Spinnerbaits, worms, jigs or crankbaits? When it comes to bass fishing, the angler has a wide range of baits to choose from, oftentimes too many. There is, however, a bait that is still relatively new on the scene, and often under utilized, yet it produces bass of braggin' proportions.
That lure is the soft plastic jerk, and it is the one bait I reach for when I want guaranteed results. Although this lure resembles nothing more than a lump of plastic to the naked eye, put it in the fish's world and watch it dance and shimmy seductively, and proceed to ring the dinner bell loudly.
What is a Plastic Jerk?
The plastic jerk comes in basically two forms: one that resembles an earthworm, such as the Zoom Trick Worm; or one that resembles more of a baitfish, like the Cabela's Livin' Eye Minnow, Castaic Jerkbaits, or the Slug-Go. All range in length between three and seven-inches, and most on the market use hand-poured plastic, although there is a difference between texture and suppleness between brands. And there you have it. Quite a simple looking bait, but in the hands of an knowledgeable angler, it can become a genuine bass slayer.
Where and When to Throw a Jerk
Dawn and early morning periods will often find largemouth cruising the shallows in search of food. If the day remains overcast or rainy, bass may spend the entire day in the shallows, while remaining quite active. It's during these periods that a plastic jerk really shines.
In the early morning, what you are basically looking for is water in the 1 to 4 foot depth range, with some type of weed or wood cover present. Look for inside weedlines, or irregular weed patches, just something different that might hold a fish. I have had tremendous success fishing lily pads in the shallows. Instead of fishing a large area of pads, concentrate on isolated patches or pads away from the main group. Finding something different can often be the key to success.
Another dynamite spot to fish plastic jerks is in, and around, docks or moored boats. Largemouth will seek shelter under these objects, and nothing is more appetizing to a bass than seeing what appears to be an easy meal. A life-like plastic jerk darting lazily by, with a occasional eratic motion that immolates a wounded fish creates that illusion.
If the sun comes up, or when you find the shallows devoid of largemouth, then move out to deeper water and start fishing the flats. Depths can vary from 3 to 10 feet deep, yet since this presentation is relatively shallow, it is best to concentrate on water less than 8 feet deep. When the sun is up high, bass will be holding tight to cover, so make contact with the weeds to draw out stubborn fish.
Over the last few years, I have also discovered how tremendous this lure can be on the smallmouth bass population. Again, sticking to the shallows is your best bet, as long as there are rocks, boulders and a bit of weed cover thrown in. A technique I started using last year was actually sight fishing for smallmouth in the shallows. I cruise around using the electric motor, and with the aid of my polarized fishing glasses, I can actually spot fish before throwing a bait to them. Once a likely fish is spotted, I either cast, or pitch, a plastic jerk, and work the bait under its nose to entice a strike. Depending on the mood of the fish, they will either smash the bait the minute it comes into view, or slowly swim up to it to suck it in. Either way, it's a different dimension to fishing that creates a lot of excitement due to its visual nature and "cat and mouse" strategy.
The tackle needed to fish these baits properly is straightforward, and largely a matter of personal taste. The majority of my fishing with soft plastic jerks is done with spinning gear. I've found that, for me, this is the easiest tackle to throw these baits with, and it also seems to suit this fishing style best. My personal preference is a medium-action, 6 to 6 1/2-foot rod, with a fairly fast tip, yet lots of backbone. The fast tip helps you cast these light baits out farther, and the added backbone helps greatly in hooksets. I will usually match this up with 8 or 10-pound-test monofilament, depending on water clarity, or cover being fished.
If I am faced with extremely heavy cover, or if I am fishing docks or wood cover in stained water, then I've found that the baitcaster can be an added advantage. It allows the use of heavier line, and a stouter rod, in order to combat the added cover. Spool up with 12 to 17-pound-test line, and remember to adjust your cast control, in order to throw these lighter baits.
Anglers often debate over which colors are the best to use. While your fishing buddy may have a convincing opinion, it's best to let the fish dictate what they want. Their opinion is more pertinent. Fishing plastic jerks is a sight game ninety-percent of the time, so it's best to choose colors that will be visible from far away. Try different color combinations, and see which ones work best for you.
The rigging of a plastic jerk is very simple. My number one choice is an Owner offset worm hook, in either the 4/0 or 5/0 size, depending on the size of the bait being used. I very rarely use weight with these rigs, since I like to have a very slow and subtle drop. If I want the bait to go a bit deeper, then I insert a small nail about 1/3 of the way down the bait, to give it a little extra weight.
Techniques and Tactics
The soft plastic jerk is a lifeless bait in the water, relying on the angler to impart the action. On retrieves, it's best to try different techniques until you connect with a fish. Try using a high-speed retrieve with short jerks, mixed with pauses. If this doesn't pay off, change to a slow retrieve with long sidearm jerks. What you're trying to create is enough action to catch the fish's eye, then the illusion that the bait is wounded and easy prey.
In addition to the speed of the retrieve, the height of your rod tip can dictate how deep, or shallow, the bait will run. Pointing the tip down at the water will cause the bait to run deeper, while keeping the rod tip up, will keep the bait close to the surface. This can be useful for fishing different depths, or structures, more effectively.
I have found that the most effective presentation when fishing under moored boats and docks is to cast out and just let the bait slowly sink and flutter to the bottom. This "easy meal" seems almost irresistible to most bass, and there's nothing easier in fishing, than casting out and doing nothing.
By taking the time to discover the many enticing attributes of this bait, and the techniques needed to fish it effectively, you will be well on your way to becoming a more proficient bass angler. Fishermen will never stop buying every new lure that comes on the market, but hopefully by discovering this "secret" bait, bass fishing for you will become less of a guessing game, and more of a guaranteed result. Well, at least as "guaranteed" as anything in bass fishing can be.
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