When trying to imitate a wounded shad, there are very few presentations better than jerkbait fishing. Typically the jerkbait is thought of as a winter and early springtime bait, and while it does shine in that specific time period, the jerkbait can cover a far wider range of seasons.
As I grew up in the Northwest, jerkbait fishing was very limited and not as effective based on the fact that there are no shad. In much of the country, however, shad are the primary forage for bass throughout the year. While certain seasons are more effective than others, this abundance of shad in many of our lakes and reservoirs makes the jerkbait a very effective technique no matter what the water temperature. While the technique doesn't change, the style of jerkbait I prefer and the way I work my bait does from season to season.
The peak season for jerkbait fishing in most anglers’ minds is late winter on through to early spring. With cold-water temperatures, a large amount of the shad population will die off. When this happens, you will visibly notice shad slowly twitching around just below the surface. This is a dead giveaway that you need to have a jerkbait in your hand.
There are two jerkbaits I will have tied on in this cold water situation: a Spro McStick and a Smithwick Rogue. While the McStick suspends, the original Smithwick will actually float slowly, rising when you pause it. The suspending quality of the McStick is what makes me choose it about 90 percent of the time. In cold water, I will fish this bait extremely slow, giving the bait quick sharp twitches and then letting the bait sit for a long pause. During this pause is when a suspending bait works its magic. Remember, bass are cold blooded, so when the water is cold, their metabolism is slow, making them wary about expending too much energy. The suspended bait offers an opportunity that is difficult for a cold, hungry bass to resist; they can slowly move up toward the bait using very little energy and lightly attack the bait. In extreme cold conditions, a pause of 30 seconds or longer is sometimes necessary. Keep an open mind and vary your retrieve to figure out what they are keying in on from day to day. Also, don't be afraid to alternate to the slow-floating rogue; this slow float will sometimes trigger more aggressive fish into biting.
As the water warms and the annual spawn begins to happen, the jerkbait bite, while you can still catch some fish on it, tends to slow down. It's the post-spawn feeding period when I pick my jerkbait back up and start to hammer down on them again. What I look for is schools of bass that are aggressively feeding up on shad in order to replenish their weakened bodies after a long spawn. While topwater baits such as Super Spooks and Bass Pro Shops XPS Professional Series Walkers work great for this situation, a jerkbait can also be very effective. I normally find my schools of bass near a spawning pocket or flat on some sort of secondary point or break line. The bass will stop at these points throughout the lake to feed up before heading out to the main channel. Often, you will find these late-spring fish suspended as well. I have had some great success working a deeper diving Spro McRip through fish suspended at around the 10-foot depth range. For this style of jerkbait fishing, I like to work my bait with a fast, aggressive retrieve with short pauses throughout the cast. To get the bait to reach deeper suspended fish, I will work it on a spinning rod with 8-lb. test Trilene 100 percent Fluorocarbon. This technique will continue to catch fish all throughout the summer, so always keep ready to go if you see suspended fish on your depth finder.
As the summer ends and the water starts to cool, my jerkbait is always on the front deck of my Nitro Z-8 boat. During the fall months is when the shad make their annual movement into shallow pockets and flats in the back of creeks. These feeding fish will hammer a suspending jerkbait worked around the cover they are holding on. Seawalls, points, flats and docks are all great key shallow-water structures to focus on. A good thing about fall fishing is when you find one fish, it's normally not the only one in the area, so it is possible to hit a stretch where you catch multiple all very close to each other. In addition, these fall fish are generally easy to pattern, and you’ll find success doing the same thing in similar areas all up and down the lake or reservoir. Just look for the key ingredients: shallow water pockets and flats, an abundance of cover, an abundance of shad and then hold on tight, because when you put those factors together the predatory bass are almost guaranteed to be close by. I will generally rely on my McStick 110 just like in the late winter to early springtime period.
In my opinion, for those of you blessed enough to live on a body of water that has a large shad population, some sort of jerkbait should always be readily available. The jerkbait can be a winning pattern in certain times of the year, especially in the late winter to early spring, but no matter what the season, it's a bait that should be in your arsenal and will put more fish in your boat. For more blogs about how to add more tricks to your repertoire, check out my blog, Expand Your Fishing Arsenal. And if you ever have any questions, you can go to my website, www.joeyfishing.com, and write me an email – I'd love to help in any way possible. I'll see you on the water!!!
by Joey Nania