Monday, 26 March 2012

Casting lead jig heads for soft plastics

Well it's nearly that time of year - the spring cod run will soon be on us and it's time for me to decide how to tackle up for this year.  In past seasons, I'd always done pretty well from the kayak on a simple 100g pirk fished below a string of small hokkais.  This approach is successful in the right conditions, but I always felt you miss a lot of fish that strike at the pirk but don't get hooked.  Plus you can get one or two foul-hooked fish even with a pirk rigged with an assist hook rather than the trebles they usually come with, and foul-hooking seems to increase if you up the weight of the pirk to around 200g.

Last year I decided on a better replacement for the humble pirk.  I'd started using jelly lures of various types a few years ago, but found it very difficult to match up a heavy enough jelly shad that wasn't too big (i.e. Norwegian size).  Kayaks can drift fast in a good breeze with the tide, and you need plenty of weight to get down to where the fish are, or you end up with your line heading towards the horizon at an angle of around 30 degrees!

Four to six inch shads seem to work best for our coast.  Cod love the smaller size, but when I came across a supply of the 135g, 150mm Storm Giant Jigging Shads at reasonable cost, I was convinced I'd found the ideal pirk replacement.  Sure enough, my catches of above average cod were testament to the greater effectiveness of a big weighted shad, the paddle tail seems more effective too at attracting fish such as pollack to the hokkais, and it inevitably tempted some big fat mamas to the shad itself.  One day last season big cod were nailing it like there was no tomorrow, and I didn't need any more convincing after that day.
150mm shad well and truly gobbled by a cod.  Given you can easily fit your fist down the mouths of some of the cod, I don't think 6" shads are too big.  You may get less of the smaller stuff, but that's fine by me!
The problem was the cost.  The Storm Giant Jigging Shad is a lovely jelly lure, but it's very dear when fishing over rough ground between pot lines.  Tackle losses can be high, and after a few trips I was in the fish, but sorely out of pocket at the same time!  Time to find a replacement for Storm Giant Jigging Shad itself.

Making your own
I have always kept back a bit of sheet lead from any building work I've had to do.  When we had the loft extension done, I ended up with a sack of offcuts and half a roll.  Nearly ten years later I've found a use for it!!  Step forward Do-it Molds...
Do-it Molds produce a great range of moulds, however not many in the ideal weight bracket for cod jigging in the North Sea.  Fortunately, cod ain't fussy and they do a nice shad mould for 3oz and 4oz heads.  First  you need to get yourself a bag of old bits of lead sheet, off cuts from roofing work is best.  Doesn't need to be clean, but it does need to be dry.  Don't try putting anything damp near molten lead, it pops quite aggressively.

You'll need a simple camping stove, preferably petrol or similar fuel, though gas works fine it's just a bit pricey.  I always work outside with a pair of leather gloves.  Make sure there is absolutely no chance of a drop of rain coming near your pot of molten lead.  Clear blue skies are what you want if you're doing this outside, if you're in a garage then give yourself plenty of ventilation.  The moulds and jig heads that come out after being cast can be a bit too hot to hold, so get a good pair of leather rigger gloves.  Plus gloves are generally sensible when handling lead.  I also like to have a really good set of tin snips, so you can keep cutting strips off and adding them to the pot.  The "pot" or saucepan needs to be steel (cast or stainless), not aluminium.  Lead has a very low melting point, but you can sometimes overheat a pot trying to get the first bit to melt when there isn't much lead in contact with the pot bottom, when I was much younger I did once melt an aluminium pot doing just that!  Steel is best, but watch out for cheap flimsy handles.  A pot full of lead is very heavy, and you don't want that handle breaking when it's full of molten lead.  You can try testing one by filling it with small rocks to the brim - remember a half full pan of lead will weigh a bit more than that!
First time is always the hardest to get the lead to start melting, once you've got some going, you add little bits as you go along, making sure there is always some left in the bottom. For subsequent sessions, I always leave about half an inch in the bottom to speed up the melting process next time
The Do-it moulds have recommended hook sizes (they look like shark hooks at this size, but once they're mounted they don't look too bad) and fit pretty neatly - hardly any lead will escape around the hook entry points provided you hold the mould tight enough during pouring.
The biggest problem when pouring the lead into the mould is to get the mould warm enough so that the lead doesn't cool and solidify around the entry hole.  Though Do-it doesn't recommend it, by carefully turning them you can get the mould to heat up fairly evenly by leaning it against the side of the saucepan while you melt the lead.  It probably still won't be quite hot enough, but it will heat up very quickly after a couple of pours.  I actually put the mouth of the mould right over the flame for a few seconds to try and stop the lead setting as you pour, resulting in a half full mould.

If the lead does solidify around the entrance hole, it will block it up and no more lead can be poured.  Generally you have a half finished jig head that is no use, but rather than riving at it with a pair of pliers trying to get the lead off the hook, you can simply toss the whole thing back in the pot.  The hook will float to the top and can be plucked clear!  When you open a successful cast, there will be some excess lead that needs breaking off - again, don't bother using a tool, most good moulds are designed so that you can break that off using your hands and just bending it back and forth, it generally breaks off cleanly on the jig head without leaving a stump of rough metal that needs filing back.

Once you get going, it's best to cast as many as you can while you've got the lead melting and the mould hot.  I try and do enough for a whole season (and some!).  Casting lead isn't something that's particularly family friendly, so make hay while the sun's out.  :-)
I have a couple of the Do-it moulds, both around the 3-4oz weights.  The two lower ones are called "Spire Point" can be used for jelly worms (they look great with giant Xslayers, for example) or tied with silicon skirts to make squid type lures.  However they don't grip the jelly as well as the shad mould above, which has a more typical hook to keep the shad in place.
Once mounted with some cheap soft plastics from AGM Discount, they look the business.  Perhaps not quite a nicely finished a Storm Giant Jigging Shad, but at less than a quarter of the price you soon recoup the cost of the mould (in fact, after about 5 packs and that's using the cheapest supplier of the Storm lures I can find).  The bottom is the Storm Giant Shad jelly on a 4oz head:
It can be difficult to find soft plastic shads of the right size for these jig heads - they need to be long and deep - these are big hooks.  The top shad is from Boneyard who do cheap 6" pearl shads (two for £1.50) that are suitable, which means your 4oz shad (actually closer to 6oz with the shad) is costing about a quid!  AGM's Big Hammer 6.5" are just about OK too, though they're probably better on the 3oz head as they are quite thin near the tail.  Both of these need trimming a bit to match the jig head.

The spire point mould in 3 and 4oz can be fitted with a standard jelly worm, which attached to set of hokkais gives a pretty plausible imitation of a launce.  Below I've used some rather posh Megabass Vios (I'll never end using them for bass - too many hard lures to use first!), they look good, though the 3oz is probably the more suitable:

That's it.  Casting your own jig heads is easy, and I think they'll always outfish pirks for cod and pollack.  At these weights, even in a strong tide / drift in the kayak, they are heavy enough to get a string of hokkais down to where the business is going on (generally about 6 ft off the bottom in 50-100ft).  Yes, jelly lures get bitten off and wrecked after a few fish, but if you're catching plenty for the freezer you'll recoup that cost and they seem to snag up a bit less than a pirk, even if you've rigged the pirk with a single assist hook.

The other point to remember is that when the sea is infested with mackerel (and you've taken what you want), you can fish shads or other soft plastics on their own, rather than using them below a string of hokkais.  I find this avoids the mackerel, which at times are impossible to get through to reach the cod and pollack beneath.  Every year you a get a day or two where your hokkais never reach the bottom without the mackerel hammering them, and it can get a bit frustrating when you could really do with a few more cod in the boat.  This is when to take the hokkais off and fish just single shad.  For some reason mackerel seem reluctant to take shads, even those down to 4".  The only issue is that the smaller shads tend to need extra weight to get them down when you're fishing with a strong tide or drifting in a wind.  It looks ugly, but if you can't find a heavy enough shad at the length you want, you can just use something like a 4" Storm Shad with an ounce bullet running freely so that it rests on the hook knot.  Doesn't look anything like a fish, but the cod don't seem to mind and mackerel give it a wide berth!  The bullet can interfere with hook ups occasionally but you can catch plenty of cod like this.  Thankfully this year I've a better, cheaper solution.

Tight lines for the coming season.


  1. Hola Kester.
    Muy bien esplicado,como me gusta ese molde,los venden,por aqui ya me vendria bien conseguir uno parecido.
    Gracias por compartirlo.
    Un Abrazo.

  2. Hi Juanrra - I don't sell anything!! But you can buy the Do-it molds from UK Hooks:

    They've got quite a wide range. If you want the full range you should have a look at some American sites. It is very easy to produce 50 or 60 jig heads in a couple of hours. Enough for the season for sure!

    Tight lines.

  3. Nice post. I really enjoy this type of thing and I hope your hard work pays off with some nice catches. You'll be casting off on the Kayak soon I presume.


  4. Yes, very soon - we're just waiting for some warmer, settled weather to come. Nearly got out last week, but the wind picked up right on the day we were due to go.

    Won't be long hopefully.

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  7. Do you know where can i buy a 7oz/200g jig head mold , thanks


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