One of the huge advantages of growing up in southwest Missouri and the Ozark lakes is that I had an opportunity to witness and be part of the birth of suspending jerkbaits.
Back in the late 1970s, when I was in high school and a member of the Big Mo Bass Club, I had the good fortune to get to know and fish with a couple of old anglers from Joplin, Mo., that figured out if they took a Rebel Minnow and wrapped solder around the shank of the treble hooks they could get the lure to run deeper and suspend without floating up like traditional minnow baits.
During the prespawn months they began taking these new baits to Table Rock Lake, which in my opinion is the lake where suspending jerkbait fishing began, and figured out if they cast them past cedar trees and stopped them they could catch huge bags of bass. This was the start of dispelling the myth that wintertime bass were virtually uncatchable, and could only be coaxed with hair jigs fished at a snail’s pace.
Once I learned about this new method, I began taking my 16-foot flat-bottom with my 9-hp motor to Table Rock when I could scrape up enough gas money from mowing lawns, and my love for jerkbaits was born.
For the next 15 years I became a student of jerkbait fishing. I sought counsel from the old Ozark masters and began developing tricks of my own.
My initial jerkbaits, starting from about 1978, were the Rebel Spoonbill Minnow and the Smithwick Rogue that followed. I spent countless hours fishing and customizing these jerkbaits and figuring out the best method to weight them for different sink, suspend and rise rates. As well, I experimented with custom paint schemes depending on water clarity and sky conditions. I found the best retrieves to use that would generate strikes and much more.
The big turning point for me was when I met Masaki Murayama when I was competing in the Bassmaster Classic on Logan Martin Lake in 1992. Masaki was a close friend of Yuki Ito, who was the owner of a new tackle company in Japan called Megabass, and Masaki was helping Yuki introduce the company to the American market.
I was fortunate to have Masaki and Yuki offer me a sponsorship in 1992, and within a few years I had the opportunity to partner with Megabass and Yuki and help design a jerkbait for the company. Over the course of about a year, we took some of my ideas and custom jerkbaits, combined them with the technology and creative mind of Megabass and Yuki Ito, and came up with the Megabass Vision 110 in the late 1990s.
This bait revolutionized jerkbait fishing, and most every modern jerkbait you see manufactured by different companies today was inspired by the original Vision 110, with it’s incredible attention to detail and cutting-edge components.
Given this, I’d like to share with everyone some of the tips I’ve learned and developed with this technique.
To cover everything, I’d literally have to write a book on it, but I can share with you some key factors that will definelty help your success.
The first thing you will need to figure out is what type of jerkbait to throw. I have nothing but Megabass jerkbaits in my possession, so I’ll first decide if I want the standby Vision 110, or maybe the Vision 110+1 that runs deeper. I might want to go smaller with the Megabass X-80, or go bigger with a larger version such as the Megabass 110 Magnum or the Ito Shiner.
How I choose depends on the time of year I’m fishing, the type of lake – in terms of the general size of the bass and the forage they are after – water clarity and fishing pressure. In general, I like larger profiles and deeper runners in the prespawn, and go to smaller and shallower versions as the water warms.
The second thing someone needs to have a good grasp of is how to work the bait. Jerkbait fishing is probably the most difficult lure technique to learn and master, since the action is completely dependent on the user to generate.
There is no single “best” way to work a jerkbait. It totally depends on factors such as water temperature, visibility, wind, sky conditions, time of year, species of bass and fish personality.
As well, if you are fishing an Ozark lake for spotted bass, a Texas lake for largemouths or a Northern lake for smallmouths, you’ll need to change your approach and adjust your jerkbait action.
A good rule to follow is to begin by reeling the bait fast and steady for about 10 cranks of the reel, then twitch a couple of times, pause a second or two, repeat for about 10 feet, and then reel the lure in.
I will usually start with this method, and depending on the strikes I get will begin trying different retrieves after about 15 minutes. I’ll change the number of twitches, the length of pauses and vary the speed of retrieves.
My third consideration is color. Color cannot be underestimated in jerkbait fishing since the lure is largely a sight bait to the bass. More than any other lure I’ve used, the color of a jerkbait plays a huge role in generating strikes. Although I have some general rules as far as selecting colors, much of this is based on experimentation. I’ll usually stick with one color for about 20 or 30 minutes, and if I can’t get the fish to react to it, I’ll change colors.
The primary colors I use are clear sides, solid, matte-colored sides and chrome. Water clarity, wind and sky conditions determine my selection on these. It’s all about “look” to me in the water. I want the jerkbait to be a combination of subtle, yet be able to stand out a bit in the water.
The more you fish a jerkbait, the more you will understand what I mean by this. But if you are starting out as a novice and are inexperienced with the technique, a good thing to remember is to use clear sides on bright days, flat finishes on cloudy days and chrome finishes if the water visibility is less than 15 inches. Start with that rule, then experiment and adjust as needed.
Next is equipment. This is a crucial part of getting the most out of your jerkbait in terms of action. After thousands of hours fishing jerkbaits, I’ve determined that a spinning rod and reel are the best tools for any jerkbait. This is a departure from most jerkbait anglers, as the clear majority use baitcast outfits.
I use a Megabass Orochi drop-shot rod, which is 6 feet, 10 inches long, paired with a Cinnetic spinning reel. To me, this is the ultimate jerkbait setup.
The advantage of a spinning outfit and rod of this length over a baitcast outfit is that you can make longer casts, better negotiate wind, use lighter line and put a wider range of actions on the jerkbaits. A spinning reel gives you better feel and control, and I like a spinning reel with a larger spool size for longer casts.
I’ve convinced most of the anglers who have fished with me over a period of time to switch completely to spinning outfits after they see the advantages that spinning tackle offers.
Line size and type are also key elements. I use Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon 100 percent of the time. The fluorocarbon is critical not only because of the increased feel, but the small line diameter. I’ll use line tests between 6 and 12 pound, depending on how deep I need to get the jerkbait.
These are some of the basics of jerkbait fishing, but there is so much more to this technique than can be covered in this article. Mastering the technique simply comes from years of using jerkbaits in a wide range of conditions.
If anyone is interested in learning more, I’m offering instructional trips on Table Rock, Grand and Stockton lakes. Please private message me on my Facebook page if you would like more information on booking a trip.
I hope this helps everyone, and best of luck to you all.