Someone asked me if I had to choose from only one fishing lure for the Wolf River, “What would it be?”
The common lead head jig.
Old faithful, I call it. Jigs are one of the most practical and versatile fishing lures in the world. I do use other lures of course, however if I was limited to pick one and only one – I definitely vote for the jig.
In fact, at our house every survival pack, picnic basket, and tackle box, contains at least a couple of jigs.
The plain lead head jig costs less than a can of soda.
The hook can be tipped with plastics, minnows, night crawlers, cut bait, yarn, pork rinds, feathers, hair and insects – just to name a few.
Jigs can be fished in any fashion; fast, slow, high, low, or just left motionless on bottom.
There is no right or wrong way to fish this lure.
As with all types of fishing, there are some practical laws of reason that apply. Such as if you don’t have your line in the water, you can’t catch any fish.
The jig is an extension of an angler’s personality. We can make it dance, drag, bounce, pulsate, and swim like a real live prey. Fish have been falling for it for years.
The early jigs that I know of were called doll flies. They were most often, big, heavy- weighted hooks with feathers tied to the collar where the hook shank melded into the head of the lure.
Don Sommer, a life-long angler on the Wolf River in New London, says he thinks jigs likely migrated into our area west from the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers.
By the late 1970s and early 1980s, the lead head jig became widely popular on the Wolf River. Today, few if any anglers leave the landing without them.
As a little kid, I remember watching boats by the dozens in the early ‘80s anchored up below the Shawano Street Bridge in New London. Although the Wolf River Rig was still king, nearly every angler cold be seen methodically bouncing jigs up and down. They caught a lot of fish.
My brother and I used to watch them intently like cats watching birds from the windowsill. Our eyes moved up and down slowly with the tips of the fishing poles, and then we would jump with excitement every time someone set the hook into a fish.
Within a few years, we were old enough to ride our bikes to the river and fish by ourselves. We used nuts and bolts for sinkers at times and traded money and candy for jigs and hooks, while other kids traded marbles.
By the early 1990s we had a boat of our own, and my brother especially, fished as if it was a living. Oh, to be a teenage boy again. Our greatest worry then was having enough jigs and bait to keep fishing. Secondly, we worried how mad “Ma” would be because we were late for supper.
A good stringer of walleye always seemed to lessen the scolding when we got home.
By the time we were in high school, we were making our own jigs in my dad’s basement. We’d melt down lead bullets dug out from the sand at the shooting range and pour them into jig molds.
I still have a few of the early jigs we made. Our paint job was nothing to be desired, but then again, color didn’t matter then. We caught plenty of fish on non-painted lead jigs.
Since then, the market has become flooded with a great variety of shapes, sizes and colors. On the Wolf River, the most common size is 3/8 to 1/4 ounce, depending on water flow and volume.
Local jig maker, Skip Thayer, hand paints 6,000 to 12,000 jigs a year for Wolf River walleye anglers.
“When jigs started to become popular in the mid ‘70s we had two colors to choose from, white and pink,” said Thayer.
“It was a big deal when someone finally made one green,” he explained. “I guess they were working so well, it never entered anyone’s mind to try something else.
Now there are almost as many varieties and colors to choose from, as there are fishermen. Thayer alone has 18 different color patters and dozens of styles to choose from.
The most important factor above all, is keeping “old faithful” down there where the fish are.