Last Tuesday, I enjoyed one of my favorite rites of spring as I hooked and landed 18 smallmouths from the Juniata River. Most of those fish averaged 14 to 16 inches, with the biggest on being a perfect 19-incher. My go-to lure for springtime smallmouths has been tube jigs on spinning tackle for more than 10 years now. For the past two seasons, however, I've been fishing my jigs on braided line, and the difference has been phenomenal.
I wasn't an easy convert to braided line for a number of reasons. Braid is fairly expensive, with most brands costing $18 to $20 for a 150-yard spool. The surface of braided line is shiny and slick, so many of the simple knots that work perfectly with monofilament aren't so good with braid. Standard line clippers don't work on braid either, so you must carry scissors or a small knife to cut the stuff or trim the tag end of a knot. A severe snarl or tangle is next to impossible to unravel in braid, so if you tend to be a "tangler," stay away from braid because it will just drive you crazy.
The three most appealing attributes of braid are strength, abrasion resistance and lack of stretch. Braid is crazy strong for its diameter, almost unbreakable under most typical fishing situations. The same thing applies to the abrasion resistance of braid. You can drag the stuff around rocks, through weeds and over logs, brush and other nasty stuff down there in the watery world where the big fish live that would easily kill anything but super-heavy monofilament.
While those qualities seem impressive, I rarely need tremendous break strength or abrasion resistance in a line for the majority of my fishing.
The near zero amount of stretch braid possess also makes it incredibly sensitive, especially for jig fishing where that increased sensitivity elevates every facet of the game. That is what ultimately tempted me to try braid. I had long considered myself a competent jig fisherman, but the first time I fished a tube jig on braided line, I was amazed at the difference. I could feel the lure so much better as it ticked on the bottom, and even the most subtle takes were transmitted with incredible precision.
I was instantly sold on the value of braided line for fishing tubes and other types of jigs, but I quickly discovered the differences between fishing with mono and braid presented a host of problems to solve as well. After more than two years of trials and experimentation, I feel comfortable sharing my system for fishing tube jigs on braided line for river smallmouths.
To get the most out of braid, use a good quality rod with some backbone and six and a half to seven feet long. Short, wimpy rods just won't cut it for jig fishing. I've been using 6 1/2-foot, medium action rod in the Bass Pro Shops Carbonlite series.
It has a great balance between stiffness and sensitivity, along with lightweight stainless steel guides with titanium-carbide inserts that work great with braid. I originally bought this rod to fish crankbaits on monofilament line, but when I began experimenting with tubes on braid, I found it the perfect rod for that tactic as well.
To offset the price of braided line, there is no need to fill the entire reel spool with it. For my braid rig, I like braid about the same diameter as 6- or 8-pound mono, which will have a break strength of 20 to 30 pounds. Since my average cast when fishing jigs is usually about 60 to 80 feet or less, I fill a reel spool almost full with some cheap 10-pound mono, then wind on 80 to 100 feet of braid, using a double uni knot to attach the braid to the mono. Using this system you can fill a reel four or five times from one 150-yard spool of braid, making the cost of using it much more affordable.
Braid also lasts a long time. I've been using the same section of braid on my tube jig outfit for nearly two years now, and other than cutting off about the first five feet of it last fall when it began to show some minor wear, it is still performing just fine.
I've talked to some anglers who tie jigs directly to the braided line and report they catch plenty of bass doing so, but I prefer to use a 20- to 30-inch leader of clear 8- to 12-pound-test monofilament on my braid rig for two reasons. First, in anything but the dirtiest water, I just feel more confident having a transparent connection to my lure rather than the highly visible braided line.
Next, getting snagged on the bottom a few times is a virtual certainty when jig fishing, and when that occurs, I just want to break off the lure, re-rig and get back to fishing again. Braid is so difficult to break that it can be a major problem doing so with a hopelessly snagged lure. My short monofilament leader ensures I can easily jettison a stuck bait when necessary.
The final piece of my braid rig was how to attach the leader to the braided line. I started using a double uni knot, but it seemed I was snapping that connection almost every time I tried to set the hook on a good fish.
I tried other knots and connections that were supposed to work well with braid, but none of them worked well for me either, and as much as I enjoyed the sensitivity of braid, I just about gave up on it. I tried using a small barrel swivel, which solved the break off problem, but it hung up in the guides and was troublesome to cast. Then I tried a "tippet ring" used for fly-fishing leaders. Most fly-tackle shops stock these tiny 2-millimeter metal rings, which cost about $6 for a package of 10, and they cast beautifully. I tie the ring to the braid with a uni knot and the leader to the ring with a standard improved clinch knot.