Jerkbaits for Late Fall Flats
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 finally...fishing 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
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
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.