Jerkbaits are some of the most lethal lures in an anglers box. Their presentation comes as close to live bait as you can get, and when fished correctly, will entice reaction bites from trophy fish. The versatility of these lures is what makes them so attractive to anglers.
Whether you’re doing a straight retrieve or small downward twitches using a countdown minnow or an x-rap, you’re options vary, depending on water, time of year, and species.
But there are factors that make a jerkbait effective and several mistakes you may be making leading your bait to fall short of a good presentation.
A Straight Retrieve
Less action can be good, especially for finicky fish. Ripping an x-rap past a brush pile or rock wall may have a tendency to spook even the largest fish on the water. But that doesn’t mean no action is necessary.
Most jerk baits like the shadow rap and x-rap are designed specifically to imitate panicked movement. Many anglers new to these baits will use a straight retrieve while unaware of the benefits of imitating an injured minnow.
Always give a sharp jerk in your presentation followed by a pause. Allow your bait to sit, then continue the rhythm.
If you’re fishing in a current, cast out and let your bait hit the water and flow downstream into eddies and seams until your line becomes tight.
Then begin your twitch movement with your rod tip pointed down as you jerk and pause in the seams where fish like to hide. On the pause, your bait will flow with the current, adding a natural presence.
Keeping your movements short and fast with a long pause is the difference between ringing the dinner bell and spooking a fish.
A straight retrieve, especially with a large lure, will present your target fish with a meal too strong and healthy to chase. In other words- not worth the calories spent chasing.
Not Enough Twitch and Pause
You have to jerk and pause! This action is what a jerkbait is designed for. Consider the mind of a fish – if meal flashes and rolls and then stop on a dime, you’ve established that this is in fact food and it’s allowing you time and distance to close in and snatch it, and its often on the pause you’ll receive a large strike. Allow time to pass while on that pause and watch for your line to jump.
Not Matching the Hatch
Understand the water you’re on. Know the bait fish that are present, and understand feeding habits. Are they feeding on insects? minnows? crustaceans? Are they spawning and territorial? This is especially important when fishing for the smart ones that are keyed into a specific bait fish, nymph, or fish egg.
If you fishing for big rainbow trout, read up on whether there are shad, brown trout, etc., and match the hatch with a jerk bait resembling this. If you see smaller fry feeding on top water bugs, try to match said fry with a similar color pattern.
Also, size matters. There’s nothing wrong with sizing – up your baits but use discretion.
Cautious fish will be hesitant to strike on bait too big or too small. I’ve always had decent action using a Rapala countdown for deeper pools, especially when surrounded by large boulders and rock walls with a drop-off of 10+ feet, allowing me to fish the entire water column.