By friend and guest writer, David Roy

As winter fades away and mornings are welcomed with warm sunshine, anglers in the northeast get into a frenzy. It’s a good type of frenzy, though. Our delirious minds from cabin fever begin to dissipate and we scramble to get ready. We prepare our boats, organize tackle, spool up fresh line, and we PRAY to the Bass Gods that the remaining ice melts away. The anticipation of getting on the water to play with our green and brown aquatic friends is an adrenaline rush that only like-minded bass anglers will understand. 

While this is one of the most exciting times of the year for us, it can also be one of the most difficult times to fish. The bass are in that lethargic winter funk, and their metabolism needs time to adjust as the water temperatures slowly increase. That doesn’t mean they won’t eat, because they will. However, fishing at ice-out presents a different challenge that requires a different approach.

You need a bait that can cover water at a slow pace. A bait those cold, lethargic bass can find and have time to inspect because they won’t chase it. A bait that can trigger a reaction, and that core instinct to strike. It does exist, and it’s one of the most effective baits to get these seemingly non-committal fish to eat in cold water. It is the jerkbait. And jerkbaits in cold water are hard to beat!

A variety of jerkbait models
A very small sample of the myriad variety of suspending jerkbaits.

For decades, the jerkbait has been a proven cold-water bait for not only its ability to trigger a response, but also for its ability to target suspending bass. It is one of the most difficult techniques to dial in because it requires patience, attention, and action that is controlled by the angler. The cadence can vary in every cast, and the details cannot be overlooked. 

What is a Jerkbait?

A jerkbait is a slender, minnow-shaped hard bait with a lip that is dressed with two or three treble hooks. There are shallow, mid-depth and deep diving jerkbaits that can float, suspend or slowly sink. The variety provides the flexibility to fish from the surface down to as much at 15+ feet. Like other hard baits, there are silent and rattling jerkbaits, and they are typically offered in sizes that range from 3 to 6 inches. 

Don’t mistake a jerkbait for a crankbait, though. Yes, you can cast and retrieve it as you would a crankbait, but that won’t bring the jerkbait to life. A jerkbait is designed to have an erratic, side-to-side, darting action with the ability to completely stop and suspend. This action mimics a dying bait fish. The erratic movements mixed with sudden stops is what triggers a bass to react and strike. It’s sort of like teasing a dog with a stick. As you snap the stick in your hand, the dog will stay perfectly still. You can see and feel the dog’s anticipation. As soon as that stick leaves your hand, the dog will bolt for it and it’s game over. 

One of the MANY bass that David has caught in early spring on a jerkbait.

How to Fish a Jerkbait

The jerkbait comes to life through the actions imparted by the angler. Quick, downward snaps, and a pause between each series of snaps creates the erratic, side-to-side movements in a horizontal presentation. The most commonly overlooked detail is not paying attention to the slack line. The right amount of slack is critical to maximize efficiency in each cast. The rod snaps should rip through a slack line so the jerkbait can effectively dart side-to-side. If there is no slack, the downward rod motion will pull the bait causing it to swim. After each series of rod snaps, reel in most, but not all, of the slack. Leave some for the next rip after the pause. 

The most commonly overlooked detail is not paying attention to the slack line. The right amount of slack is critical to maximize efficiency in each cast.

David Roy

The cadence (or sequence) of darts and pauses can vary. It can change every few casts, or it can change throughout a single cast. Don’t be afraid to mix it up, and pay attention to what the fish are reacting to. The most common cadence is a mix of one, two, or three rod snaps followed by a pause. Allow the bait to suspend for a few seconds, and repeat the process. 

Pause times can vary. With jerkbaits in cold water – particularly in early spring – it’s not uncommon to let the jerkbait suspend for longer periods of time. Moving too quickly will not give the slow, lethargic bass enough time to come up to the bait to inspect it. On the contrary, pausing for too long could cause the bass to turn away. The amount of time the jerkbait suspends could be anywhere from 3-5 seconds, to as much as 20 seconds. Typically, as the water warms and the fish become more active, the pause time can be reduced and the bait can be worked much faster.  

Choosing the Right Jerkbait 

Choosing the right jerkbaits for cold water or for the right situation in general can be a bit cumbersome. Yes, match-the-hatch can apply here, but there are other factors that should be considered. The current, the targeted depth, and the type of cover play an important role in selecting the right jerkbait. The water clarity, the sun position, and the weather conditions are also important factors. There are hundreds of colors of jerkbaits, but the majority can be categorized into three color styles. 

Transparent colors are mostly clear when looked at on the side. They let more light through, and have a very subtle flash. Fifteen or more feet of visibility is not uncommon for many of the large glacial waters in the northeast. A transparent jerkbait is the most natural presentation for these ultra clear waters, and it can be very effective on bright, sunny days. 

The Megabass Vision OneTen in GP Pro Blue II, which is a great example of a transparent color.

For clear to moderately clear water, a more reflective bait is a good starting point. These colors will have a metallic type of finish and will be less transparent. As the bait darts, the metallic sides will refract light, and this flash creates attention that calls the fish. This can be a very productive color choice on overcast days.  

The Lucky Craft Pointer 100SP with a highly reflective finish!

Jerkbaits in an opaque finish, and sometimes obscenely bright finish can be highly effective in dirty, stained water. These bold, solid colors don’t allow any light to pass through and produce little to no flash, but they stand out in the water. In addition, a louder bait, and sometimes a larger jerkbait will create more presence and displace more water to attract the bass. 

The actual colors can be fine tuned to match-the-hatch to the angler’s preference, but these color properties should serve well in getting started. 

Where To Fish Jerkbaits

A great place to start with jerkbaits in cold water – and again particularly in the early spring – is any area that provides access to deep and shallow water. Not all bass retreat to deep water and hunker down in the depths during the winter. Bass will often suspend off main lake points, channel swings, ditches, ledges or bluff walls. The water temperatures in these areas are more stable throughout the winter and spring, and the bass can easily move between deep and shallow water as conditions change. Side imaging and standard 2D can help locate these areas quickly. Electronics will also help identify the thermocline and a general idea of a starting depth to fish.

If electronics are not an option, bathymetry maps do a great job highlighting these areas. The jerkbait is effective for suspending bass because it is one of the only baits that you can suspend at varying depths to target these fish. Long casts are necessary not just to remain stealthy, but also to get the jerkbait down to the targeted depth. If you can get the jerkbait to suspend above these fish, they will come up for it. 

David with yet another beautiful northeast largemouth bass caught on a jerkbait.

Secondary points can be productive areas for jerkbaits in cold water when water temperatures slowly rise in the spring. A secondary point could be any type of point, structure or cover that is inbetween a main lake point and shallow water. These secondary points are common pit stops for bass to rest and feed as they head for the shallow water to spawn in the coming weeks. Electronics can play to your advantage, as not all secondary points are visually obvious. Detailed imaging can help find an underwater tree, a rock pile, or a grass patch that you can’t see from the surface. FIshing a jerkbait around these points and over the tops of cover is extremely effective. 

Shallow flats can also be incredibly productive throughout the prespawn period. The term shallow is relative to the body of water, but in New England these flats are typically 10 feet or less. Bass love to roam in shallow flats for the abundance of grass, gravel, and other transition areas that hold bait fish. A good pair of polarized glasses can help you find these transition areas, and you’ll be able to make targeted casts to work the jerkbait efficiently. 

Gear Options for Jerkbaits

A 6’6″ to 7’ medium, fast or extra fast rod will work for the majority of anglers. A medium powered rod is important because most of these rods will load deeper into the blank and have a more parabolic bend. More often than not, in cold water, bass will slap at a jerkbait rather than fully committing and eating it. Jerkbaits have super sticky, sharp light-wire treble hooks because of this, but they can easily bend out or break. It is critical to have a rod that can stay fully loaded and keep those small hooks pinned while absorbing the head shakes of the bass trying to break free. 

Spinning and casting outfits both work for jerkbaits. While each type has its benefits, it’s all subject to preference and personal opinion. In most cases a 6:1 to 7:1 gear ratio is all that’s needed to reel in slack line during the retrieve. A reel that is too fast will make it harder to control the slack line. Regardless of the reel type, the most important setting on any reel is the drag. Locking down the drag will guarantee bent hooks and heartbreaks, so back off and let the drag and the rod do the work! 

Fluorocarbon lines are more dense and will sink. This will help get the bait down to the targeted depth and stay down when suspending. Fluorocarbon also has low visibility and low stretch. The low stretch will help get the right action out of the bait. In most cases, 7-8 lb fluorocarbon line on a spinning reel is ideal. The smaller diameter line is easier to manage, and will allow for longer casts, especially in windy conditions. For casting reels, typically 10-12 lb fluorocarbon works best. Monofilament or copoly line have an advantage in keeping the bait up higher in the water column and can be effective in shallow water.

Parting Thoughts

Don’t be afraid to experiment with different brands, colors, and sizes of jerkbaits. Try varying retrieves and mix up the cadence with every cast. Let the bass tell you what they want. Jerkbaits in cold water is one of the most difficult techniques to master, but it is the best bait to trigger a reaction in lethargic, non-committal bass in cold water. It can be one of the most rewarding ways to catch bass in cold water, and it is one of the best techniques to catch that PB in the early spring. 

Thanks for reading, and thanks for supporting the 603Bass team! I hope this blog post will help you put more fish in the boat this spring! Please follow @603Bass, @andrew_knowlton, and @nebassaddict on Instagram for more content this season! And remember, hook sets are free!

You can read more blogs here at any time, with more coming soon! If there are any other specific topics you would love for us to cover, let us know in the comments below!

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Bill Decoteau
Bill Decoteau
1 year ago

Excellent advise and spot-on for considering all the important options before tying on your jerk bait. Weather conditions always play a major part in both bass locations as well as you mentioned in the color an angler ties on. I have seen times when the sun was bright a translucent color produced, yet as soon as the sun went behind a cloud an opaque color was needed to entice the bites.
Thank you Dave for a clear and consistent Jerkbait article.

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