By Rick Lawrence
Whether you’re fishing for Smallies, Largemouth, Trout, Stripers, Muskie or Pike, they can all be caught on suspending jerkbaits, especially in colder water. Jerkbaiting really shines from late fall, all winter long in some areas, and into late spring. The most important part of any jerkbait is one that truly suspends dead flat. That means it doesn’t sink or float up and after you jerk it, and it doesn’t suspend nose up or nose down. It is truly dead flat in the water. Some guys like a bait that suspends nose down, but it has been my experience that flat is better. I test every jerkbait I fish no matter if it is a high-end bait or a cheap China knock off. Ninety nine out of one hundred baits will not perfectly suspend and can be tweaked a little to make it better.
Most jerkbaits will float up slowly and can be fixed by adding either one size larger hook or suspend strips. This is true of Megabass, Rapala or Luckycraft and you would think for the cost of some of these jerkbaits they would be perfect right out of the box. Most of the time thus is not the case and you have to add a little weight to get a perfectly suspending bait. Make sure when you’re testing a bait that has weight transfer steel balls that roll inside it that they are forward when testing it for balance. I use the Storm suspend strips a lot. These are thin strips of zinc with a self sticking back that you can use to easily tune your baits. You can find them online and most major sporting goods shops. They come in packs of 70 strips about 1” long by ¼” wide for around 8 bucks. I try to tune my baits in the water temp I plan to fish at because when the air inside of a bait gets colder it tends to lose buoyancy. So you might start with a bait that will suspend perfectly and after a few minutes in the water it will sink slowly. So try to make sure that bait suspends as close as possible to dead flat and not floating up or sinking down. Note the small piece or lead strip on the back of the bait in the photo of my first Smallmouth Bass this year.
If you bait floats and its nose up I add a bit of weight to the bottom of the nose of the bait. If it floats tail up add a little under the tail. About the only way to fix a bait that sinks is to add smaller hooks and split rings if you can get away with it. If not I sometimes save those baits when I need to fish deep. Although that’s not ideal as I would still rather fish a deep diving truly suspending bait over one that sinks.
The second most important part of the jerkbait is an erratic action when it is jerked. It should dart off in a different direction every time you pop the rod tip. The best way to get that super erratic action is to use braid with a fluoro leader and jerk the bait with a little slack in the line. Don’t reel up till you feel the bait as you will be moving the bait with the reel, not the rod tip like you should be. You don’t want a ton of slack though or you will not be able to feel when a fish takes the bait. I make long casts with a 6’6” MH spinning rod for smaller jerkbaits for Bass and a 7’ to 7”6” MH baitcaster for Pike sized lures. Then reel the bait down 3 or 4 cranks of the reel handle and let it pause. Give it a couple pops or twitches and let it pause, reeling just enough to keep in loose contact with the bait. I keep a small bow in the line between the jerks and remember to move the bait with the rod tip not the reel and make your pops on a slack line. Also remember that the colder the water the longer your pauses and the lighter your twitches need to be. As the water warms up, speed your jerkbaits up as well and you will put more fish in the boat.
If your jerkbait always runs to the same side, try tuning the bait by very slightly bending the line tie in the direction you want the bait to run. So if the bait is running to the left and needs to come back to the right to run straight, bend the line tie to the right in tiny amounts till it runs straight when reeled at a medium retrieve. That way is should be erratic then popped and not always go to one side.
Third most important is color or flash. I use 3 basic colors types. Very bright colors like hot pink or firetiger, very flashy colors like your chromes or holographic baits and natural colors like your ghost perch or shad baits. I think VERY bright colors on jerkbaits work better then the natural or ghost see-through colors most of the time, especially for Smallmouth, Brown trout and Pike. So the clown colors, hot pinks, chartreuse and flame colors with loud rattles are my favorites for these fish especially in murky water. My second go to is flashy baits, with either a chrome finish or holographic finish. That flash it gives off when you pop the bait calls fish from a long ways to come check it out. I have had great success fishing for Pike with very flashy baits like blue chrome on sunny days and I go for the brighter colors on the cloudier days or dirty water. If you’re fishing clearer water however, I will go toward more natural looking or translucent baits with smaller rattles in them like a Perch or Ghost Shad pattern. So if you have those 3 basic patterns you can cover most water and weather conditions. In general you need fairly clear water to fish a jerkbait, so I would say that 2 feet of visibility is required for good jerkbait fishing with 4 to 6 feet being about ideal for the bright or flashy baits and if the water has more than 6 foot of visibility generally go with the more natural baits.
Some of my favorite jerkbaits are the Rapala X Rap, the Shadow Rap deep diver, and the old standby the Husky Jerk. I also really like some of the Megabass jerks like the Vision 110 plus 1, the Vision 110 magnum, and the big Kanada. Luckycraft also makes some great jerkbaits like their old stand by the Pointer 100, but the Staysee 90 and 100 or 128 Pointer Minnow. The Strike king KVD 115 deep is also a bait that catches a lot of fish. These are just some of the probably 100 different companies that make jerkbaits and a lot of them are good and some not so good. I must say some of the high-end baits like the Megabass are nice but you can catch fish on bait that cost ¼ as much. Even some of the Chinese K.O. baits work pretty well. So you can drop $28 bucks on a Megabass Kanada or $6 on a Rapala Husky Jerk some times when they are on sale, so start off with some of the mid-range priced baits and work up to the more expensive options.