by Justin Hoffman (c) 2001
Spinnerbaits, worms, jigs or crankbaits? When it comes to bass fishing, the angler has a wide range of baits to choose from, oftentimes too many. If you're like me, you buy every new lure and gizmo that comes on the market, causing tackle boxes to bulge, and wallets to shrink. There is, however, a bait that is still relatively new on the scene, and often under-utilized, yet produces bass of braggin' proportions. That lure is the soft plastic jerk, and it's the one bait I reach for when I want guaranteed results. Although this lure resembles nothing more than a lump of plastic to the naked eye, put it in the fish's world, and watch it dance and shimmy seductively, and proceed to ring the dinner bell loudly. By using the following techniques and tactics, knowing where to throw the bait, and by being willing to try something new, your bass angling success will increase greatly, and isn't that what every one of us is trying to accomplish?
What's a Plastic Jerk?
The plastic jerk comes in basically two forms: one that resembles an earthworm, such as the Berkley "Power Floatworm"; or one that resembles more of a baitfish, like the Kalin's "Super Floozy". All range in length between five and seven-inches, and most on the market use hand-poured plastic, although there is a difference between texture and suppleness between different brands. Most are quite narrow on the tail end, (in order to impart more action), and about twice the thickness on the front end. Quite a simple looking bait, but in the hands of an angler, can become a genuine bass slayer.
Where to Throw a Jerk
Dawn and early morning periods will often find bass cruising the shallows in search of food. If the day remains overcast or rainy, bass may spend the entire day in the shallows, while remaining quite active. It's during these periods that a plastic jerk really shines.
Early morning will find me slowly working the shoreline area, looking to intercept hungry bass. What you're basically looking for is water in the one to four-foot-depth, with some type of weed cover present. Largemouth bass are very much a weed-orientated fish, and will use vegetation in order to conceal themselves, and ambush prey. Look for inside weedlines, or irregular weed patches, just something different that might hold a fish. Instead of fishing a large area of lily pads, concentrate on isolated patches, or any pads away from the main group. Bass like to key in on cover that is a little different from the rest, and understanding and utilizing this knowledge, will pay big dividends.
Another dynamite spot to fish plastic jerks is in, and around, docks and moored boats. Largemouth will seek shelter under these objects, and there's nothing more appetizing to a bass than to see a life-like plastic jerk, shimmying and darting lazily by.
If the sun comes up, or you are starting to find the shallows devoid of largemouth, then move out to deeper water, and start fishing the flats. Basically, flats are the first area beyond the shallows that are generally uniform in depth and weed cover. Depths can range from three feet to 10 feet, yet since this presentation is relatively shallow, it is best to concentrate on water less than eight feet deep.
Over the last few years, I have discovered how tremendous this lure can be on the smallmouth bass population. Again, sticking to the shallows is your best bet, as long as there is rocks, boulders and a bit of weed thrown in. A technique I started using last year was actually sight fishing for smallmouth in the shallows. I would cruise around using my electric motor, and with the aid of my polarized fishing glasses, would actually spot fish first before throwing a bait to them. I would then either cast, or pitch, a plastic jerk to the spotted fish, and work the bait by him to entice a strike. Depending on the mood of the fish, they will either smash the bait the minute it comes into view, or slowly swim up to it to suck it in. Either way, it's a different dimension to fishing that elicits a lot of excitement, due to its visual nature, and "cat and mouse" strategy.
The majority of my fishing with soft plastic jerks is done with spinning gear, as I've found that this is the easiest tackle to throw these baits on, and also seems to suit this fishing style best. My personal preference is a medium-action, six-to-six-and-a-half-foot rod, with a fairly fast tip, yet lots of backbone. The fast tip helps you cast these fairly light baits out farther, and the added backbone helps greatly in hooksets, and landing these hard-fighting fish. I will usually match this up with eight or ten-pound-test monofiliment, depending on water clarity, or cover being fished.
There are times when I'll reach for a baitcaster, but only under certain conditions. If I'm faced with extremely heavy cover, or if I'm fishing docks or wood cover in very stained water, then I've found that the baitcaster can be an added advantage. It allows the use of heavier pound test line, and a stouter rod, in order to combat the added cover. Spool up with twelve to seventeen-pound-test-line, and remember to make adjustments to your cast control, in order to throw these lighter baits. Some baits, such as the "Big Gun", or the "Sluggo", are no problem to throw on baitcasting gear, however, the Berkley "Power Floatworm", may give you some trouble. Try the different baits available on the different setups, and see which you find easiest to work with, and the most comfortable to fish with. There is some debate over which are the best colours to use, and again, its best to let the fish dictate what they want. Fishing plastic jerks is a sight game 90% of the time, so it is best to choose colours that will be visible from far away. Bright yellow, pink and white are my top choices, yet if I'm fishing extremely clear water, and the fish seem spooky, then I may change to a more natural colour, such as grey, black or smoke. Try different clour combinations and see which ones work best for you.
The rigging of a soft plastic jerk is very straightforward and easy. My number one choice is an Owner offset worm hook, in either the 4/0 or 5/0 size, depending on the size of the bait being used. I very rarely use weight with these rigs, since I like to have a very slow and subtle drop. Depending on the cover you are faced with, you have the choice to either texas-rig the bait, or else leave the hook exposed. If fishing around heavy cover or docks, I usually find it best to make the bait weedless, although the heaviness of the cover, will be the ultimate deciding factor.
Techniques and Tactics
The soft plastic jerk is a lifeless bait in the water, relying on the angler to impart the action. There are many different varieties of retrieves, and it's best to try different kinds until you connect with a fish. Try using a high-speed retrieve with short jerks, mixed with pauses. If this doesn't pay off, change to a slow retrieve with long sidearm jerks. I have found that my most effective presentation, when fishing boats and docks, is to cast out and just let the bait slowly sink and flutter to the bottom. This "easy meal" seems almost irresistible to most bass, and there's nothing easier in fishing, than casting out and doing nothing.
I can't stress how important it is to wear a quality pair of polarized fishing glasses when using plastic jerks. Keeping your bait in sight at all times will help you see what the bait is doing, and whether a fish is close by, or already has it. Bass are notorious for grabbing your bait, and swimming off with it, often times without you knowing it. By maintaining eye contact, you will be able to spot these "light-hitting" fish, and can react with a positive hook set.
By taking the time to discover this new bait, and the techniques needed to fish it effectively, you will be on your way to becoming a more proficient bass angler. Fishermen will never stop buying every new lure that comes on the market, but hopefully by discovering this "secret" bait, bass fishing will become less of a guessing game, and more of a guaranteed result.
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