Kevin VanDam is well-known as not only the best tournament angler of all-time, but arguably the best angler to wield a jerkbait as well. He’s amassed millions of dollars throughout his career throwing jerkbaits in every season and in situations other anglers might shake their head at.
KVD has redefined the role of the jerkbait. On days when many anglers are left shaking their heads at what went wrong, VanDam will have his signature smile as he carries a big bag of fish to the weigh-in knowing he figured them out by throwing a jerkbait and thinking outside the box.
“I’ve seen the power of a jerkbait, in every season, for largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass,” VanDam said. “It’s a great tool that I have an incredible amount of confidence in. The difference for me is that I’ve seen the sheer drawing power and distance that you can get bass to bite a jerkbait.”
In this fishing article you'll learn about designing jerkbait lures, why VanDam calls them his #1 confidence bait and KVD's seasonal jerbait fishing techniques.
Check Out These Quick Links to Jerkbait Videos by Kevin VanDam:
A Different Way of Thinking About Jerkbaits
“The biggest misconception with jerkbaits is people think of them as pre-spawn cold-water baits. They are deadly effective and highly efficient baits to cover water and trigger bass, year-round, that are in a neutral or negative mood,” VanDam said.
He’s won millions of dollars throwing the bait where others never considered. “It amazes guys when they watch Major League Fishing where you see everything and can’t believe I caught them on a jerkbait on the Texas/Louisiana border which is a shallow cypress tree lake. It’s not your typical Table Rock Lake deal,” he said.
The Dangerous Combo - Jerkbaits & KVD
VanDam is all about maximizing efficiencies. The jerkbait, due to its visual appeal, can trigger bites.
The clearer the water-the better.
“If the water is clear, the sky is the limit. They’ll come from as far as they can see the bait. If I have 30-feet of clarity, like Lake Mead, the Great Lakes, or at times like Beaver Lake, Bull Shoals or Table Rock, they will swim from anywhere to bite,” he said.
He might only have 18-inches or 2 feet of visibility, but if he can get that bait in the zone or where there’s fish are at, he’s confident he can get them to bite a jerkbait.
“Anytime that I go to a body of water, and I don’t care where it’s at, and the water is clear, I’m thinking about how I can exploit with a jerk bait,” he said.
While he can’t fish it in big grass, he’ll try overtop of it or around laydowns, bushes, or boat docks. “There’s not any lure that I have any more confidence that I can draw a bass away from cover to come and bite than a jerk bait. Their instinct doesn’t allow them to pass it up,” he said.
Schooling bass are another great indicator that VanDam will throw a jerkbait. “It’s tremendous for schooling fish. If you see fish intermittently schooling in an area, they’ll come a long way to bite it.”
KVD's #1 Confidence Fishing Bait
VanDam recently took 10th place at the 2017 Bassmaster Classic fishing a jerkbait lure while many of his competitors did not. “That’s what I had confidence in based on the state of the shad spawn and the bass being suspended around the docks and points,” he said.
While he is smart enough not to force-feed a jerkbait in situations where fish won’t bite it, he will try to fit it into the rotation every chance he can.
“If bass are set up on a structural element, on a ledge or a drop or a channel mouth or a creek point, and maybe you catch one on a crankbait or a Carolina rig, I know if I can get a jerkbait into that zone,” they are goint to bite it." he started. “A lot of times, I’m able to fire up a school or individual bass that are really not aggressively feeding. It’s something that I always have in my mind in that situation.”
While it might not be the first bait he throws in every situation, he sure won’t leave a spot before trying it.
Jerkbaits Designed by the Best
VanDam has helped designed numerous Strike King lures, especially their jerkbait line.
“I designed all of those baits for them and I understand the actions that they have. The KVD 200 series is a forage minnow that runs the shallowest and has an extreme slashing action- the most erratic in the line,” he said. “With 8 or 10-pound line, it will run 5-foot deep if you want it to. This is the bait I use in the shallowest presentation in the warm water times of the year where I am really looking for an aggressive action to trigger fish to bite.” The KVD 300 has a subtler action, but offers a larger profile.
What pained KVD was that there was an important piece of the puzzle missing from his arsenal- a deep-running jerkbait. In conjunction with Strike King lure designer, Phil Marks, they hatched the idea of a deeper model that would incorporate a real erratic action. The result was the Strike King KVD Deep Jerkbait.
“That new deep-diving jerk bait has opened up a whole new level that a jerk bait will work for me,” he said.
He’s even used them to probe ledges on Kentucky Lake. “If I have a shallower ledge, and water is stained and I know fish are positioned there, they cannot help but bite a jerkbait. It’ll catch fish that will not bite other baits. That’s where it can really shine around fish that are heavily pressured and have seen a lot of other lures.”
VanDam's Seasonal Approach to Jerkbaits
SPRING: Spring is primetime for jerkbaits. VanDam targets shallower flats working the jerkbait around scattered cover, vegetation, flooded bushes, and the edges of cover areas and to be able to cover lots of bass spawning flats. “They’re perfect for probing edges and drawing fish out. Anything that I can find an edge that I can cast parallel with it, be it a drop off, boat dock, rip rap, weed line, or a seawall, those are things that I look for in the spring,” VanDam said.
SUMMER: “Summer is one of those times when it is very situational,” VanDam said. He’ll look for bass to school that he’s located on his Humminbird Helix 10 Gen 2 that are suspended on the edge of a weed line. “It’s a time of the year that I don’t go out thinking that I am going to catch them on a jerkbait but when I see a situation when I know they are in that zone and the water clarity is enough where they can find it, it’s going to be an effective tool to trigger them to strike. These are some of the best times to fish a jerkbait because almost nobody else is thinking about them during this season,” he said.
Anytime smallmouth are in play, KVD will have a jerkbait tied on, or several. “They are very aggressive by nature and they can’t help but respond to them. They are suckers for them!” he said.
FALL: Next to spring, fall is VanDam’s favorite time of year to fish jerkbaits. “In many places, you have the bass starting to move back shallower towards the flats and focusing on bait and that’s where a jerkbait really shines.”
WINTER: Winter is a time when VanDam finds bass to be lethargic on many lakes, especially in the South, and will suspend as they look for shad die-offs. “My favorite presentation is dead sticking a deep-running jerkbait close to vertical breaks like bluffs, bluff ends, bridge pilings, and bridge corners of rip rap, all classic wintertime spots,” VanDam said. Again, clear water is key for this deal to work.
Erratic or Natural - Which Cadence is Best for Jerkbait Fishing?
The mistake that many anglers make is that they do not impart enough action on their jerkbait. Not only does VanDam work a jerkbait erratically, but he has no preconceived ideas about what cadence he should use.
“I really mix it up and work it more aggressively than most people would imagine. The biggest key to fishing a jerkbait is making sure that you have slack in your line. Start your twitch, or series of jerks, with slack- and finish with slack the same way. That’s what allows these baits to have that maximum erratic side-to-side action,” VanDam said.
While it might look like he’s working the bait hard, by allowing slack in the line, the bait might only move 6 or 8 inches horizontally per twitch but it’s doing so very quickly. Pretty much, he’s working the bait in its spot almost making it turn at a 180-degree angle. “That’s what triggers these fish,” he said. As water temperatures increase, so will the pace that he works his jerkbait.
Best Rods and Reels for Jerkbait
VanDam prefers a bait casting reel sporting a 6.6:1 retrieve. “I never pull that bait, that bait never comes towards my boat with my reel. I’m always working it with slack in my line with the rod and the reel just picks up slack line,” he said.
He’ll keep his drag “pinned down” to ensure a solid hookset. He’ll further increase his odds by swapping out the factory hooks on his jerkbaits with #4 Mustad TG76KVD extra-short shank treble hook. “I don’t want the drag to slip on the hook set on a long cast. If I get a good fish that is hot close to the boat, I’ll use the thumb bar to give it some line,” VanDam explained.
The Quantum Tour KVD 6’10 medium-heavy action rod, made of graphite, is the key to his success. “You need to have a rod that has a fast tip but enough backbone that when you pop that bait it really responds. I really want that jerkbait moving water,” he said. When in doubt, he suggests anglers err on the side of caution and opt for stiffer rod to impart the necessary action with the bait. “The rod is by far the most critical aspect and next would be the line.”
The Logic KVD Uses for Fishing Line
KVD has heard it time and again that jerkbaits are a light-line technique- nothing could be farther from the truth. For VanDam it’s all about keeping his jerkbait above the line of sight of a bass for the depth that he’s fishing. Sure, 12-pound BPS XPS fluorocarbon fishing line is his standby as it has a small enough diameter to get good depth out of his Strike King jerkbaits, but has the right amount of stretch to get his bait to work just the way he wants on a really long cast.
But, in warmer water where his cadence is more aggressive, he might upsize to 14-pound test line.
Other times he might opt for 20-pound test to fish super-shallow water and keep his bait higher in the water column. The fishing line is merely the tool that gets the jerkbait to run where KVD wants and helps him to impart the action and keep the fish buttoned once their hooked. There might be times where he needs to throw 8-pound depths to get his bait that much deeper in the water column. Keeping an open mind is key.
Listen to the Clues & Pay Attention to How the Fish Hit the Bait
VanDam pays little attention to where a bass is hooked as any type of indicator about their mood. “A lot of times they are going to be hooked in strange places because of the nature of that bait. The way it moves it is hard for them to get it all the way in their mouth,” he said.
Instead, he’ll pay much closer attention to how they hit the bait. If he’s working the bait aggressively and they nearly take the rod out of his hand, then he knows the jerkbait is the exact presentation that they want. If he doesn’t feel them hit it, or they are “just on there”, it might be an indication that he needs to change his color or presentation to trigger a more aggressive bite.
When choosing bait colors, water clarity, sky conditions, and the predominant forage in the system that he’s fishing in at that time of year are key factors. A jerkbait must not only be visible- but natural.
On sunny days when the water is moderately clear, flashy baits in chrome or gold are good choices.
Hands down, Ayu, or translucent colors, are VanDam’s favorite color when faced with super clear water and bright skies.
Cloud cover or stained water require brighter colored baits like Sexy Shad and Crystal Shad that have plenty of metal and poly flake.
If calling bass in from farther away is important, or when fishing dirtier water, Sexy Shad, Pro Blue, or baits with chartreuse are key choices.