Slow Jigging For Large Groupers – How To Hook One & Land It Successfully

By: Isaiah Peter, September 16, 2016 | 0 COMMENTS


Slow Pitch Jigging has become all the rage in Southeast Asia with many anglers rapidly jumping onto the slow jigging bandwagon in the hopes of landing a trophy demersal heavyweight species, weighing in excess of 10 kilograms (kg). These Orange Spotted Groupers (Epinephelus Coioides), more commonly referred to as “Gas Tongs” (which literally translates to gas cylinder) in the peninsula of Malaysia, are found close to the bottom. They rarely venture out from their hideouts to hunt and have a strike range of about 5 meters off the seabed. While the likelihood of hooking on to one depends invariably on luck, nothing should be left to chance should the opportunity to tangle with one of these leviathan beasts present itself. Appropriate preparation is key, to be able to successfully hook up and land these highly sought after fish.

Slow jigging was originally conceptualized in Japan, but our adaptation of the application makes it difficult to strictly adhere to the fundamental concept of only using the rod to animate jig action and letting the reel do all the work upon contact. This is largely due to the nature of the targeted species’ behavior when you set the hook. They instinctively dive back into their caves or head for the nearest structure and jam themselves into a crevice by flaring up their gill plates. When this occurs, either the line gets cut off by coming into contact with coral and rocks or a standoff ensues between the angler and the fish, which usually results in a stalemate, forcing the angler to break off the line in frustration.

To even the odds in favor of the anglers, a new breed of slow jigging rods have been developed for the Southeast Asian market culminating in the perfect blend of sensitivity and power to enable anglers to pump up their finned adversaries without compromising on the parabolic action of the rod which facilitates the animation of the jigs. Pairing these specifically designed rods with an overhead reel with a high gear ratio and a powerful drag system (minimum of 10kg) is essential when targeting these fish.

One of the key principles of slow jigging is to remain vertical. This optimizes the influence we have on the delivery of the jig and its presentation into the strike zone. In addition to that, it provides the best angle of leverage that favors the angler during the fight. However, achieving this from a drifting boat (the Japanese use spankered boats) can be a bit of a challenge especially when wind and current are factored into the equation. The pioneers of the discipline recommend using the lightest jig and the thinnest line you can get away with to increase the chance of contact and reduce water resistance. However, when dealing with hard fighting bottom dwellers, we have to take precaution to not get cut off (which is difficult, but not impossible!).

The solution of using thicker lines and leaders from a drifting boat may raise an eyebrow or two; however this provides protection against abrasion and the tensile strength will definitely aid in absorbing the force emitted by the fish dashing back down. Some may argue that this will significantly reduce contact as the heavier lines are prone to catch water and create slack which causes the jig to deviate from its intended course. However, using a heavier jig will compensate for line slack caused by the current and allow you to remain vertical. In fact, it will get you into the strike zone faster.

Slow jigs are available in a plethora of shapes and colors. They have a wide range of weights to cater to different depths and water conditions. There are several design profiles of which some are more popular, but they all have the same function. To mimic an injured or dying fish by sliding and suspending horizontally at the end of a pitch and falling with a series of flashes and flutters as they sink. This action triggers the predatory instincts of the fish, making them unable to resist an opportunity for an easy meal. When targeting groupers, use jigs with bigger profiles to arouse their curiosity and get their attention.

The roles of connection knots and terminal tackle are often overlooked but they are of utmost importance in the process of catching and landing the fish. On several occasions, I have witnessed good sized fish being lost to a slipped knot or an opened split ring. To avoid such potential disasters, one must ensure that all connection points are not vulnerable to failure. I would recommend the PR knot (Bobbin required) for line to leader connection and an AG chain knot for leader to GP ring connection. In my opinion, when tied properly these knots have the best holding strengths.

Assist hooks should be thin enough to penetrate the jaw upon striking and strong enough to hold the fish. Two pairs of assist hooks mean that most times, the fish is hooked in at least two or more areas, allowing for the pressure to be evenly distributed by the number of holding points. You will need split rings that will not open under opposing forces of high drag pressure and a large powerful fish. They are the main connection points for the entire jig assembly and their quality can determine whether or not a fish is landed.

Now that we have addressed the tackle aspect of fishing for this species, let’s focus on presentation. Generally, groupers don’t need much motivation to attack. As long as ‘bait’ falls or passes within their reach they will attempt to grab it but the scarcity of these fish often lead to questions about whether the style of presentation is correct. If you are keeping your jigs relatively close to the bottom and are constantly getting contact and hooking up small fish which are roughly the same size as your jig or smaller, you are on the right track with your presentation.

If you are not getting any contact on a regular basis, there is a chance that your presentation isn’t appealing enough to trigger a bite. Try simplifying your approach first – use one full crank per pitch with a momentary pause before repeating the process between three to five times and let the jig fall back down. You can try this method with ½ cranks as well. The objective here is to imitate an injured or dying fish so use your imagination to help you with the presentation. Rhythm and cadence will vary from angler to angler and you can determine what works best for you at the location you are fishing by evaluating the amount of contact you get. You can use the chart below as a reference to what to emulate.

When the stars finally align and you are at the right place, at the right time, with the right presentation and your jig has been engulfed by a behemoth (!) -  keep calm and strike. Reel down and do it once more. Then, using your rod and reel in tandem, pump the fish off the bottom. Do not thumb the spool when the fish attempts to run, instead maintain tension and crank when you can. Do not let the line go slack! You can back down on the drag when you have cleared the danger zone.

As atmospheric pressure changes every 10 meters, the swim bladder of the fish will eventually start to bloat as the fish is unable to equalize. Continue cranking at a constant pace to prevent the fish from floating up faster than you reel. If you are fishing in deep waters, there might be sharks lurking and you could get taxed. So work quickly to get your fish up. When the fish surfaces, gaff it by the mouth and land it. Congratulations! You have finally landed a “Gas Tong”.


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