Vertical Jigging from a Kayak

A kayaker’s guide to jigging tactics for ocean waters. by Peter Hinck

It’s a workout, for sure, especially when you tangle with a nice bottom fish.

Vertical jigging is ideal for the offshore kayak angler, as it offers a way to catch a variety of fish with one outfit. Off the Southeast and Panhandle coasts of Florida, experienced kayak anglers can paddle to waters over 60 feet deep and take advantage of this style of fishing. Early summer is prime time, as the winds and seas calm.

Basically, you drop a heavy metal jig using a high-speed fishing outfit. Once it hits bottom, you retrieve the jig quickly while alternately lifting and dropping the rodtip. If you’re familiar with inshore and bass plugs, the action is like walking the dog vertically. It allows you to work the whole water column quickly.

Most kayak anglers prefer spinning over conventional reels when jigging, finding spinning tackle easier to work and fight a fish when seated in a kayak. A high speed 4.8:1 or better reel, with 20 pounds of drag, on a 6-foot, 6-inch jigging rod works great. You want a rod matched with a reel capable of holding at least 300 yards of 30-pound-test braided line. But don’t go too heavy–if a fish takes you down and you hang up with 80-pound braid, you’ll find it almost impossible to break off and it could put you in a dangerous spot. If you chose to use a conventional reel, keep it small and high speed, 6.0:1.

A healthy mutton snapper, one of the benefits of vertical jigging.

Vertical jigs come in a wide variety of sizes and weights. Some have hooks on the bottom, like the diamond jigs. Others, like the Shimano Butterfly and Williamson jigs, have an assist hook at the top. I have used both kinds with success. Most of the jigs used for this style fishing are from 2 to 5 ounces. I like to use the lightest jig that I can get away with. Off South Florida, where depths of 200 feet are within paddling distance of shore, there are a few times when the current is ripping and we will use a 7-ounce jig to reach bottom.

A fishfinder with GPS is a must-have item, as you’ll see in the technique discussion.

Four Jigging Patterns for Kayaks

1.Jigging the Wrecks: Paddle out 300 yards in front of the wreck and line up your drift using your GPS. Start dropping as soon as you get in line with the wreck. Many times fish will be well ahead of the wreck. When the jig hits bottom, work it up 20 feet and then drop it back down. Do that three times then bring it all the way back to the kayak. If you do hook up, get the fish up fast. That means that you may need to lock the drag down and pump the rod hard to be able to stop the fish from taking you into the wreck. Once you drift over the wreck, don’t drop. You are likely to catch the wreck or hook up on a big fish with little chance to stop it from taking you in. Wait until you have passed over it, then drop. Keep your reel drag in lock down. If you do hook up and chances are good, you will have the current working with you to help pull you and your fish away from the wreck. After one or two drops you will need to paddle back and set up another drift. This can be a real workout when the current is running at over 2 mph. When the drift is faster it may allow only one shot at your target. This is your best shot at a large amberjack.

2.Jigging Ledges or Reefs: Here you’ll make longer drifts, using wind or current, though you may need to paddle some to stay on course (again, using your GPS). Fish a lighter draw than you would over a wreck. You have a good chance at a smoker king or wahoo and a locked drag will end up with a pulled hook or breakoff. Work your jig off the bottom 15 feet then drop it back down. Here you have a chance for snapper, grouper and amberjack. Try different speeds until the fish lets you know what they like. After four short drops, work the jig back to the kayak. This is where you may find your king, wahoo, blackfin tuna or mahi.

3.Jigging a Rip or Weedline: Great for kings, wahoo and dolphin. Drop your jig 100 feet down and work it back to the kayak. Keep your eye on your line as it drops. Many times a fish will pick up the jig on the way down. If you see the line speed up or slow down on the drop, put the reel in gear and come tight. It may be a fish. Try reeling the jig up with a fast steady retrieve, it will reduce your chance of being cut off. Cast a small, 2-ounce jig along the rip or weed line and rip it along the surface for a shot at a dolphin.

4.Sight Jig Fishing: Watch your fishfinder, and look for fish in the water column. If you see a school of fish 40 feet under you, drop the jig 20 feet below the school and work it all the way back to the kayak. If you don’t get hit, drop again and repeat. You have to be quick as the schools of fish move fast. This will give you your best shot at a blackfin tuna.

First Published Florida Sportsman June 2013