By Keith Sutton 

Two panfish anglers are fishing from the same boat using the same type of jig—let’s say a Lindy Fuzz-E-Grub or Little Nipper. One fisherman is hooking fish after fish. The other can’t buy a bite.

Sound familiar? It has happened to me more than once, and usually I was the angler who wasn’t catching fish.

There was a time I believed that my fishing companion, the guy catching fish, was just luckier than me. But after finding myself in this situation once too often, I started studying what my buddy was doing. In nearly every situation, he was working his jig differently than me. The differences often were subtle, but they were enough to account for the variations in our catch rates.

No matter what type of panfish we’re after — crappie, bluegills, perch or other species — the way we work our jigs plays a big part in our success or lack of it. We must present the lure in a particular fashion — fast, slow, twitching, jerking, creeping, racing, jumping, sitting — that gets a fish’s attention.

Fish are fickle. Some days they prefer one pattern; some days another. So it’s good to know a variety of ways to work a jig. The savvy panfish angler switches from one variation to another until the best method becomes evident.

Here are eight ways to get you started. The first four are tactics to use when fishing with a jigging pole or cane pole. The last four are rod-and-reel tactics.

The Jig

Not surprisingly, jigging a jig is the most-used method of working one. The lure is held stationary for a moment. Then, with a quick upward snap of the wrist, the angler lifts the lure a short distance and lets it fall again to its previous depth. The timing of this jigging action may vary considerably, from a quickly repeated motion to slow, well-spaced jigging of the lure. Try variations to see what works best.

The Do-Nothing

Often as not, the best way to work a jig is doing nothing at all. Start by tying the jig properly. The knot should be pulled to the top of the hook eye so the jig hangs perpendicular to the line. Then lower the jig to fish level and do your best to hold it there without moving it all. You may think the jig is perfectly still, but it will shimmy ever so slightly, like a minnow finning in the water, with just enough action to draw the attention of a nearby crappie or bream. Marabou jigs and skirted tube jigs are especially effective because they ripple seductively even when stationary.

The Figure Eight

In muddy water, panfish hold tighter to cover in shallower water. Most of us move from one spot to another very quickly, but in muddy water, it’s best to work slowly. The Figure Eight allows just that. Place the jig close to a stump, log or other cover, then work it around slowly in a figure-eight pattern. Continue working the lure in this manner completely around the feature you’re fishing.

The Clean-and-Jerk

This method often gets the attention of inactive panfish. Use your pole to flip a jig out on a slack line that’s at least as long as your pole, then allow it to sink until the line begins to tighten. Now give the jig a hard upward pull and allow it to sink again on slack line. Repeat. Enticing a fish to strike may require changing the distance you pull the jig upward each time, from short hops to long leaps.

The Knock-and-Roll

Panfish often seek shelter around the buttresses and knees of cypress trees. You can use a jigging pole around these trees, but if fish are skittish, it’s difficult to approach close enough to use a pole without spooking them. Instead, remain at a distance, and use an ultralight combo to cast a jig against the side of the tree. Cast right at the tree and let the jig knock the trunk and roll into the water below. Fish holding right beside a tree, waiting for insects to tumble off, will quickly to grab the falling lure.

The Bobber Jerk

To catch panfish around weed beds, use a jig placed 1 to 4 feet below a small bobber. Cast the lure into open pockets or work it along one edge. Retrieve in jerk-stop fashion, pulling with a hard tug so the jig rises toward the surface, then stopping long enough to allow the jig to sink perpendicular to the surface again.

The Slingshot

This technique uses a short fishing rod like a slingshot to catapult a jig beneath a dock or boathouse where shade-loving panfish often lurk. Use a 4-1/2- to 5-1/2-foot, medium-action rod with a spincasting reel or an autocast spinning reel that allows you to pick up the line and flip the bail at the same time. Pinch the jig carefully between the thumb and index finger of your free hand, pull the rod back like a bow, then aim and release the lure, letting it fly beneath the structure. With practice, you can sling-shot a small jig 15 to 20 feet back under a dock where big panfish are hiding.

The Cast and Reel

Sometimes the best method is also the easiest. Just cast a jig and reel it in. Don’t worry how fast or how slow or how deep or how shallow. Just cast and reel. It’ll work more often than you think.