During the 2023 season, I have greatly enjoyed fishing for large Scup and Black Sea Bass using Jigs rigged with assist hooks that I have rigged up at the bench. I have been fishing depths of 30' - 60' and jigs from 1 Ounce - 3 Ounce in a variety of shapes. Often times I have been fishing these jigs alone on lighter jigging rods and 5000 class spinning reels or 200 class low profile conventional reels.
Below are some images of these Jigs and portions of a Blog post that I wrote a year ago on the use of Assist Hooks and how I would encourage more people to try them in their general fishing for just about every species.
Fishing with a jig and an Assist Hook may look and feel like a highly technical and special tactic for fishing, and for sure there are many advanced methods and gear for it. From Speed Jigging to Slow Pitch, the gear, rods and reels can become quite overwhelming. I'm an enthusiast and a novice at it. The use of Jigs and Assist Hooks has made inshore fishing for all species on Cape Cod that much more fun. I have tried to use Jigs and paired Assist hooks that can target hese fish and not be overly complicated to use nor require highly specialized rod and reel setups to use.
The illustration above and the type of jig pictured was more or less my entry into this technique. Assist Hooks come in a lot of other variations. There are Pairs of Hooks, Hooks on both the top and bottom of the jig, and some other variants, but a single bare assist hook is a good starting point.
BASICS OF THE RIGGING
In a 'traditional' jig set up, the hook is on the back of the jig connected to the jig using a split ring or a barrel swivel, but the hook is directly connected to the jig. During a fight, the fish can use the jig as leverage to dislodge the hook. The jig acts as the middleman between the angler and the fish.
The number one reason or benefit in my mind to use an Assist hook over the aforementioned application is that the middleman is eliminated. Notice in the diagram above that the main line from the rod/reel is connected directly to a solid ring.
The solid ring is connected to the hook. When the hook sets into the fish, you can draw a dashed line from the hooks, directly to the solid ring and directly up the main line. At that point the jig itself is swinging freely and has no impact or consequence on the outcome of the fight. The angler is not fighting the fish through the jig but is directly connected to the fish. This subtle but importance difference in the use of an Assist hook versus a traditional hook on the end of a jig provides such a noticeable difference in the hook-up and ultimately the experience of catching the fish, that for me, it's the number 1 reason to do it.
A fish of any size, when connected and fought an assist hook will be significantly better handled in the fight and more enjoyable to catch.
The detractors will say that the Assist Hook, actual hook up ratio is less. The fish may strike at the lure, but the fish could miss it just as easily as it could find the hook. To this I say it's a potentially valid point but a tradeoff I am willing to make.
I'll also offer that a fish making a decision to commit to hit a jig isn't nibbling at a hook. The entire purpose of the jig and presentation is that you are enticing the fish to strike at either the head or tail end of a bait and that the fish is opening its mouth, flaring its gills, and inhaling the hook into its mouth at which point, the hook finds purchase in the mouth of the fish. My point is that you may in fact miss a bite, but the bite isn't subtle.
One important thing about fishing with Assist hooks and Jigs whether its speed jigging, Slow Pitch, or using a combination of a rig is the leader. The strike on an Assist Hook and jig is high impact and often the fish is running the other way. You may be fishing with braid, but your leader should be a material with stretch in and longer than a standard leader you may use to absorb the shock and you should check your leader often for abrasion. Very often, my leaders are longer than the rod I am using and its necessary to use an FG knot to allow for the braid/leader connection to pass through the guides of the rod.
UNDERSTANDING THE HOOK
There's enough data on hooks and hook sizes to write a dozen blogs. As it pertains to Assist Hooks, it's important to know that the shape and structure of the hook is different with the most important and basic difference being that the size terminology on an Assist hook is different than other.
A 'Jigging Hook' has three basics attributes
It's a Non-Offset Hook meaning that the point, turn, and shank are all aligned with one another and not offset like common J Hooks.
The eye at the top of the hook is at 90 degrees to the point for rigging purposes. The eye is not 'Inline' with the rest of the hook.
The gap on the hook which is the distance from the point to the shank is generally wider than hooks, such as 'J' Hooks or Octopus Hooks.
If your Jig comes to you out of the box with a 2/0 inline hook or Size 2 Treble, that hook size will not correspond to an Assist hook size of the same number. For example a 5/0 standard hook will be smaller than a 5/0 Assist Hook. The image below shows a jig just under 4" in length. The inline hook size for a jig like this would normally be a 3/0 inline. The size hook on the Assist Hook in the Image is a 4/0 and it would not be difficult to imagine a 5/0 on it as well.
Something to remember about the hook itself. You want the hook to be a heavy-duty wire construction to prevent bending or breaking with larger fish, but you want to be aware of the relative weight or gauge of your hook, because remember that the primary manner in which the hook is taken is when the fish opens its mouth and inhales the hook. It's possible to select a hook that is too heavy for the species and application you may be pursuing, and the miss of a hook-up could be due to the weight of the hook and the fish can't inhale or take the hook.
Assist Hooks are rigged with a line or chord that inherently has a strength that will absorb the hit. Common materials include Kevlar and Dyneema that are woven and are available in a variety of strengths and thicknesses to pair with hooks.
My most common rigging is to double the line and loop it through the shank and the eye. I then protect the connection with a piece of simple shrink tube.
You want to pair a solid ring and split ring that are of similar diameter to each other. You want them to be of a size that allows a very easy and free swinging of the jig once the fish is hooked up. The above is a really big topic and for those pursuing the large pelagic species, I would seek the expertise of your local tackle shop. The above is really an entry level 'description' more than technical information.
KNOW YOUR TARGET
I've been asked a lot if I simply use an Assist hook for all species and the answer is 'not really'. I have found that haddock fishing has its challenges due to the position of the mouth and how they feed, but I have not had the same challenges with Cod and Pollock.
Black Sea Bass are immense fun with Assist hooks due to the aggressive nature in which they feed and by the size of the mouth which they possess. Even a sub-legal black sea bass has very little trouble taking in a 3-4" jig that is paired with an Assist Hook.
If someone reading this has plans to fish Buzzards Bay this spring for black sea bass, I would encourage trying Assist Hooks out on this fishery. It's honestly one of the simplest areas to give it a try. The gear is simple, and the opportunities are many.
Bottom dwelling species, such as fluke can also be caught on an Assist hook. The image below is from a MyFishingCapeCod member this past season that enticed a fluke to take the Assist Hook on a small jig. It's important to note here that you can bait the hook. Sure, the goal is to get the fish to bite with the action of the jig, but by no means do I consider it 'cheating' or a hard and fast rule that you can't bait the hook.
Solo Acts Versus Rigs
In my own fishing, I enjoy fishing a jig on its own. If I sense the feed to be strong and the fish feeding aggressively, I will put a jig down alone in an attempt to cull out a larger fish and see if it will take a larger offering.
There's also the ability to pair a jig with a multitude of rig setups. Jigging as a method or presentation doesn't have to have these large sweeping, violent movements of the rod or intense speed winding on your reel. The improving popularity and influence of slow pitch jigging has led me to believe that even slow presentation of a jig will work and it's because of this that I won't hesitate putting jigs on high low rigs or drop shot style rigs. In fact, when I am jigging for mackerel with a sabiki rig, I will put a small jig with an assist hook that matches the hatch, because you never know. I've personally witnessed a striper take a mac off a sabiki like candy and I'm determined to be ready when they try to take the bottom offering.
Some really simple 'drop shot' style rigs can be tied and deployed with a jig with an Assist hook and be fished very effectively double hookups are quite common.
Something to note, fishing with an assist hook is not strictly a boat activity. Assist hooks can be paired with jigs/metals and cast from shore or a pier and they also have uses and application with other hard baits. It's a hook style that has been used for centuries and encourage those curious to try it. There are some really simple methods and opportunities in Cape Cod and other waters in the Northeast to experiment.
Tight lines everyone and thanks for reading.