The jerkbait is perhaps one of the most underused tools in the average angler’s arsenal. A jerkbait can be far more versatile than it gets credit for. Often mistaken by many as only a cold water lure, they can really shine in warm water too. It’s also a great substitute for a crankbait or spinnerbait when they are not producing.
The Complete Guide to Jerkbait Fishing
What is a Jerkbait?
If you’re not familiar with jerkbaits (or stickbaits), they are long and narrow diving and often suspending lures. They come in all different sizes from 2 1/2 to 8 inches or more. The most common jerkbaits bodies are straight or straight with a slight curve. Many companies offer the same sizes with a jointed mid-section. For the beginner, these lures should not be confused with top water lures. What sets them apart in appearance is that jerkbaits have a small lip designed to make the lure dive. Some of our favorites are the Lucky Craft Pointer Series (78 & 100), Rapala Husky Jerk Series (HJ10 - 4” & HJ14 – 51/2”), the Mega Bass Vision Series (Vision 110) and Spro Minnow (4 ½” – Minnow 45). Colors are primarily “match the hatch” (baitfish colors) and weather conditions for sunny versus cloudy days.
Many old school anglers have come up with creative ways to modify or "trick out" jerkbaits. Adhesive lead dots or strips can be used to add additional weight to change the buoyancy of the bait so it can be adjusted to suspend at any depth… something that traditional lures could never do. If you think about it, it makes perfect sense, when live fish are not swimming, they generally sit still and suspend. The suspending jerkbait gives you that "in your face" presentation, that sometimes bass cannot resist.
The cool thing about suspend dots and strips is that you can alter the placement to make a jerkbait do some interesting things. For example, placing suspend dots on the top of a jerkbait that has a tendency to float can actually make the lure shiver while sitting still. Every tried to hold an inflatable ball under the water in a pool? The pressure created forces the ball to fight for the surface. Same thing happens with buoyant lures.
Another nice trick is to attach an additional split ring or sometimes even a small sinker to the front hook of a jerkbait. This will give the jerkbait a nose down falling action that bass can’t resist. Really mimics a dying baitfish well. You can add split rings or even trim a small lead sinker down with a pair of cutting dykes to adjust the rate of descent. Killer tactic on cold water smallies.
Situations, Conditions and Weather
Prespawn is without a doubt one of the best times of year to throw a jerkbait. In spring when bass are actively feeding on baitfish in preparation for the spawn. Man can you catch some really big bass and also some insane numbers with a suspending jerkbait. Up north, it’s like the American Express card’s slogan “Don’t leave home without it”. Sometimes springtime jerkbait fishing can be so good, you never want to go home! lol
During the warm water periods, jerkbaits make for an amazing search tool when combing flats for cruising bass. I can recall many years ago during a trip to Florida fishing on Big Lake Toho (Lake Tohopekaliga) with a guide. He took me into an area and began crushing largemouth from 3 – 5 lbs with a Long “A” Bomber. That was a real eye opener for me. At the time, it was the last lure I would have thought to pick up in 85 degrees with no wind, but man did it work. Bass were positioned in the mouth of a creek chasing shad and native shiners. The water wasn’t very deep and that floating bomber had the perfect action to keep the jerkbait high in the water and trigger strikes.
In the northern part of the United States, the jerkbait is a must have when looking for big smallies in the great lakes region. Jerkbaits can call in wolf packs of smallmouth bass from long distances. Fan casting around big rock and sand flats with scattered grass can produce some amazing results and cover a large amount of water at the same time. On windy days, I’ll sometimes pick up the trolling motor and let the boat just drift across boulder flats while ripping a floating jerkbait. It keeps me from spooking bass with the trolling motor and you’d be amazed how fast you can cover a ton of water.
Whenever bass are schooling a much overlooked tool for the job is the jerkbait. Spring, summer, fall, doesn’t really matter, if bass are chasing baitfish, they’ll hit a jerkbait. Especially when they are not just feeding on the surface.
Generally I prefer shorter rods, like a 6' or 6 1/2' medium power, moderate action baitcaster. Many anglers prefer 7’ rods, it’s really a personal preference thing. For me personally, the shorter rod makes it easier to snap the rod down when ripping a jerkbait. Same goes for spinning gear when using lighter finesse jerkbaits like a Lucky Craft Pointer 78, try to pairing up the size of the jerkbait with the right rod and reel combo. 6’ Medium to Med-Light Power Rod with a moderate action is ample. I have never found the need to go below 6 lb. test with a jerkbait. I generally use 12 lb fluorocarbon with 4” – 6” jerkbaits. I know guys that use heavier spinning gear for everything including jerkbait fishing with larger sized lures. Go with what you have and are comfortable throwing. In the end it’s the old “don’t try to drive a golf ball with a putter” mentality. Pick the right tool for the job. Check out Tools or Toys for more on that subject.
Line diameter does play a factor in controlling depth. The general rule is the smaller the line diameter, the deeper you can get a lure to dive. I’ve been using fluorocarbon line for many years, which helps to keep the lure down. In shallow water you might go as high as 15 pound test and switch over to monofilament to keep the jerkbait higher in the water column.
The gear ratio of your reel is not critical with this technique because you’re going to let the rod do most of the work. The reel is mainly there to take up the slack as you twitch, pull and rip the lure through the water. So don’t overthink it.
As always, lure retrieval is dependent upon conditions. Just like crankbait fishing, making a very long cast is important with this technique. You want to allocate some time to get the lure down to the desired depth range you are targeting. The most common jerkbait technique is called “ripping”. Cast it out, take up the slack line and give a few hard pulls down with your rod tip (rips) and then pause and keep your line semi-slack. Then repeat in pattern such as “rip, rip, pause, rip, rip, and pause”. By all means mix it up “rip, medium pause, rip, rip, short pause, rip, pause, rip, rip, rip, long pause”, etc.
TIP: Pausing is one of the most important factors with jerkbait fishing. On any giving day you’ll need to experiment with how long you pause between motions. I have had days where I had to let the lure sit still for as long as 10-15 seconds or more and others where the bass would rip the rod out of my hand within a second after I paused. Watch your line whenever you pause… if you see it jump set the hook.
When it comes to speed and pausing (or cadence) a pretty consistent rule is the colder the water, the longer you should pause, but remember the only thing in fishing that is certain is that “nothing is certain”. For more info on how temperature effects bass, check out The Metabolic Bass.
As you work the lure back to the boat, pay close attention as your jerkbait gets closer to the boat. Many times bass will hunt down a jerkbait and follow it right to the boat. If you’re paying attention, you can convert some of those followers by watching how they are reacting to your movements. If you’re fishing with a buddy try making a short cast behind each other from time to time… you’ll connect with those followers that you don’t see too.
A more subtle presentation for a jerkbait is called “pulling a jerkbait”. Yes… it’s as simple as it sounds. Instead of twitching or ripping your lure through the water, take up the slack and give a long steady pull to the side. You should concentrate on feeling the vibration that the lure is producing with your rod tip. You can vary the length that you pull the lure, but again you should pause and the take up the slack and repeat the process. This can be really effective with floating jerkbaits too. I will say that with this technique, I actually do prefer a 7’ rod mainly because I can make a bit longer casts and it helps me keep the lure in the strike zone longer.
There’s many other variations of jerkbait fishing like fluke fishing (soft plastic jerkbaits) or ultra-finesse tactics like “spinbaiting or spybaiting”, but as far as traditional jerkbait fishing, this article should get you pointed in the right direction. Good luck and hope to see you on the water!