The A, B, C’s of Jerkbaits
By: Mark Romanack
Last March the author had the opportunity to target brown trout on the famous White River in Arkansas. Jerkbaits are the “go to” lures among local guides who have learned that jerkbaits typically produce a larger on average grade of fish.
Over the years I’ve used jerkbaits to catch a pile of fish. Most people of course are going to associate jerkbaits with bass fishing, but the truth is these iconic lures catch a lot more than just bass.
The beauty of jerkbaiting is the simplicity of this presentation. Very few lures can match that “dying minnow” action that jerkbaits are famous for and anyone can learn to master the jerkbait in short order.
Cadence is the rhythm employed when working a bait. With a jerkbait the best cadence is no cadence! The more erratic and unpredictable the movements the more effective a jerkbait becomes.
The biggest mistake anglers make when using jerkbaits is they inadvertently find themselves using and repeating the same cadence over and over again. Snap, snap, pause… Snap, snap, snap pause… Snap, snap pause.
Mixing up the cadence creates a presentation that’s unpredictable and more apt to trigger explosive strikes.
SLACK LINING THE BAIT
Another common mistake anglers make when using jerkbaits is to work the bait on a tight line. In order to get a jerkbait to jump and change directions, it’s important to create slack in the line between rod twitches. This is accomplished by pushing the rod back towards the bait slightly between twitches to insure the bait is resting on slack line when a twitch is employed.
Most anglers who fish jerkbaits a lot favor “suspending” models over those that float at rest. A suspending bait can be worked and paused, keeping the bait below the surface and in the strike zone better than a buoyant bait that quickly floats back to the surface when paused.
Getting a bait to suspend properly requires adding weight which also makes these baits more efficient in terms of casting distance. It’s possible to add weight to a buoyant jerkbait and convert it into a suspending lure. Soft lead wire wrapped around the shank of the treble hooks works well in counterbalancing a floating style jerkbait.
SHALLOW, MEDIUM, DEEP
The traditional jerkbait is a shallow diving stickbait that does a good job of working the top two or three feet of the water column. Jerkbaits with larger diving lips that enable these lures the ability to dive a little deeper are becoming increasingly popular.
The ability to get the jerkbait a little deeper becomes critically important when fishing stained or dirty water and also defined cover such as emerging weed beds, submerged wood or spawning sized rubble and boulders.
Deep diving crankbaits can also serve as jerkbaits. In this case simply make a long cast and crank the bait down in the water column by lowering the rod tip to the water surface and cranking hard for a few seconds. Once the bait has achieved some depth, stopping the steady retrieve and working the bait like a traditional jerkbait brings the lure to life and can help trigger strikes from deeper fish.
Creek mouths and stained water are some of the prime places that jerkbaits shine. The key to catching fish on jerkbaits is locating places that concentrate fish in relatively shallow water.
Everyone knows that jerkbaits work great on largemouth and smallmouth bass. What other species are vulnerable to the magic of a jerkbait?
Jerkbaits are especially deadly on northern pike in the spring when these fish are routinely found in shallow water. While pike have a reputation for being voracious, when the water is cold getting these fish to bite can be surprisingly difficult. A jerkbait is the ideal lure for cold water pike fishing because the bait can be fished slow and kept in the strike zone longer than lures that require a continuous retrieve like spoons or spinnerbaits.
In late fall when water temperatures drop below 50 degrees, pike once again invade the shallows and jerkbaits become a “go to” presentation. In the fall pike are more aggressive than during the early spring. Often a pike will strike at a jerkbait creating a swirl of water the size of a bathtub in the process!
Trout species including brook trout, brown trout, rainbows and even lake trout are also very susceptible to the “dying minnow” action of a jerkbait. The best time to use jerkbaits for trout is in the spring of the year when these fish are going to be relating primarily to shallow water, stained water and available cover that makes their location predictable.
Jerkbaits are especially deadly when used in flowing water. Trout that live in streams become accustomed to holding in or near cover and darting out to feed on food as the current carries it close to their lair.
Walleye aren’t a species that most anglers would think vulnerable to jerkbaits, but when walleye are using shallow weeds, few other presentations are more effective. Emerging weed flats and defined weed edges are a couple of the prime spots that jerkbaits quickly become the “go to” presentation.
The beauty of a jerkbait is these lures can be worked down close to the emerging weed tops without diving deep enough to foul in the weeds. In the right conditions, walleye will literally smash a jerkbait like it’s going to be their last meal.
Captain Travis White is a big fan of using jerkbaits to target spring brown trout, splake, coho and even lake trout. This exceptional brown exploded on a jerkbait and put up a world class fight.
A jerkbait can be fished on a baitcasting or spinning outfit effectively. A medium action rod about seven feet in length is ideal for jerkbaiting. Monofilament or fluorocarbon line is the best choice for working jerkbaits. The controlled stretch these line types deliver is ideal for moving a jerkbait and imparting action without moving the bait too far or too aggressively.
For most applications a 10 to 12 pound test line is about perfect for jerkbaits.
For those anglers who prefer to spool up with super braids, adding a six foot shock leader of fluorocarbon is the best compromise. The fluorocarbon creates an invisible connection between line and lure.
At the terminal end, loop knots are popular among anglers who routinely fish jerkbaits. Unfortunately, most anglers struggle with tying a loop knot. An ordinary round snap is a good alternative for attaching lures among those who struggle with the loop knot.
SUMMING IT UP
Jerkbaits are legendary for their ability to catch bass. With an open mind, these same lures can also be used to catch northern pike, walleye and a host of trout species as well.