How To Fish a Jerkbait for Bass: An In-Depth Guide

One of the most effective reaction baits out there, the Jerkbait. This piece will explain how to fish a jerkbait, as well as the best gear, and methods in order to catch more fish with this unique, all-season lure.

How To Fish a Jerkbait for Bass: An In-Depth Guide

What is a Jerkbait?

A jerkbait is a reaction bait pattern that aims to imitate a wounded or even a dying baitfish. This bait has an irregular and erratic action, which stimulates a unique and triggering response in largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass. 

One large benefit of a jerkbait, is that it is an all-season lure, and can trigger a reaction from the most finicky bass. The erratic action on the jerkbait often leads to a bass swimming a fair distance to come and eat it, as they sense a potentially easy meal. 

Kevin VanDam said: “The strike-zone for a jerkbait is as far as a bass can see it.” This implies that this lure has an almost extended strike-zone, purely because of its tempting action. KVD also says that the more erratic and inconsistent the action, the better. For this reason, one needs to select their jerkbait and gear accordingly and each element should be selected to create a more crazy action. 

Although this is not the most comfortable bait to fish purely because of the retrieve and action required, this is an extremely effective bait for many situations, and all serious bass anglers should have the presentation in their arsenal. 

How to fish a Jerkbait for bass
Basic illustration of the Jerkbait.

Best Jerkbait Setup

In terms of the ideal setup for fishing a jerkbait effectively, your most important elements are your: 

  • Rod
  • Line
  • Gear ratio

The reel is genuinely the least important piece of equipment, but it does play a role - this will be discussed a bit later.

Jerkbait Rod Setup

This the probably the most important part of getting the desired action in a jerkbait. As mentioned, the more crazy and erratic the action, the better. This will increase the chances of triggering a bite from a bass. I love going with a baitcasting setup, as most jerkbaits have a nice weight on them. This helps with precise casting accuracy. 

A slightly shorter rod is ideal for a jerkbait, such as a 6’6”- 6’10”. This is mainly because of the ‘jerking’ action you’ll be imparting on your rod. If you’re like me, who enjoys fishing off a float-tube on smaller waters, you’ll want a short rod in order to impart the action without hitting the water. The necessary retrieve and action will be discussed a bit later. 

If you’re fishing from a higher boat you can use a longer rod, as you’ll have more space to apply the downward rod action. A longer rod will also benefit your casting ability and you’ll be able to cover more water. 

In terms of action, you’ll want a rod with a strong backbone and ideally a medium-heavy action. The reason why you want a strong backbone and slightly heavier action is so that you can apply the same action to the jerkbait even when it’s 30+ yards out.

A graphite rod is also a better bet for a jerkbait, as there is a greater backbone and less flex in the rod. This will help with applying that aggressive, explosive action. 

Weaker rods will apply less action to the bait, meaning you’ll have a less erratic action on your lure for those far casts. Because the action on a jerkbait is so key to its success you’ll want a crazy action at all times, whether you’re 10 or 40 yards out.

Having a rod with a shorter handle is also a bonus. Due to the action you'll be imparting, the butt of your rod can often get stuck on your shirt. Having a shorter handle will make it more comfortable when applying the 'jerking' motion.

Best Fishing Line for Fishing a Jerkbait

In my opinion, this is maybe equally important as the rod when it comes to fishing a jerkbait properly. Line also plays a key role in creating that fast, crazy action, no matter how far you’ve casted. 

Due to its little stretch, I like to go with straight fluorocarbon, ranging from 12-16lbs. The reason why the little stretch is important is that I can get that same erratic action no matter where I’ve casted. Using a line such as monofilament creates a lot more stretch, and I may get a delay, or reduction in the desired action. 

Choosing the line weight will also have a direct impact on the presentation of a jerkbait. If you’re fishing shallower, using a heavier line, such as 15lb might be your better option, as this will keep your jerkbait higher up in the water column. This will also be better if you’re fishing around heavy cover. 

Alternatively, if you’re looking to fish deeper water, a lighter fluoro would be your better option. Using 12lb line will cause your jerkbait to dive deeper, which is greater for fishing deeper lakes and/o drop-offs. 

Depth control is absolutely essential when fishing jerkbaits, so minor adjustments in line or your jerkbait will play a huge role in finding the strike zone. 

Best Gear Ratio for Jerkbaits

Probably the least important piece of equipment when it comes to jerkbait fishing, but it still plays its role. 

Ideally, a baitcasting reel with a faster gear ratio (7 and up). This will help with taking up slack quickly, which is caused by the ‘jerk’ of the rod. 

You’ll want a reel that you feel comfortable casting with, in order to vary your distances. Jerkbait fishing is a great way to cover a lot of water, so it’s great to have the ability to cast far. 

Best Jerkbaits for Bass: What To Look For

When looking to buy a jerkbait, probably the most important factor is the color. Most jerkbaits on today’s shelves have been designed to have the desired erratic action, so if you’re getting from a well-recognized brand - you’re almost guaranteed a good action. 

Color choice will play a huge role in the success of your jerkbait fishing, and it’s wise to have various options in order to cater to different situations. 

For clearer water, you’ll want a more natural color. This is pretty obvious, as bass will get a better look at your bait - so you’ll want to imitate the natural colors of a baitfish. Translucent patterns or any baitfish colors are your best option for clear water. 

When fishing more stained water, you’ll want a pattern that is brighter and less natural. This will increase the chances of catching a bass’s eye when even their vision is impaired. A chartreuse, pearl white, or a morning dawn pattern will do the job in dirtier water. 

Running depth is also another varying feature of jerkbaits. There are shallow jerkbaits (0-3 feet), medium-depth (4-7 feet), or deep-diving (7 feet or more). Here, you’ll again want different options, as you’ll most likely be fishing different kinds of water in your area.

Treble hooks are another feature that’ll vary when you’re looking through jerkbaits. The most common trend these days is to see 3 treble hooks on the bait, especially on larger jerkbait patterns. This obviously increases your chances of a hookup, but it also plays a role in the action of the bait.

Smaller jerkbaits, sometimes known as finesse jerkbaits are another category of jerkbaits that you’ll come across, and these will only have 2 treble hooks. Finesse jerkbaits are a great option if you’re around more finicky bass, who may prefer a smaller profile. The baits will also come in different running depths. 

Smallmouth bass on jerkbait
This Smallmouth loved my morning dawn colored Jerkbait in slightly stained water.

When Should You Fish a Jerkbait?

The jerkbait is a very versatile presentation that can be thrown in several situations. As mentioned earlier, it imitates an injured baitfish so you’ll want to fish areas where you’ll find active baitfish. 

Here are some areas where a jerkbait might be an option: 

  • Ledges and drop-offs: Bass will often use these ledges to ambush baitfish, as they make their way to shallower water.
  • Grass flats and shallow covered areas: Baitfish will often look to shallower, grassy areas for protection. 
  • Points: Another great ambush point for baitfish hungry bass. 
  • Rocky shorelines: Smallmouth bass especially love rocky structures. 

Another key thing to consider while fishing a jerkbait is the position of your boat. Ideally, you want to parallel to the structure you’re fishing, and casting along that area in order to keep it in the strike zone for as long as possible. 

For example, if you’re working a ledge, you’ll want to be as parallel as possible to the ledge, and cast along it. This will ensure your jerkbait is within the target zone throughout the cast. 

Where to fish a Jerkbait
Jerkbaits work awesome around rocky cover and drop offs

How to Fish a Jerkbait for Bass

This is definitely a controversial topic, as many anglers have a different approach to retrieving a jerkbait, and they have succeeded in doing so. 

The retrieve should involve giving the bait an erratic and crazy action, and this should be done by using the rod, rather than the reel. One of the biggest mistakes anglers make is moving the jerkbait with the reel rather than the rod. 

The reel is there to take up the slack caused by the ‘jerking’ of the rod, not the give the lure movement. 

Here is a little step-by-step process that gives the jerkbait an explosive and irresistible action:

  1. After casting out, have the tip of your rod pointing at the bait. 
  2. Begin twitching the rod downward, this can be diagonally or straight downward. 
  3. Once twitched, let the rod recoil back into the starting position. 
  4. Wind up the slack, and begin the twitching process again. 

The ‘jerking’ action can vary in direction and speed. This can be determined by water temperature or just the general activity of the fish. 

In colder conditions, I like to slow down the jerk, and give a slightly longer delay between each jerk. Bass are obviously less eager to eat in cold conditions, so slowing down the action and giving more pauses will increase the chances of a bite. 

During warmer conditions or prime season such as pre-spawn, I’ll speed up for the twitching action, and reduce the pause time. Bass will be feeding more aggressively around this time, and your chances of a reaction bite are greatly increased. 

How to retrieve a Jerkbait
The retrieval action of a Jerkbait.

The Ideal Conditions for a Jerkbait

Although the jerkbait is an all-season lure, certain conditions are more favored than others. For instance, pre-spawn may be the best time to throw a jerkbait, as certain baitfish are dying off, and bass is bulking up for the spawn. Fall is also a great time to throw jerkbaits, as baitfish are actively moving to different channels.

 When I think about the ideal conditions for a jerkbait, I’m thinking about good water clarity, and a slight chop on the water. Slightly windy conditions can cause baitfish to rise in the water column, and bass will follow them.

Having clearer water will increase the chances of a bass spotting the tempting action of a jerkbait, and there’s a good chance that they’ll be willing to swim for it. 

Wrapping Up

The jerkbait is one of the most effective reaction baits out there. It has the ability to even outfish finesse presentations in tough conditions, purely because of its irresistible action. Having the right gear, fishing the right areas, and retrieving in the right fashion will go a long way in catching plenty of bass. This is a technique that all serious bass anglers should have in their arsenal.

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