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JERKBAITS:  Rig em' Right

By Dustin Hill

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Dustin and Palm Coast Tarpon

Caught July 2004

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Ask any of today’s most successful inshore saltwater fishermen to list their favorite lures, and the chances are, at least one soft-plastic jerkbait will be included.  Like so many of the more popular lures used in saltwater today, soft-plastic jerkbaits originated in bass fishing circles.  Designed originally as buoyant, near-surface baits with the ability to be rigged completely weedless, soft-plastic jerkbaits quickly became popular for fishing the dense vegetation (hydrilla, eel grass, etc.) that is so prevalent in many of Florida’s premier bass waters.  As soft-plastic jerkbaits gained in popularity, fishermen began to realize that the lures could be extremely effective for inshore saltwater species as well.  When twitched on a slack line, soft-plastic jerkbaits have an incredibly realistic, erratic action that resembles that of a wounded baitfish.  As saltwater fishermen soon discovered, this lifelike action triggered most inshore fish to strike including redfish, trout, snook, tarpon, jack crevalle, and a host of other aggressive species. 

                Aside from the fantastic action, what makes soft-plastic jerkbaits so valuable in the arsenal of the inshore fisherman is their versatility.  After saltwater fisherman adopted the jerkbait as a productive lure, most rigged jerkbaits weightless as bass fishermen had done for years.  The typical terminal tackle consists of a 4/0 or 5/0 offset, wide-gap worm hook tied either directly to the running line or a short shock leader depending on the target species.  The hookpoint is inserted into the head of the jerkbait for a inch before exiting the bait, which allows the hook to be pulled through until the knot is flush with the head of the lure.  The hook is then turned 180 and reinserted in the bait where the hookpoint rests in the molded hook-pocket.  Most soft-plastic jerkbaits can also be rigged backwards where the hookpoint lies flush against the flat side of the bait opposite the hook-pocket.  Weightless jerkbaits are ideal for fish that feed heavily near the surface such as trout, snook, tarpon, and all the striking fish.  They are also effective in very shallow water for traditional bottom feeders such as redfish and flounder.  Weightless jerkbaits allow for a very subtle presentation and are ideal in places where floating grass prevents the use of lures with exposed hooks.  The preferred retrieve can vary from extremely slow with frequent pauses to highly erratic, giving the lure a surface-skipping action. 

                In recent years, inshore fishermen have started to experiment with various techniques for rigging soft-plastic jerkbaits aside from the traditional weightless method.  Getting the bait deeper is typically the main focus.  In the past, bass fishermen inserted small pellets or finishing nails into the baits for additional weight.  Now, there are weighted hooks on the market made specifically for jerkbaits.  These hooks allow the lure to maintain its action while working somewhat deeper in the water column.  Weights are attached to the shank of the hook and typically vary from 1/32-1/8oz.  With a fly-tying vice, the same result can be obtained by wrapping the shank in lead-wrap (covering with super-glue) until the desired weight is reached.  Most weighted hooks also come standard with a push-in “keeper” (see photo) that helps the jerkbait become more durable through multiple catches.  Weighted hooks allow the jerkbait to work effectively at 3-4ft of depth if twitched slowly, and also help when current might hamper the success of a weightless lure. 

                In areas without grassy bottom or an abundance of floating grass, a jerkbait threaded on a wide-gap jighead can be an extremely productive lure.  This technique gives the jerkbait much more of a jigging action, however, it will be considerably more buoyant than a typical plastic-bodied jig.  Either a 1/16oz or 1/8oz jighead is ideal for this application.  If using monofilament line, placing a black ball-bearing swivel 10” above the lure will help eliminate line twist.  A jerkbait on a light jighead is excellent for working docks, grasslines, oyster bars, and creek mouths in 4-10ft of water. 

                When rigged weedless without an exposed hook, soft-plastic jerkbaits are better fished on no-stretch braided line for both sensitivity and ease of setting the hook.  Use a palomar knot to tie the hook to the leader for superior knot strength.  Either monofilament or braided line works great for fishing a jerkbait on a jighead.  A uni-knot is excellent for this technique because it allows the jerkbait to have a more erratic action when twitched.

Several rigging techniques for soft-plastic jerkbaits

                For spinning tackle enthusiasts, a 7-7.5ft medium-heavy action rod with a relatively soft tip is typically preferred for pitching weightless or lightly weighted jerkbaits.  For an ideal setup, pair the rod with a high-quality spinning reel built with a smooth drag system.  Conventional gear also works well for throwing light jerkbaits, but a top-quality reel with little spool resistance and good casting technique are required to avoid constant overruns, especially in windy conditions.  For either type of tackle, spool your reels with 10-12lb test monofilament or braided line in either 15lb or 20lb test (4-6lb comparable monofilament diameter).       


                There are countless different varieties of soft-plastic jerkbaits available in tackle shops today.  Several of the more popular baits include the Exude RT Slug, Zoom Super Fluke, Gambler Flappin’ Shad, and the Strike King Zulu.  Colors such as white, chartreuse, and rootbeer will produce under almost any circumstance.  


Carol Hill caught this 5lb trout on a weighted Zoom Super Fluke 

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We would like to take this opportunity to thank Dustin for contributing his expertise and experience to the website.  It is greatly appreciated.  If anyone has questions or comments about the article(s) email them to INFO@CAPTDICK.NET and they will be forwarded to Dustin.