While bass are keen on most types of hardbodied lures from time to time, one of the most effective, yet often overlooked, methods for catching these feisty freshwater sportfish is on suspending minnows and plugs.
There’s just something so annoying about the way in which a suspending minnow will hang there in the strike zone; it seems to really trigger the aggression of bass and leads them to smash the lure. For the angler, these sudden and powerful strikes really get the heart racing and lead to some of the best knock-’em-down, drag-’em-out brawls you can experience.
While you can use suspending minnows in a wide range of bass fishing environments, I find the best locations are in our freshwater impoundments. This is particularly so if the selected waterway holds significant weed beds. Bass love to hunt around weed for small baitfish and crustaceans, which are perfectly imitated by small suspending lures.
I have had some amazing sessions on bass by positioning the boat outside the weed edge and casting to, or parallel with, the face of the weed line. It’s often surprising the sheer number of fish that can be caught off a single weed bed once you have the technique right.
While fishing with suspending lures is not too difficult, like most forms of angling, there are some little things you should be aware of to really increase your chances of success. These include how to work the lure and how long you should allow it to sit in between movements.
Fishing with suspending minnows and plugs is one time when you can really get a bit active with your retrieves, but don’t be too impatient to begin with.
Once the lure has been cast, let it settle on the surface for a few seconds, just in case any curious fish has heard it land and has come over to investigate. Lures aren’t often grabbed off the top but every so often it happens and it’s always a welcome bonus.
But if nothing happens after a short wait, it’s time to get to work.
To begin the retrieve, really give the lure a couple of fast and violent rips with the rod tip to make it dive under and get down into the water column. I think most people probably make the mistake of being a bit gentle with this part of the retrieve – take my word for it, don’t be shy. Really give the lure a rip and get it moving.
This action is the reason this technique is sometimes called jerkbaiting. You really do have to jerk the lure and the more action and commotion you can generate, the more likely a nearby fish will be interested enough to come over and check things out. So don’t muck around, get into it!
This leads us to the next part of the retrieve: the pause.
Mastering the pause is just as important as getting the rip right, because this is when the vast majority of your hits will come. While there is no set time limit, a long enough pause can vary from a second or two, up to 10 or 20 seconds sometimes.
I usually start out with a short pause and extend it longer and longer until I find a long enough pause that’s in tune with the mood of the fish on the day.
It’s during the paused part of the retrieve where neutrally-buoyant lures are at their absolute best. You see, after those couple of energetic rips, you simply stop the lure and let it sit there.
Because it is neutrally buoyant, it shouldn’t float up or sink down; it should just stay where it was or, at the very least, ever so slowly start to creep towards the surface.
This is what really sets the fish off. Bass are used to being apex predators in their home patch and small critters usually flee at their approach.
Because the lure doesn’t move, the fish often seem to hit it out of aggression, as if they are trying to teach it a lesson or something. You’ll see evidence of this from the number of hook-ups you get on the outside of the face and gill plates. It’s almost like the bass are trying to bash up the smaller fish, just to show it who is boss.
Of course, at other times, the fish just simply see the lure sitting there and eat it. When they do, you will frequently find the lure hooked way back in their mouths and sometimes even jammed sideways across.
These sorts of takes can lead to some very difficult extractions so barbless hooks, or at least crimped barbs, are recommended to minimise damage to the fish.
Sometimes it’s even possible to land fish that haven’t been hooked at all. They have simply got the lure jammed sideways in their mouth and can’t shake it out.
If the fish are playing hardball, add a tiny wiggle on the end of the pause. This is easy to achieve: just pause the lure, then give your rod tip a couple of little jiggles before commencing the next rip. Sometimes, having the lure dance a little jiggle on the spot can act as a real strike trigger.
There are quite a few lures that are ideal for jerkbaiting, with imported gems like Rapalas X-Rap and Husky Jerk top of the pile. These shallower running minnows are great imitations of the sort of small baitfish that inhabit many of our bass lakes.
I generally start with a shallow runner early in the morning or whenever the sun is off the water.
Once there is plenty of daylight, it’s still possible to keep the action going by switching to deeper running jerkbaits. Try using something like a deep-diving X-Rap minnow or even a rattling suspending Shad Rap.
However, if you prefer to be patriotic, you can go with the Australian-made lure deep diving Merlin. Merlin lures are ideal for jerkbaiting because unlike a lot of other locally made lures, they are designed and built to be neutrally buoyant and they hang right in the strike zone.
As far as colours go, I haven’t found any one general colour scheme to be any better than the others. At times, a bright colour like the clown or yellow attractor pattern is needed to really get the fish’s attention. At other times more natural finishes work well, particularly the tiger striped or perch patterns.
For this technique to be effective, you need the fish to be at least a bit active. It’s also good if they are not sitting too deep in the water column.
As such, the prime times for jerkbaiting are early mornings and late evenings. Being a surface lure junkie, I normally toss topwaters before sunrise and after dark but the shoulder periods of the day, just after sunup and just prior to the evening surface session, are great times to be tossing suspending minnows.
Having said that, the weather also plays a big part in the success or failure of jerkbaiting.
On overcast and rainy days, the action can sometimes be fast and furious because the fish stay up near the surface thanks to the dull conditions. This sort of weather can also spark insect hatches and bring out lots of small baitfish, which also encourages the bass to feed.
Bright sunny days can be a real struggle and you will usually have to fish very tight to the weeds to have much success. Of course, deeper jerkbaits also help.
So, there you go. Don’t be put off by the name; jerkbaiting can be a highly effective method of fooling a few bass. All you need are some suspending or neutrally buoyant lures and a willingness to give the technique a go.
Once you have experienced the thrill of having a decent bass come over and inhale your lure, I’m sure you’ll be as hooked on the technique as the fish are.
Because jerkbaits tend to be extremely lightweight, spinning tackle is really your only viable option. Go for around a 7’ spin rod in the 2-4kg class. This will give you extra casting distance and have enough flex in the top section to avoid pulling too many hooks, while still having the reserve power to keep fish from burying you in the weeds.
A 2000 size reel loaded with 3kg braid, and a 5-6kg mono leader completes the outfit.
My own outfit consists of a Lox 2-5kg Yoshi spin rod, and a 2000 size Shimano Symetre spooled with 3kg Schneider braid and a 6kg Schneider leader.