5 on 5: Five tips for yo-yo jigging for yellowtail

BIG YELLOWS love the yo-yo iron. Remember these key tips to get bit more often and land more forktails: wind fast, have crazy sharp hooks, use heavy line with little to no stretch and button down your drag.


I affectionately call yo-yo jigging, “Jigging for Dummies,” and it is my favorite way to target yellowtail. All you have to do is drop the jig to the bottom, reel up fast, drop again, reel up again, and repeat until bit.  But there are several things you can do to increase your success.  Here are five of them.

  1. Speed vs. color

Intrepid Captain Sam Moore is always repeating his seminar mantra,  “the best color is speed.”   Although many really good anglers will disagree, I don’t believe color matters much at all. Yo-yo fishing is all about speed. It’s impossible to retrieve a jig faster than a game fish can swim. It’s a reaction strike and speed and action provoke the bite.

You’ll hear many anglers say their favorite colors for yo-yo fishing are blue and white, scrambled egg and mint. And indeed, most of the yellowtail are caught on those colors. But I think it’s because those are the colors that anglers use the most, not because the yellowtail necessarily favor those colors. I’ve also seen guys switch from blue and white to scrambled egg, or vice versa, after they see an angler nail 2 or 3 fish with that color. When they hook a fish it reinforces the belief that the fish are currently favoring scrambled egg. Others may see this and switch too. Now most of the fish are being caught on this color. Hmmm? What if the sequence was reversed and a bunch of guys switched to color X? I’ll bet color X would start working because that is what the fish would be seeing.


Scuba divers know that light and color start disappearing at depth. We are dropping these jigs to 150 to 250 feet where there is very, very little light and very, very little color. Go into a dark closet with different colored jigs and you can’t tell one from the other. I don’t think fish can see the jig at 250 feet. Gamefish use their lateral lines to detect objects, vibration, prey, predators, etc. The lateral line is a fishes largest and most sensitive organ. When you hear, “fish are line shy,” or picky, I believe they are using their lateral line to detect hooks and line trailing from baits or even if the baits movements are not natural because of a large hook or heavy line. So, I agree with Captain Sam — “The best color is speed.”

  1. Size matters

Size and weight matter for two main reasons. First, the yellowtail may be preying on smaller anchovies or larger mackerels and you’ll want to match the hatch. Second, you want to get to the depth where the fish are suspended, which is normally on the bottom, or up to 50 feet off the bottom. If there is stronger current the fish generally bite better, but you’ll have more difficulty keeping your jig near the bottom. A heavier jig can help get your jig down faster, straighter and reduce the scope in your line. Ask your deckhand what size jig he’d recommend.  Current can also quickly change, so be prepared to switch jig sizes when conditions change.

  1. Super, crazy sharp hooks

I use an expression, “Minnick Sharp” after my good friend and fishing buddy Dr. Chris Minnick.  He sharpens his hooks so precisely and finely, that fish within a 3-foot radius will get snagged. OK, I exaggerate, but sharp hooks are critically important. Sometimes fish will slash at a bait or jig and a super sharp hook will snag it in the face or somewhere on the body. If a yellowtail bites on the jig and tries to spit it out once he realizes it’s not real protein, a sharp hook will likely still grab some flesh. Bottom line: “Minnick sharp hooks” will catch more yellowtail.

Most jig companies don’t use the high-end laser sharp hooks and most factory treble hooks are dull when new and become more dull very easily and rapidly. The test of a sharp hook is it will grab your vertical thumb nail and you can hang the heavy jig without it falling to the ground.  Buy a good quality diamond file and learn how to sharpen your treble hooks. Re-sharpen them often throughout your fishing as they will become dull after hooking a fish, snagging the bottom, overnight from the corrosive salts or just being dragged through saltwater at Mach speed 100 times.

  1. Heavy, no-stretch line

An immediate and forceful hookset is critical and using heavy line that will not stretch is one key ingredient. I use 80-pound braid and a short 15- to 25-pound topshot of 50- or 60-pound fluorocarbon. Monofilament stretches much more than fluorocarbon and 40-pound monofilament stretches a lot more than 50- or 60-pound mono or fluoro. The reasons for fluorocarbon are not its invisibility — use it because it is more abrasion resistant and has less stretch. Line that stretches is not as effective because the fish doesn’t feel the full force of your tight drag, and the hooks may not penetrate the jaw bones of the fish.

Stretchy line is bad for another reason. Forty-pound mono stretches about 25%. We are fishing and hooking fish very close to the bottom, which has sharp rocks, edges, lobster pots, etc., and it’s critical to keep your yellowtail from reaching this danger and cutting you off. That ever happen to you? Say you hook your yellowtail while yo-yoing straight up and down 30 feet up from the bottom in 200 feet of water. Forty-pound mono will stretch 50 feet and the yellowtail can take you into the rocks even if your drag is totally locked down. These are incredibly strong fish with a very strong survival instinct. Use heavy line, and I suggest 50- or 60-pound braid.  Research abrasion resistance. For example, Seagaur Blue Label is more abrasion resistant than Premier or Gold Labels, and I prefer Blue Label for yo-yo jigging, even though the Gold Label is my preference for fly-lining baits.

  1. Stupid, crazy tight drag

I tighten the drag so tight it’s hard to pull off any line using your hands. I call this “stupid tight.”  The reason for using a stupid tight drag is the same as item number 4, just noted above. You want an instant and forceful hookset to drive the hooks into the yellowtail’s jaw and you do not want to give him any ability to take you into the rocks and saw you off. You also want to be reeling with your rod pointed into the water so when you do get bit, the yellowtail feels the full force of the drag without the cushion of a bent rod. To “drive the point home” when you do get bit, keep winding (wind, wind, wind) and do not put a bend in the rod until the fish is well off the bottom and you know he’s solidly hooked.

Here’s hoping these tips help you put more yellowtail on your tag number this season.