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An assortment of jerkbaits ideal for the TVA lakes in early winterFrank Sargeant
At a time when everything is slowing down, some anglers score on big bass by speeding up.
For reasons known only to the bass, as water temperatures drop into the 50's, lures known as suspending jerkbaits become irresistible in North Alabama lakes.
Suspending jerkbaits look a lot like the original Rapala, long, thin-bodied minnow imitations with a wobbling lip, except they sink slowly rather than floating.
Top bass pros learned long ago that when waters get cold, these lures have a unique attraction to largemouths, maybe because the fish happen to be hanging in water depths where this type of lure works best, typically 4 to 12 feet.
Jerkbaits are most effective in water that's relatively clear, which is the condition of most of the TVA lakes in winter as algae and grass die back. And they also work best in waters where shad are the primary forage--again, the TVA lakes fit the mold.
Strike King, Bomber, Rapala, Sebile, Storm and many other companies make effective jerkbaits. They're typically about 4 to 5 inches long, and finished in chrome or white with green, tan, blue or black backs.
Most anglers fish jerkbaits on their baitcasting gear, but for the sometimes windy conditions of early winter, spinning gear can be more effective--15 pound test braid leading to 18 inches of 15-pound-test fluorocarbon leader is the ideal rig, with the stiffer fluoro serving to keep the braid from tangling in the treble hooks as the lure is jerked.
Finding fish with a jerkbait is usually not difficult; go to a bluff bank holding heavy schools of shad--which you can readily pick out on your depthfinder--and then fish the jerkbait around the edges of the school. Many other types of habitat also work for jerkbaits, including the dying patches of hydrilla on the edges of the back channels and drops.
Around scattered grass, jerkbaits can also be used for the "rippin'" tactic that works so well with lipless crankbaits--pull them down until they stick in scattered weeds, then jerk them free with a sharp twitch of the rod--often as the bait jumps free, a bass nails it.
Some jerkbaits sink slowly all the way to bottom, others seem to suspend at their design depth, typically 4 to 6 feet, and stay there as you work them.
The big secret in throwing jerkbaits is to have the patience to stop after each jerk; give the rod a twitch of about 12 inches, then hesitate about 5 seconds, then twitch again. Most of the time the strike comes just as you move the lure after a pause.
The nice thing about finding fish with a jerkbait is that they're usually part of a tight school, and where you catch one you may catch a half-dozen before they wise up and shut down.
It's also possible to use jerkbaits as locator baits; fish them until the action slows, then go to a soft plastic on a jighead, or a Texas or Carolina rig, to get the bite going again--sometimes much larger fish grab these slow-moving baits.
Standard jerkbaits are not generally effective at depths much over 10 feet, but it's possible to Carolina rig them and fish them much deeper. Casting the weighted rig is not much fun, of course, but after you hook up to a couple of bass on a weighted jerkbait at 20 feet, you won't worry about the casting difficulties.
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