By Rick Lawrence
As the water cools in the fall, bass get the urge to put the feed bag on. In the lakes and rivers of the inland N.W. where I spend most of my time, this means Smallmouth’s are going to be looking up and feeding on a variety of baitfish. In the late fall, with the clear cold water (below 60 degrees) and upward-looking Smallmouth bass only means one thing. Its jerkbait time baby, as this creates the perfect scenario to load the boat with suspending jerkbaits.
Smallmouths are very visual feeders and in clear water they can see a jerkbait moving above from a long ways off. I like to cast up to shore and bring my bait from shallow to deeper water. I feel the most aggressive fish are either right on the current breaks or actively feeding on the flat. Those are the ones I want to catch first on the jerkbait as will be the most active. I will also throw a dropshot rig or a ned rig to catch some of the less aggressive fish. I mainly only fish for Smallies this late in the fall as they are stacked up on the current breaks in the river and are tons of fun to catch.
Water clarity is very important for jerkbait fishing; the clearer the water, the better. Water usually clears up as it cools anyway, but you really want to avoid dark-water environments with this presentation.
Another thing that’s important to keep in mind is that the colder the water temperatures are, the longer you should pause the jerkbait on your retrieve. If water temperatures are in the high 30’s, you might need to wait 10+ seconds with only slight pop in-between, before a fish is willing to commit to striking your bait. If temperatures are up in the 50’s, you may only need to wait a couple seconds with 2 or 3 hard twitches to get them to trigger. Experimentation is key, but keep this in mind as a general rule of thumb, and only move the bait with the rod tip and never the reel. I reel and twitch the bait at the same time, but I only use the reel to take up the slack. When you are twitching the bait you have to start and end with a slack line. This is how you make the bait dart erratically and when the bait pauses the bass see that as the act of a wounded dying minnow triggering the strike.
I test every jerkbait I fish no matter if it is a high-end bait or a cheap China knock off. Ninety nine out of one hundred baits will not perfectly suspend and can be tweaked a little to make it better.
Most jerkbaits will float up slowly and can be fixed by adding either one size larger hook or suspend strips. This is true of Megabass, Rapala or Luckycraft and you would think for the cost of some of these jerkbaits they would be perfect right out of the box. Most of the time thus is not the case and you have to add a little weight to get a perfectly suspending bait. Make sure when you’re testing a bait that has weight transfer steel balls that roll inside it that they are forward when testing it for balance. I use the Storm suspend strips a lot. These are thin strips of zinc with a self sticking back that you can use to easily tune your baits. You can find them online and most major sporting goods shops. They come in packs of 70 strips about 1” long by ¼” wide for around 8 bucks. I try to tune my baits in the water temp I plan to fish at because when the air inside of a bait gets colder it tends to lose buoyancy. So you might start with a bait that will suspend perfectly and after a few minutes in the water it will sink slowly. So try to make sure that bait suspends as close as possible to dead flat and not floating up or sinking down. If your bait floats slowly nose up, I add a bit of weight to the bottom of the nose of the bait. If it floats tail up add a little under the tail. About the only way to fix baits that sink, is to add smaller hooks and split rings if you can get away with it. If not I sometimes save those baits for when I need to fish a little deeper. Although that’s not ideal, as I would still rather fish a deep diving truly suspending bait over one that slowly sinks.
There are a lot of great jerkbaits on the market, but here are a few of my favorites. A Strike king KDV 300, Megabass Vision 110 and 110 plus 1, Rapala X rap and Shadow rap, and the Lucky Craft Pointers. I like to use only natural and transparent colors for these clear water conditions.
So get out there and find a good current break in about 10 to 15 feet of water and if you throw a properly suspending jerkbait you will be able to load your boat too.