How to Fish Jerk Baits

How to Make Certain Lures Look Wounded, Disoriented, or Vulnerable

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Keeping the rod tip pointed toward the water is essential for a proper jerking retrieve. Photo © Ken Schultz

One thing that is eminently clear about nearly all jerk baits (some of which are referred to as stickbaits, incidentally) is that they rarely catch fish on a routine, unimaginative retrieve. You have to retrieve them skillfully.

Some plugs that are almost exclusively used beneath the surface are designed to be primarily fished on a steady retrieve, resulting in an enticing wobbling action. This includes all types of crankbaits and diving plugs.

Such a retrieve is fine for untutored or aggressive fish. However, often you have to make otherwise good-swimming lures act like they are wounded, disoriented, and vulnerable to trigger a strike.

One of the best ways to do this is simply with a below-surface stop-and-go retrieve. But sometimes another effective tactic is to jerk the lure, which makes it dart suddenly. A slow darting or jerking action, with baits moving forward in short unalarming bursts, is often preferred, but you can also induce strikes by effecting very quick "frantic" darting by having the plug bolt forward, stop momentarily, then bolt forward again.

Keep Your Rod Tip Down

Generally, to do this well you have to keep your rod tip down and pointed at the water. You can jerk lures quite well on a raised rod (angled at an 11 to 12 o'clock position) but only when the lure is a long distance away; as the lure gets nearer, it will not sweep or dart well from one side to another unless you point the rod down.

A low rod angle also aids hooksetting.

It’s About Jerking, Not Reeling

Keeping the rod low, you need to jerk – or swiftly sweep – the tip toward you while taking up slack line with the reel handle. This is a coordinated move. Assuming that you're using baitcasting tackle which is held in your left hand, and that the rod tip is pointed toward the water, use your left wrist to jerk the rod from left to right in short bursts.

Each time that you jerk, your right hand makes a turn on the reel handle, which takes up slack.

The reeling movement, which is just about picking up slack line, slightly follows the rod jerking so that the lure is yanked a short distance as opposed to being reeled a short distance. This is very important because jerk baits are balanced in such a way that the nose usually drifts to one side, and when the lure is yanked it darts in that direction; when the lure is paused, the nose drifts the other way and the lure can be jerked in the other direction. But when you reel first, it straightens the lure out and the lure heads toward you instead of toward the side. When you jerk first and then reel, you're taking up slack line and the reeling doesn't affect the lure. There's a big difference here that is crucial to getting the lure to be most effective.

Coordination and rhythmic timing are the key ingredients to perfecting this type of retrieve. Sensing when to modify your retrieve is a key element of successful fishing; sometimes it's a result of observation. Seeing a fish swirl after a lure, for example, may indicate that it isn't aggressive, that it's attempting to stun prey rather than devour it immediately.

Usually, slowing a lure down, making it more tantalizing, or creating a tease, is necessary to provoke a solid strike. That’s when you need to jerk the lure slowly.

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