When Jerks Catch Fish
These baits require a jerk to work.
This is one time when it’s OK to be a jerk … a jerkbait, that is.
Fishermen sometimes use the same term for things that are quite different. The jerkbait is a good example. Generally, it falls in a category of lures called hard baits and a subcategory of stick bait. Except when it doesn’t.
Hard bait lures have wood or plastic bodies. Stick baits are named for their shape: long and minnow-like. The exception is a “soft” jerkbait, with a soft plastic body and a minnow/shad shape.
A jerkbait looks like an injured baitfish, but all the action comes from the angler, who jerks the rod as he retrieves the lure. Every time he jerks it, the bait goes in a different direction.
Hard jerkbaits come in all sizes; many are measured in metric sizes (usually 90-130 mm, with 110 being the most common). Many major tackle manufactures make a jerkbait.
The March issue featured topwater baits, including a floating stick bait, but stick baits really shine when they are suspended in the water and not on top. Decades ago, anglers used floating models because that was what was available. They built suspending models one at a time by wrapping copper or other wire around the hook shank — experimenting in their kitchen sinks to get the weight just right. Technology in manufacturing replaced the trial-and error process; now you can find many variations on the market.
Some models suspend nose down, some nose up, some level, and some rise or sink very slowly at rest. It’s best to experiment with some of each to determine the mood of the fish.
To fish the baits, cast and make a couple of hard jerks with the rod tip to get the bait to dive. A rod under 7 feet in length works best because the shorter size makes it easier to point the rod tip downward near the water surface. Once at the depth appropriate for the lure model, the bait stays close to that zone.
Cadence becomes another determining factor. Jerk, jerk, pause or jerk, pause; or you can snap the rod hard and then give some slack line during a short pause. That move can make the bait react very erratically.
Jerkbaits were once considered a winter or cold-water bait. Not anymore — anglers are finding success year-round.
Soft jerkbaits are soft plastic baits that have some of the properties of hard jerkbaits, but they’re in a class of their own. They’re rigged with a wide-gap hook that can be weightless or weighted (belly-weighted hook). When weighted, a soft jerkbait fishes like a hard jerkbait, minus the suspending capability.
Cast, let it sink a little and use short jerks to impart action.
Most of the time it is used like other soft plastics. Cast next to a likely target and let it slowly fall. By using an unweighted hook, you can fish above aquatic vegetation if the growth is not too thick.
One final clarification: this plastic lure is also known as a fluke. The original Zoom Bait Company Fluke was developed several decades ago. Fluke is the brand name of Zoom, but the shape is so common that now anglers just use the term fluke to include any number of manufacturers. Other manufacturers call their versions shad-shaped worms, minnows, jerk shads and many other creative variations.
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