Jerkbaits---Hot Spring Producers
In February’s article on spring fishing, I briefly mentioned jerkbaits. They are undoubtedly among the hottest bass catchers when the water is quite cool in early spring. During the month of March, you should have one rod devoted to this lure at all times. In fact, they can be so productive that they are worth an entire article on their own. As you’ve probably figured out by now, jerkbaits are in the spotlight. Back in the late fifties, the original Rapala Floating Minnow took the bass fishing world by storm. The slender profile and subtle action proved too much for bass to resist and fish camps would rent this lure to anglers for as much as $15 per day. It’s stunning to imagine what that equates to in 2012 dollars. Needless to say, other lure manufacturers jumped on this bandwagon and these minnow imitators became a tackle box mainstay from coast to coast. While they fool fish twelve months of the year, they really shine during the pre-spawn period from February to just before the full moon in April. With floating, sinking, shallow, mid-depth, deep, suspending, and deep diving models available in a dizzying array of colors, we’re not hurting when it comes to choices. The typical model has a slender body of four or five inches in length sporting two or three sets of treble hooks. A narrow bill at the front provides action and takes the plug to the proper depth on retrieve. While most reaction type baits rely on the reel to provide action, with jerkbaits the magic is imparted by the rod. Short jerks of the rod tip lend an erratic action that mimics a wounded or struggling baitfish. This looks like an easy meal to predators in the area. One could also state that just as important as motion are the pauses. The cadence and timing between snaps of the rod tip can be the key to provoking strikes. At no time is this truer than in the late winter and early spring periods. Most anglers give the bait a pause after every two to four jerks. You definitely want to experiment with the cadence and timing between pauses to find the most productive retrieve for conditions. In warmer water, brisk action can trigger a lot of strikes but as a rule of thumb, longer pauses produce better this time of year. As a base line, try two quick twitches followed by a lengthy pause for the duration of the retrieve.
Detail is Worth the Price
If the original Floating Minnow by Rapala was revolutionary, then the invention of the suspending jerkbait was true genius. Storm may have been the first lure company to break the ice with this concept. Their Suspending Thunderstick was immensely popular in the Midwest. As many anglers tried lead solder wire wrapped around hooks and other schemes to make their favorite baits suspend, Storm also introduced Suspendots and Suspenstrips which adhere to baits allowing fishermen to customize their lures to achieve neutral buoyancy without adversely affecting action on retrieve. These are still available today. The big deal with suspending jerkbaits is that they allow for really long pauses with the lure hanging in place sending a powerful “eat me” signal. Luckily, today’s bass fisherman does not have to rig homemade solutions to make lures suspend. Nearly every manufacturer offers a suspending jerkbait and most market a whole line of these models. You’ll definitely want to invest in a few of these for the late winter and spring transition period. During March and early April, reach for deep diving models that suspend. Expect the deepest diving versions to dig down eight to ten feet. When looking for these, popular choices include the X-Rap by Rapala, the Deep Suspending Rogue by Smithwick, and the Staysee along with the Pointer DD by Lucky Craft. Several manufacturers offer high end baits. While some folks wonder if fifteen dollars plus is worth it for a fishing plug, when it comes to those by Lucky Craft, the answer is yes. Attention to detail in construction is incredible and finishes are the best in my opinion. And get this, in the Pointer series, the bait is engineered with an internal brass weight which causes it to gently wobble from side to side on each pause. When you figure that there is always some imparted action from line movement in the water or what not, this flashes the aforementioned “eat me” signal in a big way. If your fishing budget does not incorporate plugs that cost fifteen plus dollars, buy lesser expensive models and fish them with confidence in the right places. Having a good basic lure along with confidence in what you’re doing will bridge any gap.
Faster is Better After Post-Spawn
Deep diving jerkbaits are not the only game in town during the spring. Their shallow running brothers can get big bites as well. This holds especially true during warm spells with abundant sunshine and later in spring as the spawn approaches. In our area, you’ll definitely want to give the McStick by SPRO a try. Many anglers report excellent success with the McStick even in true cold water conditions. This minnow imitator is designed to suspend in lower water temperatures than most baits and adjust accordingly for temperature changes. Don’t ask me how it does this because I don’t know. Whether fishing deep diving jerkbaits or standard versions, it always pays to cast well beyond your target. In fact, this is true in most situations other than vertical fishing and surface schooling madness. The longer cast will ensure that your bait is at the optimum depth when it reaches the target area or range. I recommend sticking with suspending jerkbaits until spawning kicks in. During the spawn, I have historically abandoned these lures in favor of soft plastics. I expect that some anglers do use jerkbaits with success during this period. In post-spawn conditions, the jerkbait continues to be a great producer. Early in the post-spawn phase, fish are reluctant to chase hard and grubs or in-line spinners are typically your most productive tools. But before summer sets in, bass will become extremely aggressive and feed heavily to restore weight. This is when non-suspending models come into play. Work these at a faster pace with shorter pauses. If you’re looking for a topwater bite that’s not happening early or late in the day, this can be a great back up plan to put fish in the boat. (I know this is off track but if your jerkbait is not getting bit at this time of year, start swimming the grub again). I just remembered a couple of things. While it pays to switch out factory treble hooks for super sharp premium models on most plugs, avoid this practice on suspending baits. Believe it or not, the difference in hook weight can throw superb engineering out of balance. Buy a premium lure. It will be equipped with premium hooks and this whole subject will be a non-issue. If your lure is equipped with round split rings, switch to oval splits. Your line will never wear due to lodging at the notch. Take a look at Lucky Craft plugs and you’ll see that these are standard hardware.
Points Point Out Bass
As always, matching a lure with the right tackle is paramount to success. Jerkbaits are effectively fished with either baitcasting or spinning tackle. Choose what you’re most comfortable with. Rod selection depends on the baits being fished. The right rod will energize your lure in the right manner. For deep diving jerkbaits, a medium heavy action is a must. This backbone is needed to impart action to the lure at depth. If you’re tossing smaller versions to ply shallower depths a medium action rod will often be a fine choice. I really like the way a Pointer Minnow works on a spinning outfit spooled with eight pound test line. In our clear water, I max out at ten pound test on baitcasting rigs for the deep divers. It’s worth noting that lighter lines will facilitate greater running depths. Six and a half foot rods are a good standard. Seven foot models can be a bit awkward when trying to keep the tip low. The low tip method is part of good technique when making a good jerkbait presentation. Now that we’ve covered the what, when, and how, let’s discuss the where. Early in this month, concentrate your efforts on points. Legendary professional bass angler Rick Clunn has noted that “points point out bass”. Those near creek mouths and up to half way into the backs of tributaries should get your attention. If you’ve been observant to low water observations of recent years, key on areas with steep drops along with lots of rocks and tree stumps or brush. These are true bass magnets in this transition time. Move from one point to another and cover the water methodically. When the willow trees show greening color, be sure to target boat docks as well. These are typical hang outs for bass that are moving into the spawning mode. When the heavy post-spawn bite comes into play, reverse your movements and areas. Back out to the creek mouth points and any reefs/shallow submerged humps in the area. In closing, I hope you’ll make jerkbaits part of your strategy for spring success. It can certainly pay to keep one entire insert of your tackle bag devoted to this productive lure category. This minnow thing that’s been working so well for so long will certainly work for you. Until next month, take care and be safe on the water!