Jerk deep for smallmouth

How is it that jerkbaits have become everyone's "secret weapon" lately?

There's nothing new about jerking a minnow-style lure. But how is it that jerkbaits have become everyone's "secret weapon" lately?

Credit their popularity and increasingly widespread usage to superior design and tackle better tailored to the task. But a new generation of deep-diving jerkbaits has changed the game, too, making this already deadly category of baits more versatile than ever.

Conventional wisdom has it that jerkbaits are cold weather tools, and indeed they shine when the water temperature plummets. But deep-diving jerkbaits, a.k.a. "twitch baits," have expanded the range of jerkbait fishing's effectiveness in cold and hot conditions alike.

The new "go low" generation of jerkbaits gets down to hard-to-reach bass even when the fish are reluctant to move. Of equal importance is their castability. Earlier generations of spoonbill divers were big, cumbersome, hard-to-cast baits that caught wind like a schooner and frequently tangled in the line. Weight transfer systems, however, have turned the current run of deep jerks into veritable missiles that cast a mile and seldom hang up. And even some short-lipped jerkbaits can reach 8- to 10-foot depths, and more, with the proper tackle and technique or, in some cases, lure modification.

Joe Balog: Transition smallies

You'll find deep-diving jerkbaits on deck with Great Lakes bass specialist, Joe Balog, through most of the open water season. "They present the fish with a different looking bait than just about anything else running at that point in the water column," said Balog.

"Very few lures working 10 feet down have that side-to-side motion that fires up smallmouth." Deep jerkbaits work best for him in two situations. "In the cold water and prespawn periods when that water is 42 to 48 degrees and approaching that 50 degree mark, jerkbaits really come into their own," said Balog, whose home waters are Lake St. Clair, the Detroit River and the western basin of Lake Erie.

"A couple of days after ice out, particularly on calm sunny days when water is very cold, smallmouth will suspend at, say, 15 feet over the water they have wintered in.

Deep jerkbaits that you can get to that 10- or 12-foot level are able catch those suspended fish really well." Next best is early fall. On Lake St. Clair when smallmouth are occupying 12- to 18-foot flats and water temperatures slide into the low 50s and colder, jerkbaits become particularly deadly.

Two baits comprise Balog's deep-jerk arsenal: Lucky Craft Pointer DD (www.luckycraft.com) and Rapala's X-Rap Deep (www.rapala.com). Both cast like bullets. "You have to be able to cast a lure far on the Great Lakes because you are always in open water, and it is almost always windy!" said Balog, who opts for ghost, clear and perch finishes — with an occasional pink or purple — on his deep runners. "They both do different things," said Balog.

"The X-Rap Deep will go deeper than the Pointer DD. It has a more subtle action, not as much side-to-side movement under the water. When fish are less aggressive, I usually use the X-Rap."

Jeff Kriet: Winter twitchin'

The best way to catch big bass in winter is on a jerkbait, according to 2010 Bassmaster Classic runner-up, Jeff Kriet. "If you can get five bites on a jerkbait in a winter tournament when water temperature is in the low 50s or high 40s, it's hard for anyone to beat you doing anything else," he said.

Prime target areas in cold weather are the edges of healthy vegetation, the "bluff ends" in deep clear rocky lakes, and standing timber. "I really like to throw to standing timber," said Kriet, who credits being out on the water as often as five times a week during winter for his success in the February Bassmaster Classics.

"The fish suspend in the tree tops on lakes like Table Rock (Missouri) and Beaver Lake (Arkansas)," said Kriet. "I don't even have to see the timber. But if I see trees on my graph, I'll pull out a jerkbait. It the trees are deep, I will go to a bait with a longer bill." Deep jerkin' is a study in seasonal contrasts, according to Kriet. When water temperatures rise into the mid-50s and higher, he prefers something "with action, that I can jerk harder." To work at different depths, Kriet employs several jerkbaits, including the Sebile Koolie Minnow LL (long-lipped), a floating/diving bait that casts far and digs deep, with substantial side-to-side action.

For cold water, he opts for the more subtle action of a Spro McStick or Smithwick Rogue. "I don't want it to do much. I want to just pull the bait down and let it sit as long as I can stand it," he said. "In colder water the longer it sits, the better. It will literally take me longer to bring in a jerkbait than a jig."

More critical than getting a jerkbait down in winter is keeping it down, he emphasized. That means adding weight and tuning the lure with larger hooks, weights or lead tape to give it an action that matches the slow metabolism of the fish. "A jerkbait can't be rising," he stressed. "Once the water gets into the high 40s, I want my lure to suspend slightly nose down, or sink real slowly.

I will do anything I can to keep it down." His modified lures will outfish a stock jerkbait of the same model and color by a ratio of five to one, he noted.

Aaron Martens: Deep thoughts on line selection

Catch sneak peaks at the tackle trays of Elite anglers, and you will see repeatedly a jerkbait that many use but few acknowledge: the MegaBass Vision 110 (www.megabassusa.com). "It's the best jerkbait on the planet," said Aaron Martens, 2005 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year.

Though this short-billed bait has the look of conventional, shallow-diving jerkbaits that reach two- to four-foot depths, the Vision 110 will dive to 10 feet with a few careful selections and adjustments. "I can put bigger hooks on it, and it will sink slightly, but even with stock hooks, you can still get it down to 6 or 7 feet," said Martens. "And I can get it down to 8 to 10 feet and deeper when I want." Martens' line choices make a "deep" difference.

Sunline Fluorocarbon from 7- to 10-pound test (mostly 7- and 8-pound) is his choice in cold-water conditions or anytime the bite is slow. (He also slows his retrieve to more subtle twitches in cold water.) To reach 10-foot depths and to work the bait aggressively, he opts for 15-pound braid and occasionally 20-pound with a 2- to 3-foot length of 14- to 20-pound fluorocarbon leader.

"You can work the jerkbait effortlessly with braid compared to fluorocarbon, and that's how I fish it most of the time," explains Martens.

"The difference is about as big a jump as fluorocarbon is from monofilament." Put some deep thought into your jerkin', and jerkbaits may become four-season "secret weapons" for you, too.

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