Tips and Tricks For Jerkbaits
Friday, March 9, 2018
Tips and Tricks For Jerkbaits
By Chris Rhoden
During the cold water months, a jerk bait is a staple from coast to coast. Effective during both neutral and active feeding conditions, the jerkbait shines on suspended fish. It’s one of the few baits that can catch them in water in the high 30s up through the 70s. If you stick with it, playing with color and cadence more often than not will get bit It pays to be well-versed with a jerk bait, and part of being effective with it is having a process of elimination for changes in day to day conditions.
Let’s start with the baits themselves. There’s an untold number of jerkbaits on the market. They range from $5 for a domestic bait to $30 for Japanese imports. The key is to find a couple baits that match the forage size in your home waters. I’m partial to Lucky Craft and Megabass, with a few odds and ends thrown in. These baits cost more, but they come tuned out of the box and come with good suspending qualities.
A good guideline is to start with a couple different styles to cover different depths and conditions. There’s 4 categories that I break my bait selection into:
- Active conditions – Clear water/spooky fish – Colder water – Deeper fish
My go-to baits are a Megabass Vision 110 and a Lucky Craft Pointer 100. These are the baits that I turn to in active conditions, and I’ll usually start my day with one of them. The 110 is better when covering water quickly, while the Pointer gets the call when I want a more methodical cadence or if I’m fishing around bigger forage. Likewise, the Pointer 78 or Vision 110 Jr might the bait you need if the fish are eating smaller bait.
When it comes to super clear water or highly pressured fish, my favorite is the Silent Pointer 95. It’s a little smaller than the Pointer 100, but retains the same action while omitting the rattles. When it’s 15+ foot visibility or if everyone is throwing a jerkbait, the 95 often produces a few more bites. It’s deadly on the Colorado River lakes!
Everywhere outside of the Deep South and the southwest, water temps typically drop into at least the mid 40s in the winter. While baits like the 110 and Pointers will get bit in cold water, I find that you want a bait with a more pronounced snap when you rip it. Shad die off when the water hits the 30s, and a dying shad will flutter down about before it darts erratically trying to stay swimming. The Lucky Craft Slender Pointer and Flash Pointer are both excellent baits to slow down and fish with less exaggerated twitches in cold water.
The final category is deeper fish. It’s common for fish to suspend in 10-15 feet off bluff banks and channel dropoffs this time of year. The go-to deep jerkbait is a Lucky Craft Staysee 90. It will hit about 10-11 feet depending on the line type and diameter used. The head-down posture of this bait is a boon to fishing it relatively fast, and makes the bait fairly snag free if you are fishing deeper brush or rip rap.
You’ll often hear advice on jerkbaits talking about very specific pause times and retrieve cadences. If you are just starting out with a jerkbait, keep it simple. Starting with a basic twitch-twitch-pause rhythm and vary the pause times. More often than not, getting a fish to react is less about the cadence and more about the speed of retrieve. If the water is above 48, I’m rarely going to stop the bait for more than 5 seconds. If the fish are in a neutral state, I might pause for 8-10 seconds. Fish don’t really care if you give the bait one pop or three pops, they care about how fast the bait is moving away from them in relation to their own activity mode.
Do subtle pops and long pauses catch fish too? If the water is colder than the high 40s, you’d do well to slow down. A 30 second pause is a long time, but it might be what super neutral bass want in your home water. Experimentation is the key. One of the best jerkbait fisherman I know will make sure his bait is perfectly suspending, and then deploy 1-2 minute pauses in super cold water. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I find that my best success on smallmouth in clear water fisheries like Havasu often comes fishing the bait in a staccato cadence, 4-5 quick rips with a 2-3 second pause throw in.
Color is probably the most overlooked aspect of jerkbait fishing. It’s not that you need a bunch of colors, but rather certain colors work better in different conditions. There’s 4 basic color schemes you need; a transparent (ghost) pattern, an opaque pattern, a pattern with some flash, and a stained water contrast pattern. A handful of colors that are staples for me are Ghost Minnow, Chartreuse Shad, Pro Blue, Table Rock Shad, and Ito Wakasagi. Another good one is the Phantom Chartreuse Shad made by Lucky Craft, which kind of bridges the gap between ghost and opaque color schemes.
If you are in clear water with sunny skies, the ghost patterns are a good starting point. Remember that clear water is relative; a fish used to living in 1-2 foot visibility will react to a ghost color just fine, while a fish used to living in 10-15 foot visibility will have trouble finding the same bait in 1-2 foot stain.
If there’s decent amounts of wind in either clear or moderately stained water, a flashy bait is going reflect more of that sunlight being distorted by the wind waves. Likewise if it’s cloudy or the water has more stain than normal, an opaque color with a pearl base will show up better.
Dirty water is the last place a lot of guys would throw a jerk bait, but you can catch them in the mud on it. The key is finding color changes. If you are on a reservoir or river system, the water in the creeks may often be dingier than the main body. This water warms up the quickest, and runoff after a warm rain may be a few degrees warmer where it enters the lake. Fish will move up dirt shallow to feed on bait drawn to the newly washed food in these cuts, and they often eat a jerkbait well.Something with bright sides and a dark back gets bit well in this case.
One tip is fish may follow one color to the boat and eat another color, so having a couple different colors ready is a good idea. A color change can also put more fish in the boat when the bite turns on. If you were picking away at fish earlier on a ghost color and you start getting bit more frequently, opaque or flashy colors can trigger active fish into biting. In the same vein, don’t be afraid to throw bright colors on clear water if the fish are following or slashing at your bait without hooking up. Bright colors can provoke a reaction from picky fish, especially smallmouth.
Gear for throwing the jerkbait is completely personal in preference. Many folks like shorter sticks to jerk with. How you rip the rod tip determines your preference, I like a 7 footer because my ripping action is more to the side than straight down. Dobyns makes a host of great jerkbait sticks in various lengths. My weapons of choice are the Champion 704CB for everything up to the Staysee, and a 705CB for the bigger baits or bigger fish. The Fury 705CB will do well if you can only afford one rod. Some prefer the crisp snap of graphite, but I find the tip on the composite crankbait rods allow me to land more fish on the smaller trebles used on jerkbaits.
Reel ratio doesn’t matter on jerkbaits. Find something you can palm all day comfortably that’s capable of throwing a lighter bait in the wind. Line is more important. I prefer flourocarbon, 10lb being the starting point for myself. If I’m fishing bigger baits for bigger fish, I will fish up to 15lb. If I need to get a Staysee down a few more feet, I will go to 8lb. There’s a lot of debate about the merits of mono vs flouro on jerkbaits. I find that my baits run about a foot deeper on average with the sinking qualities of flouro, and the reduced stretch is a boon when getting bit on a long cast. In most cases, either will get bit fine and you should fish what you are most comfortable with.
Hooks are a detail that needs attention as well. Even the high dollar imports will not necessarily have great hooks out of the box. My jerkbait hook for choice is the Gamakatsu Nano line. Their basic round bend treble is great also. I love the sharpness and lighter weight on the Nanos, an aspect which lets me go up a size on my hooks to increase hook gap. A bait that uses stock #6 trebles will fit a #5 in the Nano treble. Also, keep a few heavy wire hooks handy. Many people use lead tape to get their bait to suspend, but upsizing your front hook to 2x can often accomplish the same thing. I also use a small snap on my rip baits. This allows me to have a consistent action with my bait, as the point of pull on a small egg style snap stays the same regardless of my bait choice.
Spend some time this winter experimenting with the jerk bait. Once you fine tune your technique, you may just find you don’t want to pick up any other rod!