How to Be a ‘Jerk’: A guide for mastering a vital bass lure 


You don’t have to be a big “jerk,” but it certainly helps catch bass. Bass hunt, kill and eat; they target the weak, crippled and dumb. In the quest of ascension to mastery level, learning the jerkbait is necessary undertaking.

Jerkbaits, usually 3 to 6 inches long, have a minnow profile. Whether it’s a perch in the backwaters or a suspended smelt in the Great Lakes, there’s a jerkbait that looks like one. Bass target minnows and learning how to match them with a jerkbait will net you more fish. And when worked properly, these will enrage the most unwilling fish. The goal is not to gingerly crank these lures; you have to jerk, snap and pull these to give them life.

Choose your weapon
Over the years, there has been a shift from casting to spinning gear. Many find the rigors of jerking too tiring with bulky casting while others fear the backlashes. Being comfortable is key, so select the rod and reel setup that fits you best and let the tackle do the work. Speedy reels and medium-heavy rod actions reduce fatigue. Rookies tend to favor shorter 6-foot rods, as they tend to work easier. Avoid this mistake and select one closer to 7 feet. The extra length moves more line and subdues wild bass much more easily.

The late Hank Gibson taught me a slick trick to avoiding backlashes with baitcasting. He would wrap the line once around the rod blank between the reel and first rod guide. Strangely enough, the line feathers nicely but doesn’t impede casting distance.

Evolutions in braided, fuse and fluorocarbon have definitely changed the game. Mono is just too elastic; it dulls the action considerably. Even with aggressive rod snaps, mono leaves you with a lethargic lure and aching forearms. Running straight braid isn’t your best bet either, especially if you favor spinning. Being super-limp, it tangles very easily. If your love affair with braid is strong, stick to baitcasting as it offers better control. The two best solutions are a fluorocarbon leader linked to braid or fused or running straight fluorocarbon. An added bonus of fluoro is that it sinks, which is a gift when you wish to get just a bit deeper.

In the past, anglers favored a loop knot tied directly to the bait. Now, most have switched to a snap. Snaps speed up lure changes and permit the lure to run freely. Stringease markets a unique snap called the Fastach multi-use clip. A neat alternative to traditional snap, it permits the bait to be slipped quickly off and on.

You need an attitude adjustment
It’s comical to watch the puzzled expression come across new anglers when we first fish jerkbaits. Most are shocked at how aggressively and rapidly the rod is snapped. Fatigue can set in early, but don’t wimp out. Slashing through the water, the lure will trigger the hunting instincts of bass. Smallmouths tend to be the more reckless of the two bass, but annoyingly follow baits great distances. Even veteran fishermen are astonished how far bass will swim to strike a jerkbait. It is an amazing technique for searching large areas or new lakes in a short time.

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Attaining a routine is critical. Monitor what is appealing to the bass and repeat. Observe if fish are nipping the rear treble or swallowing it whole. Many fume as scores of bass follow yet become reluctant to bite. Don’t worry, pinpointing pods of bass can be just as useful as catching them, especially if you’re pre-fishing a tournament. Sometimes downsizing one size or making a color change will flick the switch and commit them into biting. If they’re incredibly reluctant, switch to a small soft plastic bait and cast it to bass that followed in the hard minnow bait. This is a proven two-person tournament technique that really pays off.

Jerkbaits are exceptional on smallmouths. The quick temperament of a hunting smallmouth collides with the flash and jarring action of these baits well. Don’t fall into the routine of overworking the bait instead of fishing the moment. Much has been written on the matter, but it’s wiser to adjust the lure’s action to the mood of the fish. But always be ready to modify it as the fishing day progresses. Sometimes gentle twitches are more magical than ripping it. Largemouths are the lazy cousins of smallmouths. I find a more relaxed cadence is the ticket on them. Focusing on a jerk-jerk-pause or jerk-pause-jerk cadence seems to trigger them well. Longer pauses are brilliant so don’t be in such a rush in good areas.

Walk the walk
A well-stocked angler needs to have a healthy assortment. This isn’t a ploy to open your wallet, but a way to convert a following bass into a hitting one. You’ll just have to rotate between baits and sizes to determine which one is most appealing. Both floating and suspending versions are mandatory, and it’s far better to have a wide selection of sizes and lure brands than fuss over minute color schemes and not see what’s in the water. Countless times, the bass become focused on smashing one bait while ignoring all others. Skilled anglers don’t try to fight this problem; they adjust as quickly as they can.

Don’t wince at the hefty price tag of premium baits, as they do produce. Factor in quality hooks, internal weight systems, exquisite finishes and superb action, and they’re a sound investment. Keep a lookout for Jackall Lures. Now distributed by Shimano, they offer top quality without the big price tag. One word of caution: don’t forget classic old-school baits like the Bomber Long A, Rapala Original or Smithwick Rouge. They’re called “classics” for a reason.

A current trend is deeper-lipped jerkbaits. Deep-water smallmouth guys sounded a collective “Hallelujah” when these came out. Able to reach past 6 feet with ease, they don’t make your funny bone weep when ripping them in. Also, take a look at Jackall’s DD Squirrel, the Megabass Vision 110 Plus One and Rapala’s X-Rap Deep.

It’s hard to be a good “jerk,” as sometimes it feels like a war of attrition. But the bounty is great if you work at it and have the correct gear.