Practical tackle


Jerkbaits have been growing in popularity in this country since early 1993 or thereabouts. I'm well aware that some anglers had used them long before that, but it is only recently that any number of anglers have realised that they do catch pike. In common with a lot of anglers, when I saw my first jerkbaits, in the mid eighties, I looked at them and thought they must be rubbish because they had no diving lips! However, as soon as the first musky videos came into the country I soon realised how effective they could be. Like so many discoveries', jerkbaits started to be used, independently, by a number of anglers at the same time - those who had seen the videos. At the time you had three choices. Buy a Suick or two from Harris Angling who had begun to list them in their catalogue, bring some jerkbaits in from America, or make them yourself. Even now there are not too many jerkbaits available in the U.K. but they are at least good ones. Luckily I knew Dave Scarff who had made his own lures for many years. Dave soon had a number of hand carved jerkbaits in operation. Initially they were a little rough and ready, painted up using just spray cans, but they caught fish. Dave and I took what we wanted from the U.S. videos and adapted it, sifting the wheat from the chaff. In time Dave developed his own unique baits - most notably the Pig which he even shipped, like coals to Newcastle, to America where it has caught some large muskies.

People often ask why jerkbaits work, and I am certain that it is the erraticness of a jerkbait's action that triggers pike to strike at them. There is no mimicry to these lures, no imitation of any natural food. Jerkbaits are not representations of jack pike or anything else, they are quite simply reaction lures. Pike don't think, they react. And that's just what they do to jerkbaits. Some of the takes I have had have been ferocious and pike have come long distances at high speed to hit them too. In clear water it is spectacular stuff and makes you realise what superb predators pike really are. There is no way they are primarily intended to skulk around picking up dead fish from the bottom! But for them to travel such distances to hit a lure it must have triggered some deep instinct in a big way. Of course there are times when jerkbaits are ignored, and other lures are more productive. When water temperature drops and pike slow down other lures, like crankbaits, might be a better option. However, there are some jerkbaits that can be worked really slowly, mostly neutrally buoyant ones.

A short rod is essential for successful jerkbait fishing. Keep the rod tip as close to the water as possible.
Don't be misled into thinking that jerkbaits are only useful in clear water conditions. I have mentioned the value of lures that present large silhouettes, even in murky water, and jerkbaits certainly do that. Being, for the most part, fairly bulky lures they displace quite a volume of water, which must surely be detected by the pike from a fair distance. This displacement will be in the low frequency range of vibration and therefore attractive to (or perhaps I should say noticeable by) pike over quite a distance - no matter what the water clarity.

Unlike all the lure types I have covered so far in this book, jerkbaits are next to useless when cranked straight back to the angler. While all lures benefit from a little angler input to get the best out of them, most have some inbuilt action of their own. Jerkbaits do not. Having said this, many will come in with a very lazy sway when retrieved steadily, and although I have not yet caught doing this I have had a fish come after a jerkbait I was ripping back to re-cast to pike I had just seen roll. No, as a rule, you will have to put all the action into your jerkbaits and this requires specialised tackle, and a new way of thinking if you are going to have long term success.

Jerkbait rods benefit from being short and stiff. They need to be short because they are predominantly used with a downward stroke. Sideways sweeps can be used but do cause lures to run a little shallower. Long rods not only make the correct action more difficult to achieve, but they also absorb a lot of the energy you are trying to impart to the bait. The longer and softer a rod is the more this is so. So a stiff, short rod keeps you in more direct touch with your lures. Depending on your stature a rod of 5½ to 6 feet is about right. I have used rods as long a seven feet, but found it a struggle. Switching back to the six-footer made life so much easier. The rod must be matched to a baitcasting reel, there is no way that a fixed-spool reel will work for jerkbaiting. This is partly due to the fact that strong, and therefore thick, lines have to be used and fixed-spools can't cope with them. But it is mainly down to the way you hold the rod and work the reel. I built a jerkbait rod for use with a fixed-spool reel for one customer, against my advice, and had to strip it down and rebuild it to suit a baitcaster within a week! Baitcasting reels have shorter handles which enable you to hold the rod closer to your body which is far more comfortable when using the down and across strokes of the jerkbaiting retrieve. As well as fitting a counterbalanced handle to the Abu 6501C3 that I use for jerkbaiting (there is no other choice of reel for the method in my opinion), I also fitted the right-hand side plate from as 5501 as this has no clicker. Other people have simply removed the switches from their 6501s. The clicker is a real pain, for ever getting pushed on accidentally as you fish. A simpler solution is to wrap insulation tape around the side-plate to hold the switch in the off position. Trim the tape neatly with a sharp knife to make it comfortable. Little things like this can make a big difference to your fishing. Without the clicker to worry about, or get annoyed by, you can concentrate on the fishing.

When fishing jerkbaits, I find that my left arm tends to stay tucked in to my side, using just the wrist to turn the reel handle, while my right arm keeps the rod working across the front of my body. The aim is to keep the line tight to the lure at all times. If you stop winding on the up-stroke of the rod, which is the usual trap beginners with the method fall into, the lure will rise or stall. Once you have got the knack of the retrieve you will start to keep control over your jerkbaits. Then you can begin to experiment with feeding slack at times, varying the reel speed and other techniques that break the action of the baits. This is when you will really start to trigger strikes. With practice various jerkbaits can be made to corkscrew, jump out of the water, walk on the surface and perform any number of tricks that can trigger strikes. Explaining how to make these things happen is all but impossible in writing. Timing is the key. The precise point in a lure's glide or dive when you jerk it again has a critical effect on its action. It is a bit like a batsman hitting a cricket ball. If he times it right the ball goes for six, if not it just trickles to a close fielder.

After coming up to, but not taking, Dave Scarff's surface lure this pike took the author's shallow gliding jerkbait.
Strong lines are associated with jerkbait fishing for one good reason. Lighter lines break, as do light traces. It is not that this strength is needed to play the fish, it is the repeated casting and jerking of large, heavy and bulky lures that puts the strain on the tackle. Standard snaps deform and open out under prolonged use with jerkbaits. Even thirty pound wire soon succumbs to the stresses imposed on it as does fifteen or twenty pound line. At least one-hundred pound trace wire and hardware is required, with my preference being for multistrand wire. A few U.K. anglers are trying the stiff wire leaders used by some musky anglers. I can see how a one piece leader, with the snap being formed from the leader itself, works as an anti-tangle device. Some jerkbaits come with a short stiff wire leader already attached to the nose loop for this very purpose. The length of these leaders is around about the length of the bait, and as such should be used with in conjunction with a twelve inch multistrand leader to keep the line away from a pike's teeth should it roll up in the line. When a glider shoots forward it will travel over a multistrand leader and the hooks can tangle with it, but a stiff leader hangs vertically, away from the hooks. The idea behind stiff wire leaders is that they can never get around the hooks as they bear against the lure body. In theory the stiff wire leader is perfect, but in practice multistrand leaders don't tangle all that frequently. Certainly not often enough to cause me any worries. I noticed the other day how a buoyant braided line was actually holding the multistrand trace above the bait as it dived, making tangles with the hooks all but impossible. This aside, sleeving the snap connection with shrink tube to keep it in line with the wire helps reduce tangling difficulties. I find that when my traces start to tangle on a regular basis they are ready for changing anyway.

As far as lines go, thirty pound mono was just about standard for my jerkbaiting. The repeated casting and jerking of lures as heavy as four ounces will soon take its toll on lighter lines. You don't see beach anglers casting five ounce leads tied direct to fifteen pound line, they use a shock leader of fifty or sixty pounds test. Shock leaders are not practical for lure fishing, certainly not for jerkbaiting when there is stress imposed on the line during the retrieve. So, in effect, we are forced to use a shock leader that fills the reel spool. When it comes to braids then fifty pounds is a good starting point, make use of its finer diameter to get heavier line on your reel. You can even step up to eighty pound test without losing too much line capacity on your reel or casting distance, but 50lb is a good strength for a braided jerkbaiting line. Dacron has been the standard choice for musky anglers for decades, because its low stretch makes it easier to drive large hooks home and it puts the angler in more direct touch with the lure - essential when all its action comes from the angler. Superbraids fulfil the same function but with reduced diameter and improved abrasion resistance.

Although treated with scepticism when they fist hit the headlines, jerkbaits are very effective lures on their day.

Whether you will want to go to the trouble of tackling up for jerkbaits is up to you, but if you don't there is no way you will be able to get the most out of them. At best you will be restricted to the smallest jerkbaits, at worst just the seven inch Suicks. I still see people who have gone some way in the stepping up process, to maybe 20lb line. It is as if they can't face using the heavy gear that really is needed. So if the heavy gear puts you off, maybe because you think it will take the fun out of the fishing, then skip this chapter because there are no half measures when it comes to jerkbaiting. I always think that the biggest thrill of lure fishing is the split second when that pike hits your bait, and while the fight can be tremendous fun it is often a bit of an anti-climax. It is the take that really sets the adrenaline flowing.

There is no doubt at all that fishing jerkbaits is more physically demanding on the angler than any other form of lure fishing. Not only are the lures heavier, commonly two ounces or more, but the act of working them takes it out of you too. However, they do seem to have an ability to trigger strikes when other lures fail. And as I find them far less boring to fish with than many other lures I am prepared to put up with the hardship. When I find myself starting to wilt from the repeated hurling of hunks of wood I switch to a more angler friendly lure type for a while, a spinnerbait or maybe a minnow. Either that or I sit down and take a rest. Be warned though, jerkbaits are addictive. Ask anyone who has used them.

The lures themselves fall into two main groups, although there are crossover and unique jerkbaits too. The two most common types are the gliders or swingbaits which follow a zigzag path, and the diving or chopbaits which come back in an almost straight line when viewed from above. Gliders, like the Smity Jerks, are mostly the traditional cigar-shaped lures, so if you see a jerkbait that is round in cross-section and essentially cigar shaped, but maybe a little fatter at the front end, then odds on it will be a glider. I think almost every glider is weighted towards the front, which is what gives them their swing, but this weighting also affects their diving depth. Weight towards the front of a bait will make it dive, while placing it near the bait's tail gives it side-to-side action. Combining the two in varying degrees gives each bait its unique fishing action. Some baits are weighted so much that they will either sink, or suspend. These give you extra options of presentation. Sinking jerkbaits can be worked deep and slow, even hopping along the bottom, or high and fast. Suspending baits can be worked very slowly, with jerks or twitches that are a long time apart. Diving baits tend to be unweighted, and as a result have very little swing to them as standard. These jerkbaits are recognised by looking rather like small planks of wood, they have a much flatter, slimmer look to them than gliders. Some are round in cross-section, but these usually have a flattened face that makes them dive. A few, like the Suick Thriller and the Bobbie Bait, have metal tails that can be bent to alter the diving depth of the lure. Up for shallow, down for deeper. This tail can also be used to tune the lure to track true by bending one side up or down more than the other.

Because we all have our own preferences regarding how lures should fish, there is a lot of tinkering done to jerkbaits to get them working at the depth or speed that the individual angler fancies. This is why you will often read about custom-weighting jerkbaits. I won't go into this too much except to say that I can't get along with the seven inch Suick Thriller unless I weight it. As it comes out of the packet I get no action at all from pike, or haven't done so far. By wrapping two layers of solder around the shank of the front hook, and one around the rear hook I get it to work a little deeper and slower. This is successful for me. I also find that adding a split ring to the nose loop gives it a little more swing. The cut out 'mouth' of the Bobbie Bait also demands the use of a split ring, or you will have great difficulty fitting the snap to the line tie.

Jerkbait actions
Actions of gliding and diving jerkbaits compared.

Having mentioned the Suick I might as well go into a little more detail, because this is a good lure to start with when it comes to fishing jerkbaits. The Suick is easy to use and, in the seven inch size, can be fished on traditional spinning tackle or the outfit you use for twitching minnows so there is no need to lay out on specialised gear to kick off with. Suicks don't have a lot of resistance as they come through the water, so are easy to use without fatigue and are not punishing on your tackle. They also catch a lot of pike so give you confidence to try other jerkbaits. Because they come back in a relatively straight line Suicks are good for working along the front of weed beds as gliders can shoot into the weed if you are not careful. Using short jerks or twitches keeps the bait coming back in a straight line. The up-and-down action of a diver is also useful for fishing in clear patches amongst weed. Twitched slowly over the top of the weed, jerked down harder in the pockets and allowed to rise up the back of the next patch of weed.

Starting the retrieve is critical with all jerkbaits and the Suick is no exception. If the tail is at a shallow setting and you try jerking the lure from stationary there is a good chance that it will skitter across the surface. Far better to crank it a couple of turns, which should get it below the surface where it will bite the water when jerked. The same goes for most jerkbaits, gliders included, and further cranking will help get the bait down deeper too. This is worth remembering when you want to achieve maximum depth. I have only recently used a Bobbie for the first time and the eight inch model is considerably more bulky than the seven inch Suick. However, it is not much more tiring to use and has a wobbling flutter to its action, both when diving and when floating back up. The Bobbie even has a little side to side sway when cranked straight back.

Depending on the lure in use, and how it is tuned, diving baits can be got down ten feet or even more. The key to fishing jerkbaits deep is to keep on jerking, don't give the bait time to float back up before you jerk it again. It is obvious from this that neutrally buoyant baits will get down deeper than unweighted ones. I feel diving jerkbaits to be most useful in clear water as I am sure they attract pike more from the side rather than from below. I realise that when fished with longer sweeps of the rod Suicks develop a degree of swing, which will attract pike from underneath, but this is nowhere near as pronounced as it is with a true glider bait. Many glider baits will only work in the top three feet of the water column, although there are some exceptions like the Fudally Reef Hawg which has a 'mouth' cut into it that supposedly helps to make it dive without losing the essential swing. The flattened head of the Fish Eagle Pig serves a similar purpose. Having rounded front ends the majority of gliders have no flat face to make them dive, so they swing out to one side when pulled, then back again on the next jerk. The length and speed of swing is determined both by the angler and the lure's design. Some baits have more inbuilt swing than others. And what one lure does on a particular retrieve might be completely different to what another one does. Some are most successful on a rapid twitching retrieve, darting quickly from side to side covering a path a foot wide. Others work best covering three feet or more as they swing out and back from a steady sweeping of the rod tip. By the same token two anglers using the same bait might both catch plenty of pike using dramatically different retrieves. Why this should be is a complete mystery. Other variations in action can be apparent between two examples of the same lure. In part this can be down to variations in the density of the wood that they are made from, but also slight differences in shape, weight and nose-loop positioning can have a bearing.

Glider baits. Smity Small Jerkbait. Fudally Reef Hawg, 8". Fish Eagle Pig. Fish Eagle Mickie.

For shallow fishing, glider baits are superb, working no more than a couple of feet down. With a very buoyant bait and a gentle stroking jerk the bait can be walked slowly on the surface for a few yards before using a longer strong sweep to make it dive before commencing the sub-surface retrieve. You can use this approach in shallow water, or over deeper lying fish. The surface disturbance wakes the pike up to the lure's presence. I have had a pike shoot up the slope of a dam wall to cartwheel out of the water in an attempt to hit a jerkbait fished in this way. Not once but twice in two casts! You can also use gliders a little like surface poppers, giving them a sharp jerk with a downward movement of the rod to make a commotion. The Reef Hawg dives quite steeply when you do this, looking rather like a duck diving. As a rule gliders get the most swing from a two to three foot sweep of the rod, more of a smooth action than a jerk. Short, hard jerks make the baits dart more. You can, of course, combine the two techniques in the same retrieve. Two or three rapid fire twitches then a long swing, another long swing and more rapid twitches. The permutations are endless. Keep experimenting to find what works on the day. I have one bait that has always scored for me on long glides just below the surface. The other day I had been fishing it like this with nothing to show for my efforts. As is so often the case I was getting a little fed up with this and started to work it very fast, with six inch twitches of the rod top. This caused a jack to shoot out from the weed to my left and nail the lure, even though it had, apparently, ignored the same lure fished in a more sedate way. Now I will be more willing to fish this particular jerkbait quickly in future.

A continuously worked lure will catch well enough most of the time, most notably for active fish that are prepared to chase a bait. This is the way to cover a lot of water fast and locate pike in open water. As with all lures it is usually a good idea to use a more considered approach when fishing spots where pike might be holding up. Pausing a lure next to a clump of weed and then twitching it violently might provoke a strike from a pike that would have ignored a bait working steadily past its nose. A common occurrence when fishing jerkbaits is the take that comes when you start working the lure after stopping it for some reason. Sometimes these takes come after you have allowed the lure to rise right back to the surface. I had this happen to me when I had stopped to chat to a mate. He was just saying how exciting it must be to see a bait the size of my Pig taken off the top when I jerked it down and a pike of around seven pounds slashed at it. How long had it been looking at the lure, I wonder?

Bobbie Bait, 8". Suick Thriller, 7" (with lead wire wrapped around the hooks). Suick Thriller, 9". Bagley's B-Flat, 8".

Letting the bait rise a few inches or a foot, while remaining below the surface, can also trigger strikes on re-commencing the retrieve. This can be used to your advantage when you see a fish following your lure in. As so often it is a change in the lure's behaviour that promotes the strike.

Jerkbaits are doing something different all the time, and so provoke more hits than many other lures. I could recall any number of occasions when crankbaits had failed to produce any response, but a jerkbait has been taken on the first cast. The reverse can sometimes be the case, but not so frequently. I have a preference for glider baits, partly because they fit my belief that lures should be fished over pikes' heads. Not only that, but side to side movements seem to me to trigger more strikes than anything else. Pike will follow jerkbaits without taking them, but far less frequently in my experience than they do most other lures. As with minnows, jerkbaits that roll, flashing their sides and belly, score well. I think this goes some way to explaining the success of Fire Tiger patterns with their yellow sides and hot orange bellies. Indeed any pattern that has a belly colour that contrasts starkly with the rest of the lure will perform well on a lure that has, or can be given, any amount of roll to its action.

The colour of jerkbaits, being mainly shallow working lures, is probably not as important as we might think because they will appear mainly in silhouette. Having said that I have known trout to chase two different jerkbaits, but only when they were used in one particular pattern. So there's no reason why pike shouldn't be so choosy too, more so when baits are running three feet or deeper. As jerkbaits are completely non-representational in effect there I think there is little reason for them to look exactly like a pike's natural food. Rather like the majority of lures used by trout anglers these days which look equally unlike anything on earth. These too are reaction lures that are designed to trigger fish into grabbing hold of them. Bold fluorescent colours are popular on jerkbaits, oranges, yellows and greens in the main, and they are good pike catchers. I have a feeling that these colours might work because they make the lures more visible to the pike. Whatever the true reason for their success I find that a large amount of fluo yellow on a jerkbait is not to be sniffed at. A combination that has caught a lot of fish for me is a lure with the top half fluo green and the underneath yellow. Likewise fluo orange, and yellow make a devastating combination. The orange on its own is pretty useful too. The presence or absence of contrasting stripes or scale effects is more for the anglers benefit I think, but they might give you confidence as they do me. Especially with shallow running jerkbaits black, or other dark colour schemes, can be very successful at times. One interesting thing about the colour black is that it is the only one that gets darker as it recedes into the distance. All other colours become paler, and therefore, to my way of thinking, less obvious to the pike against the underwater background. Perhaps this means that black lures in general will be more obvious to pike from a greater distance. Just a thought. Natural patterns also work on jerkbaits as they do on all lures, perch of course being everyone's favourite.

For some reason there are very few jerkbaits available with chrome finishes, so to get any amount of flash you have to go for baits with contrasting side and belly colours. I have one jerkbait at present in a few metallic finishes, the Bagley's B-Flat, and find it every bit as successful as silver minnows, maybe even more so. The B-Flat is unusual in that it is a flat-sided glider. To look at it, it resembles a stretched shad-shaped crankbait, but without the lip. The swing that this lure has is incredible, which would be good enough on its own, but it also rolls over - right onto its back! In clear water and bright sun the flash from the chromed sides is amazing. Not everyone rates silver or chrome lures under these conditions, but provided there is a ripple on the water they are my first choice. In dull light I don't do half as well with them. Having such a high degree of roll the B-Flat must not only flash well, but when on its side must present a big silhouette to the pike. Being only a very shallow running lure the B-Flat is superb for fishing over the tops of weed where this big-small-big-small switch in apparent size, and flashing sides works wonders. It can also be twitched from the surface, and if cast close to a weedbed and allowed to settle for a second, can draw pike out to hit it as soon as it flips over. Recently I have heard that this excellent lure is yet another to get the chop from the manufacturer. A great shame.

Sinking jerkbaits are not all that common, this is probably because most jerkbaits are designed for musky fishing, and most musky fishing is concentrated in the surface layers. There are a few though, the Crazy Glider and Amma Bama are two that I can think of, but neither of which I have used. The main use for this type of jerkbait is to fish close to the bottom, but you can also use them to fish rapidly and shallow. Suspending jerkbaits and slow sinkers can, naturally, be worked slower without falling. One trait that most heavily weighted jerkbaits share is that they shoot a lot further forward on the jerk than unweighted, or lightly weighted lures. This feature makes them less tiring to work, plus the fact that you don't have to work them as hard to keep them low in the water. Very buoyant baits require quite a bit of angler effort to maintain their depth. I have very little experience of sinking jerkbaits, but mention them here because I know a number of people who have caught a lot of pike on them. One successful method has been hopping them along the bottom, in as much as twenty feet of water. I have even heard of one being picked up while lying motionless on the bottom. Flat sided sinkers wobble as they fall through the water, which might just be enough to make a pike hit them as they drop.

Like a lot of lure anglers, I am convinced that jerkbaits make pike attack them. Unfortunately for us, pike don't have the best of guidance systems, so when presented with an erratically moving lure the pike gets its prediction almost right, then the bait moves some way else. Had the lure continued along a steady track the pike would have hit it. Not having been pricked by the hooks there's a good chance that it will come back for more, even on the same retrieve or maybe the next. Why pike should be more likely to have a second or third go at jerkbaits than other lures (with the notable exception of certain surface lures) is a bit of an unknown. But this does seem to be the case. There must be something about the action of jerkbaits that works on the deepest instincts of a pike.