Hair Jigs

Posted on April 12, 2002

How to make them and how to fish them

My name is Phil. I make Phil’s jigs. For those of you who have not heard nor seen any of my jigs, let me say that many feel these jigs are the finest jigs made. Some others do not. I’m with the first group. I encourage anyone that wants to make their own lures to do so. The satisfaction of catching fish on your own lures is something few fishermen experience. Before you incur the cost of making your own jigs, you should answer the following questions:

Why do I want to make hair jigs? What pattern hair jig do I want to make and why? What type of materials do I need to make this jig? Where do I get materials to make this pattern jig? What tools do I need to make hair jigs? Is it really cheaper to make jigs than to buy them?

The answers to these questions were easy for me since I started tying flies as a hobby in 1953 and the transition to jigs 4 years ago was a logical one. When I started making jigs there were no patterns to copy. The jigs I now make are my creations.

The waters I fished in Northern Michigan for the last 20 years contained 4 species of game fish – smallmouth, walleye, pike, and perch. The pray species were crayfish, leeches, and perch. My first jigs were created to mimic these 3 types of prey species. When anyone makes a jig, the first consideration should be what type of prey is it intended to mimic. Any jig will catch fish, sometimes. Jigs that match the prey will out produce those jigs. The type of jig will also determine how you fish the jig. A crawfish should be fished on the bottom, a minnow pattern fished higher up in the water column, and a leech pattern anywhere in-between. Exceptions would be sculpin, black sucker, or perch minnow patterns under low-light conditions, which should fished near the bottom. The minnow and leech patterns are made to count down and SWIM.

Since I use 8# test line to fish jigs, most of my jigs are 1/8 oz. If fishing in windy conditions, heavy current, or water over 10 feet deep, I will change to 1/4oz. in a heartbeat as I feel the 1/4oz. offers more control under the cited conditions.

Jig Construction
There are three parts to a jig – tail, body, and a shoulder or wing. If you can wrap thread around a hook shank, you can make a jig. Your best bet is to get a book on fly tying to help you in this process, check the section on making streamer flies. Do your homework.

The difficult part of jig making is the selection of GOOD materials. What is good material? Where do I find good material? What does good material look like when wet? My suggestion is to talk to a good fly shop, tell them what you are trying to do, and see if they can’t provide the proper assistance. I work with 3 types of material – marabou, rabbit hair (strips and crosscut), and deer tails. It is very hard to find long-fibered marabou or good deer tails. Too many northern bucks (too stiff) and not enough southern does (thin and soft). All of my jigs have rabbit hair bodies. Tails of these jigs could be rabbit, marabou, or artic fox. I don’t think you can find a better or more useful material than rabbit fur, period. The action in the water is unreal! Fly tiers have used rabbit fur for years with great success.

Leech: Tail – strip of rabbit and some flash material. Body – wrap crosscut rabbit fur.
Minnow: Tail – marabou or rabbit strip & flash material. Body – wrap crosscut rabbit fur. Wing – deer tail.
Crayfish: Tail – rabbit strip and flash material. Body – wrap crosscut rabbit fur. Wing – deer tail.

These patterns are all you will need. When constructing a jig you should be very aware of the proportions of the jig. Is the tail too long or too short? Wing too short or too long? Too much material or too little?

My most extreme pattern is a rainbow trout.
Tail – gold flash material, olive, purple, pink, marabou, rainbow flash material (angel hair), white marabou. Body – white crosscut rabbit. Wing – olive deer tail.

Now, this happens after I have soaked the BPS minnow head in white vinegar for 8 hours to etch the lead and applied 11 coats of paint. For all my round head jigs I use Paul Jensen’s powder painted heads.

Vise, bobbin, scissors, whip finisher, and hackle pliers. Tip – you can live with a cheap vise. Spend your money on a good pair of scissors with big finger holes and a ceramic tip bobbin. Use flat-waxed nylon thread on these jigs.

Fishing Tips
It’s hard to fish these jigs wrong. You can cast, troll, or fish them under a float. Straight retrieve, as the material will provide the action. NO trailers!!!

Leech or crayfish – when DRY, let the jig go to the bottom. The rabbit hair will trap air and cause the jig to stand straight up in the water and say, “bite me” to any fish in the area.

If you are fishing a round head sculpin jig in the spring, and after the jig is wet, let the jig set on the bottom and work in the moving water. If you feel a slight vibration, it is probably another sculpin trying to mate with your jig! The most overlooked and most effective jig pattern in moving water is a sculpin.

If you give jig making a try you will make mistakes, don’t worry, your mistakes will catch fish, mine do. Also remember that the only thing better than catching a big fish on one of your jigs is having someone else catch their biggest fish on one of your jigs!

Good luck!

by Phil Schafer

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