UPCOMING EVENT: Bass Fishing League - 2016 - Lake Okeechobee

Jerkbait guide

Rapala Husky Jerk

(Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the 2013 March issue of Bass Fishing magazine. To read more compelling articles from Bass Fishing magazine each month, become an FLW subscriber member. If you'd like to sign up for a digital subscription to access articles online, click here).

Take in an early spring tournament on just about any fishery, and you’ll see dozens of anglers jerking, twitching and snapping a bevy of slender minnow-shaped jerkbaits. Yet the same select and relatively small group of anglers usually cashes the bulk of the checks on many lakes during the spring. Somehow, they manage to set themselves apart.

“It’s a very subtle thing,” Chevy pro Dion Hibdon says about jerkbait fishing. “You have to pay attention to conditions and what the fish show you to figure how to present the bait, how long to pause it, which bait to throw …”

Pretty high on the list of variables is the jerkbait itself, and determining which jerkbait to throw begins with an understanding of jerkbait distinctions. That said, there’s more than a little art blended with the science.

Action and attraction Chevy pro Luke Clausen will throw a Megabass squarebill jerkbait around schooling fish.

When viewed in a tackle box tray, most jerkbaits appear to be similar. When they’re set in motion, however, it’s a different picture. Actions range from subtle to erratic, and the same twitch would impart a totally different action on two lures that seem identical. Categorizing jerkbaits by action is difficult. Most don’t fit neatly into categories, but fall somewhere in between, and their action is governed to a large extent by the way an angler manipulates them.

Consequently, it’s difficult to define any jerkbait’s default action. That said, certain jerkbaits definitely work better than others for achieving particular motions and have distinctive traits that enable them to excel in specific situations. Understanding those distinctions and how to take advantage of them can impact lure selection and success rate. On the next two pages is a look at some of the common traits that various categories of jerkbaits possess.

Buoyancy and balance

Floating, sinking and suspending jerkbaits clearly all have their place in a year-round bag of tricks. Floaters permit you to walk an offering over grass that hasn’t topped out, to twitch a minnow across the surface and to otherwise work shallow water. Sinkers allow you to control presentation depths and drop deeper in the water column. 

Chevy pro Dion Hibdon proudly displays his catch.

However, when the subject is jerkbait fishing for prespawn bass in spring, we’re talking mostly about suspending jerkbaits. When winter-slowed fish stage for the spawn and feed on chilled baitfish, the best tool for the task is one that can do a dance and then hang in the strike zone, whether that’s only for a moment or for what seems to be a painfully long period.

Hibdon occasionally uses a Rapala Original Floater if he sees bait high in the water column, but he normally adds Storm SuspenDots or a bit of lead wire on a hook to create a jerkbait that returns to the surface very slowly. One difference among various suspenders is the posture of the jerkbait when it hangs motionless in the water column. Some rest at a nose-up or nose-down angle, while others rest perpendicular to the surface.

“The Luck “E” Strike RC STX suspends slightly head down, and I think that makes a big difference when there’s a shad kill,” Hibdon says. “When shad are dying, their heads are down.”

Hibdon will only fish jerkbaits that suspend completely level when the water is a little warmer and no shad die-off is occuring.

Twitches to jerks

As vital as it is to pick the best tool for the task, most jerkbaits take on totally different personalities according to how they are worked.

Where a steady pull might create a tight jiggle, a sharp pull might make the same bait dart erratically. The length and sharpness of each pull and whether the line is tight or slack all impact the action and are important to note.

In real-world conditions, it’s far too easy to get in a rut with motions and cadences. Thus, most jerkbait specialists experiment a lot. It’s better to err on the side of less action, though.

“I think the biggest mistake that most fishermen make with jerkbaits is that they try to do too much,” Hibdon says. “They fish too fast and too hard, trying to make a bait dance, dart and weave, and when it’s cold, shad aren’t doing a lot of that.” Jacob Wheeler

Hibdon experiments a lot, but his favorite presentation is to jerk sharply a couple of times, let the bait hang motionless for quite a while and move it with an extremely light twitch.

“Bascially, I just take the slack out of the line, and that makes the bait quiver and turn on its side,” he says. “Often that’s what triggers the strike.”

Forrest Wood Cup champion Jacob Wheeler’s general rule is to start the season with softer jerks and longer pauses and gradually to fish more aggressively and faster as the day progresses, but he’s a major advocate of letting the fish decide.

“Sometimes it’ll be the opposite of what you’d expect,” he says, “so you really have to experiment and pay attention.”

Action classes

Soft darting and rolling

Characterized by subtle, slow, side-to-side or forward movement, possibly with a bit of a roll Smithwick Suspending Rogue

“Beginning after ice-out, when the water is less than 50 degrees and the shad are slow and lethargic, I want an action that is slow, with the lure only moving side-to-side,” says Wheeler. “At that time I stick with a Rapala Husky Jerk to get that slow action.”

A Smithwick Suspending Rogue, which was the first suspender to gain popularity and the trendsetter for spring jerkbait fishing, moves more forward than side to side and with a rolling swim, but it’s similarly subtle. That signature slow roll, which excels when the water is extra cold, keeps a tremendous number of Rogues tied to lines no matter how many fancy new jerkbaits hit the market.

Darting and swimming

Characterized by darting side-to-side movements when jerked, and a swim or sideways roll with lighter twitches Luck 'E' Strike RC STX

Darting, swimming jerkbaits such as the Luck “E” Strike RC STX and the Megabass Vision 110 fall into the “default” category for prespawn jerkbait fishing. Lacking unusual conditions that dictate, say, staying extra subtle or digging extra deep, these are go-to baits. Hibdon uses the RC STX for 90 percent of his jerkbait fishing.

“When you jerk it fairly hard it darts, but when you barely twitch it, it rolls onto its side and wiggles a little, which is exactly what a dying shad does if you watch it in the water,” he says.

Hard darting

Characterized by erratic, wide-ranging movements

Strike King KVD Slash Bait Jerkbait

Pros commonly toss out the terms “hard darting” and “erratic” when describing desirable jerkbait traits, and both play big into descriptions of lures such as the Strike King KVD Slash Bait Jerkbait and the Jack-it Jerk Money 120-SS. These jerkbaits dart somewhat unpredictably and cover a wide swath with short but sharp jerks, drawing fish from deeper down in extra-clear water. They also lend themselves to more aggressive presentations, which often produce when most fish are staging to move up, but others are in postspawn mode.

Tapered wiggling

Characterized by subtle movements that continue after the angler stops his rod tip Lucky Craft Pointer 78SP

Some jerkbaits, including the Lucky Craft Pointer 78SP and Pointer 100, don’t come to a rest right at the end of a jerk. Instead they continue to move side-to-side a bit, with a slow wiggle that gradually diminishes at rest. Some anglers consider those final dance steps lethal and critical for catching fussy fish, and Lucky Craft has perfected it.

Deeper diving

Characterized by downward-diving movements Megabass Live-X Revenge

Whether with a Smithwick Deep Suspending Rattlin’ Rogue, a Lucky Craft Pointer 78DD or a Megabass Live-X Revenge, sometimes an angler needs a jerkbait to dig just a little deeper than normal and suspend a bit farther down in the water column. Deeper divers most commonly come into play when the water is super clear – usually in smallmouth country.

Every which way

Characterized by unpredictable, erratic movements in all directions Damiki Longbill

Once Wheeler gets past the earliest spring days and the water temperature climbs into the 50- to 60-degree range, he favors a much more erratic and unpredictable action.

“When the water starts warming a bit, I tie on a Rapala X-Rap,” Wheeler says. “It has a fast action and darts all over – up, down, forward, sideways.”

Other erratic suspenders such as the Damiki Longbill fit this category.

Tags: jerkbaits  jacob-wheeler  dion-hibdon  jeff-samsel  tech-tackle-reviews  gear 

/tips/2016-07-23-1000-islands-day-3-midday-update

1000 Islands Day 3 Midday Update

READ MORE »

/tips/2016-07-22-1000-islands-midday-update-day-2

1000 Islands Midday Update Day 2

Day two of the Costa FLW Series Northern Division event presented by Mercury at 1000 Islands got started on a slightly different note this morning when FLW’s tournament directors declared Lake Ontario off limits due to hazardous conditions. The change threw a few of the top pros off their primary plans, but regardless the 137-boat field will be cut down to the top 10 after today, so adjustments need to be made in order to qualify to fish the weekend. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-07-19-flw-podcast-126-icast

FLW Podcast 126 - ICAST

READ MORE »

/tips/2016-07-14-2017-walmart-flw-tour-schedule

2017 Walmart FLW Tour Schedule

In what has become an annual tradition at FLW, the 2017 Walmart FLW Tour schedule was announced at a press conference and industry gathering held Thursday on the show floor at ICAST in Orlando, Fla. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-07-12-si-se-puede-yes-we-can

Si Se Puede ... Yes We Can

Mexico’s Lake Zimapan is different in many ways from the lakes to the north such as Florida’s Lake Okeechobee and California’s Clear Lake, but one element it has in common with those famous fisheries is big bass. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-07-11-5-rookie-lessons-learned

5 Rookie Lessons Learned

People have asked me what my first year on the Walmart FLW Tour was like. Well, it was like running headfirst into a hurricane for a few months. I came out the other side a little battered, bruised and smelling like fish. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-07-11-flw-podcast-125-scott-martin

FLW Podcast 125 - Scott Martin

READ MORE »

/tips/2016-07-08-review-lew-s-custom-speed-stick-lite

Review: Lew’s Custom Speed Stick Lite

Recently I had the opportunity to try one model in particular – the 7-foot, 4-inch Magnum Pitchin’ rod. After fishing with it several times, I’ve concluded that it performs as advertised, is sensitive and lightweight, and is well worth the money. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-07-08-reunited-and-it-feels-so-good

Reunited, and it Feels so Good

This year I really had a reunion with finesse fishing. Most of my better tournaments came from fishing some type of finesse presentation. Finesse tactics seemed to always give me a certain confidence about the day. While finesse tactics are nothing new to the game of bass fishing, this year I regained the confidence and joy of catching bass on smaller offerings. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-07-08-2016-icast-preview

2016 ICAST Preview

The doors to ICAST don’t open until next week, when everyone gets out on the showroom floor in Orlando, Fla., but there are already plenty of snippets of information available. FLW’s media crew will be there in full force to bring you coverage of the hottest new products, as well as the annual New Product Showcase awards. For now, take a gander at some of the early birds. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-07-07-flw-canada-kicks-off-at-tri-lakes

FLW Canada Kicks Off at Tri-Lakes

Among these Canadian all-stars was the eventual winning team of Chris Vandermeer of Peterborough and Jeff Slute of Millbrook. Capitalizing on a strong day one shallow-water smallmouth pattern, the duo took advantage of the slick-calm conditions using a silver-hued topwater popping plug to agitate the lake’s bronzebacks into attack. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-06-30-flw-tour-pro-cooksey-recovering-after-accident

FLW Tour Pro Cooksey Recovering After Accident

Walmart FLW Tour sophomore Dalton Cooksey of New Concord, Ky., is recovering at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Tennessee following a single-car accident that took place Wednesday afternoon. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-06-30-flw-podcast-124-jeremy-lawyer

FLW Podcast 124 - Jeremy Lawyer

READ MORE »

/tips/2016-06-29-stetson-blaylock-s-recipe-for-a-wacky-rig

Stetson Blaylock’s Recipe for a Wacky Rig

From March until the end of the fishing season I’m going to have a wacky rig on deck. It’s a really effective way to fish anytime the fishing is tough, or if the fish are up cruising banks. Anytime fish are about 5 feet deep or less, I can catch them on the wacky rig. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-06-28-morgan-claims-third-flw-tour-angler-of-the-year-title

Morgan Claims third FLW Tour Angler of the Year Title

MINNEAPOLIS – Livingston Lures pro Andy Morgan of Dayton, Tennessee, added to his incredible fishing resume by winning his third Walmart FLW Tour Angler of the Year title Saturday at the FLW Tour's final 2016 regular-season event on Lake Champlain.... READ MORE »

/tips/2016-06-24-three-things-by-dd-kentucky-lake

Three Things by DD: Kentucky Lake

Kentucky Lake did not go the way I intended. I was pumped and ready to rock out a top-20 finish. I had great expectations of myself, but nothing seemed to come together. Practice was dicey, but I thought for sure I could put something together to make the cut. That was until day one came, and the whole vibe of my day instantly went from eager to agitated. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-06-23-how-to-catch-smallmouths-with-hair-jigs

How to Catch Smallmouths with Hair Jigs

The “right” hair jig for smallmouths is a small 1/16- to 1/8-ounce marabou jig with a round or mushroom-shaped head. The jig is similar to marabou jigs used by crappie fishermen, but bass models will often have a larger, stronger hook and possibly a longer or thicker skirt. Naturally, anglers have their favorites, and there are subtle differences in jigs that make some better than others. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-06-22-two-exciting-events-to-look-forward-to

Two Exciting Events to Look Forward To

We are in the last stretch of the 2016 Walmart FLW Tour. Awaiting us is the Lake Champlain tournament in just a few days. A couple of things will be settled there: the pro field for the Forrest Wood Cup and the Angler of the Year. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-06-21-tagging-along-with-sprague-in-kentucky

Tagging Along with Sprague in Kentucky

Through the first four events of the 2016 Walmart FLW Tour season, Jeff Sprague finished inside the top 20 every time and challenged for the win at Beaver Lake. After stop No. 4 on Pickwick, Sprague took over the lead in the Angler of the Year race. This is the story of his first tournament as the AOY leader – stop No. 5 on Kentucky Lake. Currently, Sprague is preparing for the finale on Lake Champlain. He’s in second place in the AOY standings. READ MORE »

/tips/2016-06-19-waunakee-hs-wins-wi-title

Waunakee HS Wins WI Title

The Waunakee High School duo of Colin Steck and Nathan Lorenz brought a five-bass limit to the scale Sunday weighing 13 pounds, 3 ounces, to win the 2016 TBF/FLW High School Fishing Wisconsin State Championship on the Minocqua Chain of Lakes. The win earned the team trophies, the title of state champions and advanced the team to the High School Fishing Central Conference championship on the Ohio River in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, on September 23-24. READ MORE »