Okay, not an actual jerk. I’m talking about soft jerk baits. These are another type of bait that seems to have fallen out of favor, but will likely make its way back into tackle boxes. The life of many soft plastic baits is incredibly cyclical. We all jump on a bandwagon because, let’s face it, we’ve seen it work for someone else. That someone else is usually a pro who is catching more fish than we are. So we leave our staple baits to try something new.
For some reason, the soft plastic jerk bait has not made its way back as many others have, but it would not surprise me if more people than I am aware of actually use this bait on a regular basis. When I started fishing tournaments, I fished as a non-boater. I still fish out of the back of the boat sometimes. One of the things I like about soft plastic jerk baits is that they are versatile – more versatile than a hard jerk bait. And I do not have to deal with treble hooks. I sometimes find treble hooks a bit more challenging when I am fishing out of the back of the boat, but I know that is not the true for everyone.
The point of a soft plastic jerk bait is to mimic a injured or dying bait fish. I don’t get too caught up in colors. I always have white and black, but I also have had good results with a baby bass or bluegill color. With the white jerk baits, I often change them up a bit with garlic scented markers. I might make the tail chartreuse and put an orange kill dot under the head of the bait. Does that make a difference? I suppose there could be arguments either way, but at times it gives me more confidence, so the bait “works better.” As the old saying goes, “you have to catch the fisherman before you can catch the fish.”
Just like a hard jerk bait, a soft plastic jerk bait imitates an injured or dying bait fish – an easy meal for a bass on the prowl. Soft plastic jerk baits can be fished in a variety of ways. One of my favorite ways to fish it is to Texas rig it weightless. I normally use this when I am working over vegetation. It works well through lily pads and can also be worked quickly over grass, milfoil or coontail that may be holding fish. The bait will dart back and forth and make enough noise to alert the bass a meal may be coming its way. The sound of a dying bait fish overhead to a bass is like the jingling of the bell on the ice cream truck to an eight-year-old. They can’t resist it. I will let the bait fall into openings in the vegetation, much like one would with a worm.
When working weed edges or over breaks, I start with the typical, “jerk, jerk, pause,” cadence and vary it from there as I get clues as to what the fish want. This is one bait I will keep in the water while I am doing things like messing with my electronics or going for a drink of water. If a fish hits while I’m doing something else, I know I need a slower presentation.
Skipping docks is another good use of a soft plastic jerk bait. I let the bait fall on a bit of a slack line to give it a more life-like action. If I am fishing particularly deep docks, I might put a split shot on the line. There are many good quality lead-free split shots on the market. I use a split shot because it can be added to and removed from the line without retying as I go to fish different areas.
How about the old “ball and chain?” Soft jerk baits are great on a Carolina rig. Really, they can be fished in any situation you would fish a worm, as I mentioned earlier. Letting this bait fish imitation rise and fall behind a 3/8 to ½ ounce sinker can be a great tactic. For those who like to throw a Carolina rig (and I admit I should throw one more often), a soft plastic jerk bait can be just the difference needed to get big bass in the boat.
When fishing deep, I will use a swim bait hook on my soft plastic jerk bait. While this does change the action a bit, sometimes that is okay and, to be honest, I am not patient enough to let a weightless jerk bait fall into 15-20 feet of water. It can be used I any way I would normally use a swim bait, too.
Another way I like to use a soft plastic jerk bait is as a swim jig trailer. It has a little bit longer/bigger profile than a grub, for instance, and sometimes that bigger profile is what the fish want. It can be slow-rolled along the bottom or fished a little faster anywhere in the water column. I like to use them on crappie or bluegill colored jigs, but I will use them on a white or black swim jig, too, depending on water color. Again, I think it has a lot to do with what the angler is comfortable fishing.
I use a 3/0 or 4/0 hook when rigging a soft plastic jerk bait weightless or weighted. I have no issue using the smaller 3/0, but a 4/0 will help the bait fall a bit faster. It’s all about the fall rate, and I vary that depending on what the fish are telling me.
As far as line, again, I feel this is a versatile bait. Monofilament and braid float and fluorocarbon sinks. Mono-based copolymers will float. Fluro/Mono hybrids will sink. Personally, I do not give too much credence to that in any situation where I am fishing something weighted. The weight will make the bait sink, obviously. That is the reason for using it. Depending on the line diameter, it may make more of a difference, but I do not feel it is as important as when I am fishing weightless. I choose line for this application based more on what I am fishing. Fluorocarbon is not the best around rock. Braid will slice through grass and other vegetation where the others may not.
My go-to for soft plastic jerk baits is a 5”. I make a 5” and a 6”, but I have been throwing the five so long that I have not given the six a fair shake. I sell a good amount of 6-inch baits, so I know I will eventually break down and see what that is all about, but for now I will stick with the five-inch. It gets results. And I can’t argue with a bait that gets results… but what if …..