The extra short 6′ baitcasting rod made an underhand roll cast from a raised casting deck platform easy, sending my pearl colored jerk shad towards my weedy target only inches above the water surface. Purposely, I overshot the open water pocket so as not to spook any bass from the lure’s splash entry. Instead, the soft textured five inch Berkley Jerk Shad plopped on top of a floating mass of tangled weeds. Pointing my rod low and off to the side a bit, I inched the bait forward until it eased into the open water pocket.After a momentary pause, I gave the bait several ultra short twitches by simply flicking my wrist. The low stretch super braid made the lure respond instantly with a lively zig zag flirt – first hard left, and then almost 180 degrees to the right. I followed that up with another pause as the lure continued to glide laterally. Just as it ran out of momentum and began to sink, and lunker largemouth exploded out from a corner of the pocket and engulfed the entire bait in one quick gulp! Instinctively, I set the hook with a hard sideways sweep and planted my thumb firmly on the reel. The big bass bulldogged downward into the thick weedy jungle, but miraculously the premium grade wide gap 5/0 hook held, as did the 20 pound test Stren Sonic Braid line.
Suddenly, the bass exploded upwards sending weeds and water spraying in every direction. Ceasing the moment, I lifted upwards on the rod and cranked as fast as I could. This action actually power cranked the big bucketmouth out of cover and into the clean open water near the boat. I immediately switched battle tactics forcing my rod tip low and backing off on the pressure. Now, by simply keeping a good bend in the rod and a low rod angle, the battle continued on my terms and within short order, it was safely in a landing net.
After a few quick photos, I released yet another of the many trophy class bass I have taken on this wonderful lure over the years. I will fully admit to you here and now that I am addicted to this style of fishing for bass. I’m certain you will be to once you try it. The art of casting soft jerkbaits, or jerk shads as some refer to them, over cover for bass is truly one of the best ways to tag trophy largemouths in shallow water, and definitely amongst the most exciting ways to fish overall. I simply can’t get enough of this kind of fishing and look forward to it each and every season.
Of course, both largemouth and smallmouth bass are quite readily available in shallow water throughout the year depending upon the lake, river or reservoirs make up. Spring time is without exception a period when hordes of bass are shallow no matter what the body of water, but I’ve also experienced many shallow summer and fall situations in shallow stained lakes and our great selection of rivers. Whenever bass are in the shallows, less than 10 feet, they can be very susceptible to jerkbait fishing. It’s a matter of recognizing first that the bass are there, and then giving this exciting method a try.
I wouldn’t hesitate to say that a jerk shad – rigged weedless with one large single hook – is among the most deadly of all bass baits for both smallmouths and largemouths I have ever fished. Some of my top trophies of both species have been taken on soft jerkbaits slithered across weedy jungles and brushy tangles. This includes largemouths in the 8 to 10 pound class, and smallies in that 5 to 7 pound range. Bass of both species simply can’t resist a soft jerkbait worked in a teasing, tempting manner through thick cover. It is absolutely deadly. There isn’t a year that goes by that I don’t tag at least one 10 pound class largemouth (in Florida) and a 6 pound plus smallie on this bait. It’s that good!
The right tackle matchups are key to success with this bait. Baitcasting gear and braided lines really help in the casting and manipulation of this lure. I’m sure you could get by with spinning gear as long as you still use a light braid (line) for lure manipulation. The braided line is key for this style of fishing due to its low stretch nature. Traditional monofilaments simply have too much stretch for this style of fishing. In addition, if the mono has any age on it, and has developed a coil set, it will make working a soft jerkbait just that much harder. Braided lines in the 12 to 30 pound range seem best suited for this technique. Braided lines almost never have a coil set to them, and they respond instantly to the lure with every twitch of your rod tip. In fact, many soft jerkbait anglers work their lures with nothing more than gunning their reel. They don’t even jerk the rod tip.
Occasionally bass may be “line shy” to braids, but surprisingly not as often as you’d think. More often than not, you can tie directly to a 4/0 to 5/0 wide gap single hook with braided line and not experience any “line shy” bass. This is particularly true in stained waters, but also seems to be the case in most cover situations. As soon as the bass locks up tight to cover, I assume the additional visuals of vertical and horizontal lines (weeds and branches) around them negate their ability to distinguish solid line textures. However, gin clear water bass will occasionally get “line shy” to a solid braid (line). Whenever you experience this, simply tie on a 3 to 4 foot leader of 100% fluorocarbon or mono
Jerk shad color is a subject all in itself. The actual color of the soft jerkbait you use not only depends upon what the fish want, but also what you can see. So much of jerkbait fishing is a visual, sight related thing. Wearing good polarized sunglasses, I nearly always opt for a highly visible color such as pearl, pearl/chartreuse, or a color called “ice” which is pearl with a silvery metal flake back. I choose these colors initially because I can see them well. This enables me to watch the lure react to various rod manipulations. It also allows me to place the lure exactly where I want it, and work it perfectly near cover.
Dark colored jerk shads do have their time and place. I use darker color patterns when bass follow the higher-vis versions or strike short. Whenever bass are reluctant to chomp on brighter hi-vis color patterns, a switch to much darker hues usually does the job. This is also where those new translucent natural baitfish colors make the difference. In fact, one of the key times I have seen bass ignore hi-vis, hi-flash soft jerkbaits is when they are in a cruise mode in gin-clear shallow water. Whenever you encounter bass that are not set up inside cover, and are simply swimming across shallow flats, go to these darker translucent natural baitfish tones and you’ll usually get some positive reactions.
I am a big fan of lateral action on these lures combined with a teasing pause. The trick to working any soft jerkbait is the combination of short snappy jerk at the rod tip followed by a pause with some slack line. The slack line allows the soft jerkbait to sweep laterally to the side. A subsequent jerk followed by slack line will sweep the lure in the opposite direction creating a zig-zag effect. Keeping the line too taut, negates this zig-zag action. A lateral zig-zag motion combined with lengthy pauses near cover is often irresistible to most bass. However, there are also those times when bass really get excited about a fast, but constant back & forth zig-zag. This also triggers a lot those cruising bass on occasion when a slower retrieve produces nothing. Don’t hesitate to try an extra fast zig zag on these cruisers.
Rigging jerk shads is fairly simple. Run the hook point about a 1/4″ thru the nose of the jerkbait and out thru the bottom. Then, continue to pull the hook shank thru this small portion of plastic until the hook eye buries inside the nose portion of the plastic. Finish it up by reversing the hook position (180 degrees) and insert the hook point into the body of the lure until it protrudes out the top (back) of the lure. Then, simply move the hook point back towards the body of the lure and catch the very tip of the hook point back into a tiny bit of plastic. This makes it completely weedless. I also like to make sure the lure is fairly straight when the rigging is complete with a slight upward, banana-shaped crook. This banana-shaped crook seems to accentuate the side to side, zig-zag action. A banana shape on a fully rigged jerk shad has way more action than a perfectly straight one.
Fishing these jerk shads is just plain fun. The combination of visual lure observation during the presentation along with actually seeing many of the strikes occur, is nothing short of awesome. It’s a super deadly way to trigger shallow water bass. As soon as you try it, you’ll be as hooked as I am.
Joe Bucher is the Editor Emeritus for Musky Hunter Magazine and one the most highly recognized multi-species fishing and hunting authorities in the outdoor business trade. Joe is the host of Fishing with Joe Bucher TV show which has been on the air for over 20 years. For more information on Joe please visit his website at www.joebucher.com