Jerkbaits are probably one of the best and most productive 4 season tools in a fisherman’s tackle box, no matter where you live or fish, yet they are also one of the most misunderstood and misused lures.
Let’s try to take some of the mystery out of jerkbait fishing, by eliminating some of the myths and misconceptions. As we do, we will provide some tackle recommendations and tips that should help you land more fish on a jerkbait, whether you are just beginning in the sport or a seasoned tournament pro.
WATER CONDITIONS vs WEATHER CONDITIONS
Ideally, the best jerkbaiting happens in clear to moderately stained water but we have also seen where a jerkbait produces tremendous results in tannic tidal water rivers as well as in dirty reservoirs along mudline / clearer water transitions. The best weather conditions are pre-front, sun or clouds, with some wind or current making it ideal.
SOFT vs HARD
You should have both. In the soft jerkbait category, we really like the D Shad made by Gary Yamamoto or the Caffeine Shad by Strike King, fished weightless with only a 4/0 texposed Daiichi X-Point light wire wide gap hook. In the hardbait arena, you can’t beat a Koppers RS series or a Strike King KVD Slash, both which come in multiple sizes as well as shallow and deep running models. If you need to “match the hatch” (such as a Yellow Perch to catch walleye, an Emerald Shiner to catch Great Lakes smallies or Blueback Herring to catch a spotted bass), then you just can’t go wrong with any of the species specific jerkbait models from Live Target.
SHALLOW vs DEEP
You should have both. Since jerkbaits attract reaction based fish strikes, they make ideal search lures. Jerkbaits, more than any other lure we have seen, draw fish vertically up and down in the water column as well as horizontally from long distances, so once we have located bait, we always start with a shallow version first. If that’s not successful, we rerun the pattern with a deeper running model.
BIG vs SMALL
You should have both. Choosing the size of a jerkbait most often is dictated by two things, the species of gamefish you are after, and the size of the baitfish on which those gamefish are currently feeding. A 2-inch model can be deadly on crappie and trout, but might not even get noticed by a big striper or musky. And it wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense to use a 6 or 7-inch emerald shiner model for smallmouth when the bait size they are chasing is just 3 or 4 inches long. However, that being said, we have seen times when big walleye and northern pike literally swallowed the big YP158 series 7-inch yellow perch imitating lure by Live Target.
SLOW vs FAST
You should have both techniques in your lure presentation repertoire. The general rule is the colder and more stained the water, the slower your lure retrieve should be. The warmer and learer the water, the faster and more erratic your jerk cadence. Another general rule is that largemouth bass and walleye like a slower retrieve with longer pauses between jerks while bronzebacks and spotted bass sometimes can’t have it fast or erratic enough.
WHAT SEASON vs WHERE
In short, don’t be afraid to use jerkbaits in all seasons and everywhere! All kidding aside, it really is true, we have consistently caught gamefish in almost every state, in every season, at every depth, on a jerkbait. But we realize this is a blog topic in itself, so here are 6 simplistic seasonal conditions, applied to bass, you can use on any body of water in any state:
WINTER – This is one of our favorite times to catch a lunker of a lifetime, no matter the water temperature. You definitely need to think slower and less erratic, more of a jerk/pull and then pause, pause, pause, pause, pause…. well you get the idea, but the key here is to look for warming trends, which causes baitfish to rise up in the water column, bringing the bass up from the depths and into range of your suspending jerk bait.
EARLY SPRING PRESPAWN – Here you are really thinking about intercepting bass on their structural highways as they move from their wintertime deeper haunts to their shallower spawning areas. Bass are moving now more than ever so you need to focus on fishing transitional intersections parallel, keeping your jerkbait presentation over the top of the bass for as much of the cast as possible, of course varying your cadence to the pace dictated by your water temperature.
SPAWN – A suspending jerkbait is one of the most under-utilized but extremely effective bed fishing tools a clear water sight angler has in his tackle box, and for stained water, one of the best spawning bass search tools, as well.
POSTSPAWN – Two concepts where jerkbaits are dynamite for postspawn bass but are rarely considered; one, when females go deep after spawning, suspending in the tops of standing timber tree tops. Here a deep suspending model like a Strike King KVD Slash 300D is terrific. Secondly, to match the hatch, when bass stage just outside spawning bluegill/sunfish bedding areas or during the threadfin or gizzard shad spawn, both scenarios which occur typically a couple weeks after bass have left their spawning beds.
SUMMER – Typically you would think summer would be your toughest season to catch bass on a jerkbait, but not so true. Ask Kevin Vandam. He has won many a tournament on a jerkbait, when no other competitor even thought to pick one up in the summer. A couple ideas to ponder and apply; think about using a jerkbait with schooling bass that you can’t get to eat a topwater, but you know are there. Or maybe during those hot “dog day” periods when the wind picks up out of no where just prior to a storm and you are sitting on your favorite deep ledge, grassbed or rock strewn flat. We have had tremendous fish catching flurries by just switching from typical deep soft plastics to jerkbaits under these conditions.
FALL – This is one of the easiest times to catch fish on a jerkbait if you just think about ambushing opportunistic bass chasing baitfish, off staging points. A general rule would be to start half way back in any creek you see baitfish activity and work the points either way till you find the bass. The key here is to cover water as you are fishing for reaction strikes.
We know that this is a lot of information to absorb but don’t get too bogged down in the details as you tackle mastering the art of jerkbait fishing. Apply some of the simple rules we have given you and we can guarantee jerkbaits will become a trusted tool in your arsenal, in all four seasons, no matter where you live.