Cooch's Jig Fishing Theory

Traveling With Andy "Cooch" Cuccia

Long time ago, when I first began tournament bass fishing, I used to be a crankster. I tossed a blade every now and then with some wormin tossed in as well. I then joined my first club in 1982. I joined with the intention of using the club as a school, such as college, to teach me the finer arts of bass fishing. I figured that after 4 years I would be able to tell if I had the talents to compete on the next level. First two years I did OK, caught some fish, an occasional big fish and managed to end up in the top 15. My 3rd year was much better, I was really beginning to figure out how to catch bass with a crank bait. I ended up finishing second in the point's race. I’d never win a tournament, but was always in the top 10 and caught a limit. But I began to really notice a trend. All the guys who would beat me, at these tournaments, were fishing jigs. I wasn't very good at it so I stuck with the crank bait. In my 4th year I won it all. Top dog for the year. I still had yet to win my first tournament.

In this final year I really began paying attention to the jig fisherman in our club, and we had some good ones, Art Roland, Greg Hinman, Alfredo Bass, Manny Garcia, Steve Creason and a cast of others. So I spent time with these guys and picked their brains. Then one club meeting, Art brought some guy named Dee Thomas in for a discussion. I knew who this guy was and I was in awe to be in his presence. But ole Cooch, even back then, was kinda like that little kid with Mean Joe Green and the soda commercial, I had an attitude. So this guy begins telling stories, this was not what I wanted to hear. I wanted to know the inner most secretes of "the Man, Dee Thomas". So I began to interrupt and ask questions. And he obliged by answering them. The rest of the guys in the club, soon became annoyed with my queries as it soon became an Andy and Dee chat about flippin jigs. Dee made a comment to the effect that he was not concerned with giving all this info, because he did not feel that we could retain it. No matter how much he told us, he would always be able to kick our asses on the water. He said, "When you got the money Son, come on, I'm ready to bank it."

From that day it sunk in. I wanted to beat Dee Thomas. And the only way to do it, was to learn his game, and learn it better than him. I owe a lot of my style and knowledge to Mr. Thomas. He may not know it but he is my mentor.

In 1986, I became a jig fisherman. I fish 3 more years in that club, taking angler of the year in two of the three. I then moved from Concord to Pittsburgh. I began fishing the Delta religiously. I would trap crawdads at every lake I went to. Bring them home and put them in a tank I had with some bass fry(these I found floppin in a little creek one day). Didn't know where they came from so I took em home and tossed em in my tank. I couldn't let em die.

Bryan Henningfeld and myself, started the Contra Costa Bass Club in 1991. I have been preachin this system for fishin jigs ever since. A couple of years back I had Denis Lee come down and talk about the crawdad and bass. One of the most informative presentations that I have ever seen.

There are a few guys who get it. Most others don't have the patients to learn. I have learned, as well as many others, that to be consistent in fishing tournaments, you gotta now how to fish a jig. Here's my spill.

The Presentation
The previously mentioned tank became my new class room. I studied these two aquatic creatures for 2 years. I had to see first hand the life cycles of the crawdad. I learned, what I think are two key factors that I apply to bass fishing today, BASS LOVE CRAWDADS! And crawdads HATE bass!

A bass will chomp a craw anytime, anyplace and under any circumstance, even if it already has two in it's mouth! It's an amazing thing to watch. And it's a very important part to fishing a jig. A jig has no built in action. It is up to the angler to make that jig look like a distressed craw. Because it is the distressed craw, that catches the bass' attention. I never, in 2 years of the tank study, did see a craw just sit in one place and wait for a bass to come get him. These craws seem to know when they've been detected by a bass, as well as other predators, I'm sure. And they get to movin. They will either raise them big ole claws in defense and move back slowly or make short 6-12 inch burst and look for a hole to climb in. This explains why many strikes occur after you dislodge a jig, that was stuck in the rocks. That ole bass sees it drop into a crack then sits in waiting. The moment you pull it free, wham, he eats it. With this in mind, I will always shake, shake, shake my jig to free it when I get hung up, good odds it'll trigger a strike when it comes popping out.

I then began to play with the different trailers available to imitate these craw movements. I found it best to use a small kiddy wading pool. They are shallow, yet big enough to swim the jig in. I then began to practice every day with a different trailer, attempting to get the various craw movements built into my presentations. I just fell in love with the way a big ole fat piece of pork resembled the craw in his defensive mode. I personally like the Strike King Pork Junks, both Sr. & Jr. They have longer, fatter tails that are more buoyant than other pork that I have tried.

Now my favorite presentation is what I call the Short Hop Claw Wave. This technique just triggers strikes, period. I use it when flippin, pitchin or casting jigs. Now more often than not I will get a strike on the fall. If not I induce the Claw wave. This is best done while using pork, yet can also be used with twin tail grubs or big claw craws. You basically need a trailer that has big floating arms. You have really got to be in tune with the bait while inducing the wave. I use a 6'6" medium heavy graphite trigger stick rod with 15-25lb Big Game line. The key is to get that jig to hop straight up off the bottom just enough to get the pork trailer waving, flapping and kicking up all kinds of dust. Looks just like a craw scootin and tryin to dig a hole. You must keep your line tight to the jig and just use short pops of the wrist. I will vary the hops until I find the variation of the wave that will trigger more strikes. Sometimes that jig will sit in one place, move 1/8", 1", 6" or a foot or more. I just let the fish tell me what they want. I never dead stick (that's for you finesse worm folks) and rarely just drag it.

One other presentation that I use is the swimmin jig. This I do while using the Yamamoto grubs. Again it's the trailer action here that triggers the strikes. I use this from spring to early fall, when the bass are most aggressive. I make long pitches to structure and wait for the initial fall strike. The instant it hits the bottom I will raise the rod tip to get the jig up and moving. I will pull the jig about a foot or more and then ease it back to the bottom. This is extremely effective when fishing for spawning fish and around tules on the Delta & Clearlake. It is also the technique I use when fishing the deeper weed lines late in the summer to early fall. I will swim that jig-n-grub, at about a 45 degree angle, right down the weed line.

A variation of the swimmin jig is the yo-yo presentation. This I also use with the grub trailer. I use it mostly when flippin. I key on matted tule, Hyacinth, debris or any other cover that creates a mat or roof above the fish. I will send the jig, ever so quietly, through an opening and let it hit the bottom. I then begin to yo-yo it up and down. It's kind of like workin a spoon, only your in much shallower water. You want to lift it about a foot or two, depending on the depth, and let it free fall back to the bottom. Most often strike will come on the fall and be very violent. Other times, when you go to lift and yo-yo, the fish may already be under your boat, SET the Hook!

The Strike/Bite
Most strikes when fishing a jig are very violent and you feal a distinct THUNK! You need to set on the first THUNK. If you wait for a second thunk, generally this is sign the bass has spit it out. Most thunks are those strikes when a bass sees that craw and just eats it. I mean they just run up on it and crush it.

Many times you will get the infamous pressure bite, ClearLake & Delta bass are notorious for this. These are generally bigger fish that just methodically approach your jig and just inhale it. You never feel a thing. Detecting these bites, come with practice and constant use of a jig. When lifting the bait it will appear as stuck or won't move, SET THE HOOK! Hook sets are free. I've gotten to the point where sometimes I amaze myself. I’m so intuned to that jig on the bottom, that there are times when I will just instinctively set the hook and the fish is there. No indication of a bite what so ever, I just detected that the jig was not doing what it was supposed to.

Now most books, videos and other fisherman will tell you to slam them fish when flippin or fishing a jig. I don't believe in that concept. My hooks are very sharp out of the box. I use a very short POP, or sweep of the rod to set the hook. The thing I do to improve my hook set and penetration is to trim the weed guard. Now most folks think that trimming the weed guard means to make it shorter. Not the case, this actually makes the weed guard stiffer. I use only the fiber weed guards. Don't like wire. By trimming the weed guard I will cut off about half of the strands all together. Say your weed guard consists of 20 strands, I will trim 10-12 of them off. This allows enough guard to avoid snags and allows for a much higher hook penetration. Especially on those bites you don't detect. Most bass will hook themselves while I'm fishing a jig.

The Jigs
Most of my fishing is done with one style jig. It's a 3/8 oz Arkie flippin jig, Owner hook with Round rubber and fiber weed guard. The 3/8 weight for my style is very versatile for all conditions. The Arkie head has a balanced weight distribution and falls quite evenly. It also moves around cover and structure in a more natural fashion. The round rubber can't be beat. The floatation and buoyancy is amazing. While resting idle, this rubber will literally float and come alive. To emphasize this I will put one of my jigs in a jar of water and the rubber floats into a ball. This really adds to the attractive action of the Claw wave. Most other skirts made of rubber or silicone, kinda just lay limp.

I also use a 1/4 Smallie jig for lakes. Now this is a smaller profile jig with a light wire hook, no weed guard and is made with frog hair rubber, which is specially treated. Great for lakes with smallies and spots. I also works on the toads of ClearLake, especially in the spring time. This is my bed fishing bait in the spring.

And last is the 1/2 oz Arkie Rattlin jig. It is always black round rubber. I use this when the water is very cold & muddy. I also use it at night.

All my Jigs are specially made by R&B Tackle. I have also used and like the new Weapon round rubber rattle jigs, if you can find em. I also like and recommend the Bobby D's jigs sold at the Hook, Line & Sinker.

Color Combos
In general the best rule of thumb is to match the hatch, in this case the crawdad. Depending on the location of the lake you are fishing, their coloration will vary from coast to coast. Being that we live and predominantly fish California waters, there are 2 basic and 2 secondary colors that work to represent that of the crawdads we have out west. Brown & black, red & blue. All of these colors may vary somewhat depending on the time of year and the surrounding habitat of the crawdad. The craw is somewhat of an aquatic chameleon and can change to match his environment.

For instance, brown is the most common color of all craws throughout the year, yet this brown may take on somewhat of a dull greenish hue or molten green as some say. Most often craws who habitat muddy and weed infested areas will take on this appearance. Or soon after molting, this is when they shed their shells.

Now craws that habitat rocky areas, such as the rocky levees we have in the Delta, and the thick tule infested areas, such as Clearlake, tend to take on the darker black hue. This is due to the many dark, hidden ,shaded pockets and root systems, they tend to hide in. Black & brown are the two base colors.

The two secondary colors are generally highlights you see on the craw's outer shell. The red is the most predominant of these secondary colors and appears on the claws and small bumps found all over it's shell. These, depending on time of year may also appear in lighter shades taking on an orangish hue.

The blue hue tends to be more of a turquoise or powder blue color and can be found through out the craws outer shell. This is quite common on the craw strain found in the Sacramento River beyond Rio Vista to Redding. I have also seen an entirely powder blue craw that habitats New Melones. They use to sell these at Delta Bait. Looks just like the big ole red/black craw in the main Delta system, only blue.

So with this basic understanding, I use two colors of jigs to simplify my fishing. With all the choices available today, you could have a box of baits for each individual lake you fish. Too confusing, so I stick to brown and black. The two base colors. I also use only two basic sizes, a 3/8 oz Arkie style. These I use for Pitchin, flippin and when fishing heavy cover in lakes. I also use a 1/4 oz smallie jig for lakes, void of heavy cover or habitat. I use this jig on spinning gear.

It is the choice of trailer, that allows me to vary the color/contrast to match the hatch. It is also the choice of trailer that controls my rate of fall, required to trigger strikes. Keep in mind that a jig is one of the baits we use that has no built in action. Therefor it is up to the angler to add action to the bait. Again, the choice of various trailers allows you to change and vary the action of the bait.

I use one basic rule to determine if I use pork or plastic as my trailer. If the water temp is 69 and below I use pork. I use only two basic colors of pork, Black/Blue or Olive Green/ Watermelon. I use these on the brown jig depending on water clarity. If it's clear I go with the more subtle Olive Green and will use the black/blue if the water is stained. For muddy water I will use the black jig with the Olive Green pork. In either case the combinations I use will definitely contrast the pork and jig. I will use the Uncle Josh 101 spin frog on the 1/4 oz smallie jig. Generally I use either black/blue or purple.

Also, when using pork, I use a 3/4 inch piece of plastic inserted onto the hook shank ahead of the pork chunk. This keeps the pork chunk up off the hook & barb. The pork chunk is always floating up on the hook bend, preventing it from getting in the way of a hook set. I purchase the Yamamoto grubs and just tear off the tail and split the grub body in half. I use a grub that has both red & green flake in it. This adds an additional contrast to the jig, matching possible color hues as well, and some flash in the flake. It also adds some additional body and buoyancy to the jig.

I personally use BoHawg (Strike King) pork. I will use both the Sr. & Jr., depending on the size of the bait in the particular body of water that I am fishing. I also use the Bo-Liz, watermelon, on black jigs. I do this in late winter and early spring if the water is real cold & muddy. It is generally the only time I will use rattles and a 1/2 oz jig. I want a big, noisy contrasting bait the bass can find.

When the water temp is above 69 degrees, it is time for plastic. I get a little faster fall with plastic trailers. Single and twin tail grubs, wing bats, frog junks, brush hawgs, Gitzits, lizards & craws all provide some additional action, over and above that of pork, that will trigger strikes from the bass. Generally as the temp climbs, the bass will become more aggressive and chase it's prey. I then begin to swim a jig more, when using plastic.

When using plastic, I stick to the darker colors, mostly purple with either blue, black, red or green flake. When using the lizard I only use a black one with red flake. When using craws I like to stick with a pumpkin/watermelon seed or something small and more of a natural coloration.

Yamamoto plastics is my choice when using grubs. All other plastics I have poured by C&O Plastics.

I am a firm believer that the jig is a reaction bait. It also just happens to be the bass' favorite meal. Match that meal, drop it on his nose and he'll eat it, instinctively. It is a known fact that jigs will consistently catch you larger fish. Just take a look at the last 25 years of BassMaster tournament results. No Duh, If'n it's the big boys choice, I think, I ought to be usin it. You should learn it to. Oh, by the way, Thanks Dee!

Keep a tight Line!