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Two years ago, I went smallmouth fishing with an angler whose go-to bait was a ballhead jig.
He was catching fish when no one else on the lake was getting a bite.
That’s when I discovered that old school lures still catch tons of fish!
Welcome once again to Jig Is Up Lurecraft. Today, I am going to introduce you to the ballhead jig – one of the most underrated fishing lures in the world.
We’re going to look at what makes this lure so special, as well as how you can easily make a better ballhead jig than any you can buy at a tackle shop.
Ballhead jigs – simple but effective
Ballhead jigs are a storied lure with a long track record and a wondrous legacy.
They’ve been used successfully by amateur and professional anglers alike to catch many fish species for the past several decades.
Ballhead jigs proved their momentous worth on the biggest stage in 2022, when pro angler Jason Christie won the prestigious 2022 Bassmaster Classic tournament using a flipping jig and a simple ballhead jig with a minnow trailer.
Christie alternated between these two lures to bag a stellar 54 pounds of bass enroute to his Classic victory.
In other realms of the fishing world, ballhead jigs are considered a finesse bait.
Smallmouth and walleye fisherman use them religiously in the northern United States to bag quality fish in their local waters.
Crappie and bluegill fisherman swear by them for their ability to garner limits of panfish.
Anatomy of a Ballhead Jig
Despite their storied success, ballhead jigs are a relatively simple lure. They consist of two components: a jig hook and a weighted head.
The jig hook on a ballhead jig, while a simple component, is the most critical component of the lure.
Generally speaking, the eye of the hook is perpendicular to the hook shank. This fact is what gives these hooks the name “90 degree hooks.”
The hook itself is a light wire hook. Light wire hooks are sharper, thinner, and bend more easily than hooks used for big bass jigs.
These characteristics allow light wire hooks to catch panfish and trout, which is a feat that big bass hooks cannot match. Yet, light hooks are still fantastically capable of hooking and landing larger species such as bass and catfish.
In the current hook industry, Eagle Claw ranks as arguably the most well known brand for 90 degree jig hooks.
Other manufacturers such as Victory, Mustad, Gamakatsu, VMC, and Owner also offer very capable and highly recommended jig hooks for ballhead jigs.
The weighted head on a jig is also a very simple component. Although tungsten materials are becoming more popular, lead still reigns supreme as the primary material for making jig heads.
These jig heads range considerably in size.
Many panfish jigs come are as tiny as 1/80 ounce, while some saltwater jigs are as huge as 1 ounce!
The versatility of ballhead jigs is such that anglers are guaranteed to find whatever size they are looking for in a jig.
Jigheads are also available in a wide range of colors.
Many anglers opt for unpainted jig heads, letting the color of the soft plastic trailer outshine the plain, dull gray of the lead head.
Others choose to paint jig heads in natural brown or green pumpkin colors, or in bright neon colors like pink or chartreuse.
How to Fish a Ballhead Jig
Few baits are easier to use than a classic ballhead jig.
To begin, simply thread on the soft plastic trailer of your choice. Below are several soft plastic trailers I regularly use and catch fish with.
I keep my jig trailer colors very simple.
Natural colors such as green pumpkin or pumpkinseed are deadly for clear water fishing. These colors closely resemble the hues of bluegill and crawfish.
In contrast, bold colors like black or chartreuse are well suited for stained water. The stark contrast offered by these colors makes trailers much easier for fish to see in murkier water.
There are a few very simple rules of thumb for selecting a jig size.
When I’m fishing for trout or panfish, I regularly use light weights such as 1/32 oz or 1/16 oz. The light weight and small hooks on those sizes match perfectly to those species.
On the other end of the spectrum, I will tie on a ⅛ oz or ¼ oz ballhead jig if I am fishing for bass or walleye.
How do I use a ballhead jig?
In my opinion, there is no wrong way to fish a ballhead jig. I think they are that versatile. With that said, here are a few tips for those who have never used a ballhead jig before.
The steady retrieve
The steady retrieve is what I naturally start with when I’m fishing a ballhead jig.
One of the easiest retrieves, the steady retrieve consists of simply casting out the jig and then slowly reeling it back in.
This lets the soft plastic lure do all the talking; it swims, quivers, and undulates enticingly while coming straight back to you.
Many anglers, myself included, have caught scores of fish using this straightforward retrieve.
The shake retrieve
A variant of the steady retrieve, the shake retrieve involves gently shaking the rod tip while steadily reeling the lure back.
This gives an erratic swimming motion, which can more easily replicate the natural swimming motion of a fish in the water.
If the steady retrieve doesn’t seem to be attracting fish, switch to the shake retrieve – the erratic twitches may be just the incentive fish need to bite.
The stop-and-go retrieve
The third retrieve I use is called the stop-and-go retrieve.
With this method, I reel the jig in for several seconds and then I stop reeling and let the jig slowly drift and drop in the water column.
After a couple seconds I start reeling again, propelling the jig forward and upward.
In many, many cases, fish will bite while the jig is falling, because the falling motion closely resembles the aimless fall of a dying baitfish.
The drag retrieve
Last, but not least is the drag retrieve.
I use this primarily when seining the bottom of the water column for fish.
To begin the retrieve, I cast out and let the jig sink. Once I detect the jig has reached the bottom, I slowly sweep my rod to one side of my body.
After moving the rod tip about a foot, I bring the rod tip back forward and reel in my slack, and repeat the process. This allows the jig to slowly drag along the bottom.
Be forewarned, it’s fairly common to snag a lure when dragging on the bottom. However, the potential is always there to hook a trophy fish hanging out on the bottom.
How to make a Ballhead Jig
Now that I’ve outlined the legacy, anatomy, and effectiveness of the ballhead jig, let’s dive into how you can easily make better ballhead jigs than what you can buy at a tackle shop.
To begin with, here is a list of materials you will need for making your own ballhead jigs.
Lead Pot (Pick One)
Jig Molds (Pick One)
Jig Hooks (Pick One)
The build process for a ballhead jig consists of three main steps: pour the jig, paint the jig, and cure the jig.
Once you complete these three simple steps, you will be ready to fish the jig!
Pour the jig
Pouring the jig consists of melting hot lead into a ballhead jig lead mold.
Although this is a straightforward process, I always follow basic safety procedures, especially when working with hot lead.
I start with putting on a mask, safety glasses, and welder’s gloves.
I also make sure the lead pot is safely sheltered from any source of water.
Water combined with hot lead is not safe and can lead to miniature explosions! This is easily avoided by working in a dry garage, basement, or other roofed structure free from the elements.
To melt the lead, I turn on the lead pot and carefully place the lead inside. Lead doesn’t melt until it reaches roughly 620 degrees, so the lead pot must get very hot to do its job.
While the lead is melting, I place the lead mold over the top of the pot. This warms up the mold, which allows lead to flow more easily during the pour.
Once the lead is properly melted, the pouring process is very straightforward.
My ballhead jig mold has slots for 1/32, 1/16, ⅛, ¼, and 3⁄8 ounce jigs. The lead mold has information stamped on it, telling what slot is for which size and also which hook size is recommended for each slot.
A primer on jig hooks
For this example, I am making a ⅛ ounce jig, which takes a size #1 90 degree jig hook. Today, I am using a #1 Owner 5313 hook.
I’ve chosen the Owner 5313 specifically because its sharp point works well with smaller line sizes such as 6 pound line. At the same time, its above average strength also works well with heavier line sizes like 10 pound line.
Most ballhead jigs found in tackle shops are likely using the Eagle Claw 570 or the similar Mustad 327466 jig hook. These hooks will definitely catch fish for you. In my opinion, however, the Owner 5313 is superior in terms of both sharpness and strength.
Most hooks in this class have a lot of flex, and can be bent out given enough force.
In contrast, the Owner 5313 is so strong it will not flex or bend.
When I go to pour the jig, I place the 5313 jig hook into its slot in the mold and shut the mold tightly closed.
Carefully scoop hot lead with the ladle and slowly pour the hot lead into the hole in the top of the mold.
The lead quickly fills the slot and cools so rapidly that I am able to open the mold and pull out the freshly molded jig within several seconds.
Paint the jig
Once the lead has been molded onto the jig hook, the jig is almost ready to be painted.
Clean up the jig head
First comes the matter of removing the excess lead off of the jig head. This excess – where lead filled the slot hole during the pour – is called the sprue.
To remove the sprue, I carefully take needle-nose pliers, grab the sprue, and wiggle it back and forth until it pops off the jig head.
Once the sprue is off, look over the jig head and gently file off any burs on the head with a metal file. Once the lead head is all cleaned up and looking good, the jig head is ready to be painted.
Heat up the jighead
A heat source is very necessary for painting jigs. Some baitmakers use a lighter, toaster oven, or a propane torch to heat up the jig heads for painting.
For me, heat guns are the simplest and easiest way to heat up jig heads.
With the heat gun running, I grab the jig by the hook with a pair of needle-nose pliers and begin to rotate it over the heat gun.
You will need to experiment to know how long to heat the jig head for the powder paint to stick.
Usually, I can tell I’ve overheated a jig if the powder appears to be globbed heavily onto the head after I’ve dipped it in the powder paint.
Too little heat means the powder paint won’t stick. This is easily identified by patches on the jig head where the lead can still be seen peeking through the powder.
For these ⅛ ounce jigs, I heat up the jighead for about 10 seconds to get an even paint finish.
Dip the jighead in the powder paint
After the 10 seconds are up, I swiftly dip the hot jig into the jar of powder paint, quickly swishing back and forth so the loose powder can stick onto the hot lead. The whole process takes but a few brief seconds, and then the jig is back out of the paint jar.
In my humble opinion, few powder paints are better than Protec Powder Paint by CS Coatings.
Though inexpensive, their powder paints are offered in a charming myriad of colors and have all the quality you will ever need in a jig powder paint.
The color I’m using today is a personal favorite of mine called Coppermine. The coppery brown powder is mixed with black flakes, which provides a natural color fish seem to find very appealing in clear water.
After applying a coat of powder paint, I take an extra jig hook or an eye buster tool and clean out the hook eye.
Clean hook eyes are not merely an aesthetic preference – paint in the eye can harden and induce wear on the angler’s fishing line.
Once the hook eye is clean, it’s back to the heat gun for the jig. 10 to 15 more seconds is all most lure makers will ever need to have a quality paint finish on their jigs.
Optional step: bake the jigs for better durability
For me, I like my paint finishes to be extra durable.
I take the extra step of baking them in a toaster oven for 25 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
This step is a little extra work, but the end result is well worth it; the paint finish becomes rock hard. To this day I have not chipped the paint on a single jig that I have painted and baked in the toaster oven.
Cure the jig
The easiest step in the entire process – let the jig sit and allow it to cool for several hours. This shrinks the lead more tightly around the hook shank, and also allows the paint to cure on the head.
Now, you are ready to go fish with your new jig!
Conclusion: A Complete Guide to Ballhead Jigs
In this article, I’ve demonstrated how straightforward ballhead jigs can be, as well as how easily you can make your own using some simple equipment.
Although unassuming, these baits catch oodles of fish day in and day out, year after year.
Making them by hand improves this already effective bait, with better hooks and paint finishes than what you find in big box stores.
And they’re lots of fun to make! Give them a try, you won’t regret it.
Not ready to take the plunge and make ballhead jigs yourself? You can also find handmade ballhead jigs in our store.
What are your experiences with ballhead jigs? Have they caught fish for you?