Rattlin Rouge, Husky Jerk, Bomber, Pointer the list is endless, hard plastic jerkbaits. For years hard jerkbaits have been catching fish, probably starting before many of us reading this were born! While jerkbaits catch fish year round, in my experience they really shine in the winter and very early spring months. With a proper retrieve a jerkbait can drive a bass crazy by not only tickling its reactionary nerve but also because you can pause the bait in the next instant and if your patient enough you can be rewarded with a strike just because your bait is sitting in a bass’s face too long.
Jerkbaits really have no limit as to where you can throw and catch fish with them. While ripping them through grass patches is difficult I’ve see it work. It’s better to work the edges of grass lines, working your bait down to a target depth and then teasing fish with them. Points, rock ledges, and drop offs are very effective places to work jerkbaits. Just about anywhere there are bass, jerkbaits will produce. The only limitation I have found with jerkbaits is muddy water, there are much better presentations when fishing muddy water and the jerkbait loses a lot of effectiveness. While most have rattles they lack solid vibrations that help bass find food in muddy water conditions, just my theory.
There are as many different retrieves for jerkbaits as there are fisherman. Sometimes a slow steady wind works but the jerkbait didn’t get its name from just casting and winding. The trick with a jerkbait is to experiment and find that triggering retrieve of jerks or twitches and pauses that drives a fish crazy enough to strike. As I mentioned before you can be working on both the reactionary nerve and the tantalizing appearance of an easy meal all in one cast. I like to start with a slow wind to get my bait to depth, then I use a jerk-jerk-pause-jerk-pause-jerk-jerk retrieve. If bass are actively feeding I will draw strikes on the jerks or twitches, reaction. If they are less aggressive I will draw strikes on the pauses. I use “when” I get the strikes to adjust my retrieve, more or less jerks or twitches, or longer and more pauses depending on what the fish tell me.
The most effective water temperatures for me are 45-60 degrees. Fish will hit a jerkbait year-round but I keep one in my line up anytime I am fishing water in this range. Water clarity is important as well, the clearer the water the better. With ultra clear water you can draw strikes from farther distances. This can really help with suspended fish.
Jerkbaits shine in post front conditions when bass are slow to feed. I like to find brush piles or flooded timber and rip the bait to the proper depth prior to getting to the cover and then let my bait soak in the proper depth right next to the cover. Bass that are suspending around cover after fronts are very susceptible to this presentation. In lakes void of cover, ledges and drop offs are a great starting point after a front. Bass will move along points to the first drops to suspend and wait for better feeding conditions. Again rip your bait down to the proper depth and start your cadence retrieve looking for a strike to tell you where to adjust.
In colder water or right after a front I like a suspending bait, one that will sit still and not rise or fall when I let the bait pause. In what I call super cold water, say below 45 degrees, I have had good luck with sinking model baits. When you stop a sinking model it will slowly start to fall giving the appearance of a shad on its last leg. If the water is in a warming trend a floater might be a better option, one that when you stop your retrieve it slowly rises to the surface. To me this resembles a bait fish that is dying but still has enough strength to try and catch up with the school it was running with. Out west we used to play with weigh systems to get a nose or tail heavy fall or rise, it never really made a lot of difference that I could see. Best results were simply to have a rise or fall of some sort based on the water conditions.
I like to use natural colored baits. This probably stems from my belief that they work best in clearer water. Now I do know that when targeting smallmouth bass I have had great success with brightly colored baits, however unless you are in smallmouth waters shy away from them as you will be missing out on some great largemouth bass action. Bright colors seem to really offend a largemouth.
Don’t let the cold force you to stay home, pick out a couple of your favorite jerkbaits and hit your favorite lake, you might be surprised at what you catch. Besides it’s fun to try and come up with that perfect cadence and when you do it can be very rewarding, possibly some of the biggest bass you’ll catch all year.
Get the Net, It’s a Hawg