Jerkbaits are one of the few bass lures that are highly effective year-round. The main reason is because of how much control you have over their action. They can be fished extremely fast or slow, deep or shallow, or anywhere between. We are going to discuss the best jerkbaits for bass.
A jerk bait is a longish lure made to represent an injured baitfish and has no real action. In jerk bait fishing, the action is created by the angler. This is done by jerking your rod as you reel the lure in. The bait will shoot off in different directions when you start the rod. This imitates the last swimming strides of a dying baitfish, a dinner bell for bass.
Many models have a lip like a crankbait to make them dive, but that’s all you will get without adding your action. The bait will wobble if reeled in a straight retrieve, but the jerking of the rod tip makes these lures unique. Jerkbait fishing is a method of fishing in itself; you’ll sometimes hear anglers referring to other interests and saying, “Fish it like a jerk bait.”
Although they are very effective year-round, jerkbaits are best known for their ability to get bites in cold water; that’s what makes them so popular in early spring and fall. Bass slows down big time in cold water, and since you can work a jerk bait as slow as you want, they make a desirable meal for a sluggish bass.
Types of Baits
There are many kinds of jerkbaits out there, but they can be broken down into two major categories: hard-bodied and soft-bodied. Each style has its strengths and weaknesses in bass fishing.
What determines which to choose is the areas of the lake you are targeting and what kind of action you want the lure to give off. Let’s start by discussing some of the rigid body styles.
Hard jerkbaits are made from hard plastic, polymers, or wood. They are very durable, and you can cast them a mile because of their aerodynamic shape. Most hard jerkbaits come equipped with two or three treble hooks with a single solid body, but there are also joint versions.
Joined jerkbaits comprise two body sections, a front, and a rear, connected by an eyelet. The connection gives the two sections a hinging action and will put out more movement than the solid body models. Jointed or not, hard-body jerkbaits can be broken down into three subcategories: Floating, Suspending, and Sinking.
Floating jerkbaits remain on the surface until some action is put into them. They are the best jerk bait for beginners because their floating attribute helps them from getting hung up on weeds and timber below the surface.
Most models have a lip on the front that make them plunge as they are retrieved. With every jerk of your rod tip, the bait will dive deeper. During the pause between jerks, the trick will float back up, so the time between draws determines what depth the lure will be working in.
They are also great when fished as a topwater by letting them float and giving them a jerk to make them dive a few inches and pop back up to the surface.
These are designed to sink at different rates until action is imparted to them by jerking the rod. They often target deep cover or structure by letting the bait fall to the target zone and then begin applying action.
Usually, anglers will use the countdown method, so you should know your bait’s sink rate. Most sinking jerkbaits will have the sink rate on the package, but if not, you can find out by letting it fall in water that you know the depth of and counting the seconds it takes to hit bottom. The sink rate is measured in feet per second.
These are the most commonly used style of jerk bait. They are designed to have neutral buoyancy and hang in the water column mid-depth, neither sinking nor floating. This suspending pause gives the trick a natural appearance and time for a bass to devour it.
When you cast one out, and it hits the water, it will plunge just beneath the water’s surface. You need to jerk the rod and get it down to the depth you want to fish it. You do this by keeping the rod tip low and starting the bait.
Once you’ve hit the depth you desire, bring the rod tip up so it is straight out in front of you and parallel to the water’s surface. If you want to bring the bait up in the water column, raise the rod tip as you jerk it.
These are made from soft plastic and have a chewy texture, giving them a lifelike feel to a bass that bites one. That attribute provides these styles with jerkbaits a significant advantage because bass hangs on to them a little longer before trying to spit them out, giving you more time for a proper hook set.
Their soft bodies also give them a more natural appearance and movement underwater. When you jerk a soft jerk bait, they dart off in all different directions. This action appeals to bass because it’s not repetitive as most lures give off.
Typically, they are Texas rigged, seedless, and can be fished just about anywhere. They can also be weighted if your looking to target deeper water.
One downside compared to hard jerkbaits is that they are more easily damaged. Like all soft plastic baits, they only last so long and can only catch so many fish before they get torn to pieces. They’re also jackfish magnets so that they won’t stand up to too many encounters with those teeth.
The other disadvantage a kayak angler needs to keep a close eye on is the line twists soft jerkbaits can cause. Darting off in different directions can turn the line, especially if not rigged correctly. The bait must be supplied perfectly straight.
If it’s curved, it will constantly dart in the same direction, creating more of a twirling motion that will twist the line and cause a nasty tangle. When you retrieve the bait, let it and turn it between casts. If it is twisting out a ton, the trick is likely not rigged straight enough.
The beauty of a jerk bait is you can fish it as fast or as slow as you want, allowing you to zero in on what speed retrieve is getting bass to strike that day. Jerkbait fishing uses your wrist to jerk your rod to give off lure action. In between jerks, you reel in the slack.
How often and how hard you jerk the bait during a single retrieve directly affects your success. Aggressive early summer bass will love rapid jerks with very short pauses. On the other hand, cold-water bass will never chase something moving that fast. So before you go jerk bait fishing, you need to determine the style of jerk bait and the speed of retrieval that’s best for the conditions you are fishing.
Selecting which style to fish depends on where the bass is holding. Each type has advantages and significant abilities to get to certain areas and depths of the lake. The two factors to consider are depth and cover.
If the bass feeds in open shallow water, your best bet is a floating model. They require a rapid-jerk retrieve to keep them below the surface. Since shallow bass is usually active bass, this fast action will be effective. You want to create the appearance of an injured baitfish in a panic.
If you’re targeting deep rocks, structures, or sunken timber, a sinking model is the way to go, so you can get right to where the bass are. Using the countdown method, your bait will sink right into the zone you are targeting. If there is thick grass or brush down deep, you should go with a weighted soft jerk bait to Texas rig it weedless.
Suspended jerkbaits are the best models for fishing in the majority of lakes. If you only own one jerk bait, it should be a discontinued model, like a Husky Jerk. They can be fished in all depths but excel in 10 feet of water or less. You can work these fast or slow at the depth you prefer by raising or lowering the rod tip.
The flexibility in retrieval speed is unmatched. You can just let them sit still in the water column for as long as you like. Letting them sit like this, followed by a hard jerk, defines what a reaction lure is all about. They are the best lure for triggering these reaction bites, which we get more into when talking about retrieval speed.
The most significant factor in determining retrieve speed is going to be water temperature. It’s also what gives jerkbaits such an advantage in cold water. Working a suspended jerk bait extremely slow and letting it sit for long pauses is highly effective for hard, lethargic bass. Warmer waters call for faster retrieves that will get you reaction bites.
Reaction bites are when a bass reacts to a sudden lure movement by attacking it. Because of the erratic action of a jerk bait, they are one of the best-known reaction baits out there. The way the bait darts off in different directions from the rod tip’s jerking movement triggers the reaction bites.
You also need to consider water clarity. Clear waters give the bass a good look at your bait, and letting it sit for too long can give them enough time to figure out that it is artificial. In clear water, you should keep the bait moving and pause for short periods. In darker or stained water, longer pauses are less suspicious looking to investigating bass.
Jerkbaits are excellent weapons for battling cold water, even in icy water. Try the deadsticking technique if the water is so hard it’s barely thawed. Deadsticking is just letting the lure sit on the bottom, sometimes for as long as thirty seconds to a minute.
Use a complex sinking model or a weighted soft bait and let it sink to the bottom, then slowly twitch it between those long pauses. Be sure to feed it some line on the way down so it drops straight and falls naturally.
Jerkbaits can be fished with either a spinning reel or bait caster. Most anglers tend to fish small jerkbaits with spinning gear and the bigger ones (around 5″ or more significant) with a baitcasting reel. You should spool them with a monofilament line for floating models because mono floats and a fluorocarbon line for sinking models because fluoro sinks. A sinking jerk bait will fall mono, just not as quickly.
Regarding equipment, using a good jerk bait rod is the most critical part of jerk bait fishing. You need a medium-heavy rod with a fast-action tip. This style rod has the right amount of whip to create an excellent jerking action while having enough backbone to get the bait to dive down against the resistance of the water.
You don’t want a long rod for jerkbaits; something between 6′ and 6′-6″ is ideal. You’ll be jerking the rod rapidly at times, and a shorter rod will be far easier to do this with. Also, when you want to start downward, your tip won’t hit the water.
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