The butt section of a slow-pitch jigging rod, like the Shimano Game Type Slow J pictured above, typically consists of the bare blank terminating in a bulbous cap designed to lock the rod in place under an armpit while fighting fish. The reel seat is a minimal affair, usually with a trigger to maximize sensitivity.
Near-micro guides wrangle the fine-diameter braided lines needed to keep baits deep while minimizing tangles. Even when chasing big fish, anglers employ braid of 30 pounds or less to get jigs down deep enough to reach snapper, grouper and other benthic species.
The blank features a gradual, even taper that provides the smooth recoil needed to bring jigs to life. But the light blanks lack the power to muscle fish upward. Instead, they must be gingerly winched to the surface using the reel.
Slow-pitch jigging is a listening game. You’re taking everything in, using all of your senses. “The rod is the tool that allows me to do that,” says Benny Ortiz, Shimano pro staffer and slow-pitch-jigging guru. He’s talking about one of the latest fishing techniques to land on our shores from Japan, which utilizes jigs that emulate a wounded baitfish in its final throes. The magic lies in the slow, fluttering action of the jig, which seems to force even neutral fish to bite. And the magic wand is the rod used to make those jigs dance so enticingly.
“The rods are really one-trick ponies. They are designed to impart action on the jig,” Ortiz says. When selecting a rod for slow-pitch jigging techniques, water depth and the weight of the jig are bigger factors than the size of the fish you’re pursuing. You must purchase one designed to work with the size of the jig you’re using for maximum effectiveness. Otherwise, you won’t be presenting the jig in the best way possible.
Ortiz uses jigs in Shimano’s Shimmerfall lineup, but similar designs also work. When making his selection, he likes to employ 1.5 grams of jig weight for each foot of depth down to about 300 feet. After that, he adds about a gram per foot until 450 feet. Of course, this is dependent on current, wind and drift speed because a near-vertical presentation is preferable. If you have the right one on, you’ll know.
“The strike—there’s nothing like it. You’re pitching the jig and it just stops,” says Ortiz, stating the ideal rod for slow-pitch jigging is between 6 feet and 6 feet, 8 inches long, much shorter than the 8-footers typically employed for other jigging techniques on long-range boats. They are usually fitted with trigger reel seats, long bare butt sections and near-micro guides that all add sensitivity.
The rods have an even recoil, which unloads slowly. This helps present jigs in an alluring manner but isn’t the best design for fighting fish. “It’s going to be a battle once you do hook up. You fight the fish mainly using the reel, essentially winching the fish in,” says Ortiz, who notes that you must keep the tips of the unique rods pointing below the horizon when fighting fish to prevent breakage.
“The bulb on the butt locks into your armpit, so it doesn’t slide out. You have to fight the fish at a 45-degree angle, no lifting,” Ortiz says. Unlike more traditional designs, slow-pitch jigging rods can’t handle the pressures of pumping and reeling. But the high carbon content in the blanks gives them an even, parabolic bend with enough elasticity to absorb the shock that occurs when a big fish surges. This lets anglers set their drag higher than they would normally, with Ortiz preferring 12 to 15 pounds of strike drag, even with light line.
Rod weights are typically under 6 ounces, pretty incredible for a saltwater rod of this size. The light weight makes all-day jigging easy, but the rods can’t stand up to abuse. Even though they have a long butt, you can’t put these rods on a rail.
Reel size is also dictated by water depth. Ortiz prefers Shimano’s Ocea Jigger, but notes that any quality reel with a smooth, even drag, long handle arm and narrow spool should do the trick. For depths to about 150 feet, Ortiz employs a 1500-size Ocea. He steps it up to a 2000-size for depths from 150 to 450 feet, and switches to a 4000-size when it gets deeper than that. He stuffs each of these reels with 20- to 30-pound-test Power Pro and finishes them off with a 12- to 15-foot trace of fluorocarbon leader affixed with a PR or FG knot. The weight of the leader varies, ranging from 40 to 60 pounds, though he uses 50-pound more often than not.
“You can target different areas of the water column very precisely, but you never know what you’re going to get,” Ortiz says. He’s caught blackfin tuna on the bottom in 900 feet, and sailfish touching bottom in 225. You can also take some pretty sizable specimens, with Ortiz boating 50-plus-pound cuberas, amberjack over 70 pounds, gag grouper topping 40 pounds, black grouper over 50, a 26-pound queen snapper, and sharks to several hundred pounds. Elephants eat peanuts, and it’s hard for any gamefish to pass up an easy meal in the form of a slowly falling jig.
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Ortiz’s favorite stick is the Game Type Slow J, which utilizes Shimano’s Hi-Power X and Spiral X construction for added durability while maintaining sensitivity. But there are a number of excellent slow-pitch jigging rods available from other manufacturers. Current industry favorites include Daiwa’s Saltiga slow-pitch series, St. Croix’s Mojo Jig, Nomad Design’s slow-pitch jigging rod and Penn’s Carnage III slow-pitch conventional. Just remember to match the rod’s action to the water depth and weight of the jig you’ll be using, not the species you’re chasing.
Why should you try this new technique? According to Ortiz: “It’s a more challenging way to fish, but it’s also more fun. It’s not just putting a piece of bait in front of a fish and hoping it eats it. You have to fool them.”