What has been will be again,
What has been done will be done again;
There is nothing new under the sun
-Ecclesiastes 1:9

Since Candy Thomson published an article about my favorite jigging technique in today’s Baltimore Sun, I thought I might talk about it a little more.  First, thanks to Candy for the nice write-up.  She had originally planned to fish with us, but unfortunately broke a finger in a kayak accident a couple of days before.  She decided to come along anyway and it was great having her, Joe, and Colin on Thunder Road for a fun evening of catching.  I’m a big fan of Candy’s Outdoors Girl blog.  I don’t always agree with her, but I never miss an entry.  There’s no question that, despite the splint she’s wearing lately, she has her finger squarely on the pulse of outdoor issues in Maryland.

I’ll start this article by stating the obvious in that casting artificial lures for stripers using outfits made for freshwater black bass is nothing new – my father taught me to catch stripers using bass lures when I was very young.  I had never heard of using heavy duty saltwater trolling gear for rockfish until I moved from Tennessee to Maryland.   I was amazed and somewhat amused the first time I saw a twenty-five rod planer board trolling spread. 

Light tackle has been used on the Chesapeake Bay for decades.  A fishing partner recently suggested I read Chesapeake Stripers by Keith Walters.  In a chapter called “The Tin Boat Years, 1958-1963” Walters describes successful fishing around the Bay Bridge and Love Point casting jigs, bucktails and top-water lures.

I’ve heard of several local champions of light tackle in more recent times.  In the decade just after the moratorium, Pete Dressler, also known as “Superfish,” lit up the internet listserves with talk of a method he called “Force” fishing.  Coining the term “light tackle jigging (LTJ),” he popularized the use of spinning tackle and soft plastic jigs introducing  freshwater equipment to a new generation of tech-savvy saltwater anglers.  Twelve years later, many of Dressler’s disciples still fiercely defend his systematic approach and catch plenty of Chesapeake stripers using the specific technique he prescribed.

There are some exceptional light tackle guides on the Chesapeake Bay who specialize in spin casting and fly fishing for striped bass.  I’ve had the pleasure of fishing with and around some of these guys and I can say for certain that they are real pros.  If you really want to learn artificial lure techniques there is no substiture for the experience that can be gained from a day on the water with a light tackle guide.

Let me be clear that I don’t think I’m introducing any techniques that are particularly innovative.  Maybe I’ve combined and updated a few tried and true methods and showed some fishing friends the advantages of using 21st century technology like low-profile baitcasters, side scan sonar, hotrodding soft plastics, etc., but like the Good Book says, there’s nothing new under the sun.  Still, I think it’s worthwhile to say a little about my Tennessee freshwater “cracking the whip” technique that Candy highlights in today’s Sun paper.

The first and foremost objective in light tackle fishing is finding the fish.When rockfish in the Chesapeake Bay are schooled up and feeding, almost any lure or technique will catch them.  I once bragged that sometimes the fish bite so well they can be caught with a coat hanger and a buzzard feather.  A friend challenged me to prove it, so I did.  But what about the times when fish are around but they aren’t particularly inclined to bite?  These are the days when specialized techniques make the difference between hero and zero.

Cracking the whip isn’t the only way to get finnicky fish to bite, but it will often work.  The rod action in the “cracking the whip” technique is just one part of the equation.  It’s not that hard to do, just a slight downward movement then quick snap of the rod tip the instant the lure touches the bottom.  It can be done with a spinning outfit, but it’s a lot easier with a baitcaster.  The idea is to simulate the look of a bolting bait fish or eel while stirring up mud and other debris on the bottom.  The other important aspect of the technique is alternating colors.  I get this by painting a candy corn pattern on jig heads, and dipping my soft plastics in lure dye.  I started calling that hotrodding a couple of years ago and the term stuck. Here’s why I think it works: when a frightened bait fish bolts, its gills flare and flash red.  I believe the bolt combined with the flash of color stimulates the strike instinct in bass, even the ones that aren’t particularly hungry. Cracking the whip combined with alternating colors on the lure can be an irresistible combination, especially for older and bigger fish that are more leery than the more careless juveniles.

The strong northwest winds of the past week have kept me fishing pretty close to home.  It’s been a very windy fall, so I’ve been looking first for sheltered waters.  Fortunately, there have been some respectable fish very close to Kent Island.  They’ve been finicky, so I’ve had to pull out all the tricks in the box to get them to bite.  I’ve had some fish over thirty inches long, but most are clean, strong mid-twenty inch four-year-olds back in the Bay after their first migration cycle up the Atlantic Coast.  Big birds circling high over live oyster reefs have tipped me off.  I’ve just been setting up on long drifts, facing the wind, and jigging six or ten inch hotrodded BKDs with either three quarter or one ounce jig heads.  I’ve been fortunate to fish this weekend with some of the best light tackle anglers on the bay including my frequent partner Jamie who is pictured in the first two photos of this entry. As predicted, there have been a few gannets spotted south of Poplar Island, but so far no sign of the really big migratory fish.  It could be any day and I’ll report here as soon as I hear about them showing up.  If you get out there, please let me know if you find them and while you’re at it, try cracking that whip for a few minutes.  You never know what you might turn up!

Posted Sunday, November 7th, 2010 at 8:12 pm
Filed Under Category: Fishing Reports
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Responses to “Cracking the Whip”

  1. Colin Crozier says:


    What great fishing we had the other night ! I’ve been pouring over your technique articles as time permits and I have to say that you do an awesome job of distilling action into words. See you on the water.


  2. uncle phill says:

    Its good to see some pictures of Jamie! Great article, as always. Your writings have more than adequately filled the void left by Superfish. There’s nothing better than Force fishing the Bay.

    Winching in a big rockfish with a broomstick and all of the excessive drag from lead weights and umbrellas rigs etc. can not compare to the feel of the fight of that big rockfish caught with a light jig on thin braid and a “bass rod”.

    If more people learned to fish the Force, I’m sure they’d feel the same.

  3. Steve Lawson says:

    I found this website recently and never heard of light tackle before. It has shown me a new and fun way to catch fish. Thank you and please keep writing.

  4. tommy tangle says:

    Another great article, thanks!
    Saturday i was in the north end of Eastern bay between Parsons island and Cox creek chasing hundreds of bird but i couldn’t buy a bite. That’s the first time that’s happened to me as i usually at least hook some 12- 16″ Juvies. I was throwing & jiggin metal like stingsilvers & deadly dick, white bucktails, swim shads, and 4″ Gulp swimming mullet on a 3/4 oz. lead head. maybe I gotta try the BKD’s???
    Thanks again for all the time you spend!

  5. Shawn says:

    Tommy — I’m familiar with that area and the pattern this time of year there. The fish there usually aren’t schooled up, but spread out over the oyster beds and running all over the place with one or two breaking here and there. That’s what gets the gulls going. Since the fish are so boat shy, your best bet is not to chase the birds, but set up a quiet drift and jig soft plastics like BKDs using the lightest jig head you can feel the bottom with. Cast into the wind because you’ll want your lure back well away from the boat. A better bet probably to look for better concentrations of fish. Thanks for the comments.

  6. Jerry says:

    Shawn, I don’t think what we’re doing now looks much like Superfish’s version of Force fishing. The priciple is the same but he was pretty strict with his method. I can say for sure that the fish are a lot harder to catch nowdays.

  7. Luke Killebrew says:

    I don’t think you can say one specific method is any better than another. The best approach is to modify your style depends on how the fish want it. The best fishermen know how to adjust. This is just one way of many ways to catch them. I know you don’t do it all the time either.

  8. jumbo1 says:

    Actually, I fish the same way all year long… only thing I change is the jighead weight.. same BKD’s same color everything… as far as the “Superfish” thing goes, he was fishing back when the bay was “loaded” and I mean loaded with good fish… he was also an awesome fisherman who liked to share his technique… as in “spreading the light tackle” fishing word…

    Trolling is by far the “easiest” way to catch a fish…I have fished this bay every which way there is and the light tackle way is my favorite.. just one mans opinion.. Shawn thanks for a great read again and a great time last nite.

  9. Doug M says:

    Great article Shawn, where can I purchase some lure dye? I live in the Sparrows Point area.

  10. Shawn says:

    Hmm, I would call Tochterman’s in Fell’s Point. Not sure if they have it though. Anyone know?

  11. jumbo1 says:

    I would say Bass Pro…

  12. jaksprat says:

    Great video Shawn! So cool how you can whip the rod like that and make that sound. Just wondered what kind of rod that is. It must have an extra fast action or something. Right now I’m using a couple 6′ medium power/fast action rods that I think are too small for the bigger fish that are coming. I probably need to upgrade.


  13. Shawn says:

    Jack, that sounds like the right rod to me. I routinely see 30 and 40 pounders landed on medium/fast or extra fast rods. You might go with a small diameter medium heavy rod but those skinny rods have a lot more sensitivity. The one in the video is actually one of my least sensitive, a 6′ 6″ ABU Vendetta medium/fast. I have a couple of rods down right now so drug it out. I also don’t like it because there’s too much junk in front of the reel. I think the company put too much emphasis on looks and not enough on feel. I usually don’t fish with medium heavy rods.

  14. jaksprat says:

    Thanks so much for that reply Shawn. Sounds like I need to focus more on technique than blaming my gear (as usual) – haha! I’ll see if I can make ’em whip a little more next time.


  15. Shawn says:

    On the other hand, another rod or two is never a bad idea! 🙂

  16. Shawn says:

    I just confirmed that Tocheterman’s in Fell’s Point has Spike It dye. As Jamie says, BPS does as well.

  17. Capt. Yakes says:


    You information and articles are great and will help improve the fishing for many light tackle anglers. What you are saying about the rods is a fact…I have been fishing 6-6 and 7’St. Croix’s med heavy with Okuma Epixors and Power Pro for the last seven years and they are incredible all around rods capable of landing large fish. We got several fish in the 40s with a 49″ last year on same set up with 12# power pro last winter of VA beach. Thank you for your tips, we never stop learning or seeking to get better.

  18. Doug M says:

    Thanks for taking the time to find it for me and for sharing your tips and video’s to make fishing better for so many!!!!!!

  19. RiverCat09 says:

    Good article Shawn! I enjoyed the video/lesson.


  20. Bill Jones says:

    Shawn, thanks for all of the great articles, video, and info. My two sons and I are regular readers. Could you talk about the fishing line types and weights you recommend?

  21. RogerT says:

    I remember seeing,hearing that whip cracking sound across the bay at LP. The Video doesn’t pick it up.Impressive aggressive jigging technique !

  22. Tom says:

    When I moved to MD after college my first experience to MD fishing was through Chesapeake Stripers by Keith Walters. Great read!

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