As I cranked the reel, the rod doubled, sunscreen stung my eyes, and I heard a noise beside me like a small wave breaking on a beach. I turned to witness the white froth left by a feeding fish — one of several such breaks that marked our drift.
I peered into the water to see the fluttering remnants of a baitfish — iridescent scales sparkling like stars on a clear night. “I’m on!” called out my fishing partner. Those two fish pushed our total hook-ups over the hump 80 feet below to about 20 fish.
We knew the big bluefish were feeding aggressively in front of the reef and only occasionally chasing baitfish to the top, where they’d trap them against the surface and gobble one or two before sounding. For every slammer that broke the surface, however, there were dozens more rampaging along the bottom structure. The best way to target fish when they’re feeding like this, in my opinion, is with the lowly diamond jig. And the license plate on my truck — DMD JIG — attests to my conviction.
Diamond jigs are extremely efficient because of their naked chrome-over-lead construction. They are simple, clean, heavy and tooth-proof. Diamonds require no meat hooks to bait, no mangled plugs to discard, no mauled bucktails or soft plastics to replace. Unlike a plug with menacing treble hooks dangling from its belly, the body of a diamond jig makes a safe and sturdy handle with which to lift and unhook a frisky fish.
When fishing deep, it’s hard to beat these ancient lures. Diamonds can plummet in the strongest current or flutter downward like wounded prey, yet they wobble irresistibly when retrieved. When the action is hot, jigs have a speedy turnaround time. As soon as you can wrestle the hook from the maw of a fish, you can quickly dump them both overboard to swim again. To me, they are the perfect lure.
I use the smallest jig possible, given the wind, current and depth. In relatively sheltered inshore waters, such as those along the Connecticut coast, a 4- to 5-ounce diamond is perfect. It’s heavy enough to easily reach bottom in 90 feet, and its size resembles the local forage — squid, herring, silversides, butterfish, peanut bunker and tinker mackerel. But for fishing big, heavy rips — the Race or Plum Gut off eastern Long Island, New York — I turn to 8- to 16-ounce jigs with super braid.
Customizing jigs is important. The most useful modification is removing and replacing the factory-installed hook. If the jig came with a treble, I suggest replacing it with a single, especially if you’re going to fish sticky bottoms for toothy critters. Trebles snag bottom and lobster gear easily, and they make unhooking fish difficult in a pitching boat. They’re also more harmful to the fish if you catch and release.
I use O’Shaughnessy 7/0s for small fish, such as schoolie striped bass and tailor blues. My hook of choice for large striped bass and the biggest blues is an 8/0 Siwash. I’ve also had success with red 9/0 circle hooks.
Here’s another trick: I allow some of my hooks to rust — sometimes leaving them out all winter (but I keep them sharp). I’ve found that a rust-colored hook produces better than a shiny one when fish are keying on small baitfish; the darker hook “vanishes” in the depths and reduces the appearance of the jig by 3 inches. But when fish are feeding on big baits, I like a shiny hook because it adds visible length and resembles a beating tail.
I don’t like wire leaders. Instead I tie on 40 inches of 80-pound mono abrasion leader, using a loop knot for better “swimming” motion. For the fishing I do, mono out-fishes wire by about 2-to-1. But the long mono leader isn’t for the fish on the hook — they never reach it when they’re hooked on the jig. It’s to prevent cut-offs from the free-swimming “buddy” fish. It also provides the angler with something safe and “thick” to grab, rather than wire or braided line.
Sean and I finished that tide, tired. We released 41 fish and kept two each, which we bled and iced for the grill. Perfect day, perfect lure.