Jerkbaits for Trout and Salmon?
By: Mark Romanack
Anyone who has fished a jerkbait for smallmouth or largemouth bass with testify to how productive these baits can be especially during the pre-spawn and early post-spawn time periods. There is just something special about the bone crushing strikes jerkbaits deliver.
What many anglers might not realize is that the jerkbait is just as effective at trigger strikes on other species including brown trout, lake trout, coho and splake.
Rocky shorelines provide plenty of places for brown trout and other species to hide in shallow water.
ANATOMY OF A JERKBAIT
Jerkbaits come in a lot of shapes and sizes these days. In general these lures are slender minnow shaped crankbaits designed to be worked using snort snaps of the rod tip that cause the bait to dart enticingly one direction and then another. When short pauses are blended into the mix, the jerkbait becomes a powerful tool for generating cold water strikes.
Because jerkbaits are casted, plastic neutrally buoyant models that feature a weight transfer system are the most desirable. These baits cast like bullets and can be used to cover enormous amounts of water in short order. The neutrally buoyant feature means these baits can be paused periodically and they will simply hang enticingly in the water column, compared to floating models that quickly pop to the surface.
Jerkbaits work great on trout found both in streams and in the near shore waters of the Great Lakes. This beautiful brown was caught by the author on the White River in Arkansas.
Most jerkbaits are designed to only dive a couple feet. Early in the year when the water is cold, trout and salmon are typically found in shallow water and shallow diving jerkbaits are deadly effective. At times it might be necessary to use a slightly deeper diving jerkbait to trigger strikes from fish holding on somewhat deeper structure.
In both cases it’s best to make a long cast and reel hard at first for a few seconds to get the bait down. Once the bait is submerged, the best way to bring a jerkbait to life is to snap the rod tip, then push the rod back towards the bait to create slack line. The slack insures that the next time the rod tip is snapped, the jerkbait will dart off into a different direction creating that “darting and dying minnow” action that makes these lures so overwhelmingly effective.
The best rhythm for fishing a jerkbait is no rhythm at all. The more erratic and unpredictable the action is, the better it will trigger strikes.
The best places to find trout and salmon in the early spring are places where the water is a little warmer. Places where tributary streams poor in slightly warmer, stained and nutrient rich water tend to concentrate fish.
Tributary streams that pour in warmer and often stained water are magnets for Great Lakes brown trout, coho, lakers and also splake.
If these same places also provide fish cover in the form of rocks, boulders, submerged logs or sharp drop offs, the spot will hold fish more consistently.
Normal broad beam sonar technology is pretty useless for marking fish in shallow water and when fish are holding among rocks and other submerged cover. Instead, a better approach is to use structure scan technology to locate pockets of fish.
Lowrance Electronics recently released an Active Imaging 3-in-1 nosecone transducer designed to replace the factory supplied power head of the Ghost Electric Motor. By mounting Active Imaging technology to the bow of the boat, anglers can cruise along silently while searching left and right of the boat for shallow water fish.
This Active Imaging technology allows anglers to see every rock and boulder in stunning detail and they can also see other important features like transitions that form between rock and sand, gravel and rock or hard to soft bottom areas. Fish on the Active Imaging appear as ghost images similar to a grain of rice.
COLOR ME CRAZY
Because jerkbaits are designed to imitate shiner minnows, smelt and alewife natural chrome colors tend to be the best for trout and salmon applications. However, a little splash of color on the belly, nose or throat of the bait helps provide contrast and fish attracting appeal.
NEVER TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE BALL
The best jerkbait anglers are those who watch the bait closely from splash down all the way back to the boat. Often fish will indicate their presence and mood by slashing at the bait, but missing it. Seeing the missed strike is important, but how an angler reacts to this information is even more important. Not only can the bait be stopped or slowed to entice a follow up strike, it provides a clue that a slower overall presentation may be needed to trigger consistent strikes.
Every day is different. Some days fish will literally explode on the bait without hesitation. Other days they slash half heartedly at the bait. It’s also common to have fish simply follow the bait back to the boat, but not strike.
When fish follow, but don’t strike try throwing a different color, size or style of jerkbait. It helps to keep two or three different baits rigged up on different rods so they can be handy for a follow up cast.
Trout and salmon are sight feeders, but these fish also depend heavily on their sense of smell for finding food. Baits that are treated with natural smelling fish attractants produce a scent stream in the water that simply produces more strikes than baits fished without scent.
The key word here is “natural” fish scents. Most fish scents are made from anise, garlic or other unnatural odors that function more as cover scents than fish attractants. Fish scents made from real baitfish are better at attracting fish and stimulating crushing strikes that lead to hooked and landed fish.
The Pro Cure Super Gel series of fishing scents are made from real baitfish mixed with an emulsion that prevents the scent from turning rancid. The resulting gel is sticky and produces a potent scent stream that last for 30-40 minutes before it needs to be reapplied.
A few of the Super Gel formulas that produce consistently on trout and salmon include alewife, smelt, gizzard shad and emerald shiner.
Captain Travis White of Keweenaw Charter Company is a master at
catching brown trout and other species on jerkbaits.
WRAPPING IT UP
The jerkbait was designed with bass in mind, but these lures are deadly effective at triggering strikes from trout and salmon. In the spring of the year when these fish are routinely found in shallow water, the stage is set for some amazing action and the most dramatic strikes imaginable.