Pleasure and pain

Rick Huckstepp | VOLUME 21, ISSUE 1
Samson fishing is all about strong backs and equally strong levers.
Jigging for big samson fish in WA is all about muscle – the fish’s and the angler’s.

The sport of jigging fish has been in existence since someone found out that if you made an object on a line move up and down in the water it might gain a certain amount of piscatorial attention. That was probably thousands of years ago and it is still the basic concept, although jigging has hit the mainstream of hi-tech fishing like you wouldn’t believe!

The biggest boon in the fishing tackle industry in this country in the past five years is soft plastics. Those squelchy, stretchy rubber offerings with hooks hidden within were a boon to those who got in on the ground floor with the technology for their manufacture. But soft plastics were not a new concept when they enjoyed their relatively recent boom in Australia. Since man could make rubber compounds, he has been experimenting with soft-bodied lures.

I fished with the famous Flopy, a French product with an aluminium skeleton and a soft rubber body and adjustable bib. I can remember when they were one pound, one shilling each – a week’s wages. Geeez, I am getting old! That was pre-1966 for those who can’t remember what a penny looked like. In the five years before soft plastics, it was braided lines that created a boost to the tackle industry. Both of these products are now firmly entrenched in Australian fishing circles.

And now it is jigging’s turn. Jigging looks to be the next big fishing phenomenon that will have tackle companies scrambling for the drawing boards making all manner of equipment for enthusiastic new practitioners.

The new wave of jigging involves long, slender jigs made of metal in a variety of colours and shapes. Some are referred to as ‘knife jigs’ due to their knife-like shape. Some have bevelled edges, rounded backs and heavy heads and most have one single hook that is attached, via a lanyard of braided cord or gelspun, to the heavy end, which is also the end that goes to the trace. Super-strong split rings, used in conjunction with equally robust solid brass rings, compliment hooks specifically designed for coping with the excessive force they must endure.


The rage that began a decade ago in the form of braided gelspun polyethylene fishing line is also an important part of the equation. The constant feel required to maintain contact with a knife jig as it plummets to the bottom some 100 metres below is one of the qualities that has seen this type of fishing line become the mainstay of many fishing outfits in fresh and saltwater applications. Its advantage is that it has minimal stretch.

When braided lines first appeared on the Australian market, fishing rod manufacturers ran for cover, hiding from the wave of warranty claims for broken rods that previously had the stretch characteristics of mono filament as a safeguard against shock and strain.

Evolution dictated that rods would change and the inherent characteristics of braid were taken into account when those rods were redesigned. Now, a range of rods that are proverbial vertical stump pullers, with the guts to lever big fish from their habitat, grace the racks on serious jig boats.

The other critical part of the outfit is the reel and it, too, has had a major revamp. Some reels have massive gearboxes, low-slung under side plates, with the internals beefed up to take the constant jarring sent back to the reel via stiff rods and non-stretch braid. Gear ratios over 6:1 take the tedium out of cranking back a lure from extreme depths. The drags on these winches have also had a make-over to allow them to be wound up to maximum friction and still maintain a smooth delivery of line under extreme pressure.


After last year’s Mandurah Boat Show in Western Australia, I had a chance to get on board Shikari, a charter boat operated by Allan Bevan out of Fremantle. Allan specialises in jigging all manner of fish, but his favourite is the awesome samson fish, a stretched version of a GT, seemingly inbred from an amberjack and a kingfish. If you were born with short arms, the only remedy would be extensive surgery or to get attached to one of these things. Awesome is the only way to describe the power they can generate with their slender body and wide tail.

Generally, they congregate around structure and eight nautical miles off Rottnest Island there is plenty of that. Mostly, it is man-made, the legacy of the ‘dump and drown’ mentality post-war where everything that was too big to store or put back into commission was transported offshore and sunk. The ocean bed off the east coast from Cairns to Townsville is littered with such remnants and off Rottnest Island it is no different.

Allan has had a long involvement with the very people who have driven the modern jigging phenomenon. There is an upper echelon of people in Japan who are serious practitioners of the art of jigging. Japan has a history of angling innovation and continues to produce new ideas and products to help haul fish to boats. They were using braid to bottom fish in 300 metres of water two decades ago, before we had heard of it.

This close and continual association has kept Allan on the cutting edge and if it’s new in jigging, Allan will either already know about it or has already done it!

His charter boat was an original Cockatoo Island ferry that has been rebirthed. Featuring large foredecks with high rails, it is ideal for getting anglers spread out fore and aft.

At cruise speed it is about an hour and a half run out of Freo to get to one of the first jig drops. In around 100 metres of water, a drogue is utilised over the bow and a drift line is set up. With close scrutiny of the sounder, clouds of fish can be seen over the wrecks and in areas adjacent. On the nod, jigs plummet towards the bottom and, once there, are re-adjusted to maintain themselves at the level of the fish shown on the depth sounder.


The jig is quickly retrieved with very short upward stabs of the rod tip in conjunction with a quick half to full wind of the high-speed reel. This is a rapid, continuous movement, as fast as physically possible, until the angler is confident that their jig is above the schooling fish, at which point it is sent to the bottom again. I can assure you, you need to be at the peak of physical fitness to fish like this for any period. And then, if a samson nails you, the pain will reach threshold!

A couple of young guns from Perth and Fremantle tackle shops were on board and these guys are deemed to be at the pinnacle of this facet of the sport in Western Australia. Such is their commitment that they regularly train at home with elasticised straps so they can endure hours of jigging. Better you than me Gunga Din! I tried it for about 15 minutes and went back to the cameras. It was far less painful and I at least managed to capture a few good fish, albeit digitally!

A hook-up is signified by a deep grunt synonymous with strain, followed by screeching noises as various texture braids howl through the runners, followed by more grunting. Other than that, jigging for samson fish is a silent affair, simply because you will be struggling to get your breath.

If you get the fish to near the surface without being cut off by another braid line ripping through the water as your mate hooks up, you get to see some colour.

Now, Allan is a stickler for correct fish handling. He doesn’t kill samson fish; rather treats them like they’re part of the family. Once on the top, the fish is led to the back of the boat, where it can be gently floated onto a large, flat platform for a photo. They are then unhooked and swum in the water before being released. This greatly reduces stress. Should the fish be slow to revive, a big deck wash hose is inserted into the mouth. At one stage an angler lost a fish on the way up and didn’t get to see colour. It floated to the top and was spotted 50 metres away. It was lines in and the fish was quickly retrieved, revived and sent packing fit and healthy. It’s not that it is rare to see fish conservation in the charter fishing industry. Allan just takes it to the next level.

As I found out, it is not just samson fish that nail jigs. Southern pink snapper take a liking to them, as do silver trevally.

We fished a month before the recognised season for samson fish. When they do arrive in numbers, I am told that it’s all about speed and endurance. Apparently, as fast as jigs are pulled from caught fish and dropped back into the depths, they are nailed again and again and again…

Unless you’re mega-fit, it’s gonna hurt! Oh well, looks like it’s back to the gym!