I became an instant believer in front-stinger jigs. Seconds after my modified lure hit the patch reef off Key West, the naked-looking jig convinced a red grouper to climb out of its rock sanctuary to chase down, or up in this case, its perceived prey, foolishly giving up its home field advantage. I found myself with a head start on a grouper that, under livebait bottom-fishing applications, may well have mangled my undersized gear before I could finesse it out of the rocks.
There were a lot of other things to like about this one-hook rig. Not once did we hang up in the rocks. We didn’t suffer a single cutoff. Missed hookups were rare, yet not a single fish was gut-hooked, making releases easy.
There are a variety of metal baitfish jigs adaptable to the front stinger setup—basically a lone, free-swinging hook dangling from the jig’s nose. MegaBait calls their version “Live Jigs” with good reason. Lifelike shape, scale patterns, holographic finishes and “live” eyes mimic the real thing. Designed to catch deep-running bluefin tuna off Japan, metal herring-shaped jigs have been a big hit with the California albacore crowd. But, Florida anglers are fast-learning they attract bites from all sorts of finned predators.
As important as the jig itself is the rigging adaptation, that, as weird and ineffective as it appears, works just fine. The modification includes removing the rear treble or large single hook. The split ring at the front can also be discarded. The only adornment left on the lure is a single eyeless hook looped to the front eye of the lure with a 2-inch braided cord.
This free-swinging single-hook stinger doesn’t hurt hookup ratios, perhaps because predators target the head of the lure. The high hookup ratio is also a testament to the sharpness of the heavy-wire hooks straight out of the bag. There’s no nibbling involved. With the jig coming up and the fish in a hurry to get home, the hookset generally takes care of itself. Just reel.
The willingness of reef dwellers to rise surprisingly long distances in the water column after the fake crippled herring also aids the hookup ratio, and substantially cuts down on breakoffs. Leadhead jigs usually get eaten as they nose-dive toward the bottom. Unfortunately, freespooled slack line often accompanies the falling jig, making strikes difficult to detect and hooksets sometimes tricky. Slack line and freespooling reels also give grouper or snapper a head start to line-severing structure.
Conversely, metal baitfish impersonators often attract fish as they “struggle” toward the surface during retrieval. This guarantees a tight line with the reel in gear at the strike. You’ll know when a grouper or snapper inhales the jig. All you have to do is keep the fish from returning to the rocks. The fact that you’re drifting also aids in pulling the fish away from familiar holes.
The fishing technique isn’t difficult. Match a jig (they vary from 1⁄4 to 7 ounces) and braided hook to the tackle, depth, current and species. Freespool to the bottom, engage the reel and slowly “walk” the lure back toward the surface. Depending on
the depth, structure and the target species, slowly retrieve 20 to 50 feet of line, then drop back to the reef or wreck. Repeat. Just work the rodtip like you would if retrieving a surface lure for snook or trout.
This jigging technique allows—almost demands—lighter tackle than you might normally associate with grouper or snapper fishing. It’s difficult to impart much lure action with the pool cues typically employed for bottom fishing. Thumb bars on baitcasting reels make dropbacks easy, but spinning reels work fine if repeatedly opening and closing the bail doesn’t wear you out. Add a short piece of wire if kingfish or other sharp-toothed pelagics start cutting you off.
The braided stinger hooks work with a variety of diamond or other heavy metal jigs, such as the Yo-Zuri Hydro Metal (www.yo-zuri.com), the SPRO Swimming Jig (www.spro.com), as well as the MegaBait Live Jigs.
marine.com) markets the braided “Sure Hooks” in three saltwater sizes. Gamakatsu sells a similar rig (Assist 510 stinger) in hook sizes 1 through 4/0, with 100- or 150-pound braided red line for a little extra flash, as well as a lighter freshwater G-Stinger version. The Gamakatsu 510 features a reverse-barb hook, which the manufacturer says reduces line fouling and abrasion. Of course, you could easily fashion your own front stinger with braided line or crimped cable and a single hook of your choice.
Florida Sportsman Classics