Using Live Bait with Jigs

Jigs are deadly by themselves, but they can be enhanced in conjunction with live or dead bait. To take a live or dead bait and add the action of a jig makes an irresistible lure even more dangerous. There are almost as many baits as there are rods, but for now we will restrict ourselves to minnows and shrimp. Here is how to rig and fish these mainstay live baits on a jig. 

There are four main criteria when rigging bait on a jig:

  • Motion of bait
  • Durability of bait (how well it stays on the hook)
  • Longevity of bait (how long the live bait survives)
  • Scent of bait

In rigging live bait on a jig, it is best to maintain a streamlined effect as the bait swims through the water. What this means is that it is best to rig the hook parallel to the bait as opposed to perpendicular. If hooked perpendicular, the bait has a tendency to spin unnaturally. It might still work some of the time, but it will most likely limit the number of strikes. 

Related to the hook angle, the motion of the bait is another factor to keep in mind. Generally speaking, the further forward or backwards the bait is hooked, the greater the motion. A shrimp hooked through the middle of the body won’t swim like one hooked through the tail. But there is a definite tradeoff between motion and durability. And hooks placed forward or to the rear to optimize motion have more of a tendency for short strikes. 

Whether you catch your own or buy it at a tackle shop, bait is a valuable investment in your success. Durability is a key concern when bait fishing with a jig. The less meat the hook goes through, the longer the bait will survive, but the easier it is to lose your bait. Head hooking a minnow or tail hooking a shrimp optimize motion but sacrifice durability. Day in and day out, baits hooked this way won’t last as long as baits hooked mid-body, and they will be more prone to short strikes. 

Use minnows with jigs


The first way to rig a minnow for live baiting on a jig is to hook it through the jaw and up out of the nostrils. This rig produces a natural streamlined effect, maximizes the struggling motion on the jig bait and keeps the bait alive for a good amount of time. The tradeoff is that it’s quite easy for the fish to short strike and steal the bait, or for the minnow to simply get ripped off the hook on a cast.

A similar method is to hook the minnow through the jaw and up behind the head, behind the skull. This technique doesn’t move quite as well as the through the nostril method, but it still has good action and it’s more secure, with fewer short strikes. With this technique you’ll have to impart a bit more action on the retrieve. Seeing as how it’s hooked behind the skull, the minnow won’t live very long with this hook placement.

The third way to rig a minnow for a jig is to push the hook point through the mouth and then down to the bottom of the gills. Then turn the jig upwards and penetrate through the minnow upwards just forward of mid-body. This rig is very secure, and your bait should last a long time. This technique also does a better job of picking up those short strikers. The minnow’s  not going to move much, however, and it won’t live long, so you’ll have to impart more action on the jig instead of just letting it sit on the bottom. 

One of the jig rigs with the most action is the tail hook. Simply hook the minnow perpendicular to the dorsal surface about 1/8th of an inch up from the tail. This rig will keep the minnow alive and kicking for a long time. With this bait you don’t have to move it very much and can actually let it sit on the bottom, where it will struggle and draw in fish that will eat it off the bottom. 

The final way to hook a minnow on a jig is to thread it on the jig hook. Once again, penetrate the minnow through the mouth, but this time continue running the hook through the body, around the bend of the hook so that the minnow is doubled over. Finish by pushing the hook point up through the mid body of the minnow. This is probably the most durable of the rigs, and will pick up short strikes well, although the motion is limited so you’ll have to impart action on the jig. 

different live baits from san antonio sun article


The first way to rig a shrimp bait on a jig is to hook it through the head, between the eyes and the brain. This leaves the tail and the legs free to move naturally. You can hook it perpendicular to the shrimp’s head and finish with the jig shank parallel, or you can come up from the bottom and penetrate the top of the shrimp between eyes and brain. 

You can also tail hook a shrimp, hooking it either upwards or downwards. This technique also allows for excellent motion on the shrimp, but can produce short strikes. 

Many people pinch the tail off of their shrimp when rigging their jigs. This is partly to release scent into the water and partly to create a good surface to rig a hook. Start by positioning the shrimp with legs facing away from the jig hook. Penetrate the shrimp through the tail end and thread the hook through the body, pushing the shrimp so that the hook pokes out in the middle of the shrimp. Slide the shrimp up against the jig head. The legs of the shrimp should be facing the opposite way as the hook, which points upwards. This produces a nice streamlined, hydrodynamic effect that swims and casts well. This is a high durability, high effectiveness rig.

spinning reel and live bait retrieval

Retrieving these live baits on a jig head should be a subtle, reserved affair. You want fish to get a good look at your bait, which has massive appeal just the way it is. Fish relatively slowly, moving the bait 6 to 8 inches at a time with pauses, fishing near the bottom. It’s essentially a slow drag across the bottom. If your bait is alive, you can leave it on the bottom for several seconds at a time, as predatory fish will see it wiggling and eat if off the bottom. With the center hooked baits, you will want to fish a bit faster, but still relatively slowly. We recommend fishing braid to be able to detect subtle takes as fish pick up your bait off the bottom. A good deal of patience is required for this type of fishing- let the fish eat the bait before setting the hook. Thread the hook along the inside of the back of the shrimp, and once the shrimp gets to the straight part of the shank, push the shrimp up to the jig head. The bottom of the shrimp should be on the same side as the jig head.

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