by Lee Brake
Octo jigging seems to be one of those techniques that got a lot of press and then went out of fashion just as quickly, especially in the north of Australia. The reason for this I think is twofold. Firstly, anglers in the north struggled with this technique because it didn't suit their style of fishing or their gear and secondly, most had no idea what they were doing wrong. Well, that's a real shame in my books, because after a fair bit of experimentation I have found that octos have a lot to offer!
Now that's a fish! Jamie Evans with a beautiful large mouth nannygai taken on one of Lee's modified Reidy's Sea Bug octo jigs.
For those who didn't witness the octo craze, they are jigs which feature a lead head - usually moulded to look like the head of an octopus, hence the name - and from the head dangles a series of rubber tentacles and two small hooks suspended on dacron cord. The idea was that the gentle movement of the boat in the waves would be enough to get the tentacles flowing, so only the slowest of actions would be needed from the angler.
Lee Brake with a nice spangled emperor. Fish like this are hard to catch on conventional jigs, as they can be finicky, but they love octos.
Let me start by pointing out the biggest flaw of octo jigs - especially when they are faced with north Queensland reef fish. Their hooks are simply too small. They might be fine in the south where anglers use softer rods and finesse fish for snapper, but in the north, against a big red emperor that you have to battle through upwards of 50m of depth, you have disaster.
The simplest fix to this is to upgrade the hook size. Take some cutters, remove the dacron and then rig a large single, straight-shanked hook to the hitch point under the head (the video below shows you how). A few split rings linked together will keep it free and facing in the right direction or you can use a short length of wire trace. If you really want a strong hook-up try a circle hook.
Lee Brake with a nice cod. Cod are a regular catch on octos and you can bet if there's one around you'll find it!
The other nifty thing you can do once you've upgraded the hook is slide a soft plastic up the shank. Something like a five inch curl tail is ideal. I really like the Gulp Crazy Legs as they also add a little scent and taste to the mix!
Once you've sorted out the rigging it's time to adjust your technique a little. Even when jigging, we north Queenslanders tend to use short, powerful jigging rods with heavy braid and these are not ideal with octo jigs. Alternatively, you want something slightly longer and fast tapered. You want the fish to take the lure, turn away and set the hook in the corner of its jaw. Then, once the battle erupts, you need a rod that can cushion any head shakes - remember the fish will have a heavy lead head to throw around and this can easily dislodge even the upgraded hook. For this reason, when you fight a fish using an octo jig, you really need to control your rod action. Keep your pumps slow and controlled. A jerking action will bounce the octo's head and will possibly dislodge the hook.
Ian Meads uses a soft-tipped glass rod that you can pick up at most tackle shops for around the $100 mark. This kind of blank is ideal for beginners getting into octo jigging.
With all this in mind octo jigs may seem like a lot of hard work but the opposite is actually the case. They are probably the easiest jigs in the world to use. In fact, a few of my best captures have come while I was taking photos of other anglers' catches only to look over at my rod bent over in the rod holder. As I said, they don't require much, if any, action from the angler.
My best advice would be to just give them a go. Grab a medium weight spin stick over 6'6' with a bit of flex in the tip, upgrade a few octos (Reidy's Sea Bugs are probably my favourite) and just hang one over the side next time you're drifting your favourite offshore mark. These jigs are one of the best for attracting quality reef fish like coral trout, nannygai, red emperor, spangled emperor, cod and an assortment of pelagics like trevally and cobia. Give them a go.
A variety of modified octo jigs. Play around at home with different hooks, skirts and soft plastics - there's no limit to what you can create.
Have fun and stay safe.
Check out the following video on octo jigging that we filmed with the awesome crew of Reefari Charters. Note the octo jigs repeatedly getting smashed while they sit unattended in the rod holder.