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Thursday, January 14, 2010

• The Eakins Jig

Early in 2009, I grabbed a finesse jig that had been sitting in my tackle box for a year or so. This particular jig was made by Strikeworks. The wear and tear that goes along with fishing a productive bait over time was starting to show. The skirt had seen better days. Since Strikeworks doesn't do retail stores, I had to browse the fishing aisle for a suitable replacement. That's when I came across the Eakins Jig.

The Eakins Jig certainly isn't a new product. There is a story behind its inception. The story is not a terribly exciting one, but it helps better understand how one should fish this lure.

The jig was designed by Jim & Troy Eakins, a father and son duo in the bass fishing world. It all started in the mid-80's when the elder Eakins noticed something fantastic about fishing small jigs on light line. In tournaments, this knowledge gave him a competitive edge, so it was only fitting that he keep this jig a secret. Jim Eakins has spent at least a decade perfecting every aspect of this particular jig. Everything from the composition of the lead for the jighead, the unique skirt, and the light wire hook went through much scrutiny. His ultimate goal was to mimic the crawfish. After keeping that secret to himself for the better part of his career, from what I can tell, Eakins brought his son on board the finesse jig train of success. Eventually, they teamed up with Jewel Baits and now we all get to reap the benefits of finesse jigging with the Eakins jig. We now know this design as the standard by which all finesse jigs are compared.

The Eakins Jig as it is sold today comes in three sizes. The two smaller jigs, a 5/16oz and 7/16oz both fit the more finesse style jig. A third 3/8oz version has been designed for flipping. This post will specifically highlight the merits and also the imperfections of the lighter 5/16oz jig.

The Eakins Jig sells in stores in two-packs at around $5-$6.


Each jig features a round jighead, premium silicone skirt, and a light wire hook.


The round jighead itself deserves some attention, so let's take a look at that first. What you'll notice is that the eyelet is a little different. People call it a cross eyelet or turned eye. It rests perpendicular to the line of the hook shank. The eye sticks out away from the jighead at less than a 60 degree angle. I prefer my jigheads to have this kind of eyelet because it allows me to tie my reliable loop knot aligned along the midline axis with the lure. The combination of a round head and cross eyelet sticking out at roughly 60 degrees gives the Eakins Jig several advantages. The round head allows for better bottom contact and balance, so action and bite sensitivity both benefit. The eyelet supposedly improves your hookset reliability and also allows you to work the bait through cover with ease. Like many other jigheads, the lead extends down the shank of the hook. In addition to the well balanced front end, the lead on the shank makes the lure move and fall uniformly. All in all, I'd say Eakins was chasing perfection when he designed this jig.

But the finesse doesn't end there, obviously.

The hook, a sharp custom light wire Mustad black nickel Ultra Point, is ideal for finesse fishing. A bait like the Eakins Jig can't be too bulky. Otherwise, all the work that went into the leadhead would have been for nothing. A bulky heavier wire hook simply wouldn't do the bait justice. What I've also noticed is that the hook resembles a wide gap design. The hook bend turns into a flat wire parallel to the shank. I have more to say about the hook, but I'll get to that a little later in this post.

The Eakins Jig also features a premium silicone skirt. It looks as though the skirt is all one piece joined together at the collar, but the skirt goes underneath one collar and a second red collar sits beneath that. I tediously counted 42 strands on one of my jigs. Jig aficionados who pay attention to strand count should appreciate that information. Yes, the skirt does have a slight odor. It's a silicone smell akin to that of a halloween mask, although very faint, posing little threat to the olfactory-inclined bass. The front of the skirt has been cut short, a design that has been dubbed many names, including the tickle head and the fuzz head. The short-cut skirt increases resistance and drag, preventing the jig from nosediving to the bottom. It is the trademark appearance of the traditional finesse jig.

The weedguard does not appear to be anything special. It's a reasonable length and has the right amount of give. I counted 28 individual pieces sticking out from the jighead. It does what it's supposed to do and doesn't fall out of the leadhead. Not much more you can say about a weedguard.

Although the collar has loops for rattle chambers, none are included with the jig. You must purchase those on your own. I prefer rattles from Northland Tackle or Arkie.

Now let's talk trailers. There are a number of options, but I can share a few ideas and also show you my preferred trailer.

Jewel Baits makes a trailer specifically designed to go with their jigs. They call it the Eakins Craw. The Eakins Craw is a three-inch trailer loaded with salt. If you do opt for the Eakins Craw, there are instructions on the back of the jig packaging which explain how to modify the trailer to better fit the finesse jig. The body of the trailer has individual segments with delineated markings for easy removal. The instructions suggest removing two tail segments from the body before sliding it onto an Eakins Jig. The instructions also show a tiny image illustrating how to thread the trailer onto the hook. It would appear that the Eakins Craw should run onto the hook point and down the shank.

Although the Eakins Craw was designed for this jig, I prefer something much smaller, the V&M Baby V Chunk. I prefer to run my V Chunks on the same way, but leave the body to rest on the hook bend so the craw arms dangle around in a more defensive posture. Alternatively, craws and chunks made by Zoom, Arkie, NetBait (Tiny Paca Chunk), and Berkley may be just as good. Since V&M cooks pork fat into their products, a Baby V Chunk is good for finesse jigging in the winter.

How to fish a finesse jig
While many pro anglers seem to like to pitch these jigs to a target and work them back to the boat with bounces and hops, allowing pauses in between, I prefer to hone in on one particular spot and fish it exclusively. I frequently cast or pitch to places where I think a bass might be lurking, whether it's a leg of a dock, a cypress limb overhang, a laydown, or sparse shallow weeds. I'll usually fish the jig by letting it sit a moment after reaching the bottom. If I don't feel a hit, I'll shake it ever so slightly and sit still again. Sometimes I drag the jig with a very slow and subtle lift of the rod. If there isn't a bite, I move it a little more and then reel in. Depending on how the fish have responded to the bait, I change my technique, using one of those approaches more than the others. When the bass are active, they'll sometimes hit this jig on the fall. Do not let your guard down after a cast. They might hit right away and you'll need to be ready for it. Also remember to scan the water for your next target while the jig is in the water. Having the next spot in mind prior to the cast will improve your overall experience as an angler.




When to fish a finesse jig
Now that is the question we'd all like an answer to. Many of the links I included at the bottom of this post will discuss this subject with some more detail. It appears that any time of year is fair game, but winter and spring are the prime times to throw a finesse jig. In my case, I had tremendous luck using finesse jigs in two different situations. Oddly enough, both came around at about the same time. The bite picked up during the earlier portion of the post-spawn period. The bass were also fairly pressured because tournament season was just starting up. In my mind, that equates to finicky bass with a preference for small baits. If you aren't getting bit, go finesse.

Line
Not sure what line to use? Eakins recommends using no more than 10 to 12lb fluorocarbon line. While Eakins himself recommends light line and claims action his hindered by heavy line, my experience with 15lb fluorocarbon has been wonderful. With somewhat heavier line, I can go banging around in thicker cover in search of bigger fish without worrying about damage or break offs.

Rod
I'm no fancy rod enthusiast, so I pitch these things on two different rigs. The first is a medium light baitcasting finesse rod stretching 6'6 inches long, although a 6'9" rod might have been better choice as an afterthought. This rod has a faster tip, allowing me to pitch a lighter lure with ease. The second rod is a little more robust with a medium heavy action and stiffer tip. My rod choice really depends on my mood and not the fish I'm after. I never pigeonhole a rod for one technique. If it works for me, that's what I'm going to be using.

Reel
I generally side with those who recommend using a 6.3:1 baitcaster or faster when fishing with jigs. Once you set the hook, you'll have to get the bass away from whatever it is you cast around. If you're flipping, you'll want some winching power, so a 5:1 reel might be more appropriate. Eakins claims the hookset will only require a lift of the rod, but I'm still going to swing just to be sure. Spinning gear may work just fine for those spinning reel fans out there, especially if you spool on light line. I prefer baitcasters and use either a finesse reel or a 7:1 speed demon when fishing any jig.

Underwater View


My Impressions:
What makes this jig unique is how the round head combined with the sensitivity of fluorocarbon allows me to feel the jig drag over the top of wood and other obstacles resting on the bottom. With regular jigs, detecting a bite is somewhat of an art form. For some reason, these finesse jigs transmit the bite rather well. I debated whether or not I needed a 5/16oz (0.3125) or 7/16oz (0.4375) jig, but seeing as how I was accustomed to catching fish with a 1/4oz Strikeworks jig, the 5/16oz head made more sense. As with any bait, the bite will come and go, so alternatives should be on deck and ready. I have a ton of confidence with finesse jigs, though.

Durability
Unlike the Strikeworks finesse jig I used early on, the skirt on an Eakins Jig is reliable, perhaps because of a more robust collar design. In reviews of finesse jigs, concerns arise over the use of a light wire hook. Some claim a light wire hook will straighten out on a big fish. I have yet to experience something like that. The hook seems to hold just fine, even when I hang up on wood and pull for a while to get loose. One problem has to do with the softness of the lead. Somewhere along the way, minor trauma flattened one side of the round head and dented the front. I'm not sure what I hit, whether it was the side of the boat or a cypress tree, but now I know I have to be more careful when casting. Another issue with the jig has to do with the loops on the collar meant for jig rattles. They broke off within the first few casts, so I still have to slide on some of my own that I purchased separately. For the most part, the jig is still a no-fuss lure with lots of potential.

Not every color they offer online is available in the store. Colors I like include Missouri Craw and Black/blue flash. The Eakins Jig is available in at least 15 different colors, so for most of us, that should be enough.

Modifications
I ended up trimming 1/4" off the weed guard to open it up a bit. I know I said earlier that the weed guard was the perfect height, but I thought I should expose the hook point a little more. You'll get differing opinions with regard to rattles. I'm not sure if they make a difference, but I add them anyway. Since the loops on the collar don't hold up, I use either a pair of Northland Tackle Buckshot rattles or Arkie jig rattles. Both seem to look and sound about the same. I also discovered there was an added benefit from installing twin jig rattles. They help the jig sit flat on the bottom. In terms of the skirt, I couldn't be happier. I left the skirt length as-is, but if you just don't like the way the lure looks or falls, you can trim a little at either end. If you like the finesse jig, but not the skirt, you can even buy a 4 pack of plain jigheads, allowing you to add your own skirt or fish it with a plastic worm or other soft plastic. The jighead is painted one solid color, so if you're the kind of person who likes a little extra pizzazz, paint on some red, black, white, or chartreuse eyes. So although the lure works great right out of the package, you can still get a little creative on a number of levels.

In 2009, the first real productive bait of the year for me was the finesse jig. Let's see if that happens again this time around. I had a lot of fun and established some consistent patterns at the same time.

If you're having trouble getting a jig bite to work or you're just learning how to fish with jigs, I highly recommend starting out with a finesse jig.

Jewel Bait Company
jewelbait.com
Eakins Jig
Eakins Craw

Jewel Baits YouTube Video: Eakins Jig

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=khlFZXVJ7wM


Related Links:
In Fisherman: Finesse Jigging
In Fisherman: Top Jig Tactics Today

FLW - Peewee Power

ProFishing Research
#8 in Top 50 lures by ProFishing Research
Includes best times of the year to use an Eakins Jig

Bassmaster: Year Round Jigging

Related Posts:
V&M Baby V Chunk
Strikeworks Finesse Jig
Jig Rattles
Rigging A Jig Trailer

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