March 02, 2021 6 min read

jerkbait fishing for bass

Jerkbait Fishing For Bass

Jerkbait setup, what size jerkbait for bass, and what seasons they work best in.

How to Fish a Jerkbait

A jerkbait is a minnow-shaped fish lure with a horizontal presentation. Retrieving it straight makes the lure swim in a shimmying motion. This can catch fish, but where a jerk-bait shines is when you snap-pause it for an unpredictable, darting action that makes bass crazy.

Basic Jerkbait Retrieve & Technique

  1. Let's start with the rod pointing down at 4 o'clock.
  2. Next, snap the rod downward, so you've got some line slack when you snap it downward.
  3. Now, return the rod to the 4 o’clock position and reel in enough line to account for the distance you have traveled.
  4. Take your time. Let the lure dart a bit, so don't pull too much line.
  5. Repeat steps 1 to 5 with pauses. For example jerk-jerk-jerk-pause ... jerk-jerk-jerk-pause ... and continued.

Vary The Retrieve

There are multiple ways of fishing jerkbaits. Some prefer a sideways, rather than a downward, snapping retrieve. Mixing up your retrieve mechanics might prevent arm fatigue. When trying a different retrieve, throw in a short cast and watch the lure's action.

Tweaking your retrieve style and cadence is also a good tactic when fishing different models, such as shallow, mid, or deep-diving jerkbaits. Instead of using the typical twitch-twitch-pause retrieve, change it to a pull-pull-pause routine for this bait, you don’t want to rip it as much as pull it. It’s a subtler bait.

Colder Water Pause Longer

Try jerking a jerkbait and pause it for different lengths according to fish mood and activity level. In general, the warmer the water, the faster the retrieve, the more aggressive it snaps, and the short the pause. I tend to slow down in cold water. Being assertive can be helpful, but extend the pause between the snaps.

When the water temperature is really cold in early spring pausing a jerkbait for over 20 seconds can draw a strike form some of the largest bass around. There is something about a jerkbait just resting in the water column that drives giant bass crazy.

Fish The Conditions Of The Day

I'm a serious jerk-jerk-pause guy. I start that, and if it doesn't work out, then I start trying different cadences. You've gotta let the day decide what the pace for your retrieve should be. On a cloudy, sunny, windy day, you don’t need a long pause. But when the wind isn't great, I like the pause longer.

It's important not to get stuck in a rut here. Start with a retrieve cadence that's worked before, but be willing to change until the bass start to bite.

Keep The Bait In The Strike Zone

When slowing down a jerkbait retrieval and extending the pause, the bait stays in the strike zone for a longer period of time. It’s a strategy when fishing a suspending LUCK-E-STRIKE RICK CLUNN STX JERKBAIT for pre-spawn bass that aren’t feeding aggressively but are hanging in 8 to 12 feet of water. When fish are in 12 to 18 feet, try the deeper-diving SMITHWICK SUSPEND SUPER ROGUE and add some weight to the body.

If your getting too many followers, then you probably need to speed things up and not give a fish enough time to really look at the bait. You don’t need to milk a bait all the way back to the boat in every situation, the goal is to stall a bait in the strike zone to trigger a bite, but to keep covering ground by working it faster through less productive patches of water.

Types of cover to stall your jerkbait by include visible targets, such as a standing tree, as well as balls of bait and fish seen by scanning around the boat using Garmin’s Panoptix LiveScope.  

As the water warms, speed up the cadence, but when you get into the strike zone let the bait pause, probably longer than you would ever think too!

where to fish jerkbaits

Where to Fish Jerkbaits

Floating and suspending jerkbaits will catch fish in just about any type for cover, so long as the bait can reach the fish. Here are a few spots to try out:

  • Rocks and points: Use different casting angles to cover these areas.
  • Sand and grass: Cast your bait near the tops of vegetation over the light-dark edges.
  • Ledges: Fan-cast to cover a range of depths, with the bait perpendicular to the break.
  • Around dock pilings: Don’t be scared to cast around pilings.
  • Open water: Fish near fish that are actively feeding.

Water Clarity Matters

When selecting a jerkbait, always considers the bass visibility whenever choosing a lure. The Smithwick Rattlin Rouge jerkbait is a bait that has a deeper-running action than traditional jerkbaits, so it’s better when there is wind or darker-water conditions. I like the Smithwick Rattlin Rouge for clear, deeper water, the bait gets down a little bit deeper and it helps draw more strikes.

Have An Army Of Jerkbait Styles


Typically, bass love 3- to 4-inch jerkbaits. However, trophy bass will love jerkbaits that are longer than them, so don't be afraid to experiment.

Bait Diving Depth

A jerkbait should float over fish, not on top of them. To reach fish of different depths during the area I recommend carrying shallow, medium, and deep-diving (more than 7 feet) jerkbaits.

Floating, Sinking or Suspending

When fishing shallow cover, use float-models. Pause, let the bait rise, then swim it over the cover. Snap, pause, and float the jerkbait to create ripples that mimic a struggling minnow.

Suspended models maintain their depth even when they're paused, but they're not motionless. A quality jerk bait rocks, tips, or rolls on pause. These little movements captivate bass and produce hits.

Sinking jerkbaits are used to probe deep water of any depth. A sinking model creates the illusion of a dying fish, which no bass can resist.

Plastic or Balsa Jerkbait

Many modern jerkbaits are made of durable plastic, and the manufacture can be creative with profile and characteristics like rattles and weight-transfer systems for long casts.

For instance, the Rapala Shad Rap has an insanely fast action, then a slow rise, all before it barely lifts its head.
Balsa wood lures didn't go out of style, pro bass anglers are still very into the wood. Its irregular grain can give the lure a one-of-a-kind action, which is very hard to replicate.

One of the biggest problems with balsa baits is that they can be tricky to cast into the wind and oftentimes require a spinning rod.

Rattles or Silent

Rattling jerkbaits cover water and attract bass; sound triggers strikes. But for inactive or stressed bass who've seen dozens of rattling jerkbaits, a silent jerkbait can be really effective. Have both of them in your tackle box, and experiment with both till you find the best performing bait.


Natural patterns like shad, shiner, and perch are good. Anglers should also vary their baits with glitzy designs including clown or chartreuse-heavy lures. At times, these paint jobs will entice bass.

A great rule of thumb to use when choosing the best jerkbait to throw is...

"the brighter the day, the brighter that bait"

jerkbait tricks

Special Modifications and Lure Craft

  • Add weighted lead dots or strips to a bait's lip or belly to adjust its buoyancy. A slow, paused jerkbait is important to fish, especially when water temperatures are below 55 degrees.
  • Add Weight: Make sure jerkbaits stay suspended by trying different split rings and hook sizes.
  • Add a feather-dressed treble hook to your rear for action. On some days, simplicity makes a huge difference.

What type of fishing line should I use for jerkbaits?

  • 15- to 20-pound-test braid is common
  • Perfect for long casts in clear water.
  • The thin-diameter line helps the jerkbait dive deeper.  
  • Long-lasting no-stretch properties provide the most leverage from rod snaps with minimal fatigue
  • If you use braid, you need a strong rod and loose drag to counteract the lack of stretch in the braid and prevent hooks from straightening or pulling away during the fight.
  • Add a fluorocarbon leader. This will help you keep the jerkbait from getting tangled with the braid during the retrieve.
  • 8- to 14-pound is best
  • An excellent all-around choice, if you don't like to tie leaders.
  • Sinking properties cause the lure to dig deeper
  • Stiffness helps the rod snap for good bait action
  • Almost invisible underwater; great for fish that are line-shy.
  • 8- to 14-pound is best
  • Floats, making the lure swim shallow; a good choice for skinny water
  • Stretchy, it provides cushioning during fights to help hooks stay buried.
bass caught in a pond on a jerkbait

Best Jerkbait Rods

Most anglers have the best luck with casting a jerkbait on a baitcaster setup. Here are the options to weigh when shopping for the best rods for jerkabit fishing:

  • Medium-powered rods with 6’6" to 7’ lengths are popular.
  • Most anglers can use downward rod snaps with these lengths because the tips won't touch the water.
  • Fast- or extra-fast-action is important.
  • The blanks need to be responsive so jerks get transmitted, but cushion quickly so hooks go deep during the fight.

Our favorite rod for jerkbait fishing that won break the bank is the Lews Mach 2 Series. Check it out here.

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