A jerkbait is one of the most effective lures to catch predatory fish like bass or pike with. Their amazing swimming action and the variety of depths a jerk bait can be fished at make them incredibly versatile.
But, fishing jerkbaits properly isn’t just about casting it out and winding it in, there is a lot more to it if you want to be as successful as possible. This comes down to how you retrieve them, the choice of jerkbait you use, and where you’re fishing.
Join me as we run through everything about how to fish a jerkbait so the next time you cast one out on the water, you can see just how these tips increase your catch rate.
What Is A Jerkbait?
Before we go into how to fish a jerkbait, let’s first talk about what a jerkbait is so we are all on the same page.
A jerkbait is a plastic lure that is shaped like a fish and usually painted in a range of colors to either match the color of baitfish or to be very visible in the water.
They come with a lip on the front of them that catches the water causing them to dive and wiggle as they go creating an action, predators like bass and pike can not resist.
A jerkbait you have probably seen and used before is any Rapala lure. These are all jerkbaits and they can be fished trolling or casting with spinning or baitcasting gear. We are going to discuss casting in this article, as trolling is just dragging a jerkbait behind a boat.
What Types Of Jerkbaits Are There?
You will find a large range of different size jerkbaits on offer as well as jerkbaits that sink or float, swim at different depths, and come in different colors.
It’s always best to have a range of jerkbaits in terms of size, swimming, depth, color, and whether they sink or float, as that way you’ll be able to match the right jerkbait to what the fish are feeding on.
jerkbaits come in a range of sizes from 3 inches in length to 12 inches in length. The best jerkbait best lengths for bass are 3 to 5-inch jerkbaits and go bigger for muskie, pike, and other large saltwater predators too.
Jerkbait Swimming Depths
jerkbaits come in three swimming depths and you should have a range in your tackle box so you can fish all the different parts of the water column. Here are the different swimming depths of jerkbaits you have to choose from:
0 – 3 feet
4 – 7 feet
7 – 12 feet and more
Floating And Sinking jerkbaits
Floating jerkbaits are incredibly useful when fishing over shallow waters as you can ensure you don’t get snagged on the bottom by letting the lure float above it as you fish it.
But, you will also need some sinking jerkbaits so that you can fish the deeper waters when the fish are holding shallow.
How To Fish A Jerkbait
When fishing a jerk bait, you don’t want to simply wind them in, you want them to jerk around on the way back to you to imitate an injured baitfish looking for cover. This is what gets the predators excited as it looks like an easy meal.
The best way to fish a jerkbait is with a snap pause retrieve and here is how you do it:
Cast your jerkbait to an area where you think fish are holding
Start with your rod at the 4 o’clock position pointing toward the water
Keeping some slack in the line, snap your rod down towards the water to the 5 or 6 o’clock position
This jerks the jerkbait in a frenzied action
Return the rod to 4 o’clock and wind in the slackline, leaving a little slack for your next snap
Snap it down to 5 or 6 o’clock again and repeat the process
While following the steps above you should create a rhythm of jerk, jerk, pause, jerk. Jerk, jerk, pause, etc
The pause is incredibly important as it gives the jerkbait a chance to rise up and down the water column too and give time for a predator to get into the biting zone
These are just the basics of how to fish a jerkbait and you need to evolve from here in order to be as successful as possible using them.
Change Up Your Retrieve
You should change up your retrieve and continue to do so until you find what works. Different ways of retrieving include snapping to the side instead of down as this cause the jerkbait to swim a little differently.
You can also vary your jerk pause combinations and vary your speed accordingly. When fishing with a deep diving jerkbait, snapping too fast will have it diving much faster so you should slow it down a bit.
The key to all of this is experimentation and trying new things until you find what the fish want to eat on a particular fishing day.
Think About Water Temperature And Adjust Accordingly
When fishing, it’s always important to adjust for the conditions and temperature is one of the main ones to keep an eye on. Bass for example will be more active when the water is warm and less active when it’s cold.
If you’re fishing a jerkbait in warm water, snap quickly and sharply while pausing for a short time and you should get some quick reactive bites as the bass are active.
When fishing in colder water, a solid snap is still a good idea but you should pause a lot longer as the bass will have less energy and need the long pause to catch up and eventually eat the jerkbait.
Adjust Your Jerk To The Other Conditions
If you’re fishing on a cloudy day or a windy day, then you can get away with a lot more speed when fishing a jerkbait. Windy days create chop and cloudy days make visibility harder for the fish to see the baitfish they want to eat.
Pausing for a shorter time will give the fish less time to think and provoke a random attack as they chase baitfish around in poor visibility.
Now, on a still day where the surface is calm and the sun is out, the fish have the advantage as they can see clear as day. This makes eating bait fish a lot easier and there is no need for them to be rushing around chasing minnows at a high rate of speed.
In situations like this, it’s wise to have a long pause so the fish can be lazy and eat your jerkbait at their own speed.
Pause For Longer In Fishy Spots
When you cast out your jerkbait, there are probably going to be quite a few areas as you jerk it back in that you think are “fishier” than others. These can be places where you know there is depth change or when you’re bringing the jerkbait past a sunken tree where bass like to hold up.
When pulling your jerkbaits through these fishier areas, it’s wise to pause for longer as the longer your jerkbait is in the strike zone the more likely you are to provoke a bite.
This doesn’t mean you should do long pauses all the time though as you still want to cover ground, so just do it in areas where you think a fish will be holding up.
Work An Area With A Fan Of Casts
When you’re fishing a jerkbait, you will have picked a fishy area but you won’t know where exactly the fish are holding. The best way to cover all the fishy areas quickly and effectively is by casting in a fan-like pattern.
Your first cast can be to the left and then you can slowly make your way around to the right using say 10 different casts to make up the fan pattern.
Adjust For Water Clarity
If the water is clear where you’re fishing a jerkbait then you should speed up your snaps and pauses as the fish won’t go after a bait moving too slow when they can see so well.
But when fishing in dirty water, you need to give the fish as big a chance as possible to find your bait in amongst the terrible visibility. This is also a great time to use a jerkbait with a loud rattle so the fish can hear it as well as see it.
What Jerkbait Should I Buy?
The Best jerkbait lures are from Rapala, these quality lures are always proven to catch fish and their shape and design are perfect for catching bass, trout, and predator fish.
Some anglers get a little confused between a jerkbait and a crankbait. However, jerkbaits tend to be slightly longer and not as fat in their body shape. Typically, most crankbaits are shorter and have a more round shape.
One other main difference is in the number of treble hooks used. Jerkbaits will usually have three trebles and crankbaits have two trebles. Please note that this is not always the case, in fact, many Rapala Jerkbait lures only have two treble hooks!
Lastly, the bill changes the action of the baits in the water, crankbaits will dive deeper into the water due to their wider and longer bills. The shape of the bill varies from one lure to another and both lure types will be many shapes and also lipless.
Both jerks and cranks come in a variety of colors, shades, and patterns. Remember both these lures are mimicking an injured fish, so choose this color/shade/pattern criteria based around the minnow or fish that frequent the river or lake that you are fishing in.
Thanks for reading my article. I hope you found it useful and now know all the tips on how to fish a jerk bait as effectively as possible. It’s all about getting the initial technique down and then experimenting based on conditions and species.
Growing up fly fishing on trout streams in Kenya and the UK, Jamie has traveled the world in search of fly fishing nirvana. From his time managing bonefish lodges in the Bahamas and running fishing safaris in East Africa, all the way to guiding on the flats of Seychelles, there aren't many species or environments he hasn't experienced firsthand.