Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2013, 6:56 pm

Swim jig originated in Quad-Cities

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Bob Groene,

Photo: Submitted
Dan Brovanney, propriator of Brovarney Baits, poses with swim jigs in each hand at the QCCA Outdoor Show. He recommends using the dark color jig, resembling a bluegill, in spring and the light color jig, resembling a shad, in summer.
The jig is a staple of sport fishermen. The swim jig is a staple for bass anglers.

"There was a group of very good bass fishermen in the LaCrosse area that fished the Mississippi River," said Dan Brovarney. "While competitive with each other, they shared information, always working to improve."

The Mississippi has lots of what is called cover in fishing jargon. Stumps, trees and weeds in the water would be considered cover -- cover that is present year-round. According to Brovarney, that group of anglers had figured out they could pitch or cast a jig into or very near cover and while retrieved, bass would strike.

"The first available weedless jig with a cone or bullet shaped head was a J-mac jig -- made in the Quad Cities," he continued.

Whoa, Dan -- let's explore that thoroughly.

"At the time (early to mid 1970s) I was a fairly avid bass angler and had started competing in tournaments," Darrell Machlek, of LeClaire, said. "I used and knew jigs were good lures for bass --but I hated them! Because of the line-tie location and shape of the lead head, the lure would pick up weeds and other debris making fishing with them sometimes miserable.

"How, I don't know, but I got the idea in my head that if the jig had a bullet shape head with the line-tie on the tip, it would come through weeds and other debris without getting snagged up or picking up nearly as much debris. So I started experimenting in my garage, pouring lead onto hooks with various molds. The jigs worked pretty good, and caught on locally with bass fishermen, so I started making and selling them commercially. At first, I had to re-bend the hooks by hand, but eventually had them custom made. I named the jigs J-mac after my wife, Jean, and our last name."

First exposure to nationally known anglers came from J-mac products on display in a LaCrosse sporting goods store. A Minneapolis-based angler, who had a sporting goods store, saw the jigs, thought they looked like a new innovation that would work and took some home. He gave some to legendary angler Al Linder, who, after using them, called Machlek, and said, 'you've got a great jig there,' but little else happened.

Touring bass professional Woo Daves was in the Quad-Cities presenting seminars at the QCCA Outdoor show; Machlek had a booth there as well. They met and talked.

"Woo liked my jigs and we hit it off well,'' said Machlek. "So over nothing more than a handshake, Daves became a sponsored angler. I paid him $400 per year -- I think most of his sponsors paid him that much per month, but nevertheless we became good friends."

Unfortunately, little else happened to nationally promote J-mac.

"I started making swim jigs before anyone else in the country," Machlek said. "But I didn't know what to do with it. The design was soon copied, but I have no regrets. I sold J-mac about a dozen years ago."

Now back to Brovarney, proprietor of Brovarney Baits, Wauwatosa, Wis.

"Using a swim jig had become a standard for bass catching on the upper Mississippi -- especially for Wisconsin- and Minnesota-based anglers," Brovarney said. "It's a simple lure -- nothing more than a hook, lead head, weed-guard and skirt. Anglers were doing lots of tweaking to get them just right.

"With a cone shaped head, light weed guard, 28-degree bent hook and plastic trailer, the lure would come through the water straight and keel-like; and when it hit an object, go over or around it, then right itself. The desired speed of the lure could be adjusted with the weight of the lead head and size of the plastic trailer.

"I was an avid angler and started making jigs for myself in the late 1980s. In 2000, I went into business and started making them commercially. All of my skirts are hand-tied so the lure can be slapped on the water to quickly remove any debris, and if there is a keeper on the hook, to insure the trailer stays in place. I used to hand bend hooks to get the proper angle, but now I special order 50,000 Gamakatsu custom hooks at a time.

"Using swim jigs for bass was somewhat a Mississippi River secret until LaCrosse angler Tom Monsoor did very well in a professional tournament way down south. On national television told of what he used to catch bass in that event and how he used it -- that uncorked the swim jig genie. None of the big name pros had ever heard of it until then, but they all sure use it today.

"My manufacturing operation is small -- there are just a dozen of us. We mold and pour the head, hand paint with powder coat, hand tie the skirt, epoxy the weak guard in place, package the lure and ship. I have no intention of getting big in the business."

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Bob Groene is outdoors writer for The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus, he can be reached at