A few years ago, a friend asked me if I could show him how to navigate the upper end of Lake Palestine in preparation for a tournament he was about to fish. He always had a couple of hot, secret lures he was testing for some company. He produced a new bait called a Slug-go and explained this would create a new way of fishing soft plastic plugs in a style of fishing now recognized as jerkbait presentations.
To say that I was not impressed at first glance was an understatement. There were several reasons for my skepticism. The first was that if the concept worked, indeed a mental giant such as myself would have realized that Mr. Nick Creme's lure floated and had the general body contour of this bait. Thus I would have tried this technique if it had not been written in stone that you had to put a slip sinker in front of Mr. Creme's worm to make a hallowed Texas rig.
The second blow to my keen instinct was when he pulled the bait out of his worm pouch, which was bubble gum color. The comparison he offered was that this bait could be worked on top just like a Zara Spook, only made weedless by sticking the hook back into the bait. I was in the middle of a smart-aleck comment about having recently heard of pink bluegills in a lake poisoned by an influx of selenium when he rudely interrupted by catching a five-pounder.
I may be slow, but I can be taught and after initially gritting my teeth grew to consider jerkbaits and the various ways to use them as essential parts of my arsenal.
This bait still offers one of the best ways to work the top of thick weeds. Comparing the type of action you place on the retrieve to walking the dog side-to-side action of a Zara Spook isn't a bad concept to mimic. The other thing about using a soft plastic jerkbait is that you have a silent entry into the water for calm, clear days. There are times on these kinds of days when fish are very skittish, and a loud splash will work against you.
Jerkbaits can be rigged weedless as with any other worm, but depending on the hardness of the plastic, they may require a much greater pressure on the hookset than if the hook is punctured through the worm and partially pulled back into the body cavity. The other approach is to take the hook through to the barb and then bow the worm so that the point is stuck just into the skin on the back of the worm.
If you use a jerkbait as a countdown plug, try adding a small split shot several feet in front of the hook. You can change the bait's action on the retrieve and its actual angle of fall by inserting weights into the body. These are nothing more than pieces of straight nails, although you can buy the commercial version made of lead or bronze.
Lure companies have developed several modifications of the original tapered body. The first is the shad-type body style, where the front of the bait has an appreciably larger thickness that tapers to a thin tail. The other popular version offers a V-tail that both creates a flutter on the fall and acts as a rudder to guide the bait upward on the retrieve.
Interestingly, while the bodies of these two types are similar, subtle differences in action are particularly evident when you suddenly jerk the bait to the surface. Those with a V-tail tend to dart out of the water giving the appearance of a minnow racing to the top. On some days, this burst of speed triggers an aggressive reaction in the bass.
If you are like me, you may lean toward the minnow or shad colors in these baits but as noted with my friend's selection, bright colors such as bubble gum, chartreuse, and bright yellow, chartreuse, and white, work well when more contrast is needed. These include when fishing stained water, low-fight conditions (early and late), and in some instances when the vegetation is very thick, surface contrast helps the bass pick out a target.
The folks at Fish Arrow have introduced the Flash J Straight Tail Shad to their product line. This bait has a thinner body than the original Bass Assassin and has prism foil inserts within the bait to pick up and give off more flash. The bait certainly requires an ultra-sharp hook since the resistance presentation of the body makes the hook set more difficult than the body of worms and lizards that we are used to fishing.
One of the ways that I have found jerkbaits to be highly effective is on a Carolina Rig. The presentation style I use is different from most folks when fishing a Carolina Rig. One day I got the bright idea that if you work a jerkbait on top with a darting-swimming action like a Zara Spook, what would happen if I added some zip to the jerkbait when fished close to the bottom? While I couldn't pretend I'm quite as vigorous on the retrieve as when fishing on top, I nevertheless intentionally give the bait enough rapid action to make it dart and swim for several feet with each movement of the rod or uptake on the reel.
The technique works well if you get into schools working shad. If you get them to hit a French fry, think of it as a straight, shorter version of a jerkbait. Using a large-sized jerkbait rather than a short French fry, you will tend to get the larger bass in the school excited.
Another way you might try a jerkbait is as a flipping or pitching plug. The erratic action of these plugs on the uplift of the rod, as on the vertical fall, makes them an exciting alternative to lizards or more classical worms and jigs. This approach is instrumental in fishing pockets of vegetation and is best carried out by placing a split shot close to the eye of the hook or, to make it even more weedless, trying an oversized hook to give the additional weight. As noted, you can add a weighted insert (nail) in the head region or midsection to impart different actions during the drop or lift of this style of vertical fishing.
Most folks get locked in on one way of presenting a particular plug. In the case of jerkbaits, we often think of them as topwaters. If you work them like suspended plugs, they become like an oversized French fry with much more potential action. Think of your jerkbait when worked at the desired depth as a sinking Red Fin or Rogue. The advantage over the Red Fin or Rogue is you are using a weedless lure rather than one with two sets of trebles to snag weeds or brush. The same rule as to the importance of size applies to jerkbaits. You can get more strikes on shorter baits and typically fewer, but larger average, fish on the larger baits.
Whatever your preference for working with these universal plugs, you should have several colors and styles as part of your tackle box.
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