If there’s one fishing destination you’d never expect to find a Northern Minnesota, bluegill-bumpkin like me soaking marabou feathers and getting his jollies jigging for rainbow trout—it’d probably be Branson, Missouri.
Yep, this old hick from the sticks recently made steam for Missouri’s fabled Table Rock Reservoir and Lake Taneycomo—two of my new favorite marabou jig casting hot spots. My intention here isn’t to recant the morning’s escapades cast by cast on the pure flowing, rock and gravel nested waterway but rather to draw attention to my longtime object of affection—the classic but often overlooked marabou jig.
After arriving in the Ozarks, I bumbled down the bank to make acquaintance with the water and survey all the docked boats. More specifically, I wanted to get close enough to see what the locals were throwing without revealing my amateur status.
I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I had hypothesized about spawn bagged in ratty hosiery, miniscule inline spinners or the odd fake pasty ball of biodegradable mush in some audacious color. But to my surprise—and relief—this wasn’t the case. Strapped to the front platform of the rig I would soon board was a battery of spinning outfits each dressed with a welcoming, earthy toned marabou jig.
I felt at home. Here, half a dozen states away from my personal polar icecaps, where the dominate species seem more like fixtures you’d find in aquariums or mounted in bars rather than on the end of my line, were angelic marabou jigs. God I love this country…
But just as comfort and confidence took root, I was thrown a curveball. I may be flicking marabou jigs but it wouldn’t be from one of these beautiful and familiar bass boats. Oh no, my hosts had other plans for me. Turns out, Mr. Outboard Motor would be bringing jigs to life from a sleek, peddle powered Hobie kayak.
I basically had two options—a) to throw a hissy fit or b) to buck-up and be a man—an outwardly secure but inwardly panicky man. The short version is that I saddled-up and was instantly impressed by the craft’s stability and fishability. So hats off to Hobie for “making me” run the river from a loon’s view. The nearness to the water certainly gives you greater appreciation and perspective of a fish’s environment.
As I peddled upstream I knew the far bank held promise. The climbing sun had yet to fully light the craggy shoreline but I could already tell it was rife with rock just like my bronze-back bass waters back home. Here I was comfortable in my seat and surroundings and strapping on a lure that’s duped more bluegills, crappies, perch, walleyes, bass and northern pike than perhaps anything I’ve ever fished.
A quick kayak-side pump to regain a visual perspective of the marabou jig’s universal appeal was again self-evident as it pulsed to life, attracting certain death. Here, on the clear, cold waters of Taneycomo, the dry feathers came to life, forming a free-flowing physique. Just quivering the rod tip made it breathe, while a heartier jigging caused it to swim like a Sculpin “muddler”.
Back home, marabou jigs will emulate a shiner minnow or chub to perfection, and possibly a small pink marabou in the weeds or one of many immature winged insects waiting to be crushed by a crappie. Turns out this little jig can imitate virtually anything that fish will eat.
The new Bug-A-Boo Jig, a marabou marvel fromNorthland Fishing Tackle, earned my gold standard status almost immediately and now it’s all I’ll throw. Each gorgeous jig is hand-tied and they come in 10 different patterns imitating specific types of baitfish. For shock and awe purposes, there are also some unique patters such as a Pink/White, Chart/Orange and Firetiger.
For smallmouth bass, which tend to have a discriminating eye, I go as natural looking as possible, favoring darker greens, browns, blacks and any color combination of a Bug-A-Boo that emulates the proverbial crayfish – aka “crawdad” to my brethren from the south.
Walleyes seem to respond better to flare. Chart/Orange and Firetiger are perennial producers. I issue White and Pink/White as backups if the former patterns aren’t inciting a riot.
Crappies? Well, nothing that I’ve ever tied-on trumps White or Pink/White, particularly when tossing featherweight marabou jigs with or without a minnow accompaniment. And to be safe, you won’t catch me in the land of crappies without live bait of some shape or form in the boat as oftentimes meat is required.
Out on the waters of Taneycomo, trial and error quickly taught me that trout cling clean to the bottom so that’s where the marabou jig needed to be. I learned to cast upstream, peddle the kayak to hold a stationary posture in the current, and walk the marabou jig downstream to about 45-degrees and then recast, that is if a trout hadn’t interrupted the cycle.
To imitate the action of a fleeing Sculpin called for a sharp snap followed by a taut line drop back to the riverbed. Most strikes, as is typical with a marabou jig, occurred on the fall. The trout weren’t timid, either. A high percentage of strikes resulted in boated fish, which were of course admired and then released.
I also found that a nearly identical process proves effective on river-going smallmouth bass. Flick the marabou upstream, tight to the bank and bump it back downstream. The more fixed you can keep the boat the more effective the cast. The jig’s simply in the water longer.
After three hours, with my legs exercised from peddling and my opinion of kayaks forever changed, I set down the mighty marabou and took one last gaze at the trout-filled, etched waterway they call Taneycomo.
Knowing that the next time I come back, I’ll be carrying a wide assortment of marabou jigs following the hunch that they’ll drive the bass on Table Rock Lake equally as wild.
Note: Branson, Missouri isn’t only about souvenir shops and live shows – although there are plenty to choose from. To the angler, Branson’s Table Rock, Taneycomo, and other nearby waterways provide amazing multi-species opportunities in a pristine swath of the Ozark Mountains. Contact the Branson/Lakes Area Convention and Visitors Bureau to plan your next adventure atwww.explorebranson.com or call 1-800-296-0463.