Twitching Jigs for Trout on Holter Lake By Mike Carey

My rod doubled over as the weight of another solid Holter Lake rainbow crushed my black and red jig. Drag screaming runs filled the air as the fish made several nice runs and jumps, clearing the water in a desperate attempt to throw the hook. Gradually its efforts became less frantic, and I was able to slide the fish into the net as my son Matt skillfully scooped the fish up. After a couple minutes of rest in the knot-less net we eased the fish back and watched it dart away.

Those familiar with fishing for coho in rivers are well aware of the technique of twitching jigs. Many a coho has been caught, including by this writer. What I wasn’t aware of, however, was how effective twitching jigs can be for trout in a lake. I can’t claim to have discovered this on my own (YouTube is a great source of inspiration) but I am more than happy to share the how-to so you can add another option to your trout-catching tool chest.

Rainbow in a lake or reservoir tend to inhabit the top 30 feet of the water column, making twitching jigs an ideal option for light gear. Jigs in 3/16 to 3/8 ounce size, paired with light line or braid, will easily descend to the depth you need to target these fish. Mack’s Lure makes a great jig, the Rock Dancer, that has worked very well for twitching. Colors that seem to work best are the black jig heads with black/purple, black/red, black/blue, or all black bucktail. Glow eyes and mylar flash in the body add to the fish-attracting action.

For rod/reel/line set-ups I have used my seven foot coho twitching rods, with medium fast to fast action tip, a quality spinning reel in 100-200 size, and 20 pound braid with a 12 pound fluorocarbon leader. Another option is to use straight mono or fluro on the reel, especially if you’re concerned about spooking the fish. In my experience the braid has not had a huge effect. Holter Lake rainbows are super-aggressive and hungry! The advantages of braid are two-fold. First, the diameter of the line is tiny, making the jig drop quicker and behave livelier in the water column. Second, with no stretch it’s easy to feel the tick of a fish hitting the jig. The disadvantages of braid are no give, which means hooks can pull out easier if you don’t have your drag set correctly (i.e., lose enough for a fish to be able to take line but not so loose that you can’t reel it in). Mono or fluro advantages are just the opposite of braid. Thicker line diameter means slower jig descent, while mono has a very forgiving stretch when you actually hook up. Since you’ll not be fishing super deep water, the mono stretch is not as significant when doing the actual jigging.

Lake jigging differs from river twitching in a couple of ways. It can be used both fishing shore structure such as deep drop-offs and out in open water when your fish-finder lights up with a good number of fish. Lake jigging also lends itself to both horizontal cast and retrieve and vertical jigging under the boat. 

If your boat has an electric trolling motor with anchor lock, you are in the best of all worlds! I like to start off shore structures and lock my position, fish the spot, and then drop down 20-30 feet to the next location, working my way along the shoreline, picking off fish as I go. This technique also works on an open water scenario, or, let the wind drift your boat and hit the anchor lock when you get into the fish. 

As to the technique itself, as I mentioned earlier you’ll have the option of horizontal or vertical jigging. In horizontal jigging, cast away from the boat. When the jig hits the water I like to let it sink for a few seconds and then close the bail. Now, lift the rod tip in a jigging motion and then drop the tip. Reel in slack and repeat. The jig will descend as you bring it back to the boat, covering different depths as you retrieve. Vary your cadence and pay attention to how you were bringing the lure in when you get a fish – try to repeat that pattern on your next cast. 

Rainbows will tend to hit the jig on the drop, so be ready as you raise your rod tip because you may well have a fish on!

Vertical jigging is straight up and down jigging, under the boat. It comes into play when your fish-finder lights up with arches underneath you. A good fish-finder will show your line and jig so you’ll know exactly where your jig is relative to the suspended fish. This technique requires either an anchor lock trolling motor or calm wind conditions. Too much breeze and your jig will drag away from the boat, making this method impractical. On marginal conditions you can up your jig weight a bit to help get down to the fish.

After explaining to Matt the technique involved, in no time at all he was into his first jigged Holter Lake rainbow, a beautiful 16” fat stocked specimen. The Montana Fish and Wildlife plant Holter with rainbow and it without a doubt yields some of the best rainbow fishing I have ever experienced. These fish grow fast and fat on the abundant feed in the lake (which is the Missouri River system). 16-18” fish are the norm, with bigger fish always a possibility. 

Whichever lake you try this technique on, I think you’ll agree it’s a fun option rather than the usual trolling or still-fishing methods we grew up on. The fish fight great with no gear getting in the way, putting on an acrobatic show not soon to be forgotten. Give jigging for trout a try the next time you go out!