“There they are!” I yelled as the gannets started to fall from the sky directly off our bow. What an inviting sight for a striped bass fisherman during the fall months. The air was cold and my glasses steamed up from my muffled cry of excitement. As we pulled into the edge of the bird play, my sounder lit up with marks. As I watched the bait ball of bunker near bottom on the sounder’s screen, two rods went down. Seconds later a third rod went down, then a fourth! Quadruple header of striped bass all on the mojo jig.
In late fall 2014, South Jersey fishermen experienced some of the best trolling for striped bass in recent memory. The stripers were large, schooled up, and gorging themselves on big bunker. There were times when the fish were in such a feeding frenzy that I was able to catch them by jigging and popping, but by far the most effective method was by trolling with the mojo jig. Mojos are not a “secret weapon,” nor are they a new lure for striper trolling. Captains in Virginia and along the Chesapeake have been using mojo jigs to troll up big stripers for years.
I first used mojos when I was growing up trolling for striped bass on the Chesapeake Bay. We would pull a large spread of 12 to 20 rods with a mix of mojos, tandem mojo rigs, umbrella rigs, and deep-diving plugs. Most of the time during the Chesapeake Bay Trophy Season, the fish were feeding on big herring and bunker near the bottom, and the mojos would outfish anything else we had in the spread because they could easily be trolled near the bottom, no matter the depth. They also closely resembled the bait the stripers were feeding on.
Anatomy of the Mojo
A mojo is basically a very large bucktail-style jig with a lead head that can weigh anywhere from 2 to 48 ounces. The heavy weight allows this lure to be fished near the bottom while trolling at typical “striper speeds” of 2 to 4 knots.
Unlike a typical bucktail jig, the hair of a mojo jig is tied in reverse, which gives the lure a larger profile in the water as the hair fans out. The most important part of the mojo is finishing it off with a 9- to 12-inch shad body to add the action and complete the large profile. Some are rigged with big single hooks and others have a double hook rig.
Trolling Tackle for the Mojo
The mojo is very easy to troll, which makes it a favorite striper trolling lure of mine. Though heavy, a mojo don’t have as much drag as an umbrella rig or deep-diving plug when trolled, which allows an angler to use a lighter, “sporty” rod and reel setup. A smaller reel like an Avet SX or Shimano TLD 20 paired with a medium- to medium-heavy rod handles mojos with ease. Instead of horsing the fish in on a stiff, heavy outfit as you would have to use when trolling an umbrella rig, trolling the mojo allows the fish to put up a fight.
Get Your Mojo Working
Setting out the mojos to pull near the bottom is crucial to success, since the majority of stripers will be hanging there. The easiest way to set your mojo is to let it out while you are at trolling speed (typically 2 to 4 knots) until it hits the bottom, then lock it up. The mojo will rise up off the bottom and set its running depth in about 10 seconds. This first running depth will be too far off the bottom, so drop back a second time until you feel the lure hit the bottom again. Then, set the reel in strike and run over some fish. Pay attention to the depth where you first dropped the mojo so you can make adjustments as you troll over shallower or deeper water. It’s fine if your mojo bumps the bottom every so often, but you don’t want it to drag.
Rigging the Mojo
Rigging a mojo is very easy. Most come pre-rigged with a shad body. I don’t have a preference between the single hook and the double hook mojo, because when I am trolling mojos, I am targeting larger stripers, and the large stripers have no problem inhaling an entire mojo.
A mojo can be fished effectively by itself or in tandem with another jig. When trolling a mojo by itself, I use a 4- to 5-foot leader of 60- to 80-pound-test fluorocarbon tied to a barrel swivel and attach the main line to the other end of the barrel swivel. The fluorocarbon keeps you from losing a fish when a big bass inhales the mojo and is rubbing its rough, sandpaper teeth on the line.
To make a tandem mojo rig, start with a heavy mojo in the 16- to 30-ounce range. Tie it to a 3-way swivel with 3 feet of 60- to 80-poundtest fluorocarbon. This mojo will get the tandem rig down to the bottom and keep it in the strike zone. Then, take a lighter mojo in the 2- to 8-ounce range, and attach it to the 3-way swivel via 5 feet of 60- to 80-pound fluorocarbon. Let the rig out the same as you would a single mojo. Just a note, if you are fishing for International Game Fish Association records or in an IGFA tournament, this rig is not IGFA legal.
Be sure you bring along plenty of spare shad bodies when using mojos. Shad bodies hold up well, but when they get hit hard by a few big stripers, they will tear and need replacement. This is especially true when the toothy terrors known as bluefish move in. You can expect to replace shad bodies regularly when the bluefish are chewing!
The Mojo Spread
I usually pull 5 to 6 rods when I am trolling in Southern New Jersey, quite a few less than the 12- to 20-rod spread I used in the Chesapeake Bay. This is because the striper grounds off South Jersey can get extremely crowded when the run is on, especially on weekends, and there are times when I need to be very maneuverable so I can jockey for position over some structure or a school of fish. With more rods out, I increase the risk of tangling up. Another reason I fish fewer rods in New Jersey is because there are times when I need to be able to run and gun if I see birds on the radar or if a buddy is on a good school of fish some miles away and calls me in. The best rule, no matter where you are fishing, is to use only as many rods as you can handle.
Last fall, my trolling spread was entirely made up of mojos, as opposed to the mixed spread I usually pull. The mojos were consistently outfishing everything else, so I changed my spread to all mojos and kept it this way throughout the season.
I set two of my heaviest mojos (24-ouncers) right behind and tight to the boat. I then set two lighter, 12- to 16-ounce mojos behind the heavier ones. All four of these mojos are fished within 5 feet of the bottom at all times. The fifth rod has a 6- to 10-ounce mojo out the back that I keep 10 to 15 feet off the bottom. When one or two of the heavy mojos gets hooked up and I slow the boat to start fighting the hooked fish, the lightest mojo sinks toward the bottom like a wounded baitfish and gets hit. When the stripers are schooled up, this is deadly!
Right Time, Right Place
As with any kind of fishing, knowing the right time and right place to use mojo jigs is a crucial part of success. If the stripers are feeding on sand eels or finger mullet, the mojo will not be your go-to lure. When stripers are feeding on big bait, the odds are good that the mojo is going to produce. This season, when you are trolling for striped bass that are feeding on big bait, fire out a mojo or two and let them lure in a cow.