A Complete Guide to Fishing Jerkbait

How to Fish jerkbait

Fishing is one of the most unique experiences in life, as there aren’t many activities that combine long periods of absolute serenity with short bouts of adrenaline-pumping action. Whether you’re out on the water chatting with friends or if you’re fishing on your own, you’ll want to be sure that your tackle box is filled with the right gear.

Bass fishing is one of the more complex forms of fishing, but it’s also incredibly popular, with a wide range of baits to choose from for your particular situation. If you’re a beginner fisher, then you may be having some trouble picking out the right kind of bait for your needs, and we’re here to help make the choice simpler.

Today, we’re going to explain everything that you need to know about jerkbait and how it differs from other kinds of bait. In our guide, we’ll first go over what jerkbait it and its defining characteristics. We’ll also go over the different types of jerkbait and how they differ from each other.

Of course, no bait guide would be complete without a section on how to use that bait, and that’s what we’ll be discussing after we explain the nuances of jerkbait. We’ll go over how you should throw them by addressing the most common depths at which jerkbaits are used.

Keep in mind that jerkbait isn’t as versatile as some of the other options when it comes to depth, so you have a pretty narrow margin in which you’ll want to use one of them. If you’re looking to fish a bit deeper I would recommend checking out my article on fishing crankbait.

After this, we’ll take some time to discuss which rods and reels you should be using to get the most out of your jerkbait.

Beyond the best rods, lines, and reels to use with jerkbait, we’ll go over some general tips about fishing with it; things that beginners may not know. Getting the right technique down for jerkbait can often be a challenge, because of the unique way that it’s fished, so we’ll help you work it out.

Keep in mind that fishing is an intensely personal matter, and a lot of people have their own way of doing things. If your jerkbait fishing techniques differ from the ones that we describe in this guide, that doesn’t mean that what you’re doing is wrong. As long as it gets you fish, you know you’re doing something right.

What is Jerkbait?

Jerkbait Fishing

Keep in mind that there are two distinct kinds of jerkbait that will alter their characteristics, but we’ll get to their distinctions later in this section. Jerkbaits of both types feature a few aspects in common, and these are the things that set them apart from other kinds of bait.

Jerkbait is usually a lot thinner than comparable forms of bait, making them look like a vulnerable target for any bass that are on the same level as them. Since jerkbaits float so high, many fishers wonder how they differ from top water lures, and there are a few distinctions.

The most notable difference between a jerkbait and a top water lure is that the former will trigger the bite while still underwater. Of course, the most striking difference between a jerkbait and other kinds of bait is the way they are fished, and you can get a good idea of how they work through the name.

As you would expect, the best way to fish a jerkbait is using short, jerky motions that will make the bait look more like tasty prey for the bass. While there are a few things that will determine whether or not bait is jerkbait, the main determining factor is the way that it’s meant to be used.

One of the best things about jerkbait is that it’s effective for almost any season because you have so much control over it. Of course, this also means that the effectiveness of jerkbait is nearly entirely dependent on how good you are at using it, which means that there’s a relatively high skill curve.

When looking at hard and soft jerkbait, the most common one is the hard variety, and that’s what many fishers consider to be the original form of it. Soft jerkbait is a relatively recent innovation, but let’s look at both of them so that you have an idea of what to expect.

Hard Jerkbait

Fishing With My Hard Jerkbait
Fishing With My Hard Jerkbait

Hard jerkbait’s most obvious distinguishing factor, when compared to the soft alternative, is that it features a diving lip, which can come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes. While many beginners are intimidated by the idea of setting the diving lip angle, it’s essential to ensure that the hard jerkbait drops properly.

Keep in mind that hard jerkbait also tends to feature around two or three treble hooks, though they’re smaller than the treble hooks that you’ll find on other kinds of bait. As with all types of jerkbait, hard ones float high, and they tend to maintain the depth when you stop reeling them.

Since they usually float in place, hard jerkbaits will usually look like bait fish, which is how they tend to lure the bass in. This is also why they feature a long and slender shape, much like that of a fish. The majority of hard jerkbaits tend to feature a one-piece design, though there are some that feature joints.

As you would expect, the exact design of a jerkbait depends on the company that manufactures it, and some of them are better at certain things than others. We won’t be going over the differences between jerkbait makers today, as that would be enough for a whole other article.

Hard jerkbait also tends to be a lot more durable than the soft alternatives, so if you want a lure that’s going to last a long time, then opt for one of them. Hard jerkbaits can be made out of a range of different materials, including plastic, wood, and other synthetics, and their durability will often depend on what they’re made out of.

Soft Jerkbait

Soft jerkbaits are probably nothing new for relatively young anglers, but some of the more experienced ones may remember when they weren’t quite so common. When compared to hard versions of jerkbait, these lures tend to be more colorful, and they tend to vary quite a bit more when it comes to performance.

This variation in their effectiveness is due to their dependence on the material that they’re constructed of and how it looks. Soft jerkbait tends to come in a much wider variety of colors and plastic types than the hard kind, so you’ll need to find the one that works for you.

Since soft jerkbait is often a little more specialized than the hard type, it can work much better in certain situations, though you’ll also need more fishing knowledge to make good use of them. Soft jerkbaits have a few advantages over the harder variants.

One of the main benefits of the soft form of jerkbait is that it can be a lot faster than the hard variant. If you tend to jerk your line around a lot and you need the lure to be more hydrodynamic, then soft jerkbait is likely the best choice. Despite their high speed, these lures tend to sink slowly.

Soft baits also move more erratically than hard ones, which makes them look more like fish. They move less uniformly than hard jerkbaits because they’re lighter, so they’re a lot more prone to being driven by water currents and small tremors that make their way down the fishing line.

Since soft jerkbait features a smoother texture than the hard variety, you’ll also find that it makes them look more natural underwater, ensuring that bass are more likely to bite them. When the bass inevitably do bite, they’ll also hang on for a longer time, allowing you to properly set your hook.

Unfortunately, soft jerkbait also has a few key disadvantages when compared to the harder variety. As you would expect, their soft construction means that they’re less resistant to damage than hard lures, so you’ll likely have to replace them more often, which is a disappointment if you’re on a budget.

Soft jerkbait is also more likely to cause a twist in your line as you fish because it typically moves around so erratically. If you’re going to be fishing with soft jerkbait, make sure that you keep a close eye on the movement of your line so that you don’t end up having a tangle to deal with.

Overall, soft jerkbait has a few key advantages over the hard variety, and it’s typically preferred by more skilled fishers if it’s available. As we mentioned, you’re going to have to be willing to pay a little bit more when you fish with soft jerkbait, as you’ll have to replace your lures far more frequently.

How to Use Jerkbait

How to Use Jerkbait

When you use jerkbait, you have to keep in mind that it’s a reaction lure. It is meant to first attract the bass, as it features a similar profile to a shad, which is one of the bass’ most common prey. Once the bass’ attention has been caught by the lure, it will likely strike quickly, improving the jerkbait’s effectiveness.

As you can see, this is the second advantage to jerkbait: it’s triggering capability. Knowing these two aspects, you have to do your best to ensure that you can take full advantage of them. Since jerkbait floats high, you can take advantage of this with some strategic splashing to attract attention.

A splashing jerkbait will attract attention from bass that are far out, so if you have any fish in your general area, you won’t have to be precise on the toss as with other lures. You’ll also want to consider the depth at which you fish, as jerkbait is designed to ride high in the water.

If you’re planning on doing any fishing at a depth lower than ten feet, then you should opt for something other than jerkbait in all except for a few outlying situations. If you’re in a pinch, you can sometimes go a little deeper with it, but you won’t be using the bait to its fullest, and bites will become rarer the deeper you go. This is where crankbaits can have a slight advantage over jerkbaits.

Top water and between one and three feet tend to be the zones of most success when using jerkbait, because you take full advantage of how they draw the bass in. When the bait is higher up in the water, it will be easier for the bass to see because of how much more light there is available.

As we mentioned earlier, fishing near the top with jerkbait allows you to take full advantage of jerking it around, as it will splash and draw even more attention. Of course, if you’re working with open water that’s relatively clear, you can go down to ten feet without a meaningful loss in visibility.

Due to this, jerkbait is primarily used in clear water, though some makers produce jerkbait with brighter features for low visibility. While this will work in a pinch, if you know that visibility in the water is going to be poor, then you should opt for a different kind of lure.

Thanks to all of the treble hooks on these lures, you’ll typically want to try and hook fish that are out of cover. If you go in where there are obstructions around the bait, you’ll have to deal with the two or three treble hooks getting caught on everything except for the fish.

If you’re working with top water, you’ll want to make sure that your movements aren’t too jerky, as you’ll want to slowly work the lure around so that you don’t scare off any fish. When it’s near the top, bass will often take a little more time to examine jerkbait beforehand, so you’ll want your movements to look relatively natural.

Jerkbait Fishing Tips

If you’re wondering how to get the most out of your jerkbait, this section should help you out. This is the part of our guide where we group together tips about how to fish with jerkbait. Keep in mind that these tips will mostly be unrelated to each other, but they’ll come in very handy for readers that don’t have much experience with them.

Move the Rod Downwards

Instead of sweeping your rod horizontally or vertically, to get the most out of your jerkbait, you’ll want to be sure that you’re moving it downwards. Downward strokes with the fishing rod will help keep your lure at the right depth, as depth (or the lack of it) is everything when working with jerkbait.

Make sure to make quick movements when you begin your retrieve, and you’ll want to take pauses in your motion to help keep the lure at the ideal depth. Remember that jerkbait features neutral buoyancy, so you won’t need to counter a tendency to sink or rise, as with other lures.

Wait Until the Water Temperature Drops

If you’re fishing in water that’s around 40 degrees Fahrenheit, then it’ll be cold enough to have killed a lot of the shad in the water. This means that they’ll float up to the top before they sink, making for easy pickings for any bass that’s sitting in the area. Learn to imitate the shad in their death throes to get a lot more bass to bite.

Unlike most other motions with jerkbait, you’ll want to be very delicate when you’re trying to convince the bass that your lure really is a dying shad. Slight quivers in the line will give the most convincing look to your lure, but moving it around too much can kill the illusion.

Line Slack is Essential

If you want to make your jerkbait look as convincing as possible, you’re going to want to give the line a little bit of slack. Add slack just before the downwards jerking motion and also right after you’re done with it. This will make the lure’s movement a little more erratic, and therefore more believable.

As always, you’ll want your jerkbait to closely mimic the movement of the shad that’s it’s based on, and they don’t exactly have an orderly way of moving around. If you catch yourself starting to fall into a pattern, you have to remember to keep changing up the frequency of your sweeps.

Don’t be Afraid of Changing Your Line

While a lot of anglers may argue that a particular line works best for them, you’re better off learning how to use various types of line so that you can specialize it based on the situation. Copolymer is often an excellent choice for jerkbait because it will further enhance the suspension of the lure.

Of course, if you’re trying to catch things around ten feet deep (near the limit of the jerkbait’s effectiveness), you’ll have to opt for a bit of a thicker line. This is when you’re better off opting for fluorocarbon, or another similarly heavy line, as it will allow the lure to sink faster and further.

Always Look for a Windy Spot

Jerkbait is made a lot more efficient when you fish in a windy area, as it will make it harder for the bass to tell the difference between your lure and a real fish. Since the water will be pushed around by the wind, it will cause the sunlight to ripple, making it harder for the bass to see details.

While you typically want as much visibility as possible when you use jerkbait, the lack of clear sunlight ensures that the bass can still see the lure without noticing that it isn’t real. Toeing the line between good and poor visibility is one of the best ways to get the most out of your jerkbait.

The Color of Your Jerkbait is Important

Jerkbait Color Matters

While it may be tempting to go out and get the flashiest jerkbait on the market, you’ll sometimes find that more subdued colors work out better. On clear days, you’ll typically want to go with something that’s a little more transparent so that the bass won’t notice something out of place.

However, when the visibility drops, you should instead try and use matte lures that will more easily draw the attention of the bass. In the worst visibility, we would recommend using jerkbait that is metallic gold, as that tends to draw the attention of bass from far and wide.

Don’t be Afraid of Going Near Cover

While we mentioned that you should typically stick to open water when using jerkbait earlier on, there are a few exceptions to this rule. When the weather gets colder, bass start to huddle around cover as it will more easily retain heat, so you can sometimes get results when fishing around it later on in the season.

When you’re using jerkbait near cover, you can go a little further with the depth, sometimes taking it as low as 20 feet, though you’ll often want to stay around 15 feet. Of course, you’ll have to be careful so that you don’t end up getting any of the hooks stuck on nearby cover.

Maintain Discipline When Pausing

Pausing is one of the most important parts of using your jerkbait properly, and a lot of anglers let their impatience get the best of them during this crucial time. Depending on the temperature of the water and the activity of the bass, you’ll need to adjust the amount of time that you pause for.

When bass are active, you’ll usually want to pause for between three and five seconds, but when the water temperature drops to the 40s, you can up that count to around seven seconds. Finally, when the water is in the low 40s, you can take as long as ten or fifteen seconds before moving the line again.


Thank you for taking the time to read through our complete guide to jerkbait and how to use it. We hope that we’ve been able to properly summarize this type of lure for you, as using jerkbait takes a bit of practice and understanding of the core concept.


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