Tuesday, May 21, 2013
BY SUSAN COCKING
MIAMI -- They go by various names and brands: Deep jigs, vertical jigs, butterfly jigs, diamond jigs, knife jigs. Some look like trumpetfish. Others resemble squid or octopus. They are basically pieces of decorated heavy metal with hooks that anglers drop to the bottom, then pump and reel back to the surface to catch everything from tuna to grouper. And they have attracted a dedicated following among a hardcore group of South Florida anglers.
"Deep jigging is kind of a new thing that's starting to rise in Miami, a type of different fishing," said angler Jomal Whiteside of Miami. "It's a challenge to get a fish to bite something strictly on presentation. Dropping a piece of metal, you would think it wouldn't work, but it's a reaction strike."
Whiteside caught a small blackfin tuna and an amberjack estimated at 15 pounds on a recent deep jigging trip off Miami Beach on the party boat Reward Won, owned and skippered by captain Wayne Conn. Conn began offering daylong deep jigging charters for up to a dozen anglers out of Miamarina at Bayside last summer at the urging of Greg Shaughnessy of Miami Beach.
Shaughnessy, a regular customer on the Reward fleet, said he "got bored of the three-hook rig, put your lines down for kingfish." He had read articles about deep jigging and wanted to try it while drift fishing. Conn encouraged him, and pretty soon he started catching quality fish such as large grouper, cobia and Almaco jacks. However, his success did not sit well with some of the bait-fishing customers.
"I'd have tourists on the boat get mad at me because I'd catch a lot more fish than other people," Shaughnessy said.
To improve the "jig-friendly environment," Shaughnessy used the Internet and social media to develop a network of anglers who join him on the Reward, fishing exclusively with deep jigs. They charter the entire boat for a day for $100 per person and bring their own tackle.
"We have a great time. Everybody is really into jigging. There's more of a catch-and-release mentality,' Shaughnessy said.
He said the 56-foot Reward Won with Conn at the helm is the perfect platform for their style of fishing.
"Wayne is a pro's pro as far as setting up the boat, power drifting," Shaughnessy said. "We don't do long drifts. We're running and gunning and wreck-hopping. What we've created is a relatively affordable way for an average Joe to take advantage of Wayne's wealth of knowledge."
On a recent outing, 12 anglers piled onto the Reward Won before dawn, carrying multiple rods and reels, plastic cases filled with jigs, and food and drink. Many of the rods were five-footers -- "shorter rods are easier to jig," according to Shaughnessy -- and reels tended toward heavy-duty spinners capable of holding hundreds of yards of 50- to 65-pound braided line with smooth drags and a 5:1 gear ratio. The jigs themselves came in a wide variety of shapes and sizes -- from elaborately-painted $15 trumpetfish-like patterns to angler Herbert Muller's homemade models using butter knives bought at a Goodwill store.
"They call them knife jigs," Muller noted. "I did this as a joke at first. Then I caught my first fish -- a king. So I made a bunch more."
Conn steered the boat offshore to the first in a series of small obscure shipwrecks and rock and rubble piles scattered in waters from 100 to 450 feet deep between Miami Beach and Key Biscayne that he had stored on his GPS/depth-finder.
"We're gonna be doing a lot of stoppin' and poppin'," Conn said.
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