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Jerkbaits for Late Fall Flats

By Russ Bassdozer

Seasons change. Out on the water, chill permeates the air the angler breathes. Wing-weary migratory birds fly by the angler. They use the last low light of dusk to reach a lowland where flight's grounded for the night. Not to sleep but to wait cold and restless for the crisp dawn's long flight into the retreating warmth that is south.

In the cool dusk, his last casts are not on his quarry. Seasons turn his thoughts to home, to his family, friends, holidays and next year. Driving home in the early darkness, orange lights blink in windows of family homes. Pumpkins this month, turkeys next, then Santas and Menorahs, followed by the silver glitter of New Years, plus Cupid's heart-felt arrows, and again.

Fish too feel the seasons and change with them. In late fall, bass linger more and more in deepwater sanctuaries they'll leave less and less to forage in the shallows. However, season's end may slow the hunters - but not their hunger. Like birds rising into the sun of a cold dawn, the bass rise from the depths into the golden light of late afternoon to appease their hunger. Instinctively seeking the sun-warmed shallows of eastern shores, rocky south shore riprap radiating heat into the water, silted-in black mud coves holding warmth where young-of-year of many fish species huddle in the skinny fringes of solar-heated water.

Hard plastic jerkbaits, used in the spring, become enticing again to slow-motion hunters on the sunny, shallow flats of cold fall afternoons. Your jerkbait hangs suspended in place, easily catchable for an instant before it wiggles a few feet away, only to pause in suspense, beckoning to be bit again. You wiggle and flash it slowly a few feet further away, each time pausing to entice the bite that comes during one suspended moment when hunger overcomes hesitation. 

"Suspending" jerkbaits are best in late fall. Lures that wiggle and flash enticingly for a few feet, then suspend perfectly in place, sink or rise ever so slowly when you pause the retrieve. The hit is often gotten on the pause as the bait suspends, and imparting the tiniest quivers to the rod tip during the pause can induce more strikes at times. It's a game of using the wiggling retrieve to excite and attract, then using the pause to deliver the pitch that gets the strike. As it's stopped, the bait may continue to quiver a moment as it rights itself, glide sideways, gravitate to a nose up or nose down posture - or twitch it slightly to make your play, but it is the pause that counts most.

Resuming the retrieve with a jerk or a rod sweep excites predator instincts, but in cold water a gentle restart can work as well. There are infinite variations that make this a true art. Jerking, sweeping or twitching as you start turning the handle. Jerking sweeping or twitching as you stop turning the handle? Reeling steadily for how long? At what speed? And always the pause...for how short or long? Plus what action to impart with the rod tip, if any, during the pause? There are no stock answers to any of these questions, but slower speeds, longer pauses and gentler rod movements usually coincide with falling temperatures in fall (and vice versa in spring as temperatures climb).

Depth at which the lure wiggles and suspends is yet another variable, albeit easy to control by proper lure selection. Depth is often a function of the lip's surface area and angle. Less lip surface at a sharper angle tends to swim higher. More lip surface at a flatter angle generally goes deeper.

As can be seen on the lips of the lures in the attached photo, each has more lip surface and less angle than the one above it, therefore will get a few feet progressively deeper than the one above it...and all pause and suspend there when stopped. Those shown are a set of professional tournament tools manufactured by Lucky Craft  - Pointers, Bevy Shads, Stay Sees, and CB-350s (shown from top to bottom).  

Suspending jerkbaits not shown: The Rapala Husky Jerk is another suspending jerkbait that stays up high in the range of the Lucky Craft Pointer. Yet another, the Excalibur Suspending Long A is essentially a remodel of the Bomber Long A with an internal belly weighting and rattle system that makes the Excalibur Long A suspend. Also popular, the Suspending Super Rogue and Suspending Rattlin' Rogue jerkbaits made by Smithwick.

Many other jerkbaits are "floaters" as opposed to "suspenders" - Rapala Original Minnows, Bomber Long As, RedFins, many Yo-Zuris, etc. Floaters rarely get more than a few feet down. Most of these resist staying even a few feet down as most rise rapidly when paused for even an instant. Good stuff for the specific times and places when fish prefer that - or when the situation calls for it around barely submerged cover and weedbeds just under the surface. Floaters can be jerked or ripped under the water up to the edge of cover, and then floated and twitched across the top of the cover. For these circumstances, Lucky Craft also makes models of the ??? in floating versions.

Shallow suspending jerkbaits that are most commonly used - suspending versions of Smithwick Rogues, Rapala Husky Jerks, Excalibur Long As, etc. - don't get that much deeper than their "floating" counterparts. In fact, most ARE their floating counterparts (or very close remodels) with extra lead strategically added at the factory. But they do differ from the floaters in that they tend to hold their mid-shallow depth a few feet down when you pause them. From Luckycraft, the Pointer is the model that stays at the mid-shallow depth as most of the other brands mentioned in this paragraph. Good stuff for the specific times and places when fish prefer that, which is when bass are up on the shallow flats where water depth is somewhere between 3 and 7 feet deep.

Next in depth, to consistently work deeper than the above-named lures, you need to drill and add your own lead, lead dots, strips or add lead on the hooks somehow. Rather than doing that, a manufacturer may instead lengthen the bill, flatten out its angle a bit...and what used to resemble a jerkbait starts looking like a crankbait coming out of the factory. The Lucky Craft Bevy Shad is an example. The Bevy Shad has a bit more of a crankbait-like bill and a bit more shad-shaped (crankbait-shaped?) body than most other thin minnow jerkbaits. Is the Bevy Shad a jerkbait? A crankbait? Two baits in one? Disturbing as such questions may be, should we really care? Does how a lure looks define what it is, or does the suspension system inside it define it...or how you fish it? The Bevy Shad fishes mostly like other jerkbaits, with a tighter shad-like wiggle, and it holds its depth a couple of feet below the depth range of most other short-lipped suspending jerk baits - other things like line diameters and casting distance being equal.

The next step away from what we commonly think of as being a jerkbait is something like the Lucky Craft Stay See. It's got the thin minnow body that says "jerkbait" but a long thin bill that says "crankbait". It consistently hunkers down, let's say, from 6 to 9 feet and it's got a gliding action that fishes like a jerkbait. In fact, the StaySee's gliding style of action looks more like a Suick Thriller muskie glider jerkbait than any other lure that comes to mind.

That's about the deeper limit of most lures I can think of at the moment that bass anglers may be willing to say, "Okay, that's a jerkbait."

Let's cross the line into "crankbait". The Lucky Craft CB-350 has both the bill and fat body of a crankbait. Inside of it however, it's got a better internal suspension system than most jerkbaits. It seeks bottom like most crankbaits, but once there, it only fishes effectively if you use it along the lines of a jerkbait - pausing and sweeping and twitching or jerking, not necessarily needing to hit bottom again - although that's surely a helpful option. You can also do this dance by sweeping, glancing off bottom in place of jerking the rod and pausing for a hit with a suspending Shad Rap or Fat Free. They are suspending crankbaits, true. Fished like a jerkbait? Probably also true.

Suspending jerkbaits in late fall! It's an intriguing way to end your season in the shallows.

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