Jerkbaits for Winter Bass
It’s freezing cold outside and you’re convinced the bass fishing absolutely sucks right now. Your arsenal has been confined to slow-crawling boring jigs and soft plastics over endless rocks (just kidding they’re not boring) but it’s okay, we felt the same way until we picked up a jerkbait and changed everything about winter fishing.
Fishing a jerkbait (also known as a “ripbait”) in the winter months can be one of the deadliest, most effective techniques you can employ. Nothing mimics a weak, dying baitfish better than a jerkbait does and the erratic, flashy movement is irresistible to even the most finicky bass. We’ll take you through the ins and outs of winter jerkbait fishing so you can get out there and tear it up in the cold.
When & Where Should You Fish A Jerkbait?
There are a number of situations that make fishing a jerkbait more effective than your other lure options. When the water is in the mid 50s to low 40 degrees it’s the perfect time to throw a jerkbait and target bass that have slowed down dramatically. The most optimal situations are when there is a slight wind combined with clear water. The wind helps break up light on the surface making it more difficult for the bass to get a good look at your bait. Having clear water means the fish can locate your bait from farther away, helping you cover more water effectively. Don’t worry, if you bump into more stained water you can still fish a jerkbait with success by switching to brighter colors but we’ll get into that later.
The cold water conditions will push bass into deeper areas of the lake and you will most likely locate fish along shelves, lips, and any other areas with a decent vertical drop. Other promising locations include steep bank areas which you will find in most coves and creeks. Depth will vary by location but you should find the most success around 10-20 feet of water, sometimes even shallower.
The Proper Jerkbait Rod, Reel & Line
The right equipment is very important when fishing jerkbaits in general. If your reel is too slow it won’t pick up enough slack line and if your rod is too stiff you’ll risk ripping the hooks out of the fish’s mouth. Purchasing a designated setup for jerkbaits will allow you to achieve the best action out of your bait and land more fish.
Use A High-Speed Baitcasting Reel
We’d recommend a baitcasting reel over a spinning reel for jerkbait fishing. The benefits of a baitcaster include the ability to pick up slack line faster while allowing you to achieve a better jerking action. Any gear ratio speed around 7.1:1 is ideal for this situation.
Choosing The Right Jerkbait Rod
The choice of rod is more important than the reel when it comes to fishing jerkbaits correctly. There are a number of factors that you should consider when choosing a rod:
- The Right Length: A jerkbait-specific rod should be around 6’6-7’ in length. Anything over 7’ will hit the water during the “jerking” motion and a rod that’s too short will sacrifice both castability and overall rod action.
- A Solid Backbone: Although they may appear similar, this is not a crankbait rod. Your rod should have solid backbone for long-distance casts and give you enough power to set the hook if the fish happens to bite at the end of your cast.
- A Soft Tip: Even though you’re choosing a rod with lots of backbone, it shouldn’t be a complete broomstick. Having a soft tip will allow you to work the jerkbait properly and prevent you from tearing the hooks out of the fish’s mouth during a hookset. The bass will most often bite during a pause so the soft tip will act as a buffer when you sweep too hard out of reflex.
Choosing A Jerkbait
Now comes the more confusing part. With so many brands of jerkbaits on the market it can be difficult to focus on a select few. The action between brands can be completely different so it’s important to first understand what kind of action you want and what situation it’s good for. Some brands such as the Megabass Vision 110 allow the angler to get better action during a retrieve with short jerks and long pauses, whereas brands such as the Lucky Craft Pointer 100 have better action during long sweeps of the rod. The Pointer 100 stays on track better during sweeps whereas the Vision 110 will veer off occasionally and lose effectiveness. These are only two brands out of the hundreds to choose from of course, but it’s a clear example of how jerkbaits can be so different from one another. Here are a few of our favorite baits:
- 6th Sense Provoke 106DD
- Megabass Vision 110
- Lucky Craft Pointer 100SP
- Rapala Shadow Rap
- Spro McStick 110
Jerkbait Line Selection: Mono or Fluoro?
Line choice is also crucial to the action of your jerkbait, and fortunately it is rather simple. If your lure suspends completely and you’d like to keep that action, go with monofilament line since it floats. For your slow-sinking jerkbaits go with fluorocarbon – the sinking properties of this line match perfectly with the action of the bait. Fluorocarbon is also more invisible underwater, giving you the extra edge when dealing with finicky fish in clear water situations.
Jerkbait Color Selection
We know you’ve probably heard this a million times, but “match the hatch” is especially important when selecting colors for you jerkbaits. Since the bait will be paused for long periods of time, the bass will have the opportunity to get a good look at your bait before striking. Since winter is when bait die-offs occur, any natural shad or minnow pattern will work great, and in cloudy situations you can choose colors with a little more flash for extra effect. In cloudy or muddy water conditions go for brighter colors such as chartreuse and white or darker choices such as black and purple to stand out against the stained water.
Tweaking Your Jerkbait
Most jerkbaits will work perfectly fine straight out of the box, but there are always a few adjustments you can make to increase your chances of landing fish. Spending a little extra time and money can sometimes make or break your jerkbait fishing.
- Swap Out Stock Hooks: Stock hooks can be great but there is always room for improvement. Swapping stock hooks to ultra-sharp brands such as Owner and Gamakatsu will increase the chances of keeping fish pinned since they hit on the pause most of the time. Be very careful with the weight of your replacement hooks – if they’re too heavy they can cause your jerkbait to sink too fast or lose its suspending action.
- Add Weight If Needed: Sometimes a bit of slow sink action can provide more bites. A slow sink also allows you to fish your jerkbait at deeper depths, helping you cover a variety of situations. Lead tape such as Storm Suspendots are perfect for weighing down your bait just enough to help it fall slowly. Place the lead tape under your jerkbait near the head for a great nose-down dying action.
- Plus One: If you don’t want to use lead tape or if it’s too heavy, try adding a second split ring to the front hook for a tiny bit of extra weight. The extra split ring will provide just enough weight to keep your bait falling slowly while nose-down.
Jerkbait Fishing Tips & Techniques
Now that you have everything ready, it all comes down to how you fish your bait. Knowing what situation you are faced with can help you narrow down your retrieve selection and key in on the fish faster.
- After casting, use a downward twitching motion to work your jerkbait. Always twitch on slack line. This will cause your bait to dart more erratically and draw more strikes. The reel should only be used to pick up slack line before the next few twitches.
- If the water temperature is a bit higher (high 50s to low 60s) a more erratic retrieve is effective. Twitch your jerkbait 2-3 times between shorter pauses for the best results. You can also sweep your rod tip to the side every once in awhile to rip the bait forward and really grab the fish’s attention.
- When the water temperature is lower (low 50s to 40s or less) it’s time to slow things down. With a slow-sinking jerkbait, give 2-3 twitches and pause for longer periods of time, allowing the bait to slowly fall and mimic a bait fish on its last bit of life. These pauses can last up to 20 seconds or longer, but keep an eye on the depth you’re fishing and how deep you want your bait to sit.
Now get out there and brave the cold with your fresh jerkbait knowledge! If you have any suggestions regarding brands, modifications, etc. please let us know in the comments. Everyone will benefit from your valued advice. Tight lines, everyone!