Mackinaw Jigging 101

Updated for 2015!  Wireline trolling with heavy tackle has long been the staple for mackinaw anglers in deep water lakes like Tahoe, and while it’s extremely effective, the technique isn’t always the most exciting way to catch fish. I much prefer jigging on light bass gear.

Not only do you get to feel the grab, but you also get a lot more spot out of the fish.

Rigging Up

Mackinaw on boat deckAnother cool thing about jigging is you don’t need a lot of sophisticated gear (besides good electronics). I like to fish with 6 1/2- to 7-foot casting rods rated for 8- to 15-pound line. You need enough backbone to be able to set the hook in deep water, but a sensitive tip so you can feel the bite – which, by the way, often come as the lure is falling. Some good ones to check out include the Fenwick HMG 7’2″ Medium and, if you want the nicest rod on the planet (be prepared to pay, however) the Douglas X-MATRIX DXC715F is so nice, light and sensitive it almost should be illegal!

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Pair these rods up with a low-profile bait caster like the Shimano Curado 200 DHSV which has a 7:1 retrieve rate, which makes cranking up from 100+ feet all the faster. There are times, however, when a line counter reel will get you down to the right depth when the fish are suspended. It’s a little slower on the retrieve, but the Abu Garcia Ambasseduer 5500 LC is the way to go.

I run 20-pound PLine TCB braid on my reels – braid is a must when fishing deep because of its sensitivity and lack of stretch. Of course, you need a leader between the braided line and the lure. In off-color water, go with the heaviest line you can. In clear waters, I go with 12- to 20-pound PLine CFX Fluorocarbon. As far as leader length goes, run 3-4 feet in darker lakes and up to 15 feet in clean waters.

I like jigs in the 1- to 4-ounce range, depending on water depth and wind conditions. For mackinaw, my top three color patters have always been silver, white and chartreuse. I like to  remove the stock hooks on most of my jigs and replace them with assist hooks. These babies have a better hook-up ratio, snag less and don’t wrap around the line when you drop your tip too quickly (like trebles tend to do). They also usually snare fish in the top of the jaw or the corner – nice safe hook placement if you plan on releasing fish.

There are tons of models to choose from out there. I like Crippled Herring, Hopkins Shorties, Bomber Slab Spoons and, when I have the time, I’ll make my own with a lead mold… which saves tons of cash.

Jigging Motion

Drop your lure down to the bottom (or just above suspended fish, if you see any) and then use your wrist to impart subtle hops — avoid jerking the rod towards the heavens.

All you need is a quick snap of the tip and it should only travel about 1 foot up. Be sure to keep some tension on the line on the drop so you can feel those bites. Like I said before, most fish eat the lure as it falls… and if you drop too quickly, you’ll miss out on a ton of grabs.

I run an electric motor on the bow of the boat to hold me in position over fish — and also to slow the drift down if the wind is blowing. A little breeze is a good thing…it allows you to cover some ground. Generally, I’ll start shallow and let the wind or motor push me out over the edge of a drop, working the bottom as we go.

Fish on!

Fish on!

Finding Fish

A good graph is your best friend is this department. Look for macks to hang on or near the bottom most of the time. They’ll key in on structure: points, flats, rock piles and, most often, break lines where shelves drop off into deeper water. I start out in 50 feet of water early on and then progressively work out deeper as the sun comes up. You can get macks as deep as 400+ feet, but I rarely go below 200 just because I don’t like the time it takes to get down and back from the bottom.

In this shout, you can clearly see a school of macks sitting on a break

In this shot, you can clearly see a school of macks sitting on a break

In this shot, there are mackinaw sitting suspended and on the bottom along the dropoff

Here, there are mackinaw sitting suspended and on the bottom along a dropoff

Prime Time

It’s been my experience that mack jigging is typically best from first light until about 9 a.m. on sunny days.  There are days that they bite better midday – especially during full moon periods and when the water is dark. If you mark a bunch of fish but can’t get bit in the a.m., give ‘er a rest and try again just before dark. I’ve had some great evenings of mack fishing on days when the morning bite was as dead.

Fat mack


    • DVSshort says

      I fish for browns…..but with a camping trip coming up this weekend with some great people, was doing a bit of research on jigging for macks since I thought it might be fun for for them and the lake holds them. I found your site to be the most informative and relating strongly to my previous experience when others brought me out to mack fish.

  1. Jeff says

    Mac’s luv anything dropped on their snouts, they remind me of a pike girthing up before winter and they are more notoriously predator Spring to early fall. WInter I love to drop shot anything feeded with fingerling size cut bait and fluttered. I have told people the reasoning behind why these species usually hit on the drop is a result of their vertical ability to ambush prey. Even with a spoon, they will set on the drop and do a roll dance into the net.

  2. mike arntson says

    I use a 4’8″ ugly stick with 10ish pound braid. if i use a leader its 6 pound mono. thats light-gear laker fishing



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