Fish Gigging

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Published on: Dec. 2, 2002

Last revision: Nov. 12, 2010

Gigs can even be purchased online.

For early settlers, gigging was a means of putting meat on the table during lean times. Fresh fish also provided a welcome change from salt pork in the winter.

In an interview conducted by Dr. Robert Flanders for the Winter 1991 volume of Ozarks Watch, Swiney Rayfield provided a history of gigging. He said gigging was once called "fire fishing." This name came about because giggers would put two rims of a tire or wagon wheel on top of each other in the middle of a boat, making about a 16-inch circle. Then, giggers would pack clay mud into the center of the wheel and push torches into the clay, making "mud-jacks."

In "The Boat Builder from White River," which appeared in the July 1996 issue of the Missouri Conservationist, Jim Auckley described how native Ozarkers would gig from "jackboats." They called them that because in earlier years they burned "jack" pine knots in a metal basket to provide light for nighttime fishing or gigging. After lighting their torches, giggers would float their boats sideways downstream. Rayfield recalled that torches were used until the 1930s. Later, giggers used the Baker Burner, which was fueled by gasoline. Then came the incandescent gas mantle, the same light source used in the Coleman lantern.

Giggers in the olden days didn't just spear fish at night. Rayfield reminisced about gigging during the daytime, too. He told how fellows would run the boat upstream during the day, and then turn it around when the sun went down and float downstream. He said it wasn't uncommon for a gigging trip to last 24 hours.

Giggers used to either pull or pole their boats. Today's giggers prefer the convenience of the outboard motor, although most still take a paddle along in case the motor fails.

Tom Buersmeyer prefers a 4.5 HP motor, which is relatively quiet and works well in shallow water.

While Tom sits in the back, running the motor, Drew stands on the deck, a home-made platform at the bow that has a waist-high railing at the front.

Gigging requires teamwork. The person running the motor relies on signals from the gigger. The gigger watches for, and alerts the helmsman to, rocks, logs and other obstructions. The gigger either uses hand signals or motions with the gig in the direction he wants the boat to go.

Because their methods

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