Fishing is for jerks. Jerk worms, of course, are artificial lures that were developed for enticing freshwater largemouth bass. However, jerk worms, like other freshwater lures, quickly caught on with the saltwater set.
And now, any saltwater angler who takes to the water without a pack of them is behind the times. "They're very versatile," said Rick Grassett, a Sarasota, Fla. fishing guide. "You can fish them a number of ways."
It was Terry Shaughnessy who first introduced jerk worms in West Central Florida to saltwater anglers. The Louisiana hunting and fishing camp operator brought along a bunch on one of his annual trips to the Sarasota area. The burly Shaughnessy put the plastic baits on a 1/8th-ounce jig head and found that combo irresistible to spotted seatrout, snook, redfish and other species.
"It's an idiot-proof bait," Shaughnessy said. "All you have to do is cast it out and reel it in. That's it. Simple. If I can catch fish on them, anyone can."
Shaughnessy is an excellent angler and was just kidding. But his point is that a jerk worm on a jig head really is a no-brainer. They can be fished slowly, with occasional twitches of the rod. Or they simply can be reeled in. Either way, they're very effective.
The jig-and-jerk combo is fine for fishing deep grass flats and sandy potholes. But it's not so fine for fishing shallow, grassy areas or around mangrove roots. It plummets to the bottom and hangs up in the grass or roots.
But you can rig them Texas style with a regular worm hook and fish the shallows with ease. To rig the bait Texas style, simply insert the hook through the head of the bait, then turn the hook around and bury it in the lure. Most jerk worms come with a cavity in which to place the hook.
They can be fished in water that's a foot deep. They can be cast well under mangrove roots. They're perfect for flipping around and under docks. And what's best is that they often produce large fish.
"We were working a mangrove shoreline in Charlotte Harbor recently and saw a snook lying in a pothole about 10 feet out," Grassett said. "One of my anglers flipped a jerk worm out past the fish, reeled it back, dropped it in front of the fish and started working it."
A jerk worm really is a misnomer. Many so-called jerk worms have minnow-like bodies, so they actually imitate baitfish. And when retrieved with a series of rod twitches, they dart erratically in the water and look very much like a wounded baitfish.
"That snook took one look it, turned and ate it," Grassett recalled. "There was no doubt he was going to get it."
The snook turned out to be a 32-inch, 11-pounder. Grassett and clients posed with the fish for a couple of photos then released it.
"We've taken a number of large fish recently on jerk worms," Grassett said. "They're extremely versatile. "Some of the jerk worms are scented and I think that helps attract fish. Plus, the bait is soft and when a fish grabs it, he usually won't let go of it."
Several years ago, guide Jonnie Walker, Roy String, and Grassett fished the Myakka River on a blustery, gray December day. The weather was bad, but the fishing was good. They caught a number of decent snook to 12 pounds on jerks worms rigged on 1/8th-ounce jig heads. String recently had an outing in Bull Bay and Turtle Bay off Charlotte Harbor where one of his clients caught a 14-pound snook, a 19-pounder and 15 redfish to 33 inches - all on these plastic sensations.
Jerk worms also can be used with weighted hooks. The weights are incorporated into the hook, making the worm weedless and effective at different depths.
For shallow-water fishing, though, there's no doubt a Texas-rigged jerk worm is the answer. When worked correctly it's virtually irresistible to fish.
"If you make a good cast and the fish doesn't know you're there, you'll almost always get a hit," said Grassett. "They are a really good bait."
Jerks worms come in a variety of sizes and colors. For most saltwater applications, a 5-inch worm is fine. As far as color goes, that's up to the individual angler. However, local guides like rainbow trout, pearl, gold, root beer and new penny.
Line choice is important when fishing jerk worms. Many area guides prefer any of the new braided lines in comparison to the monofilament. Braided lines virtually eliminate stretch, which is important when it comes to setting the hook. And the worms seem to react better in the water when fished on braid.
Setting the hook can be perplexing. In most cases, the strikes are spectacular, with the fish opening up huge holes under the lure. Many just can't resist setting the hook immediately. However, that usually results in nothing more than a racing heart and empty hook. Experts advise setting the hook only when the line is tight and you can actually feel the fish.
Of course, don't forget to add a 36-inch length of 20- or 25-pound monofilament for shock leader. Not only will it withstand the rough mouth and sharp gill plates of snook, but also adds a nearly invisible buffer between the lure and line.
Another reason jerk worms are so effective is they land quietly on the water. Spooky fish usually aren't bothered.
In addition to snook, spotted seatrout and redfish, jerk worms work well on jack crevalle, flounder, ladyfish, bluefish, Spanish mackerel, cobia and tarpon. And they're effective for offshore species such as amberjack, dolphin and even grouper. Miniature pearl-colored jerk worms are great for night snook along this area's famous "Snook Alley," a narrow portion of the Intra-coastal Waterway between Nokomis and Venice. Local anglers take to the area and fish around dock lights where snook gather to dine on shrimp, minnows and other critters.
The trick is to simply approach the dock quietly, anchor a cast away and make your presentation, working the edges of the shadow rather than casting directly into the lighted water. They can be fished on light jig heads or rigged Texas style.
No matter how you fish them, jerk worms work. They're another in a long line of freshwater lures that have made the conversion to salt water quite successfully.
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