Making Finesse Hair Jigs for Cold, Clear and Pressured Bass

If you ever look up bucktail jig online you get quite a variety of how different regions define it. In the New England surf, it could be a 2-ounce head loaded with a big-flared skirt of hair. Offshore, it could be an even heavier head with what would appear to be a paintbrush full of hair tied to the back. But this is the Midwest, and a bucktail jig is a finesse system. It’s made for the toughest conditions and the most wary fish.

In my column on Lake Michigan shore fishing this month I talk about using it for Great Lakes browns. But this system actually started for largemouths, smallmouths and even walleyes. This system catches these species and is probably one of the easiest lures to start making yourself. In fact, this is a great place to start if you have never done one before.

Do-it’s Minnow Head, Chub Head, Egg Head, Teardrop Head and Banana Head jig molds are all great choices for finesse hair Jigs.
Do-it’s Minnow Head, Chub Head, Egg Head, Teardrop Head and Banana Head jig molds are all great choices for finesse hair Jigs.

If you want to catch fish on tough, pressured lakes in clear water or in the most frigid water, finesse hair jigs are a great weapon.

When used properly, the finesse hair jig is almost like it isn’t there. First of all, it’s definitely a clear-water system. This does not work well in algae-stained or heavily tannic-stained water. The jigs are diminutive and rely on the sight of the fish. Nothing wiggles, wobbles, rattles or does much in the water—but neither does a small minnow in cold water. If you watch baitfish, they hang and dart a few inches to a few feet with little movement. That is what we are imitating with the finesse hair jig. Bass, trout and walleyes hit this not out of reflex or irritation or anger, they eat it because it looks real and is an easy target.

To achieve this realism, we have to get the right balance. Built properly, it sinks, but not like a missile headed to the bottom. These jig heads are light and the buoyancy of the deer tail nearly offsets the weight of the lead. They swim horizontally and aren’t designed to do a lot of up and down movement.

Over the years I have fished a lot of deer tail jigs. It was in fact one of the first lures I tried to make myself. But during these 40 years of experimenting, I have found that there are several different Do-it jig heads that really excel for this system. Basically, there are five that I use all the time, and even if poured in the same weight and used on the same 6-pound-test line, these all perform differently. It’s all about the lead placement on the hook and where the eye of the hook is placed within the jig head.

The Minnow Head
The Minnow Head is one of the most versatile of the finesse jigs Do-it produces, so I will start with that one. If I had to have one head for this system, I would probably start there. The hook is placed well and it has a realistic baitfish shape and recessed eye socket to either paint or add a 3-D eye. The JME-7-A1 has a collar for tying hair and produces weights from 1/48 to 3/8 ounce. The 1/8 and 3/16 ounce will be your workhorse for this system, and with all the heads discussed.

The Egg Head and Chub Head
These two are very similar in shape and balance, but still perform differently. The Chub Head (JCH-5-A) has a very sleek tapered body and is very realistic with a painted eye. The body is forward of the hook eye and allows you to fish this deeper than most heads with the same weight. The Egg Head (EgJ-6-A) has an even lower center of gravity, allowing it to go even deeper than the Chub, again in the same weight. Both of these allow for a very good horizontal presentation in deeper water.

The Do-it Chub Head dressed with sparse bucktail and a little Crystal Flash; less is more when tying on deer tail.
The Do-it Chub Head dressed with sparse bucktail and a little Crystal Flash; less is more when tying on deer tail.

The Teardrop Head
The Teardrop is a very popular head for both smallmouths and walleyes. The smaller sizes also make great finesse hair jigs. I like this one when the water is warmer. I want to fish it a little faster because it tends to bomb down when you stop it. In this case it will stay deep, even with a faster retrieve. Quick snaps of the reel work best.

The Banana Head
The Banana Head (JY-4-A) is a classic. Although it doesn’t fit the horizontal tactics described above, this finesse jig is best on sand, gravel or rock bottoms. The same finesse principal as the others applies here, but this one is not always intended to look like a baitfish. Dressed in black or brown, it looks like crawfish or goby. The banana is a bottom-seeking head design.

The hair
The “hair” in hair jig is generally plain white-tailed deer tail hair died almost any color. There are many substitutes to deer tail, but I always come back to the real thing. It has the buoyancy to help neutralize the lead head and has just the right movement in the water.

Less is better is the key to tying. A properly tied finesse bucktail jig should look “undertied.” If you can get one thin layer of hair around the collar you have probably created the perfect hair jig. Most that are commercially produced have too much hair on them; I call it the paintbrush look. Too much hair restricts the movement of the individual fibers.

The length should be about twice the length of the hook. Or, the final length of the jig should be about 2 3/4 to 3 inches long.

A little flash can be added, but keep it to one or two strands per side and don’t overdo the flash. Crystal Flash or fine Flashabou are good choices.

As far as color, match the hatch for your water. White or gray with blue or olive backs are good baitfish patterns; yellow is a good perch imitation. For Do-it’s Banana Heads molds on the bottom, I like a simple black or olive. For Door County smallmouths, purple is king for some reason. Plain black is hard to beat for the bass.

The hair jig is hard to beat in cold, clear or pressured waters all around the Midwest. This is one of the easiest lures to make and a great place to start if you are just getting into the hobby. Do-it offers a great selection of heads to get you off to a great start in catching fish with finesse hair jigs. And as you will find out, it’s always more fun to catch a fish on a lure you made yourself.