Dressed Jigs – How to Tie Your Own
by Allan Burgess
Video: Tying Dressed Jigs for the Twizel Canals
Dressed jigs are a type of weighted trout fly designed to be cast and retrieved on spinning gear. By using different weight jig heads you can improve casting distance and more importantly the rate at which the dressed jig sinks. The intent is to have the dressed jig drift along as naturally as possible. If the canal water is flowing very quickly you might use a heavier jig (up to 5/8th oz) to get the lure down near the bottom, or at least in the bottom third of the flow. Conversely, in lighter flows, you fish a lighter jig (down to 1/16th oz) just as you would if fishing soft baits. Dressed jigs are basically weighted streamer flies. You will also discover that dressed jigs are tougher than soft baits.
Fishing the Twizel Canals with dressed jigs is surprisingly effective. The technique for fishing them was shown to me by Paul Spicer. Paul is a top angler who has successfully landed and mostly released, over 100 trophy size fish from the canals. I had the good fortune of spending a day fishing with Paul at various locations around the canals last year. His favourite lures are dressed jigs. Paul has been extraordinarily successful with them – all of which he has tied himself.
Some tackle stores have a limited range of dressed jigs but generally, you will have to tie your own. It is very easy to do as you can see in the above video. If you just tie clumps of marabou feathers around the hook it is even easier. You only need a few materials along with an inexpensive fly tying vice and you are all set. If you only want to make a dozen or so a pair of vice grips to hold the hook while tying the materials will work fine.
Dressed jigs are a great idea for those anglers who like making up their own gear. They can be fished on a regular spinning rod and reel in the same way as you would a soft bait minnow. The jig heads themselves are exactly the same ones used with soft baits making them very easy to purchase from just about any fishing tackle store.
The lead head performs two functions; it provides casting weight, and it makes the hook sink down to where the fish are holding. Being able to select your own materials means you can create virtually any pattern and colour scheme you wish. You can experiment with all sorts of different colours and patterns. It is important to keep in mind that the way the jig head is fished, depth, speed, and the like, are factors that really count the most as far as fishing success goes. If your jig heads aren’t perfectly tied big browns and rainbows will never know the difference. Marabou and rabbit pelt tend to pulse when drawn through the water. On the pull stroke the feathers or pelt squash down hard onto the hook. When you let the line slacken the opposite happens and the marabou and rabbit pelt fur puffs up. This wriggling combination makes your dressed jig appear incredibly lifelike, easily fooling a big predatory trout into taking it for a bully or juvenile salmonid, even in pitch darkness!
The lead-weight and fixing point of jig heads means the barb of the hook rides at the top as the lure is retrieved. This is opposite to a traditional trout streamer. When it comes to tying dressed jigs with a rabbit pelt wing you have to place the hook in your tying vice with the barb facing downwards because you want the wing on the opposite side to the barb. Therefore, when you turn the dressed jig back up the other way – the way it swims through the water – the rabbit fur wing is at the bottom. This doesn’t seem to make any difference at all to the predatory trout!
Rabbit Pelt for Dressed Jigs
If you’re a fly tyer you are sure to have most of the materials you will need to get started. The best material for tying dressed jigs is undoubtedly rabbit pelt. If you haven’t used rabbit pelt before you will be amazed at just how fish-like a fly tied with this soft fur is when wet. It doesn’t look much when dry, but once wet it moves through the water with a sinuous action that really brings the lure to life. To this end, you need to tie in a length of rabbit strip that is about twice the length of the hook. The extra length will allow the wing to “flutter” in the current as the jig is retrieved and so appear more “alive”. If you make the rabbit pelt strip too long it will be inclined to wrap itself around the hook barb during casting. If you find this is happening on almost every cast it is a good idea to snip a little of the end with a pair of scissors.
You want the pelt cut into 3mm wide strips running along the grain. It is a good idea to taper the rabbit strip wing at each end. Doing so will make it easier to tie in place while the taper at the rear makes it “swim” better. I noted that Paul Spicer made some of his tails trail even further behind the hook. A longer tail certainly does wriggle better. At least make your rabbit pelt tails longer than you would if tying a normal trout lure. The long tail wriggles in the water and is essential in my view. As you can see in the photograph not all of Paul’s finished jigs have long tails. The key is to experiment to discover what works best for you.
Rabbit pelt strips are available in tackle stores in many different colours. I prefer to use natural colours like black, green, brown, grey, or simply use undyed wild rabbit pelt which is a grey to brown colour. You can cut rabbit pelt into strips yourself with a sharp box cutter. Do so along the grain of the fur. It is easier to cut even strips if you keep a little tension on the pelt.
Painting Dressed Jigs Heads
I like to paint my jig heads with nail polish to more or less match the colour of the tying materials being used for the body. I think this looks better and more natural than having a completely different coloured head. You can get cheap nail polish in a vast array of colours from places like the Two Dollar Shop.
It makes for a neater job if you paint the jig head before tying the materials on, but again it won’t make any difference to the lures effectiveness as a fish catcher.
You can make-up dressed jigs to look very similar to any traditional streamer fly pattern.
Fluorescence on Flies and Dressed Jigs
Try adding a couple of strips of Aurora skirt for night time fluorescence as seen in the top video. Rainbows and salmon, in particular, will be impressed. You can also add fluorescence by using a short length of fluoro tube (say about 3mm) to the body just behind the head. Small fluoro beads can also be used.
Another good way of adding fluorescence is to tie in a little Witchcraft Prism Lumo Tape. This material is self-adhesive and can also be applied to hard-bodied lures. Finally, it is possible to buy luminescent paint to coat the heads of your jigs. A little bit of “glow-in-the-dark” luminescent material goes a long way so you don’t need very much. See also Lumo Doll Flies.
I particularly like the Aurora skirt as mentioned above. You can cut-off 10 or 20mm from a strip of Aurora skirt and tie it in to and fly or dressed jig very easily and glows brightly for a long time.
There is a whole chapter on fishing dressed jigs in the canals in my 148-page ebook The Complete Guide to Fishing the Twizel Canals.