Jigs Before There Were Jigs

Elmer Thompson's "Doll Fly"

Elmer Thompson’s “Doll Fly”

Fishing the traditional “jig and pig” has become such a standard bass presentation these days that many anglers probably forget that there was actually a time before this great bass catcher came about. Terry and me have talked about some of the early pork days that go back to the 70s, 50s and even back to the beginning of the century. And though pork baits were on the angling scene very early, it wasn’t until the late 70s that living rubber skirts became a reality. The early 80s began that period of tournament bass catching dominated by the living rubber jig coupled with a piece of trimmed pork fat. So the question then is what jigs were bass anglers and others throwing before there were living rubber jigs trailed by pork rinds?

If you lived in the Southeast or Midwest, then there was a pretty good chance that you were throwing hand tied hair jigs of some sort. Below the Mason-Dixon line, Elmer Thompson was kicking out 25 million plus “doll flys” per year at their peak. Made from real polar bear hair originally, the doll fly could be picked up at any bait and tackle shop, no matter how small, in the 50s and 60s. The bait was arguably the precursor for most all “crappie jigs” and tennessee “flys” that would follow.

Jack Crawford's hand-tied hair jigs

Jack Crawford’s hand-tied hair jigs

To the north, and beginning in the late 60s through the early 70s, anglers were buying up hand tied hair jigs made by Jack Crawford. Promoted and sold via Fishing Facts magazine, each tie was made to mimic a particular species of prey. Included among the ties were probably some of the earliest jigs to incorporate the barred rock pattern, something seen and popular to this day, now just in a silicon skirt.

Fishing with these “simple” jigs is kind of a lost art, as they were fished sans trailer a majority of the time. Now days, it is almost considered blasphemy to fish a jig for bass without some type of pork or plastic attachment. However, it’s still fun to pull out some of the old style jigs and chase bass and other species of fish with them, where the success of the days catch is either all in the details of the tie, and/or the proficiency of the angler. Fishing this way truly is a lost art.

  • We fished bucktail jigs with either pork or scoundrel style plastic worms as dressing But sometime around 1970, I became a marabou jig fisherman. First it was crappie jigs I was introduced to by friends from the midwest. Then for a number of years, a black, 1/4 ounce extra long, extra full marabou jig — usually 1/4 oz — was my go-to bait, period. Until it became impossible to get real marabou any more. Turkey marabou has never been an acceptable substitute in my experience. Then in ’78, or course, it all came tumbling down with the popularization of the living rubber jig and pork frog combo. Now it’s mostly silicone and plastic trailers of course. Till then next bestest thing comes along, anyway.

  • Ralph Manns

    As a salt-water southern Calif. angler first, I was using jigs before I caught my first bass. Scooters, So. Cal. barracuda ate up the Japanese versions.
    The jig I most remember was the one found in WWII survival kits/life rafts, although plain brown and black ball-head (1//8 & 1/4 oz.) hair jjigs were a staple for bass in Lake Travis in the 1970-1990 period.
    Military research had found the survival jig was the most consistent fish catcher world-wide. The jig was a simple white bucktail, about 1/8 ounces,
    but had a special feature. They slipped a trailer hook over the jig hook, dressed with red bucktail. The combo was an enticing shrimp imitation, kicking and folding on a twitch-drop retrieve. My best catch of calico bass ever was a bunch of 5-8 pounders that hit my last remaining survival jig under a then new oil rig off Huntington beach. I never got to try it again as I was en route to SEA for three years and I’ve never seen another of those good jigs..