Iron Man

If you would have asked me 10-years ago about deep jigging in South Florida, two techniques would have immediately come to mind—bottom bouncing large grouper jigs, and the classic triple hook sardine rig. While both are highly effective and still widely used, it wasn’t until a few years ago when tackle manufacturers introduced a revolutionary concept that would change the saltwater industry forever—vertical jigging.


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The Author Puts The Heat To A Hefty Amberjack Photo: Steve Dougherty

When I first heard about vertically jigging metals and the effects these magical lures had on both demersal and pelagic species, I was filled with as much skepticism as any experienced angler would be. After years of employing tactics and techniques that provided consistent results, why would I consider changing my approach? Any accomplished angler will tell you to stick with what works. The more you fish a particular offering, the more confidence you build. The more confidence you have, the more fish you catch—period.

When targeting back-breaking amberjack around reefs with high relief, unless you fish a socked-down drag your efforts will be futile.

My first attempt at vertical jigging was a huge disappointment. After catching nothing, I was downright furious that I spent my hard-earned greenbacks on a useless piece of tackle that would sit in my bag for years to come. This experience reassured me that in the saturated charter business in South Florida, live bait is key to success on the water. As time went on, I was forced to make a tough decision. Would I resist change and stick with what works, or think outside the box and broaden my horizons? A bit of persuasion from a few of my peers and researching the concept of vertical jigging more in depth, and I soon learned to appreciate this new style of fishing. Today, like many anglers around the great state of Florida, I, too, have become a dedicated Iron Man.

Vertical jigging requires patience, confidence, stamina, and most importantly a tailored tackle system. In vertical jigging, success requires finding your own jigging rhythm. Contrary to traditional jigging, where the primary motion of lifting the rod provides the jig’s swimming action, in vertical jigging the reel does nearly all of the work. Short, quick pumps and continuous reeling is the course that should be followed to achieve an effective vertical jigging blueprint. The speed of your reel’s retrieve will also determine whether the fish below will likely window shop, or runaway with your jig like they stole it. When targeting demersal species such as snapper and grouper, I have found it beneficial to utilize a more lethargic retrieve. Anywhere from three to five handle cranks on a high-speed spinning or conventional reel will bring the jig off the bottom with a deadly effective fluttering pattern.

A faster, more erratic retrieve covering more of the water column can be used to entice high-velocity pelagics such as dolphin, tuna, kingfish, and wahoo. The more you practice, the faster you will develop your own jigging technique. Many people have tried to explain the how-tos of vertical jigging, but unless you spend time on the water and experience it for yourself, I doubt you will figure it out.

It should come as no surprise that your tackle and equipment will take a tremendous amount of abuse. More so than any piece of the puzzle, your reels must be top quality. Durable equipment is imperative because when a powerful predator strikes your jig the gears inside your reel will be slammed with an enormous amount of torque. Machined aluminum handles and frames coupled with cold-forged spools and power-packed drag systems allow anglers to put the added pressure needed to keep fish from taking drag-screaming runs into the crusty lairs of nearby structure. When targeting back-breaking amberjack around reefs with high relief, unless you fish a socked-down drag your efforts will be futile. When purchasing a jigging reel, whether conventional or spinning, it’s also essential that you choose one with a super fast gear ratio of 5.5:1 or higher. I highly suggest you don’t skimp here, as only the highest quality equipment will tolerate this abuse. Make no mistake; strong reels are what winch up your toughest adversaries, so if you decide to go the inexpensive route prepare yourself for a frustrating, short-lived vertical jigging experience.

In today’s day and age, most rod manufacturers are building light, indestructible rods with high-quality graphite and carbon fiber blanks designed specifically for the rigors of vertical jigging. One thing is for certain; manufacturers have listened to anglers’ comments and dialed in on the desired creature comforts to create the ultimate vertical jigging sticks. Modern jigging rods are unique in that the blank’s diameter is extremely thin and lightweight when compared to traditional casting and conventional rods. Most jigging rods are designed with a medium-heavy action to effectively work the lures, while simultaneously providing parabolic strength to horse big fish to the surface.

When it comes time to spool your reel the choice is simple. Braided line is the only way to go, and I’ve had great success with Momoi’s Diamond Braid. Diamond Braid’s perfect roundness allows tighter spool winding and prevents the line from cutting through the spool. I prefer to use substantially lighter lines than most, because I feel that the smaller diameter cuts through the current more efficiently.

Bear in mind that when fishing aggressive structure like wrecks with high relief, you will be left with no choice but to utilize heavier lines. Most braided lines break at nearly three-times their rated breaking strength, but no matter what test you use the moment your line grazes a coral head or wreck’s masthead—hasta luego jig! This is why it is beneficial that you have several rods rigged and ready for whatever situation may present itself. When scouting shallow structures off the coast of South Florida I’m generally armed with a light-tackle spinning outfit loaded with 30lb. braid and a 50lb. leader. This sporty outfit will suffice when reef fishing and targeting smaller opponents like almaco jack, mutton snapper and rainbow runner, while a stouter conventional outfit loaded with 65lb. braid and an 80lb. wind-on leader is essential when 50-pound amberjack, African pompano and big grouper are a possibility.

It seems like many anglers have taken to fluorocarbon as the only way to go when vertical jigging. While fluorocarbon is great if you have it, quality monofilament or copolymer will definitely keep you connected. When rigging lighter outfits I start with a spider hitch to create a double line. From there I connect a four-foot section of 50lb. leader with an Albright knot. When rigging heavier duty outfits I start with a Bimini twist and complete the rig with an 80lb. mono wind-on leader to create a fail-proof connection. By eliminating the possibility of tackle failure the fight rests solely on your angling prowess and on your reel’s ability to keep your adversary from running into the nearest structure. You’ll know when your tackle and rigging aren’t up to par, as your wallet will be hurting from the loss of terminal tackle.

There are numerous factors you must consider when it comes to vertical jig selection including weight, size, shape, cost and color. Heavier jigs will no doubt reach bottom faster, but I prefer to use as light of a jig as conditions allow, since they typically offer more fish-attracting action. Some jigs are long and slender, while others are short and wide. They can also be flat-sided, center-weighted, or tail-weighted.

Tail-weighted jigs generally sink fast and offer less action. Center-weighted jigs create a lot of action and typically flutter from side-to-side. Slender jigs slide from side-to-side as they fall, while shorter jigs flutter with a more erratic action. The hardware also plays an integral role and extra strength 3X split rings partnered with high-grade stainless rings and carbon or black nickel extra-strength hooks provide a solid assembly to a lethal asset. Hook size should relate to jig size, with most jig manufacturers providing assist hooks that are packaged ready to fish. Having both braided and wire assist hooks will be a major benefit when scouting structures with the possibility of encountering a toothy king or wahoo. I highly recommend a pair of split ring pliers to ease the process of changing hooks. Be sure to try both bright and dark colored jigs, as the predators lurking below will not focus on the color of the jig, but the silhouette the jig provides in the water. My favorite color schemes are natural baitfish patterns, although a variety of both light and dark colors will keep you prepared for any situation.

Like all types of fishing, one can only achieve success when efforts are focused in the proper locations. Structure and the presence of baitfish are two essential factors to take note of when vertical jigging. Within the sport fishing industry manufacturers are constantly evolving and experimenting with the latest tactics and techniques in hopes of developing the next big thing. For now, working iron is the latest and greatest and it’s likely to stay that way for quite some time. Go out and give it a shot. Before long you’ll be vertically jigging with the best.

Vertical Jig & Accessory Manufacturers

Big Bite Offshore




Maxel America

Ocean Tackle International



Williamson Lures