The soft-plastic jerkbait has had proven staying power as it’s been fooling bass for decades and catches them just as well in current times. They are a staple for bass anglers everywhere and one of Anthony Gagliardi’s top weapons well into the fall.
It was his primary weapon when he won the 2014 Forrest Wood Cup; three years later, he finished fifth in that same event on his home lake of Lake Murray, South Carolina, and he’s still throwing the soft-plastic jerkbait, both solo and on a double rig.
A Versatile Weapon
Gagliardi loves soft-plastic jerkbaits like the Berkley PowerBait Jerk Shad because of the diversity of places he can fish them, adjusting the action and rigging based on the season and circumstances.
“They are excellent this time of year around where I live and the fish are feeding on herring,” he said. “But, whether it’s herring or shad, they mimic baitfish very well. I like them because I can fish them fast or slow and high or low in the water column.”
While much of how he rigs and fishes them fits the bass chasing nomadic herring, he’s had success with soft-plastic jerkbaits for clear water largemouth, spotted bass, and during the inaugural Bass Pro Tour event on Lake Toho in 2019.
“In that very first BPT event, I caught them in open water with a double rig,” he said of the event where he won his round and eventually finished fourth. “I would never have thought that would be the way to do well in Florida in January, but it shows how versatile a soft plastic jerkbait can be.”
Since he often fishes them quickly, Gagliardi prefers weighted hooks with a screw lock keeper and pays close attention to the placement of the molded weight on the extra-wide gap style hooks.
“I use them that are 4/0 and 5/0 hooks and weighted versions around 3/32 to 1/8 ounce,” he said. “The weighted hook aids with casting distance to reach schoolers and lets me fish it faster and keep it right under the surface. I like the weighted hooks with the weight closer to the belly of the hook for cooler water for a more horizontal fall and when it’s warmer, I like the weight closer to the eye of the hook because it keeps the bait nose down when fishing it faster.”
Single Soft-Plastic Jerkbaits
Most of the time, Gagliardi is fishing a single bait during the fall, when he’s primarily looking for schooling bass. He fishes fast with a unique retrieve and to generate bites and simulate schooling activity.
“I sweep my rod quickly and then reel up the slack; that’s how I always start fishing it because it’s a good way to call up fish that are not schooling,” he said. “It’s just as effective as twitching it near the surface, and it’s not as hard on you. Most of the time, when you catch one, you’ll sweep, reel, and then he’ll be on there when you go to sweep again.”
Gagliardi will employ his sweeping technique when calling suspended fish from the depths, but if he can visibly see busting bait, he changes his tune.
“The schooling bite is a different deal, and I want to work my rod tip and let the jerkbait come across the fish,” he said. “I want to see my bait when they are busting on the surface and work it as fast as I can to keep it on top. The faster you can move something, the more it gets their attention.”
To be most effective, he prefers a high-speed Abu Garcia Revo reel spooled with 12-pound fluorocarbon and matched with a 7-2 medium heavy Level rod.
“The faster reel takes up a lot of line quickly and that’s important if you are out of position and need to get a good hook in them,” Gagliardi said. “It’s also what you need if you see fish schooling and need to get your bait back in to make a cast somewhere else.”
Mixing in his single Berkley Powerbait Jerk Shad, Gagliardi will also rig two at a time with what is sometimes called the “Donkey Rig” with two baits on different hooks.
First, he’ll place his line through the eye of a swivel and tie a second swivel. Then he’ll connect a leader line of approximately 18 to 20 inches the swivel in line with his mainline. The second, free-swinging swivel, is where he will tie on another leader that’s half the length of the longer leader before connecting weighted hooks to each leader.
“Casting a double rig is hard because one bait goes one way and the other goes the other way, so I use a bobber stop in front of the top swivel to keep it in place,” Gagliardi said. “That makes it easier to cast and will still let it separate and slide up if you hook two at a time, which happens often.”
He fishes the double rig on a longer 7-10 medium heavy Level rod, fast reel and beefs up his line.
“You’d be surprised how far you can cast it with that longer rod,” Gagliardi advised. “Plus, you have that much more power with a bigger rod. I go up to 14-pound line because you run the risk of breaking your line if you catch two at once.”
For deciding between one or two jerkbaits, Gagliardi looks for clues around him.
“The single is the best option when fish are schooling because it’s easier to cast farther and more accurately,” he said. “It’s also more versatile, but if you start seeing fish follow fish you have hooked, it’s time to throw the double rig. Usually, the one following is going to be the bigger one.”