A rising star in the world of slow-pitch jigging, AFTCO pro Benny Ortiz, who lives in South Florida, has gained a solid reputation as one of the best slow-pitch jiggers. (A popular seminar speaker, Ortiz also works with Shimano.) Here, Ortiz takes time to share with AFTCO’s audience his thoughts and insight on slow-pitching — what it is, what you need to do it and how to do it most effectively.
WHAT IS SLOW PITCH?
“A technique that imparts an action on a metal jig imitating a wounded or struggling baitfish to provoke reaction strikes from predatory gamefish” — that’s Ortiz’s concise definition.
Why the term “slow pitch”? Ortiz says “pitch” refers to one full turn of a reel’s handle. Thus, the term slow pitch refers to how quickly turns of the handle are made.
Clearly, pitching slowly is antithetical to speed jigging, where the metal jig is moved much more quickly upward to imitate a fleeing baitfish. Speed jigging is particularly effective for pelagics and species like jacks/trevallies that are inclined to chase down prey. On the other hand, Ortiz says, “Slow-pitch jigging is much more precise and can better target different areas of the water column.” Plus it has a wider appeal to a broader range of species, including demersal predators.
THE RIGHT TACKLE FOR SLOW PITCHING
Slow Pitch Jigs
Basically, speed jigs are longer and more slender than slow-pitch jigs. Cynics might wonder if nuances in the shape of elongate slabs of metal that move through the water could really matter. Ortiz suggests the answer is yes and no. You can use speed jigs with a slow-pitch approach and catch fish, he says. “But specialized (slow-pitch) jigs will usually have a better result in the hands of a skilled angler.” Shorter “fatter” jigs fall differently than long, narrow jigs: Anglers planning to slow pitch should stick with jigs made/marketed for that purpose.
What line do I use for slow pitch jigging?
While many speed jiggers routinely fish 50- to 80-pound braid, for slow pitching, Ortiz goes with 30-pound braid unless dropping to water deeper than 400 feet, when he’ll go down to 20-pound. Keep in mind that these are strengths listed on the spool, which have little to do with actual break strength of braided lines, which for many lines break at up to twice the stated strength or even more.
“For leader,” Ortiz says, “I use exclusively AFTCO Saiko Pro, mostly in 50-pound test. I’ll sometimes bump it up to 60-pound if I am targeting particularly large fish. He ties his braided main line to that leader using a PR knot. (This link shows how that knot can be tied using a bobbin.)
Slow Pitch Jigging Rods
Like jig shape, when it comes to slow pitching, the dynamics of rod action are specialized. The operative word for this approach to fishing, Ortiz says, is recoil. That does not, he adds, mean a fast-action tip. “I mean a very slow, deliberate action of the blank as it unloads the jig. The reason for a slow action is because the angler can control with incredible precision where the jig is in the water column and what it’s doing.”
With a fast-action rod that snaps back quickly, that sort of control is impossible, often leading to line/leader fouled on hooks as the jig tumbles.
Ortiz recommends a “pure slow-pitch rod” of 6’3” to 6’10” with very high carbon content, conventional reel seats and smaller guides that keep the line close to the blank.
Reels for Slow Pitching Jigging
Best are narrow-spool conventional reels designed for slow pitching that retrieve 38 to 46 inches per crank. Ortiz considers a reliably smooth and even drag as imperative; it should be capable of at least 20 pounds of pressure, but “with a realistic drag setting of 12 to 15 pounds for most applications.” As for recommended line capacity, Ortiz offers an easy rule of thumb: “I like to have at least 100 yards more on my spool than the depth of the water I’ll fish. So if I’m fishing in 400 feet of water, I’ll want at least 500 yards of braid on the reel.
Slow Pitch Gloves
Good jigging gloves are, quite simply, “a must,” Ortiz advises. “The constant reeling and line manipulation required while jigging will beat up your hands, especially on multi-day trips.” Ortiz uses AFTCO’s new JigPro gloves. Designed specifically for the purpose, these full-finger gloves protect while still allowing excellent sensitivity,” he says.
HOW TO SLOW PITCH LIKE AN EXPERT
1. Use The Rod As A Lever
When done properly, slow pitching requires the rod butt to be held under the angler’s non-reeling forearm. Ortiz: “This allows the angler to use the rod as a lever, with the forearm being the fulcrum point.” The result, he says, means less fatigue for the jigger and more precise action for the jig.
2. Stay Vertical
“The most critical aspect of slow-pitch jigging is remaining as vertical as possible in the water column,” Ortiz says. Put another way, when your jig is on bottom or as deep as you want it, you need the line to be as straight up-and-down as possible. When dropping the jig, very light pressure on the spool can keep it from fluttering as it falls, so it drops more quickly. Once at the desired depth, you can release that pressure and allow it to flutter in freefall.
3. Reel Up/Drop Down
While jigging, always reel on the upstroke, then with the rod follow the jig downward as it falls. “Fight the initial urge to reel on the downstroke,” Ortiz says. “That removes slack line and puts tension on the line that deprives the jig of the desired falling flutter.”
Finally, Ortiz says there’s no substitute for time on the water to become a proficient slow-pitch jigger. Learning what various jigs do and how they perform is key. He calls the slow-pitch technique dramatically different from other methods. “Done well, it’s rhythmic and melodic, with a certain simplistic beauty to it but interspersed with moments of intense violence. There’s nothing else like it!”
The remarkable rise of slow-pitch jigging for American saltwater anglers has occurred in just a few years, making it one of the hottest techniques in saltwater fishing today. But while lots of anglers have heard the term, many remain vague about just exactly what it is and how it’s done. Following on the heels of speed jigging, which Shimano helped popularize in this country with its Butterfly jigs, slow-pitch is at once far less tiring while effective for a greater variety of gamefish.