There’s no shortage of options for bait when you want to catch bass, pike, or other smallmouth fish. But one of the very best is jerkbait, which is a type of bait that’s becoming increasingly popular with fishermen of all levels, all over the world. Why the popularity? Because ask anyone experienced with using jerkbait, and they’ll invariably tell you the same thing: they work. When other types of bait fail to catch anything, jerkbait is there to come to your rescue.
In this article, we’re going to look at everything you need to know about jerkbait fishing. This includes the different types, the correct setup, the best techniques and methods for using the bait, and at which points of the year you should use it. Ready to learn everything you need to know? Then let’s begin.
What is a Jerkbait
So what is a jerkbait? They’re lures that are designed to look like baitfish. While we refer to ‘jerkbait’ as a category of bait, the size and color of the jerkbait can vary widely. There are some that work well for catching pike (these tend to be larger), while others that are used for catching bass (these tend to be smaller). What sets jerkbait apart from other lures is that the fisherman has to work the bait; the effectiveness of the lure depends on the skill and technical ability of the fisherman.
The “work” is all about movement. They’re supposed to look like small shiner fish, which, of course, move erratically in the water. When bass fish are feeding, they don’t go after a large school of fish. Instead, they go after small groups (1 – 3) of fish that have become detached from the group. Jerkbait looks (and, if the correct technique is used, acts) like these fish, especially fish that are injured, which means the bass are more likely to take a bite. Bass will always go after a smaller fish that looks like it’s dying or injured, since who turns down a free meal when it’s put right in front of them?
Types of Jerkbait Lures
There are two different types of jerkbait lures: soft and hard. We’ll run through all the details of both. Let’s start with hard.
Hard jerkbaits are typically made of plastic, wood, or polymers and are generally longer than their soft counterparts. They’re designed to be used when you want to fish close to the surface of the water, either right on top or just under the surface, and typically come with two or three hooks and a lip. They’re more durable than soft jerkbaits, which means that they’re especially good for larger fish.
There are several different styles under the ‘hard jerkbait’ umbrella. A floating hard jerkbait will sit on top of the water until the fisherman makes a movement that pushes it under water. Sinking jerkbaits will sit at various levels under the water until the rod is moved. And then there’s suspending jerkbaits, which sink but have a buoyant factor, which means you can use them in all water depths.
Soft jerkbaits were designed to plug some of the problems that people were experiencing with hard jerkbaits. The main issue was that, when fishing under heavy cover, the multi-pronged hooks made it too easy to lose fish that were on the hook. And so the soft jerkbait, which comes with just a single hook, was born.
Another advantage of soft jerkbaits is that since they’re made of lighter plastic, there’s more range when it comes to colors. They’re also more maneuverable and thus more unpredictable, which can help the fisherman to mimic the actions of a fish more closely. They also sink more slowly, which means they’re more adaptable for fishing in different water levels.
The downside of softer jerkbaits is that they’re less resilient than their harder counterparts and more likely to become damaged, and so you’ll need to have more of them in your fishing box.
Best Jerkbait Setup
It’s all good and well having plenty of jerkbait, but if you don’t have the right setup, then your success will be limited. This means finding the correct rod and reel; there are some that are much better than others. However, there’s no shortage of options out there, which means it can be difficult to get the correct one.
The first thing to think about when it comes to the rod is length. On average, the rod should be around 6.6 feet long. You’ll also want to ensure that the rod has quick action, which means you can snap the rod into place quickly, and that the recommended casting weight is between 50 and 100 grams.
The correct rod will allow you to feel the jerkbait, so you know what you’re doing with it. Remember that jerkbaits are generally heavier than other baits, so the casting weight is key — if you’re using hard jerkbaits, then choose a rod with a casting weight on the upper end of the scale.
There are some rods that are specially designed for use with jerkbaits. If you have any doubts, then opt for one of those.
The rod will set you up for success. The reel will ensure that you’re successful. Perhaps the most important reel-related factor is having one that allows you to feel the jerkbait. The more you’re able to feel it, the better you’ll be able to maneuver it.
You’ll have two options when it comes to the style of the reel. You can choose a spinning reel or a baitcasting reel. While you can enjoy success with the former, if you’re a beginner, it’s best to go for the latter. They generally give a better feel of the jerkbait and normally have more features, such as gears and brakes, which helps to smoothen the fishing process.
How to Fish Jerkbait
Now that you’ve got all the gear you need, let’s think about how you’re going to use your new equipment to catch large quantities of fish! Jerkbait fishing can be highly productive, but only if you’ve got the technique down. There are plenty of different methods, and it’s a good idea to have all of them in your back pocket. If one of them isn’t working, then you can move onto the next one! Plus, you’ll find that your day on the water is more enjoyable if you’re deploying a variety of techniques.
Jerk and Wait
The jerk and wait approach is the most common and arguably most effective way to catch fish using jerkbait. With this, you simply jerk the bait in the water slightly and then take a break. This will make it look like a fish that is injured. A useful tip is to ensure that there’s some slack in the line, so the bait does not move.
Rippin is a technique that’s best used when the fish you’re trying to catch is especially hungry/aggressive. It’s similar to the jerk approach but differs in the amount of water that’s covered. When you’re jerking, you’re keeping the bait in more or less the same place; when you’re rippin, you’re sweeping the bait over a large area and waiting for those angry fish to come hunting.
These two methods will take you far. Some additional tips include fishing at a 45-degree angle (nobody knows quite why, but it’s more effective). Also, if you’re fishing in cold water, give bigger pauses between jerks when you’re using the jerk technique.
When to Fish a Jerkbait
One of the key advantages of jerkbait is the versatility of the lure. You can use them year-round, in a whole host of conditions. However, if you’re just starting out with using jerkbait, then it’ll be better if you’re using them in optimal conditions. That’ll give you the space you need to get your technique locked down, and hopefully, you’ll catch plenty of fish! Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, you can branch out into using jerkbait in more challenging conditions.
Let’s take a look at the optimal conditions.
Your jerkbait will be much more effective if the fish that you’re hoping to catch can see it. If the water is muddy, then this will be more difficult. So if you’ve got clear water and the fish can see your bait, then throw it in and see what you get! With that being said, it’s not impossible to use jerkbait in dirtier waters. It’s just that you might not catch as much as you otherwise would. Some types of jerkbait come with rattles added on, which make them more visible in muddy waters. However, if you have other types of lures among your fishing gear, then it’ll probably be best to use one of them.
The shallower the bass are, the more success you’ll have! Ideally, they’ll be sitting in around 5 – 12 feet of water. Things get pretty difficult if they’re deeper than that and all but impossible if they’re twenty or more feet deep.
Now you know what to do, all that’s left is to get out there and give it a try!