Jigging & Popping in Key West

Jigging and Popping Fishing Key West

Todays jigging and popping fishing charters aren’t for the faint at heart. This style fishing is more for the adrenaline junky, the athlete of the fishing world. High-end fishing tackle and big game drags will push an angler to his or her physical limits. Its hard to explain to someone who has never partaken of this demanding sport.

Bluefin Tuna

Bluefin Tuna

The feelings and thoughts that go through your mind when getting that first strike of the morning, followed by a rod bent, line screaming runs that snatches you around the boat like a scolded child. Its kind of like “What have I got myself into?” mixed with “Dear God, please let me catch this fish!” It’s a feeling you will never forget, and like a nasty addiction, try to duplicate over and over.

Jigging Mutton Snapper

Jigging Mutton Snapper

The winter time in the Key West offers prime time jig casting and popper chugging for pelagic species as well as bottom fish. As the colder weather pushes bait from the mainland south to warmer water, so too comes the predators. Thats when the magic happens. Dark Shadows beneath the surface causing acres of showering ballyhoo over the reef, to confused bait balls pushed offshore, are all common experiences to be had here in these bountiful waters.

Jigging and popping may be used to catch many different species. Snapper and Grouper are notorious for chasing jigs. Dolphin are also very popular to catch using jigging and popping techniques. Dolphin will almost always fall for an artificial bait if you properly presented.


Jigging and Popping History

Jigging and Popping are techniques that have been employed by sport fishermen for more that fifty years. It has been only recently reinvented and popularized by T.V. fishing shows. In the late 1950’s, the most common type of sportfishing by a large number of South Florida light tackle enthusiasts was with lead head jigs with pork rinds, Captain Mack chuggers and monofilament lines testing between 10 and 15 pound test. Later, 9″ glow worms replaced the pork rind and deep jigging became more productive.

The average fishing club member’s tackle box contained only five basic types of lures. A 3/8 oz. yellow nylon jig, a 1/2 oz. white upperman bucktail jig, a 3 oz. white bucktail jig and a 4″ Captain Mack chugger. While fishing an inter-club tournament in the 1960’s, I landed a 36 pound Black Grouper on a jig using 10 pound test Ande line. My head was so big when I returned to the dock, I couldn’t get my hat on. At the end of the weigh in, I was third, behind a 52 pounder and a 58 pounder on the same tackle.


Start Early in the Day

Getting out early is the key to surface popping action. While the baitfish are on the reefs and or channels, the predators are there at the crack of dawn and the white water and birds will show you where. Small poppers or chuggers with a single treble hook in the tail is the choice lure. The predators will hit anything that splashes on the surface and the smaller hook is easy to set, even with 10 pound test line. Many of the fish landed in the “old days” are still records today. In the waters around Key West and the Dry Tortugas, the surface action slows around 10:00 a.m. and it is time to head for the deeper water with the jigs.


Butterfly Jigs

Butterfly jigs certainly have their place today and are very effective on some species. They were first fabricated and sold in one solid color in the early 1970’s. However, the old lead head bucktail jigs with a swimming type tail will out fish some of the butterfly’s on their best days when worked right for the right species, especially snapper and grouper. I am not trying to discourage the butterfly, but rather encouraging diversification and experimentation. Sometimes, slower is better. It’s also part of the fun, trying different techniques and lure combinations and comparing results with your buddies.

Jigging and Popping Photos

Jigging & Popping Locations

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