There are very few lures that are equally as effective on Largemouth, Spotted, or Smallmouth bass like Jerkbait. Each of those species may have one bait that it really shines on, but it is rare to find one that can handle all three.
Because jerkbait is so versatile, it can be used to fish in a variety of ways.
Even though jerkbait sounds like a playground insult, the name is pretty straightforward. Jerkbait is bait that you jerk on the retrieve. The natural response to the retrieve causes jerkbait to jump from side to side.
Jerkbait is small, natural, minnow mimicking lures. They have treble hooks hanging from them, usually three, one at the front, one at the middle of the body, and one at the tail. The bait floats, when left alone. A large clear fin off the front of the bait gives drag when the bait is reeled in. This drag pulls the bait toward the bottom of the water and makes it jerk side to side, like a minnow that is twitching around the water.
This description sounds like it is some type of crankbait. That isn’t accurate. Crankbait is designed to cruise through the water like a fish swimming a steady line. Jerkbait is designed to be reeled in twitches. This is really where the finesse aspect of jerkbait comes in.
When fishing with jerkbait, you have to find the right tempo, called a cadence, for your reel. It should be stop/ start, with quick jerky movements accentuated by intermittent pauses. This is important.
If you just reel it steadily through the water, you miss out on what makes jerkbait special. You will also basically drive the bait to the bottom, and those treble hooks look to snag when you drop them down into bottom grass and weeds.
When To Use Jerkbait
When it comes to bass bait and lures, fishermen can be a temperamental lot. If certain types of bait work really well in summer, then they may decide that bait can’t be used in the other seasons. There may not be any really good reason for this opinion, but they will hold onto and never let go.
Jerkbait is one of those lures that tend to get shoehorned in as a spring and fall bait by a lot of bass fishermen. Because jerkbait really shines as a mid-water lure, A lot of people think they only work at the times of the year when the fish spend most of their day in the midwater. In many parts of the country, That would be spring and fall.
While jerkbait is a lure that will primarily function through the mid-water, they can be attractive enough to draw fish up from below to strike. Getting a bottom resting fish to climb and strike a midwater lure does require some finesse and technique. Many fishermen only work out one cadence with jerkbait.
Only having one cadence to your bait is about as helpful as a car that can only go one speed. You can get where you are going most of the time, but it probably won’t be as efficient as it could be!
In the spring and fall, in addition to more fish hanging out midwater, those fish tend to be a little spunkier. They aren’t semi hibernating like a winter fish would be, and they aren't overheated and trying to cool down like a bass in the summer would.
This energy level and the fact that they are living in the layer of water where Jerkbait thrives means that this time of year works great with a relatively fast cadence, maybe three seconds of pull, and a second or so of pause.
Spring and fall fish are going to go after any shiny thing pulling through their zone. This is because they are recovering from not eating as much through the winter, or getting ready for the season when the semi hibernates on the bottom.
Be aware of visibility limitations in the midwater in spring and fall. In spring, you can sometimes get algae blooms as the plants start rapidly growing. This can make some smaller lakes and ponds look like an uncleaned swimming pool, with minimal visibility. Leafs dropping from trees near the water can add a lot of debris to woodland ponds in the fall, also impeding visibility.
When fighting poor visibility conditions, a common solution is to go for something that makes a noise like a clacker style buzzbait. The noise can attract the fish and help them find the bait through the visual limitations.
While buzzbait is a possible solution, there are limitations to them as well when the fish are hanging out in mid-water. Those fish will climb to feed, but only when actively chasing prey. If they miss it, they will go right back down to the midwater.
This means that if you are pulling buzzbait to lure bass up to the surface, you have to do some work to make it travel slowly enough to be effective and allow the fish to actually catch up. You could use a double prop clacker buzz bait and you might be able to reel slowly enough to keep them coming.
If not, you can always add a floating trailer like a frog or mouse to the back to help the lure stay afloat while you reel.
While those techniques may work for luring fish up to topwater, Finding the right jerkbait will do just as well. Look for options with high reflectivity, like silvers or golds that can catch limited light. That flash and flicker from a passing minnow will still make them strike—it’s not like bass stop eating just because the water gets muddy.
Summer and winter can provide the same limitations. In both seasons, fish tend to dive deep and hang out near the bottom, depending on where you are fishing.
In summer in the south, lakes, and ponds can get to feeling like bathwater in the top ten feet or so. Mornings find fish approaching the surface to feed, but as the sun beats down, the water temperature can rise well above 70 degrees or so where bass are comfortable. This causes them to get lethargic and slow, and dive to the bottom.
Much like humans when we get really hot, a hot sluggish bass may totally ignore food. There are certain instinctive responses that will still cause them to bite, and a bite is all we need to catch them. You aren’t trying to serve him dinner, you just want him to come out and play.
To catch a summertime bass hanging out on the bottom to cool off, use very short jerks on your jerkbait, with a slightly longer waiting cadence between jerks than you might use in the cooler months. This lets one jerk catch the fish’s attention, and the pause gives him time to get a little closer. The next jerk will trigger an instinctive strike, and those treble hooks grab pretty easily.
Winter fishing in cooler areas operates much like southern summertime fishing. In both cases, the fish are using the depth of the water as an insulator, but in the case of the cold water, it is an insulator for warmth. Since fish are cold-blooded, they don’t have a natural response to raise their core temp up when the water temp drops.
Because bass in the winter have to deal with the cold, they enter a near hibernation state. In this state, their metabolism slows way down, and they can live somewhat off of fat reserves. These bass will still eat, but much less than other times of the year. They are also sluggish since they are in a rest state.
The interesting thing about hibernating bass is that they can still be pretty aggressive. This means you can use their instinctive hunter response to trigger an attack by using almost the same technique as the southerner in the summer.
Quick short jerks make the lure attractive, drawing the bass to investigate. The pause gives him time to get closer, and to relax just a bit from the movement. Another sudden jerk triggers a strike.
Finding the Right Jerkbait
Jerkbait falls in the category of natural or realistic lures. A well-made jerkbait will have a fairly streamlined design and will strongly look like a baitfish. Like a kid who is obsessed with his favorite candy and is skeptical of other types, bass becomes extremely comfortable with the baitfish that are native to the area where the bass lives.
Since bass care what kind of fish they chase, and you want the bass to chase your bait, you need to know what baitfish are native to your area. What color are the minnows in the lakes and ponds you are fishing in?
There are several ways to find this out. You could ask in your local bait shop. Since they sell bait, they usually have a pretty good idea of what works where they are. You could consult a field guide, even on the internet. If you want to know what minnows are in a specific body of water you fish regularly, you could set up a minnow trap and examine them.
Once you know what baitfish are in your area, buy some jerkbait that resembles them. You can also have luck sometimes going the opposite direction- use something eye-catching that may seem unfamiliar to the fish, so they are forced to investigate. This strategy may not work more than once in an area though.
Now that you know a little more about how to use jerkbait, get out there and catch some bass!