 2½ hours to fish our way back to the truck, but the action was pretty steady all the way. Jeresek caught 33 fish en route and, while none were huge, he landed two at least as big as his first one. And, in one gurgling run full of structure, he caught and landed five browns on consecutive casts.
I managed about a dozen fish, but stuck with a pretty simple straight retrieve downstream with the same bait. Meanwhile, my mentor was constantly switching jigs and mixing up straight retrieves with jerky tugs and pauses. Like most experts, he seems to sense quickly that either something has changed that makes the fish need or want a different look or speed or size.
That, and also like other experts, he is simply not afraid to experiment. While garden-variety fishermen like me are content if a lure is drawing the occasional strike, true aces ride the wave for a time, then seem to ask, “Well, if they liked that, how about this?” Then dive into some new territory.
Which is why, of course, that Mike Jeresek decided to leave the comfy world of bait and flies and spinners and give jigs a whirl and – for now, at least – he hasn’t looked back.