Jerk in a Jam

Want to catch some fish quick? Cut everything else off your lines, and tie on hard and soft jerkbaits.

Occasionally, you awaken to one of those special mornings when you have a compelling urge to hook up the boat and head for the lake. It’s a day when everything just feels right. Your confidence level is elevated because you sense that today, it’s going to happen.

I recall one of those mornings a couple of springs ago. An early-spring front had blown through three days prior, chasing the bass from the shallows.

On this day, though, spring was in the air, temperatures were balmy, and I headed for the lake. An occasional swirl on the surface put a gleam in my eye because that meant the fish had returned to their shallow spawning grounds.

I didn’t have to dig through my tackle box in search of a special lure; I already had it tied on my line because I had a feeling when I got to the lake that one particular type of lure would trigger strikes on a day like this.

Lobbing a cast next to the bole of a cypress, I let the ripples die down before taking out the slack and giving the lure a gentle twitch. Waiting half a minute more, I twitched the lure again, causing it to dip and waggle just beneath the surface.

While watching the sparkle and shine of the lure below the surface, the glitter suddenly disappeared. No sparkle; no shine; it just simply was not there any longer. In the split-second it took me to realize what had happened, I saw a deep swirl where the lure had been and simultaneously felt the tug of a fish on the line.

A 4-pound bass had inhaled the lure, and after affording me an adrenaline rush that featured a head-shaking tail-walk and a trip under the boat, the chunky largemouth succumbed to the pressure, and I lifted her into the boat.

This bass, like a dozen others I caught on this trip, fell victim to a lure that has enjoyed popularity for decades.

The lure I was using falls into the class of baits known generally as jerkbaits. The name comes from the method most anglers utilize to retrieve the lure. You cast, let it sit, then twitch or jerk the lure to get the desired action.

One characteristic of jerkbaits is that practically all the action of the lure is imparted by the fisherman. The lure can be made to lie at rest like a dazed shad, to emit a dying quiver, or to make a feeble effort to get away as it dips beneath the surface in a weak, waggling manner.

Jerkbaits come in two broad categories. Hard jerkbaits include such lures as the popular “R” baits — Rogue, Rebel, Redfin, Rapala, etc. These lures, though varying in size and weight, have several things in common. All are slender and minnow-shaped. All have two to three sets of treble hooks dangling from the bottom. All have some sort of lip that imparts the diving, side-to-side action.

At the other end of the spectrum are the soft jerkbaits, lures that hide a single hook embedded in the soft plastic body, designed to be fished in heavy cover.

West Monroe angler Craig Kolb fishes club tournaments and utilizes jerkbaits almost exclusively.

“I fish doubles tournaments with my dad, and his favorite lures are soft-plastic worms and lizards. To give us an edge over the competition, and add some versatility to our team, I began experimenting with jerkbaits that I’d fish while my dad fished soft plastics,” said Kolb. “The more I experimented with these lures, the more impressed I became with what you could do with jerkbaits. I found that I was catching fish that wouldn’t bite any other lure.”

Kolb believes that a jerkbait triggers strikes from bass when other lures are ineffective.

“With the exception of the sense of smell, jerkbaits appeal to all the senses of a bass. It has the movement, the vibration and most hard jerkbaits have a sound chamber with rattles.

“Most importantly, it mimics a baitfish that is struggling. A bass is a predator — a killer by nature — and when it sees a baitfish struggling and in a panic state, it instinctively goes for the kill, even if the bass is not in a feeding mood.

“A jerkbait is most effective when retrieved in an erratic manner. I start by casting past my target, a tree or log for example, letting the lure sit until the ripples die down. Then I twitch it until it is over the target. If I haven’t had a hit by then, I’ll give it a couple of twitches to get it beneath the surface, allowing it to float back to the top. If a fish is there, chances are he’ll suck it in.”

Some jerkbaits are designed to be fished in the top foot or so of the water column. Others are designed to suspend at deeper levels. Kolb is partial to suspending jerkbaits in late winter. He feels they can trigger strikes when other lures fail.

“Before the water temperature begins warming, I like to use a deep-diving suspending jerkbait around brushpiles. Bass have seen all the popular cold-weather lures, such as Carolina-rigged lizards or jigs with trailers, and a suspending jerkbait quivering in front of their noses is often too hard to pass up. It represents natural forage, and little effort is required for a bass to open its mouth and suck it in,” said Kolb.

“I’ll cast next to a submerged brushpile and reel it down so that the lure is next to the brush. Today’s suspending jerkbaits come off the shelf with the right amount of weight to keep the lure suspended in one spot.

“I’ve had good success with reeling the lure down to the depth I want, and then just leaving it there. Sometimes you feel you ought to be doing something — twitching or reeling — but if you just hold it at the depth you want, there’ll be just enough natural movement of the lure to trigger a strike. This is what baitfish do in cold water; they just sit there unless they’re disturbed.”

While hard jerkbait fishermen are restricted in the type of water they can fish, soft jerkbaits know no bounds. Because the hook is imbedded inside the lure’s plastic body, it can be fished in cover too heavy for most hard jerkbaits.

Lure designer Herb Reed caught the attention of bass anglers some 15 years ago when he began marketing a jerkbait of his own design, the popular Slug-Go.

I was introduced to the Slug-Go in 1991 while visiting my daughter and son-in-law in Connecticut, a trip that included a spring bass fishing junket to a small New England lake. After watching the lure work and catching some bass with it, I arranged for an interview with Reed, whose Lunker City Lure Company was located just a few miles from where we fished.

“I developed the Slug-Go for my own use in 1987,” Reed told me. “The lure went on the market in 1989. After using it, I was convinced that the lure was one that would fill an important niche for bass fishermen.

“I got the idea of coming up with a soft jerkbait from watching the action of hard jerkbaits like the Rebel and Rapala. These lures are extremely effective, but there is a serious drawback. They can’t be fished in thick stuff. I thought if I could develop a soft lure that does basically the same thing as the hard baits, but could be fished weedless, I might have a winner.

“As I began using the lure, I noticed that it was doing things I hadn’t planned on. Assuming it would react in the same manner as a hard jerkbait, I was surprised to see that my soft jerkbait developed a mind of its own after splashdown. I found you could use it in more ways than with a conventional jerkbait. You can even Carolina-rig it and work it off the bottom.

“One of my favorite ways is to ‘dead jump’ the Slug-Go. Cast it out and let it settle all the way to the bottom. Leave it there on a slack line for half a minute. On its own, it’ll quiver at the slightest current or water movement. Take out the slack, be sure a fish is not on, and jerk the rod. The bait will shoot straight up like a dying baitfish and slowly roll and dive and quiver its way back to the bottom.

“You can fish this type of lure on the edge of drop-offs. By twitching it and then letting it sink until it’s nearly out of sight, then twitching again, it will attract pre-spawn fish that are in the shallows as well as those in deeper water.

“Another technique I use with the Slug-Go is to ‘slow rip’ it. I’ll cast out, let it begin to slowly sink and then bring the rod tip up in a slow motion, as opposed to sweeping it up. You just never know what the bait will do when you do this. The fact it’s so erratic is what makes it such a bass-killer.”

By design, jerkbaits, both hard and soft varieties, are “reaction” lures. Since they resemble forage bass feed on, a hungry bass will have no hesitation to strike a jerkbait. However, the beauty of this class of lures is that not only do they look like something a bass will readily eat, their action is life-like enough to remove any doubt and hesitation to strike.

There are times and situations where a hard jerkbait is preferable to a soft jerkbait, and vice versa. Here are some tips as to when to use which.

When fishing water with a minimum of surface obstructions, a hard jerkbait is the ticket. Cast past targets, such as tree trunks, brushpiles, logs or stumps. Allow ripples to settle; then gently twitch the lure to move it to the target. Allow the lure sit for several seconds before giving it a gentle nudge.

If there is no strike, twitch it harder so that the lure disappears beneath the surface. Before it ascends to the top, twitch it again. Bass will often strike the lure as it twitches below the surface.

Suspending hard jerkbaits work great when fish are hanging around structure several feet deep. Reel the lure to the desired depth and keep it there by basically doing nothing. Especially in cold weather, a suspending hard jerk bait closely mimics a lethargic baitfish.

Soft jerkbaits can be fished in the same areas as hard jerk baits. However, they really shine when fished in heavy cover. Since the hook is imbedded in the soft plastic body, the lure is virtually impervious to snagging.

Cast or pitch the lure next to the target, allowing it to slowly descend. The slightest twitch will create an erratic action that can trigger vicious strikes. Watch your line for indications of a strike as the lure slowly descends. When you’re sure the bass has taken the lure, set the hook.

While the hookset on a hard jerkbait is a simple matter of sharply raising the rod tip when the strike occurs, you’ll get more effective hooksets if you allow a fish to take the soft jerkbait and begin swimming away before driving the hook home.

With the ability to fish denser cover, soft jerkbaits improve your chances at hanging into a heavyweight bass.

The next time you plan an outing to your favorite bass lake, be sure that you take along a supply of jerkbaits, both the hard and soft varieties. By so doing, you’ll have the confidence of knowing you’ve stocked your tackle box with the most versatile bass lures on the market.

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About Glynn Harris 408 Articles
Glynn Harris is a long-time outdoor writer from Ruston. He writes weekly outdoor columns for several north Louisiana newspapers, has magazine credits in a number of state and national magazines and broadcasts four outdoor radio broadcasts each week. He has won more than 50 writing and broadcasting awards during his 47 year career.

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