It surprises me how few people are twitching jigs for river salmon here in the Great Lakes. When I ask around I get a pretty common answer as to why: that’s more of a west coast thing. Of course that answer comes from those who have heard of it, but in all honesty, most people haven’t. But just like the fish, our techniques here in the Great Lakes have all been derived of similar techniques on the west coast. So if all others have made their way here then why not twitching?
It’s a relatively new way of catching salmon, even on the coast, and it does take some time for a technique born out there to make it’s way here. Once it does arrive here, a technique needs plenty of adjustment to make the transition from West Coast rivers to their Great Lakes counterparts. I was introduced to it a few years ago and while I am by no means an expert on the twitch, I do know that more people should be taking advantage of such an effective technique.
Before I get into any detail I think it’s important to clear up a grossly exaggerated misconception about twitching: Twitching is snagging. Twitching is not snagging! It’s a misconception that could possibly be preventing people form giving it a shot. Can the method be used to snag fish? Sure, but so can any other method used to catch salmon. Snagging has nothing to do with the method, but rather the person employing that method. I’ve hooked plenty of fish in the few short years I’ve been twitching jigs, and not one of them was foul hooked. It’s all about proper presentation.
Let’s talk jigs. Mention jigs to Great Lakes salmon and steelhead fishermen and they automatically think float fishing. In fact I’ve got many a strange look when someone sees the jig and no float. Being run under a float is what jigs available here are meant for. Made from marabou or rabbit hair, theses jigs are typically 1/16 oz. or smaller. Twitching jigs are different not in materials used but in stature. Big and bulky is what separate twitching jigs from the typical Great Lakes float fishing jigs. Twitching jigs prey on a salmon’s aggressive nature, not provoking hunger strikes, but strikes out of anger. Something big and bulky will do this no matter what stage of the spawning run the fish are in. I’ve played around with jig sizes from 1/8 oz. to 5/8 oz. much heavier than most of what’s being run under a float here. If you were to take a look in a West Coast fisherman’s jig box it would be full of ¼, 3/8 and ½ oz. jigs. Like any other West Coast derived technique we use here in the Great Lakes we tend to have to down size, even if just a little. So where our West Coast friends are running jigs up to 5/8 oz. here it’s more common that ¼ oz. jig is the heaviest in the box. Personally, my box only contains 1/8 oz. and ¼ oz. jigs, both of which can cover a number of different fishing scenarios.
We need to be able to present the jigs without ripping fins off of unsuspecting salmon. There really isn’t much to the presentation. Think bass fishing. Give the jig a good twitch then let it drop, reeling down to it as you do. It’s that simple. Of course the presentation will take a little tweaking depending on the mood of the fish or the speed/conditions of the water. Slow twitch, fast twitch, erratic twitch, it’s ultimately going to be up to the fish so it’s something that will have to be played with until the retrieve that works that particular day is found. One very important piece of information when it comes to twitching is that fish almost always hit the jig on the drop, so be ready. Try to stay tight to the jig, but not so much so that the jig doesn’t drop freely. You want that jig to free fall, not swim towards you, but you also want to have the line as tight as possible to avoid any slack when setting the hook.
Now that the simple technique has been described it seems very possible that some fish are going to be foul hooked. Like I said before, I’ve caught more than my share of salmon twitching jigs and never once have I foul hooked a fish. I like to think there is a perfectly good explanation for that. No matter how deep the hole, or how much cover it may have, salmon love to hold tight to the bottom, especially as the day progresses. Now logically, as the ones chasing these fish, we assume that because they are hanging out near the bottom, then that’s where our jigs should be. That’s the strike zone. Only it’s not; at least not always. These fish are both aggressive and territorial. Two traits that make them so exciting to chase in the river. Salmon, all salmon, will and usually do make chase. What does that mean for us? It means that we don’t have to be dragging bottom for the fish to take notice. Instead we can rip that jig above their heads. The fish will spot it and make chase, all the while we’re minimizing the chance of foul hooking.
This brings us to equipment. Hard core twitchers on the West Coast are running short, stout rods, paired with quality spinning reels and braided line. In learning from example, this is exactly how I started out. I was quickly reminded however, that things can be a little different here in the Great Lakes. Much of what I see from West Coast twitching is done from a drift boat. Not all of it, I know, but a lot of it. Here we do a lot more from shore, even on the big water. Small stream or big water, when fishing from shore casting accuracy is vital in hooking up. A cast that misses it’s target a foot or two in any direction could mean the difference in whether or not you catch the fishes’ attention. It could also be the difference in your jig cruising along through the cover or getting hung up in it. Short rods lack that casting accuracy, and the shorter the rod the more accuracy you will sacrifice.
Consider every other method that we use for river salmon here in the Great Lakes. Methods that have been derived from West Coast salmon fishing. What is the one thing we have to do to be sure that West Coast tactic is going to be affective here in the Great Lakes? We downsize. Generally we’re fishing smaller, clear water rivers and when the salmon do start pushing in they are faced with fishing pressure that no other migratory fish will see. It isn’t long before they start to spook. When they do we are forced to become a little more stealthy. This means smaller gear, and more importantly, lighter lines. To protect those lighter lines from the power of strong, angry salmon we need a rod long enough to act as some what of a shock absorber and keep some pressure off the line. Casting accuracy and the ability to run light leaders are the two reasons why I chose a longer, 11’6 medium power rod over the shorter 7’6 rods that they run out west. Perhaps the only downside to running a longer rod would be arm fatigue. To get good movement on the jig, some force is required to put the longer rod in motion. Over the course of the day this motion can be more than a little tiring and can take a toll on wrists, elbows and forearms.
Of course a quality spinning reel is ideal for a technique like this. Pitching a jig into tight quarters with precision is no job for a levelwind. Personally I run 30lb braid for mainline, with 6 feet of 8 to 10lb fluorocarbon attend to the end. The no stretch braid helps make up for the length of the rod when setting the hook.
All of our methods used here to catch salmon have been derived from West Coast techniques. Twitching is no different and there are too many people here that are missing out on an exhilarating way to bank hard fighting salmon. I may not have the technique perfected yet but I do know first hand that it will catch fish and if given some strange fishing ultimatum , would have no problem giving up other methods in favor of a Twitching jig.