By David A. Brown
Special to BassFan
Lots of anglers reach for a jig to fish laydowns, but FLW Tour pro Kyle Cortiana believes in proactive preparation. With this in mind, he'll have three different jigs on his deck before he approaches that submerged tree.
“I like a big, heavy, bulky jig as one of my options because you can cover water quickly,” Cortiana begins. “You flip it in there, it gets to the bottom quickly, you hop it once or twice, you’re in and out of cover. You can always downsize to a 3/8-ounce range or down to a 1/4-ounce when the fish are being really finicky or you want an extremely slow fall.
“Across the board, the reason a jig is so awesome around a laydown is pure versatility. You can swim a jig by the laydown, you can let it lay on the bottom and jiggle it, you can hop it and it’s extremely weedless. You can throw it in the heaviest cover and, for the most part, you don’t get hung up very often.”
Indeed, the ability to make a lifelike presentation over, around and through tree limbs enables Cortiana to make his case in front of those hard-to-reach fish. Here’s how he does it.
Day in and day out, Cortiana’s first preference is a 1/2- to 1-ounce Bionic football jig with a Gene Larew Biffle Bug trailer fished on 25-pound fluorocarbon. This, he said, is a big profile intended for targeting big bites. Maybe he has a limit and needs to cull up with a keeper, or perhaps he’s patterned the bigger fish in certain laydowns.
“I feel like you stay in contact with your bait better when you’re using a larger, heavier jig,” he said. “You feel bites better when you keep tension on your line and the heavier bait keeps that tension.
“Also, if you have a laydown that’s sitting on rock, a football head doesn’t get hung up as bad. That broad head just keeps you out of the rocks better.”
Cortiana chooses the Biffle Bug because it allows him to present a couple different looks. He’ll use the bait as is and leverage the full creature profile for aggressive fish, but if he’s having trouble closing the deal, an easy modification can be a difference-maker.
“If you’re getting short strikes and you need to shorten that profile, clipping off the center tail not only decreases the length, but it looks like a retreating crawdad,” he said. “The Biffle Bug does an awesome job of imitating a crawdad, but with that big tail, it can also simulate a perch or bluegill swimming along the bottom.
“If you take off that tail, it looks more like a retreating crawdad and you might be able to get a hook in some of those fish that are short-striking you.”
Cortiana matches his trailer to indigenous forage, but his preference is a crawfish look.
“If you have a laydown on a clay bank and you see a bunch of crawfish holes on the bank, those fish are going to be keying on crawfish,” he said. “If you’re lucky enough to find a crawfish, you want to use a trailer that matches the outer shell. I’m always a big fan of something with some orange in it. It seems that more times than not, crawfish have something with some orange in it.”
Backing up the big boy are two strategic complements.
> Brush jig: A narrow head design in 5/16- to 3/8-ounce Bionic jig fitted with a Gene Larew Hammer Craw skips well and enters the target zone with minimal splash and falls slowly with an enticing display. This, Cortiana finds, is a good strategy for unsettled pre-spawners or nervous bed fish, but he’ll also use this presentation for post-spawners, as well as fall fish moving up to feed.
A diverse lineup of jigs gives Cortiana the tools he needs for laydown efficiency.
Cortiana likes the Sooner Run color for his trailer and he’ll dye the bait’s tips to match the dominant food source – chartreuse for bluegill, orange for crawfish.
> Finesse jig: Using a 1/4-ounce jig with a Hammer Craw mostly for spotted bass and smallmouth, Cortiana won’t hesitate to send the subtle package into largemouth areas when weather changes have the big-heads in a funky mood.
Fishing it on spinning gear with 6- to 12-pound fluorocarbon, he’s counting on the appeal of a slow fall rate and a diminutive profile that appears to be easily-captured prey. But during a more active bite, he might also use the finesse jig to “clean up” the spot and catch any stragglers that snubbed the other two looks.
Calling this a high risk/high reward technique, Cortiana said the finesse jig takes longer to fish, so it’s less time-efficient. It’s more of a problem-solver.
Sizing up a laydown’s potential often comes down to a key principle that’s relevant throughout nature — competition.
“It all depends on what’s available, either in that lake or that stretch of bank," Cortiana said. “You might find a stretch of bank that has little or no cover on it at all and it might be the smallest twig with a couple of little limbs sticking up from a fresh tree that got submerged because the lake came up a foot or two.
“I’ve caught some large fish off a twig the size of my pinky because it was the only thing in the area for the fish to relate to. Sometimes, a small bush like that provides some type of hard bottom. The rood system creates hard bottom and a bass will key in on that.”
Conversely, if Cortiana sees wood up and down a river system bank, he’ll look for the biggest, most horizontal piece of cover he can find. For him, it’s less about how high a laydown stands as the amount of water it covers.
“I’m looking for the laydown that provides the most shade and the most places for the bass to hide and ambush from,” Cortiana said. “So it really depends on whether there’s a lot of wood for the bass to choose from, or is there just a little bit? If there’s just a little bit, then every piece of wood is quality.”
Cortiana said he considers laydowns a prime spawning habitat, as long as the structure allows sufficient sunlight penetration.
“Anytime from pre-spawn through spawn, the fish will relate to laydowns for bedding, or, they’ll use it as an ambush point,” he said. “So anytime during the summer months when the sun gets up and the fish want to hide in the cooler shade, this becomes a really good habitat option.
“Laydowns are one of the few structures that are good literally the entire year – just be thinking about why the fish is using that laydown.”
And keep a selection of jigs rigged and ready.