Home Fishing Tips & Advice How to Fish a Jerkbait

How to Fish a Jerkbait

One of the most reliable lures, and certainly one you should be carrying, is the jerkbait. These lures are named for the way they’re fished, using little jerks of the rod to make the lure move like an injured baitfish. They’re versatile, come in a variety of colors and sizes, attract a lot of attention, and can work great for drop shot fishing. Jerkbaits are used to catch all types of fish, especially large and smallmouth bass. They can be used in freshwater lakes and rivers and in shallow saltwater too. In this article, we’ll tackle the ins and outs of fishing a jerkbait to give newbies something to start with and inspire seasoned anglers with a few new tricks.

Most jerkbait are made from hard plastics, but soft jerkbait lures have come on the market in recent years. The hard types are long and slender, shaped like a small fish with a wide lip. The lip is designed to resist the water and pull the lure down in the water column. Most hard jerkbaits come equipped with two treble hooks, one at the tail end, and the other midway along the belly. This design can often present problems when fishing through heavy cover. The treble hooks can snag and give the fish a chance to get free. Soft body jerkbait lures are designed to be hooked through the nose on a single drop hook or a worm hook. They are more dependent on the motion of your rod for realistic action than the hard versions are.

When to Use Jerkbaits

Jerkbait can be savage bass killers. They’re practically irresistible to both large and smallmouths. But, knowing when to use a jerkbait will substantially up your game out on the water. It’s time to learn how to spot the right conditions for jerkbait so you know when to switch out that lure and get ready to fill the boat. Although jerkbait are known for their versatility, certain features make them better to use under the following conditions.

Temperature: When the water temps are between 50℉ and 60℉ it’s time to bring out the jerkbait lures. This is important for three reasons: temperature affects water clarity, the movement of the bass, and the movement of the bait you want to mimic. Since jerkbaits need to be seen by the fish – that’s why they’re flashy and fish-shaped – the clearer the water is, the better your lure will be seen. Lower temperatures help to clarify water. 

Since fish don’t produce their own body heat, they slow down when the weather cools. That means your target fish isn’t going to chase the bait as energetically. The warmer it gets, the faster you should be fishing that jerkbait and vice versa. Smaller fish are affected by temperature more because they have less insulation and body mass. At around 50℉, some small species start to struggle. That means the jerking motion of your lure is more convincing as a dying minnow. 

Depth: Jerkbaits are designed to twitch just a few feet off the bottom of the water.  Because the fish are more likely to strike on it from below, you don’t want most of the water above your lure. The deepest you want to go is around 15 feet. There are different lures meant to be fished at different depths and you can look at the packaging to tell which is which. You’ll also need to consider if you’re going to use weights or not. Some lures come weighted, but if you’re drop shotting, you’ll want to have a decent weight tied separately. You can also customize the lure with stick-on weight.

Visibility: We’ve already touched on this a little bit with temperature. Jerkbaits come in a myriad of colors and generally have glowing, sparkling, and shiny bits to increase their visibility. The flash draws in the fish’s attention, while your jerking and twitching action on the lure convinces the fish it’d make a good meal. If the fish can’t see your lure, it’s not going to know it’s there and it’s not going to strike on it. Very murky water is not an ideal place to fish a jerkbait. Don’t forget that wind affects the sun’s ability to penetrate the water. Waves and ripples reflect water in different ways than a calm surface does. So, still waters make for better jerkbait fishing.

Jerkbait Features

As you’ve probably guessed, not all jerkbaits are created equal. It isn’t that some are bad, necessarily, they just might not be the right lure for the conditions. Keep in mind that you don’t have to get married to the first lure you pick out. Start with an idea of the conditions you’ll be fishing in. Are you going to be in a canoe on a clear day or casting from shore under the clouds? Which fish are you after and will you be in salt or freshwater? Then, give yourself a few options. You never know what you’re going to encounter. If you write off one lure because it’s not performing, you can always go back to it later when conditions change.

Your basic jerkbait is also called a “stick” because it’s just a straight, simple, hard-bodied lure. They come in just about any color you can imagine with different degrees of reflection. Berkley’s Hit Stick and Strike King KVD Jerkbait are two examples. These jerkbaits come with a transparent lip that catches the water and pulls the lure deeper. Variations on the shape of the lip can give the lure different movements underwater.

A lot of manufacturers have put a twist on the standard jerkbait lure by adding segmented bodies, glow stick chambers, and rattles to the mix. The Rapala Jointed Deep Husky Jerkbait is a good example of the segmented body lure and so is the Bass Pro Shops XTS Jointed Minnow lure. The latter also has an internal rattle to grab the bass’s attention when it’s in the water. This luminous vibrating jerkbait has all the bells and whistles if you’re looking to get fancy.

All of the examples above come with either two or three attached treble hooks. As we mentioned earlier, these can be an issue when fishing in the weeds, reeds, or vegetation. Enter the soft jerkbait lure. These are a lot like the soft worms or shad you’d add to a jighead, but a little more detailed and flashy. Instead of sets of treble hooks, you’d use these lures with a single drop shot hook or a worm style hook. This gives it a smoother profile that won’t get snagged up in the rough spots.

For more on softbait hooks, check out this article from Salt Strong.

Where to Fish Jerkbaits

Another area where the versatility of jerkbaits shines through is location. Jerkbaits are good around structures, ledges and dropoffs, sandy and grassy flats, and in open water. Anywhere you see bass actively feeding is a great place to land a jerkbait. You’ll want to vary your cast with each setting. When you’ve got more structure, try casting different angles so that you’re playing around the edge of the shadows. In the flats, try and skim over the tops of vegetation. Around ledges and dropoffs, use a fan cast technique so you’re covering a range of different depths. As mentioned before, the softbait lures are great for dropshotting. I like to rig up with a VMC Spinshot Drop-shot hook and CatMaxx bait sinker.

How to Retrieve a Jerkbait

When it comes to the retrieve, the go-to method for most anglers is the “twitch, twitch, pause” cadence. It’s a good place to start. Once the bait hits the water, start with a short-medium retrieve to get the lure down to the depth you want it. Then, start to vary your motion. You can lengthen the pause if the weather is colder and the fish are sluggish. Keep just a little slack in your line. Most of the motion should be in the tip of your rod. Point it at the bait, pop it back up, and then drop it toward the bait again. You don’t want to pull it to the boat. What you’re aiming for is erratic motion. You’re trying to mimic an injured animal, which won’t have regular movements. The pause is where the fish are going to strike, so be ready to feel that hit after a few jerks. 

Some anglers will twitch their rod up and some will twitch to the side. Both options will work, but using a combination will keep you from getting muscle fatigue as quickly. Above all, let the fish tell you what they need. If one twitch and a long pause is bringing in the bass, keep with that rhythm. Switch it up and notice the response you get. Once you find something that they’re striking, try to keep it up. What works today might not get their attention tomorrow, so don’t get stuck in a rut with your retrieve. 

For some more jerkbait retrieve tips, check out this video from Fatherree Fishing:

We’ve reached the end of today’s lesson on jerkbait fishing. Remember the old saying, “variety is the spice of life” and don’t get stuck in a rut with your lure or your technique. Be prepared to switch it up and carry a few of these deadly lures in your arsenal. Go out, be safe, and above all, have fun!

Be sure to also check out How to Fish a Swimbait