Amazingly, when the Bassmaster Classic got underway last month at Grand Lake, Oklahoma, virtually every top contender started the first day throwing the same variety of lure. It was a true consensus-the minnow-shaped lure known as a “jerkbait” would win the Classic.
Of course, we all now know that’s not what happened-Cliff Pace won by slow and patient dragging of a jig on bottom. But the fact that so many great anglers had so much faith in one type of lure is a testimony to the effectiveness of “getting jerky”.
Jerkbaits share the narrow body shape and small diving lip–however, some float, others suspend at various depths. All catch fish like crazy.
Jerkbaits are not only wonderful largemouth lures, they’re also great for smallmouths in miniature sizes-and for saltwater fish including snook, tarpon and even grouper when they come in to the shallow rockpiles on Florida’s west coast in early spring. I even caught a bunch of brook trout on them up in Quebec’s Ungava Province years back, much to the amazement of the native guides who had not seen that sort of lure used on their resident prima donnas.
For largemouths and smallmouths the last weeks before the spawn, when the fish are shallow but the grass has not yet started to grow, is prime time for throwing a jerkbait-they’re big, flashy and highly visible, and have an action that’s so much like a wounded shad that you’ll want to dive in and grab the bait yourself.
Jerkbaits come in two basic varieties, floating and suspending. In general, the floating models have a wilder, more erratic action because you’re forcing them down with each pull, and they immediately try to dart back to the surface each time you slack the line.
Floating jerkbaits also can be fished as surface lures; pull them down and let them struggle back to the surface, bob them up and down, twitch them off to one side-particularly at dawn and dusk, or in narrow openings in pad fields or around docks, this is a deadly tactic, keeping the lure almost in one place for as long as you want. (It works great for spotted sea trout over the grass too, drawing some great topwater hits, and every now and then a snook sneaks in, or even a young tarpon.)
Largemouths are particularly susceptible to the stop and go action of these lures. Smaller versions also work for smallmouths, and larger models catch all sorts of saltwater fish.
Suspending baits, on the other hand, have a near-neutral buoyancy-jerk them down 2 to 4 feet and they’ll stay there throughout the retrieve. The action is less violent, which sometimes makes them a better choice in cold water or when bass are inactive. It’s possible to hesitate three or four seconds and have the lure simply hang in front of the fish-often, when you give it the next twitch, they attack. Anglers out of Homosassa, FL, use big jerkbaits on 80 pound braid to take on the gag grouper that gather on the rocks there in 8 to 10 feet of water-there’s nothing quite like the power of these fish in water that shallow, and when they slam a jerkbait just as you start to pull it, you’re in for a serious bout of arm-wrestling.
With either variety, the basic motion of working a jerkbait is simple; some people call these lures “rip baits” because you’re basically just ripping them through the water with sharp jerks of the rod-the reel is only used to take up the slack between jerks.
The sharper the snap of the rod, the more the lure will dart, flash and look alive. In the moment it hesitates-vary this anywhere from a second to three seconds-the fish attacks. When you make the next jerk, he’s just there.
Short twitches are often more effective than long pulls; just a flick of the wrist, repeated regularly, causes a well-designed jerkbait to go up, down, flash sideways and really come to life.
As with crankbaits, jerkbaits often draw strikes when they bounce off of something-the erratic action and noise of striking a rock, stump or tree limb can do the job.
And they also work well for the tactic known as “rippin'”, in which the lure is brought through short, scattered weeds in a series of hard snaps-it’s a great early spring tactic for when the submerged weeds are just starting to sprout. The jerks not only impart violent action, but also snap most of the weeds off the hooks, and often the strike comes just after the lure sheds some vegetation.
Dozens of companies make good ones, but some that I’ve had success with this spring include the Luck-E-Strike RC-STX, Mann’s Minus 1, Smithwick Rogue Perfect 10, Strike King’s KVD Shiner and Rapala’s Flat Rap and Husky Jerk.
There are lots more-just tie one on and get jerky-even if the Classic pro’s were wrong at Grand Lake, you can bet the fish will prove you right more often than not.