10 tricks for soft jerkbaits

Isn't it odd how some lures fall out of favor with anglers without bass ever having a say in the matter?

 Consider the soft jerkbait. For years it was the preferred choice of soft baits when you needed a lure to dart, wiggle and slash over shallows.

 But once stickworms like the Senko came along, fish-shaped plastics got kicked to the curb.

 Sure, you can argue that stickworms can be more productive and versatile. They're easier to fish, too.

 But the truth is the bass never lost their affinity for shad-imitating jerkbaits like the Zoom Fluke, Strike King's Z2, Yum Houdini, or Berkley Power Jerk, to name a few. They still rate high on most pros' lists of specialty baits that draw vicious strikes.

 "I honestly think it's the most underrated bait on the market today," says Floridian Shaw Grigsby.

 Those remarks are echoed by the likes of Lucy Mize, a veteran of women's bass circuits and the CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail, and Bill Berry, an Indiana pro who believes the bait's versatility is overlooked.

 "You can fish it deep or shallow and in just about all seasons," Berry offers. "It's only limited by one's imagination."

 What makes it so good? Its realistic appearance compared to that of a wounded shad makes it the most lifelike imitator that fish will see, explains Grisby.

 "Baits like the Z2 give you something that looks alive, acts like an injured or startled baitfish, and because of the softness, it feels like the real thing when bass bite," he adds.

 Grigsby and other soft jerkbait buffs believe the lure doesn't get its due because of a perception that it is a niche lure with limited appeal to the fish.

 "Most people make a few casts, twitch it over shallow cover a few times, and if they don't get a bite, they put it away," he explains. "That certainly is a great way to catch fish, but there's a lot more to it than that."

 It also has a universal appeal, he adds, noting the Strike King Z2 has fooled a number of species for him during filming for his One More Cast outdoor TV show.

 "I've caught virtually every fish that swims on it, including several saltwater species and the large freshwater fish, like pike and muskie," says Grigsby.

 Here's a list of tricks that will help you get better production out of soft jerkbaits:

 Go shallow in springtime. The soft jerkbait shines when bass are cruising flats or holding around shallow cover. It's Mize's favorite springtime lure, tempting both prespawn and spawning bass.

 "If a situation calls for a spinnerbait, then you can fish a Z2 in the same area," she describes. "It can be a better choice when fishing behind other anglers fishing spinnerbaits."

 Berry agrees, noting that it's his favorite lure to flip on beds when bass are protecting nests.

 "It's also a good choice when fishing postspawn fish that are guarding fry," he explains. "Cast beyond the pod of fry and work it slowly through the school. Any buck bass that is guarding fry will annihilate it."

 Experiment with retrieves. The "twitch, twitch, pause" rhythm is a good starting place, but it's not the only way to work a soft jerkbait through shallows.

 "If they're not biting it that way, try something else," says Grigsby. "One of my favorite methods is to work it fast over cover, like pads and grass, so it looks like a shad trying to escape. And by working it quickly on or near the top, you create noise that helps draw the fish to the bait."

 Slow down for cold fronts. Some anglers abandon soft jerkbaits when cold fronts hit, but Mize says that can be a mistake.

 "The bass are still eating, but you have to fish the bait slower," she explains. "Sometimes those spring cold fronts will move fish into deeper water, and if that's the case, you need to fish deeper, too."

 That requires patience because the soft jerkbait is a slow sinker. You can increase the descent by inserting a nail in the center of the bait's body. Don't add a lot of weight, however, as the bait may sink too quickly for the conditions.

 Mize fishes her lure slower and beneath the surface (out of sight) more than most anglers. While her husband, Jimmy, fishes jerkbaits quickly near the surface, she'll opt for the more methodical presentation.

 "And I usually catch bigger fish," she grins. "I tend to think that a big bass is just like a big woman — we move a little slower so we're less likely to chase something down."

 Deadstick it. When fishing a Zoom Fluke around the shallows got tough during a Bassmaster Invitational on Lake of the Ozarks, Berry headed for bluff banks.

 The wind had congregated baitfish around these bluff points at the mouths of the bays, and I had a hunch the bass were there," he says. "They had been eating the Fluke all week, so I decided to stay with it on those steep banks."

 Earlier in the week, Berry had caught fish by twitching the soft jerkbait quickly over the top, drawing strikes from deep fish suspended near the rocks. But when a cold front hit, he knew he had to slow down. He cast the lure parallel to the rock walls, fed it line and let it fall seductively for several feet.

 "It could fall for as much as 30 seconds before I'd feel a 'tick,' " he recalls.

 Mize uses a similar technique when bass stop biting in shallow grass. She adds a nail weight and fishes the bait along the deep edge.

 "I just throw it out there and let it fall to the bottom," she offers. "I've caught fish as deep as 18 feet that way."

 Dress 'em on jigs. When Tim Horton was fishing for smallmouth on deep structure at Pickwick Lake one summer, he noticed that the few bass he caught had large minnows protruding from their throats.

 "The baitfish were much larger than the jigs and grubs we were fishing," he says.

 He threaded a 5-inch Yum Houdini onto a 3/8-ounce jighead and cast it over the structure. He let the bait sink to the bottom, held his rod tip low, then made five quick turns on the baitcast reel.

 "That makes the bait jump off the bottom and swim real fast before it darts back to the bottom," he explains. "That resembles an injured or dying baitfish."

 The result? He not only caught more smallmouth, but larger ones.

 Carolina rig the current. During the 2001 Bassmaster Tour on Lake St. Clair, Peter Thliveros finished fifth on the strength of a heavy sack of smallmouth caught on a Carolina rigged Fluke. He fished the bait on a 2-foot Fluorocarbon leader and cast the bait around sandy spots in the midst of a grassbed growing in current.

 "The fluke has an erratic action and swims more on a Carolina rig when you fish it in current like that," he explains. "It catches both smallmouth and largemouth, and big ones."

 Berry adds that it's an excellent technique when baitfish are schooling and bass are hanging beneath them.

 "When smaller bass are swatting at shad in the school, the bigger bass will stage beneath them and gobble up the wounded baitfish," he describes. "The erratic action of the soft jerkbait emulates that wounded-fish action."

 Alter its action. If you're trying to trigger more reactionary bites, try this rigging technique to enhance more side-to-side darting movement.

 Whereas the standard method of Tex-posing the hook point in the center of the bait produces good action, positioning the barb at an angle to one side makes it dart even more.

 Find the fish. When practicing for smallmouth tournaments in ultraclear water, Michigan pro Kim Stricker fishes Zoom Flukes quickly through areas he thinks hold fish.

 "It's something I often do during fall tournaments," he describes. "In clear water, you can attract an entire school of big smallies to the top by working it extremely fast over deep water. It's a great way to get a look at the size of fish in an area. Go back the next day and fish it a little slower, and you'll catch them."

 Discipline your hook sets. If the soft jerkbait has a shortcoming, it's in the percentage of fish you're going to land versus the number that strike the bait.

 "Be prepared for some disappointments, 'cause a lot of fish swat at it and don't always get their mouths around it," explains Berry. "On the other hand, it's a bait that will draw strikes when others won't."

 The key, adds Grigsby, is to not jerk until you feel the weight of the fish or see the line move after the initial strike. That's particularly important when fishing the bait on or near the surface.

 "It takes some discipline," admits Grigsby. "The strikes are so explosive that your natural reaction is to jerk the instant you see the action. But it pays to hesitate."

 Oftentimes, the bass aren't overly aggressive and are simply trying to wound the "baitfish" as it scurries through their strike zone. They'll hit the jerkbait to wound it, then turn around and inhale it.

 Rig it right. Choosing the proper hook and keeping it rigged properly is important. Resistance from water or grass can force the lure down the hook shank, affecting the action and creating a nuisance.

 Offset designs will help hold the bait in place, but Grigsby says the Eagle Claw High Performance "R Bend," a hybrid offset, offers more gripping around the head of the lure.

 "You also can add a touch of super glue to the shank of the hook to hold the head of the lure in place," he describes. "Keeping the bait in place saves time and, more importantly, avoids wasted casts."

 A large hook, at least a 3/0 wide gap version, is required to get a good bite around the plastic and into the fish's jaw. It also adds a little weight, which enhances the bait's seductive slow falling action during the pause.

 Some anglers fish weightless jerkbaits with a barrel swivel and a leader to help reduce line twist, which can cause additional problems.

 "I'd rather put up with the line twist when fishing it near the top because the swivel can make the lure fall differently and affect the action," explains Stricker. "The best advice is to experiment until you find what works best for you."

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