Rob Kilby was making hay with jerkbaits nearly three decades ago, long before the term "jerkbait" became part of bass fishing's vernacular.
Kilby and other anglers who fished the clear water reservoirs of northern Arkansas and southern Missouri, such as Table Rock, Bull Shoals and Beaver Lake, pronounced jerkbait "Spoonbill Rebel." To a great extent, this still holds true.
Unlike stubby lipped jerkbaits that have become staple bass lures practically everywhere, the 4 ½-inch Spoonbill sports a long lip similar to that found on deep diving crankbaits. Truth be known, the original Spoonbill was designed as a deep trolling lure for stripers, hybrids, trout, walleyes and other gamefish.
Kilby and other inventive fishermen glued strips of lead to the Spoonbill's belly to make the lure neutrally buoyant. They worked the bait with a sweep-pause action, the primordial jerkbait retrieve. Imagine their delight when heavyweight largemouth and spotted bass hammered the modified baits.
Trolling long bills
"A lot of folks troll Spoonbill Rebels throughout the summer on clear water lakes like Bull Shoals," says Kilby. "These aren't your die-hard bass fishermen. They're just average anglers who want to relax and put a few fish in the boat.
"They drag a Spoonbill well behind a boat on 8-pound line, and let it swim along 20 feet or deeper over channels and ledges. They dredge up bass, walleyes, stripers, white bass — just about anything that swims."
When Kilby later joined the band of professional bass angling gypsies, he wisely brought along his Spoonbills. Over the years, they have produced big catches for him under conditions not conducive to other lures. He fondly remembers an early spring B.A.S.S. Invitational on Sam Rayburn in the mid-1990s.
"While practice fishing, I found quality pre-spawn largemouth suspended along a 100-yard stretch of submerged hydrilla," says Kilby. "The grass on the outside edge dropped from about 10 to 18 feet. The water was still cold, so the bass weren't in a chasing mood. But they were suckers for the Spoonbill."
On the first day of the tournament, Kilby positioned his boat just off the grassline and worked the Spoonbill over the edge of the hydrilla with a pull-pause action.
"When the Spoonbill cleared the edge of the grass, the bass inhaled it," says Kilby. "The only thing sticking out of their mouths was the bill. I brought in five bass that weighed 26 pounds."
High winds killed the Spoonbill bite on the following days, but Kilby managed to piece together enough bass on backup patterns to collect a check. Had the weather held, the Spoonbill would have made him a contender for the top spot.
Long vs. short bills
These days, most anglers eschew long bill jerkbaits in favor of their short billed brethren. It's hard to blame them. Short bill jerkbaits have proved their effectiveness beyond question. They generally cast better than long bills because they have less wind resistance, and they are not as inclined to tumble on long casts.
But there are times when the increased depth achieved by a long bill catches bass that are unwilling to rise up for a shallower jerkbait. Kilby still dotes on the Spoonbill Rebel, and opts for the D22S Suspending Rattlin' model, which was not available when he began fishing the Spoonbill. You may choose from a variety of long bills, including several suspending models.
"You can catch bass on the Spoonbill throughout the year," says Kilby.
"Most people fish it during pre-spawn, say, February to mid-April. That's when bass stage on deep grasslines, creek channel banks and points near creek channels. I do especially well when the water is in the 50s. It doesn't get too cold for a Spoonbill. I've caught huge stringers on it with ice freezing in my guides."
Cold water retrieves
A long bill jerkbait must be neutrally buoyant to be effective in cold water, because strikes invariably occur when the lure hovers during a pause. The length of the pause is crucial. Depending on the mood and metabolism of the bass, the pause may be as short as one second, or as long as 20.
The standard retrieve involves holding the rod low to the water and sweeping it enough to pull the bait ahead about 3 feet between pauses. Some anglers accomplish this by sweeping the rod tip up from about 10 o'clock to 12 o'clock. Long bill jerkbaits get down 5 to 10 feet or more, and move ahead with a subtle swimming action — just the thing for cold water bass.
Short bill jerkbaits typically get down 2 to 4 feet and are worked with short twitches that impart an aggressive, side-to-side movement.
Another prime cold water period for long bill jerkbaits takes place from about late October through early January. Kilby is one of a few anglers who take advantage of this opportunity. He locates bass by heading to the backs of creek arms while closely monitoring the display of his Garmin 240 LCG. When he runs across massive schools of shad, Kilby knows he's in business. Shad stack up in the backs of creeks at this time, bringing bass in tow.
"A Spoonbill catches the daylights out of bass in the back ends of creeks," says Kilby. "I concentrate on flats that narrow down to the actual feeder creeks. I usually start fishing where a flat is 10 to 15 feet on either side of the creek channel, and work out to where the flat drops to 30 to 35 feet."
Shad typically suspend 8 to 10 feet deep over flats at this time, especially on sunny days, which puts the baitfish, and the bass that feed on them, within range of a long bill jerkbait. Yes, you can easily fish the same zone with a crankbait or spinnerbait. But a tranquil pull-pauseretrieve with a long bill minnow gives sluggish bass more time to react.
Deep jerkbaits in baitfish colors produce best for Kilby, who likes chrome-black back, gold-black back, and chrome with a blue back and orange belly. On flat, calm days, a painted finish, such as fire tiger, often does better because it tones down the flash.
Kilby fishes the Spoonbill on a 7-foot, medium action Fenwick fiberglass baitcasting rod. The long rod casts well for distance, which allows the deep jerkbait to work in the strike zone longer. The slow, forgiving action of fiberglass helps the treble hooks hold fast. He matches the rod with a Mitchell SpiderCast reel and 6/20 SpiderWire Braid or 8-pound SpiderLine Super Mono.
Mike Auten on small bills
Shine on sunshine
"Jerkbaits attract bass visually," says Mike Auten. "That's why I do better with them when the sun is out. You get more flash from a jerkbait in sunlight. The bait is also easier for bass to see, because it silhouettes better above them.
"When it's overcast, the bait is harder for bass to pick out against the dark sky. I have noticed that bass miss the bait more often when it's cloudy, especially smallmouth. You still catch them, but your hooking ratio goes way down."
— Mark Hicks
Kentuckian Mike Auten, a regular on the B.A.S.S. Tour, is a relatively new convert to long bill jerkbaits. He sings the praises of Lucky Craft's Staysee 90SP (version 2), a 3 ½-inch suspending minnow.
"The Staysee casts great due to its weight transfer system," says Auten. "Metal bearings shift to the tail when you cast it, so the bait doesn't cartwheel. It gets down 7 to 10 feet and has a tight swimming action."
Auten's favorite patterns are ghost minnow, chartreuse shad and aurora pro-blue, all of which are natural looking minnow imitators. He fishes the Staysee with a 6-6 medium-heavy Quantum Tour Edition baitcasting rod, a 6:1 Quantum reel and 8-pound-test Stren monofilament. Thin line allows Auten to cast farther and work the bait deeper. He juices up the basic sweep-pause retrieve by throwing in a few twitches at the end of the sweep.
"You can catch bass on a Staysee year-round, but it works far better in early spring, late fall and in the winter," says Auten. "I've used it on places like Rayburn to fish deep grasslines, and Kentucky Lake to catch big smallmouth and spotted bass from bluff banks."
When fishing submerged vegetation, Auten searches for points, pockets and other irregular features along inside and outside grasslines in depths from 7 to 10 feet. He generally casts parallel to grass edges until he finds such spots, and then works key areas from different angles. He likes to make occasional contact with the grass for reassurance that he is fishing in the strike zone.
"Another situation I like is a grass flat near deep water that grows to within about 7 feet of the surface," says Auten. "Typically, there will be bald spots in the grass. Suspend a jerkbait over one of those openings, and you're going to get clocked."
Bluff banks offer a number of targets for Auten's long billed jerkbait. Rock slides, fallen trees and other objects along the bluff regularly give up bass, but the best location is where the channel swings away from the bluff and changes from rock to pea gravel.
Auten generally casts parallel when fishing a bluff. When he comes to a channel swing, he pulls his boat's bow out and casts farther away from the bluff to thoroughly work the ledge where the channel swings away from the bank. Where he was casting within 10 feet of a bluff when fishing parallel, he may be casting 20 yards off the bluff when working a channel swing.
"I catch a lot of smallmouth and spotted bass by fishing channel swings in November and December," says Auten. "They bite best when there is a little surface chop."
Long bill jerkbaits
Another long bill jerkbait from Lucky Craft, the Bevyshad 75, measures 3 inches in length and goes down 7 to 8 feet. It's just the thing when bass are tuned in to small baitfish.
Smithwick's Rattlin' Rogue, one of the most popular short billed jerkbaits ever, comes in a long billed, suspending model, the ASSRB1200. It's available in the most popular Rattlin' Rogue colors.
Bomber's Long A lineup includes two long bill jerkbaits of interest to bass anglers, the 4 ½inch B25A, and the 3 ½-inch B24A. Both are floater divers and come in jerkbait colors that have proved their effectiveness with short billed Long A jerkbaits.
The Crystal Minnow Deep Diver from Yo-Zuri comes in 3 5/8-, 4 3/8- and 5 — -inch sizes to match whatever size baitfish bass are feeding on below the range of short billed jerkbaits. These floating baits do not have rattles.
Berkley's Frenzy 4-inch Diving Minnow was designed with the same scientific approach applied to the Frenzy Diver used by Jay Yelas when he won the 2002 CITGO Bassmasters Classic. The Diving Minnow does not suspend, but it does have rattles.
So much praise has been heaped upon the Husky Jerk that Rapala has followed up with their long bill, suspending, Down Deep Husky Jerk, in 4- and 4 ¾-ounce sizes. The larger model gets down 10 feet or more on a long cast.
Bass Pro Shops' Extreme Minnow runs 3 to 6 feet deep in the
3 ½-inch size, and 6 to 8 feet deep in the 4 ½-inch size. The bait's 3-D laser eyes and holographic laser tape finish give it a flashing, live bait appearance.
When you're after big bass foraging on big bait, opt for an oversized long bill minnow, such as Rebel's D30S Spoonbill minnow, which measures 5 ½ inches. Also consider Cordell's long billed CD9, a 5/8-ounce, 5-inch floating-diving minnow. This seductive wobbler works as hard for you beneath the surface as short billed Red Fins do when "waked" on top.