Bass Fishing, Bass Lures, Bass Boats, Russ Bassdozer

Shop @ Bassdozer Store | Lures, Rods, Reels | Boats, Motors, Electronics | Expert Articles | Reports | States | News | Forums | Tournaments | Clubs | Federations | Guides | Links | Books | Magazines | Surf Fishing | About Us  | Terms of Use

Soft Jerk Baits
By Paul Crawford

A New Solution to an Old Problem

In our last article (Click here to read it), we took at look at Hard Jerk Baits, such as the Rapalas and Rattlin' Rouges. These are some extremely effective baits, but have a fatal flaw; treble hooks. For years, we fished jerk baits around heavy cover only to loose the fish in the cover once we got the bite. About 6 or 7 years ago, we finally had a solution, the Soft Jerk Bait. The concept was to use a hard bait look-alike made of plastic which you could Texas Rig, and therefore fish heavy cover. It took several years to perfect, but the we finally got our answer in the form of the Slug-go. It didn't take long for all of the worm manufacturers to get the idea, so now we have the Shad Assassin, Jerk Work, Darter, Even Strike King got in the act with their Pork-O which is the same thing, only different.

Then came the pleasant surprise. Not only did these soft jerk baits fulfill the original intention, but since they have a different action than anything else you put in the water, a whole new set of uses were quickly found. Folks were fishing the soft jerk baits around heavy cover all right, but sometimes with a split shot, or Carolina, or open water with a swivel, or stitching them across the bottom without a weight, or Texas rig with a weight, or about anything else you can imagine and a few you can't. It turned out we actually had a whole new class of baits, and they caught fish just about every way you fished them. Like every new bait, the fish cooled to soft jerk baits once they saw them 10,000 times, but they still work well in a variety of situations.

There are several things that set the soft jerk baits apart from their hard bait cousins. The most obvious is the hooks. Soft Jerk baits use a single off set worm hook instead of two or three treble hooks. The soft plastic they are made of is a slight variation of the plastic used for worms. The soft colors used in worm plastic gives a vastly different look than the hard finishes. But perhaps the biggest thing that sets the baits apart is their action. Hard baits have a more or less built in action which you can duplicate time after time. Soft baits were designed to be inherently unstable, so their erratic motion is different every time you move the rod. Add to that a very slow enticing sink rate instead of the normal high floaters used in hard baits, and you have a winning combination.

Tackle Selection

You will most likely want a different rod than you use with hard jerk baits. You'll need a compromise between a soft tip to get the maximum action and the back bone required to pull a fish out of cover. I prefer a medium action rod with a fast tip so I get fairly good action but plenty of power for the hook set and the fight. It may also depend on the type of cover you like to fish. I fish jerk baits not only around heavy cover, but in open water as well. I like the extra casting distance and fighting strength of a bait casting rod. If you fish around docks or emergent cover, be aware you can skip this bait under overhangs with a little practice and a spinning rod. The erratic action of the bait is not limited to the jerk, the bait will slow fall in a random direction on a slack line. Therefore, for you spinning rod fans, jerk baits offer a great option for a vertical fall along a weed line by just letting the bait fall with an open bail. So take your pick of baitcaster or spinning rod, and for you hard cores out there, both. A long rod seems best for these light baits, particularly the 4" versions. I use a 6 1/2' Bait caster for open water and a 6' spinner rod for tight quarters and 4" baits.

For reels, select the high speed models. A high speed reel will let you cover water, which is a distinct need for a lot of patterns. I don't think you can go too high a ratio. With my 6.2/1 models, there is absolutely no possible way to out crank a determined bass without whipping the rod. Bass may not run a long distance, but even your fastest retrieve can't compete in a sprint. Jerk baits, particularly around schoolers, are a reaction lure. You don't want the bass to see the lure to well and you want to force the bass to decide to strike at the motion, not the look of the bait. Have the capability to go fast if you need to. Another overlooked feature is reel weight. If you try to work a jerk bait for 8 hours, you'll find any reel will get heavy by the end of the day. A light weight reel is something your wrists will thank you for by the end of a busy day.

The best line is an object of great debate. On the one hand, for slow retrieves, a small diameter monofiliment, say 8 - 10 lbs, can result in several more bites over the course of the day. On the other hand, fishing around heavy cover needs an abrasion resistance and some pure power for pulling a fish out of the cover. Light line casts further, heavy line gives you a better hook set, and remember you are fishing a big work hook often a flipping hook. One solution is the braided lines but they will alter the action of the bait, and not always to the better. In most cases, braided line will fall and loop killing the gliding motion characteristic of soft jerk baits. Solution 1-A was to use braided line with a monofiliment leader attached to a swivel. This works fairly well, but the swivel will also alter slow retrieves by making the bait nose heavy. The best compromise I've come up with is the Spider Wire Fusion line or the Berkley Fire Line. These lines have the strength of braids but have a memory like monofiliment so the lure action is saved. A 24 lb. Fusion line has the same diameter as 12 lb. monofiliment. It gives you the extreme sensitivity of braids and the low stretch for setting hooks. It works well on both bait casters and spinning reels, and it doesn't cost too much compared with pure braids or premium monofiliment.

Soft Jerk Bait Brands

There are several brands of soft jerk baits on the market, with new ones arriving all the time. I've picked a few brands to cover mostly because they represent some of the new classes of baits, with all them having one or more competitors making similar designs.

The Slug-O brand by Lunker City is the original, best known, and in many cases still just the best bait out there. It features a segmented body with two roughly equal parts separated by a small third part where the hook is inserted. The bait has a shallow depression on the top where the open hook point rides, although you may prefer to "skin" the hook point in heavy cover. The miracle of this bait is it's erratic action. This bait is so unstable it will dart off in a totally random direction with pulled and then will veer off at some obtuse angle with slack in the line. It glides forward rather well and may spin or actually back up on the drop. You are forced to use a particular size hook to get it to fit right in the middle segment and the results are a bait both unstable and slightly negative for a very slow drop. Depending on how you rig it, you can make the bait dive slightly or jump out of the water. The brand is probably the best for a very fast retrieve since the random action most closely resembles a fleeing bait fish. There are only a couple of problems with the design. It is a very light bait compared to the other brands and therefore leaves a lot to be desired in a moderate to heavy wind. It's action is great for catching fish, but unless hook extremely straight, is also great for twisting line. And since the segmented design forces a particular hook size your options for changing the action or fall of the bait by repositioning or changing sizes of hooks is limited. Perhaps the most damaging limitation is the open hook design of the back. The Slug-O went to a lot of trouble to be an open hook design to improve the hook up ratio, and it is a well thought out and effective design. But any open hook becomes a problem in heavy cover such as pads or hydrilla, which is where the bait was designed to be fished. It's a trade off, pure and simple. While a good compromise, other brands work better in heavy cover which limits the Slug-O to light cover or open water.

The Shad Assassin was one of the first brands to address the open hook. It features a pocket on it's belly which was designed to conceal the hook point until you've got a bite. A tip for the wise, insert the hook exactly opposite what the package instructs. If you hook the bait the way the package says, the hook weight will cause the bait to run upside down, maybe the way it was designed, but not the presentation most fish prefer. If you insert the hook from the bottom and then skin hook the point on the back, the results are a weedless bait that rides upright and still allows a good hook set. There are several other features which sets this bait apart. It has a different profile with a thick front and a very thin tail which actually gives you some amount of tail action. It does not have the erratic action but more of a gliding motion when worked slow to medium speeds. It weights considerably than a Slug-O of a similar size so it casts a mile and works well in high winds. One of the nicer features is you can use any size or gap of offset worm hook you chose. The manufacturer will suggest a regular offset worm hook, but I prefer the Wide Gap versions. You can use the hook size and weight to alter the fall of the bait to your liking. When used with a rear weighted hook, the bait will settle more or less evenly with an enticing tail action. New versions of this bait have added a paddle tail which makes quite a ruckus when worked on top, a bit too much for my tastes, (although I think it makes a wonderful option on a Texas rig.) All in all, the Shad Assassin is a good alternative to but not a replacement for the Slug-O. After all, you do own more than one crankbait don't you?

You might want to add to the arsenal with a Culprit Jerk Work. This has taken the Shad Assassin even a step further. This bait has a much thicker body than the other baits and adds a pair of side positioned fins to the tail. It also features a slot, but this one facing up for the hook point. I've had a bit of problem with the hook staying in the slot and have taken to skinning the point in one side of the pocket, which will not effect the action of the lure. This lure's action is rather predictable for a jerk bait, but has looked for the glide after the jerk for added action. When you give this bait slack, it will glide slowly forward, but off to one side. I don't case for it's high speed action but it give a completely new look when worked slowly. It's a heavy bait, so it will cast well. If you need a true high wind bait, the Culprit Darter is the same thing in really thick heavy package. But the strength of the jerk worm is underwater. The bait features three sm! all nipples on it's nose to insert the hook. If you use the middle one, the bait will glide level. Use the upper nipple, and the bait will dive. Use the lower nipple and each jerk will cause the bait to leap up. Actually, all the jerk baits will react about the same to this rigging, but at least Culprit shows you how to do it. My favorite way to work the Jerk Worm is on a Carolina rig. When used with a 1/4 to 1/2 oz weight and lifted a couple of feet off the bottom, the bait will glide back to the bottom off to one side of the weight. Its subtle glide is an action not many fish have seen and can draw bites when nothing else will.

Fishing Soft Jerk Baits

The normal rigging for Soft Jerk Baits is simply a single offset worm hook. Left unmodified, the bait will sink slowly on a slack line. Work the bait as you would a hard jerk bait with a series of jerks and pauses. The difference is in the speed you work the bait. If the fish are aggressive, then work the bait faster than you think reasonable. This may sound odd, but it does work. With all jerk bait patterns, I try to set up a rhythm; jerk, jerk, pause, jerk, pause pause, jerk, jerk .... The only difference is how long each step takes. For aggressive fish, especially in clear water, I may be working at 90 beats a minute. For neutral or negative fish, I may be working as slow as 20 beats a minute. I've had better luck increasing the number of pauses in clear water, and the number of jerks in stained water. The fish seem to like the bait better on a slow drop, but only if they can clearly see it from a distance. In stained water, they seem to be hitting at the mo! vement and the pauses only serve to keep the bait in the same area until the fish get there. You can make this call on the water by working the bait slowly and seeing when the fish hit the lure, either during or right after the jerk, or waiting until it is well on it's way during the drop.

The absolute best Big Bass pattern I have involves a normally rigged Slug-O. We discovered this pattern, like most great patterns, by chance. My partner and I were catching 2 - 4 lb. schoolers one day over about 15 feet of water when he had a professional overrun which took a couple of minutes to work out. His reward for working out the overrun weighed 8 lb 6 oz, which slammed the Slug-O on the bottom as soon as it moved. When you have a situation where you know fish are in the area, little or no wind, and an infinite amount of patience, try working a weightless Slug-O on the bottom. Repeated experience suggests the biggest fish will lie under a school and simply clean up the leavings, (free food.) I have never seen a lure that mimics a dying shad any better than a weightless Slug-O, and apparently neither have the bass. I'd save this one for those days you already have a limit and some time to kill because about 20 casts an hour is all you're likely to be able to make, but it works well when you need a kicker.

So what about those times when the fish won't come up and you don't have the time to wait for the bait to sink down? The obvious answer is to weight the lure. This is not without a penalty phase, because you will loose some action as soon as you add weight. Fortunately, many times you have the extra action to spare. Mustad came up with one answer which is a rear weighted hook. The disappointment is the gap on the hook is so small you'll either miss most of the bites or not get the hook through the bait to start with. You can make nearly the same rig by simply adding a split shot to the lower rear bend of the hook.

Another way to add weight to the bait is by adding a couple of finishing nails inside the bait. This will let you customize the fall. Place the nails in the head section, along side the hook, and the bait will fall head first. Add the nails to the rear section and the bait falls tail first. Balance the nails for an even fall, well you get the idea. Notice I refer to 2 nails, not one. The reason for this is you have to worry about the side to side loading or else the bait will twist on the fall. Occasionally, this is good but normally only results in added line twist. Because you can tailor the fall, and the nails let the bait remain weedless, (try that with split shot), adding nails is the preferred way to add weight directly to the bait. Realize this will not only kill the erratic action, (too much weight and you get no action), but also means you have to work the bait much faster it you want it to stay mostly off the bottom. Faster fishing may be what you wanted, but it may not be what a fish with a full belly wants.

If you don't want to kill the bait's natural action, but still get it down faster, consider adding a bit of weight up the line. Add a split shot or a swivel up the line about 18" to 36". This will cause the bait to fall nose first, and will add some slack to the line during the drop. As long as you use a light weight, the lure can be worked at mid-depth. I prefer to use a swivel since I'm still pretty much weedless and still have a fairly slow fall. With a swivel, it will take some time after the jerk for the swivel to fall enough to drag the bait towards the bottom, so I have combination of weightless and weighted action which works very well for depths up to 10'. It's also a rig that I can use a braided line with a mono leader without effecting the action too much. The rig works well down to medium retrieve speeds without disrupting the action while still getting some extra depth.

Fishing deep water? Try a small Carolina rig. If you're willing to cover only the bottom 3 or 4 feet in deep water, Carolina rigs are the answer. Use about 1/4 to 1/2 oz weights. Shorten the leader to 24" during the winter but go up to 48" for the dog days of summer. Pop the weight off the bottom and then let it fall straight down. This will cause the bait to jump off the bottom then glide off to one side with a more or less normal action on the fall. Works great for deep weed beds down to about 30'. Just remember to be patient during the fall since this is where most bites will occur. Use a long stiff rod for this presentation since you'll have a lot of slack to take up and still need a solid hook set. This is where the no stretch line of the braids or Fusion will pay off big time.

And don't forget to try some of the jerk baits on a Texas Rig. Straight tailed worms have been used for this for years and some of the soft jerk baits work even better. I prefer the Shad Assassin profile for Texas rigs and the paddle tail version works especially well. You can cover a lot of water with one of these and a high juke can bring a violent bite

And After the Bite ...

I've talked to a ton of people who just hate soft jerk baits because they can't seem to get the hook into the fish. My partner and I joke we always miss the first fish on a jerk bait, mostly because it's true. Just as with most top water lures, you have to wait for the fish to take a soft jerk bait. When you're fishing on top, this is a surprisingly difficult thing to do. After you see the roll or feel the tick, wait about three seconds before you set the hook. When you do set the hook, do so with evil intentions. You've got a pretty thick piece of plastic out there that may be balled up in the fish's mouth, so this is no time for the timid. Before you ever throw the bait, worry about your drag. If you're going for a big hook set, you can throw quite a shock into the line especially if you have a big fish going the other way. I try to set my drag where it will just give on a solid set. It makes it nice for fighting the fish as well. By waiting for the fish to fully take the lure and setting with a correct drag, you should rarely miss the bite.

Give soft jerk baits a try, or another chance, which ever the case may be. They are a mainstay of my tackle box, and with a little practice will be one of yours as well.

Paul Crawford

Shop at Bassdozer's Store
Bassdozer Store
Men's Clothing at
Bass Pro Shops

May I ask you for a favor please? Please start here first whenever you shop online. Click on any store logo above or book below. Bassdozer gets a small sales commission if you begin shopping at these stores from here. You always get the same low price you would pay anyway. Thank you kindly for shopping at Bassdozer.

Kevin Vandam's Bass Strategies
Kevin Vandam

Secrets of a Champion
Kevin VanDam

Fishing on the Edge
Mike Iaconelli

Big Bass Zone
Bill Siemantel

Denny Brauer's Jig Fishing Secrets

Denny Brauer

Denny Brauer's Winning Tournament Tactics

Denny Bauer

Monte Burke

Thank you for visiting. Please enjoy!
Bass fishing lures, bass boats
Worldwide Bass Fishing, Bass Lures, Bass Boats