The water temperature is down, the bass are not feeding real well right now, and techniques to get them to bite can be hard to come by. One of my favorite ways to fish cooler water is with a hard jerkbait, but this is not a renowned bait in Florida waters.
A hard jerkbait is a hard-bodied lure with a short diving lip. There are are also soft jerkbaits, which are soft plastic lures that have a pointed or split tail. A soft jerkbait is a great summer lure. Rig it weedless and fish it right through the heavy stuff. But a hard jerkbait is another thing entirely.
I used to go up to Wisconsin in May to fish a big smallmouth tournament out of Sturgeon Bay. This is where I really learned an appreciation for fishing the hard jerkbaits. That stop-start retrieve while the bait maintained its depth was irresistible to the smallies. I decided to try it out on the waters down here the minute those water temperatures dropped below the 70-degree mark.
What makes the hard jerkbaits so good for bass fishing is the erratic movement they make, followed by a sudden stop. You can make the bait move as much as you want by how hard you jerk the rodtip. Little jerk, little movement. Big jerk, big movement. It’s up to you.
One thing I have learned about the bait’s movement is that largemouth bass like a slow twitch when the water is cooler. As the temperature of the water picks up, they start to feed more aggressively. Then that movement can go from a slight twitch of the rod to a tug or sharp jerk to make it move more.
I do have some favorite go-to jerkbaits. The Rapala Husky Jerk is probably my top pick. A few quick jerks gets the bait down to the depth you want it. Once there, you can apply soft twitches to the rod tip during your retrieve to give that bait some very subtle action. Rapala makes a couple of sizes of Husky Jerk. I like the 4-3/4-inch model — it’s a great size to mimic most bait fish in the Florida lakes.
When bass are sluggish, they will not feed aggressively. Therefore, you want that bait to stay in the strike zone as long as possible. A suspending hard jerkbait gives you that. They don’t immediately float back to the surface when you stop them. Rather, they will sit still and even spin in place a little bit, offering an action that you can’t get with most baits.
The key to catching bass on these baits is the pause in the retrieve. Twitching or jerking the bait will get their attention, but the pause is really the way to get the strike. However, that pause can be tough to figure out. My rule of thumb is to make the bait move quicker on my first few casts in an area, then make the pause longer on each cast to see if that draws a strike. Once you start getting bit using this technique, you will know how long to pause your bait in other spots you fish.
The biggest issue when fishing this bait is that it’s not vegetation-friendly. It’s awesome if you can control the depth of the bait and fish it over the top of the weeds, but with two treble hooks on this bait, it can be it difficult to fish if you get it down into the vegetation. It simply does not tear through grass or hydrilla the way a Rat-L-Trap will.
However, fishing this bait on the edge of the weeds can lead to some awesome results. Also, if you can find some deeper water near vegetation where bass may stage before and after the spawn, this bait can be a deadly choice.
Bass are very aggressive prior to the spawn, and a bait they can see and target will often work wonders for you. After the spawn, bass will get a little lethargic and be somewhat worn out from the breeding ritual and brood care. An easy meal for them is always in order, though, and a slow-twitched jerkbait can be just the thing to get those bass going during that time.
Remember this: The reel should never be what drives your retrieve. The twitch or jerk of the rodtip is your engine for your retrieve, and the reel does nothing more than crank up the slack. If you don’t use this method, you will not get the true action of the bait.
Most anglers in Florida who fish for bass probably don’t even have one of these baits in their tackle box. If you don’t, you may want to pick one up and give it a try. You may be surprised with the results. This is the perfect time of year to be fishing a hard jerkbait, and I never go without having one tied on when the water is cooler.
Greg Bartz is a tournament bass fisherman based in Lakeland. Greg fishes lakes throughout Florida’s Heartland and enjoys RV travel around the Southeast with his wife and tournament partner, Missy. Contact him at Greg.Bartz@SummitHoldings.com.