April 07, 2021
By Shane Beilue
The first significant warming trend of the late-winter months excites bass anglers everywhere and fills them with the hope that spring fishing might soon be within reach. Despite the lingering cold of winter, extended warming trends and slightly longer days initiate the traditional migration patterns of bass and baitfish into creeks and tributaries to prepare for the spring spawn. That first subtle rise in water temperature—even by a degree or two—is what veteran tournament pro and fishing instructor Randy Blaukat defines as the official start to pre-spawn bass fishing.
The Missouri-based veteran spends many late-winter days instructing clients on the fine art of jerkbait fishing when targeting early pre-spawn bass. He explains that not all bass move laterally along deep-water contours during the early pre-spawn. Provided the conditions are right, many bass within a given population will simply rise from their deep-water habitat to bask in the subtle warmth within 10 feet of the surface.
While many bass will be scattered throughout a body of water—both shallow and deep—during the early pre-spawn period, roughly a quarter of the population tends to suspend out over deep water. This positioning affords them access to migrating baitfish, and the deep water offers bass a sense of security. According to Blaukat, the jerkbait is the ideal lure for targeting these suspended bass.
LINE OF SIGHT
While jerkbaits can perform in many conditions, the ideal scenario for jerkbaiting suspended pre-spawners involves water with excellent clarity. In most cases, Blaukat is talking about fishing man-made reservoirs with a visibility of 2 feet or greater. He says good water clarity is critical because at this time bass will feed more by sight than by sound. The clearer the water is, the easier it is for bass to see and chase down shad. Thus, more bass will be suspending in this fashion. Blaukat says this is particularly true with lakes that have a population of spotted bass, as they tend to suspend more frequently than largemouths and smallmouths.
In stained to muddy water, bass don’t have nearly as much depth of vision. Therefore, there’s no real feeding advantage for them to suspend.
According to Blaukat, a jerkbait shines when pursuing suspended bass in clear water because it accomplishes two things. First, it’s a lure that gets within easy reach of bass located 5 to 15 feet below the surface. Second, it can draw bass from several feet away with its erratic action that mimics a dying or wounded shad, something that’s common during the cold-water months.
PLAN FOR POINTS
With the conditions right for jerkbaits, the next item to cover is where to fish them. Blaukat maintains that one location in particular excels.
"Points are always the key structure this time of year, but bass may hold on different types of points in any given reservoir," he says. "Therefore, it’s really important to not get locked into looking for only one type of point. For example, it could be a very defined point near the creek channel, a gravel point in the back of a creek or even just a rounded section of bank."
Blaukat feels a wide variety of different points can all be productive on any given day, but there is one that he especially likes.
"I’ve found that the flatter points that run out into the lake a long way and suddenly drop into deep water will often hold bigger and more reliable schools of bass this time of year," he says. "So definitely stop and fish that type of structure when you find it."
He suggests further refining the pre-spawn pattern by also considering the depth over which bass are suspended rather than just the types of banks they’re on. For example, noting that bass were caught 10 feet down over a 30-foot bottom can signal the need to repeat that depth combination on other points you explore.
While electronics are often effective tools, Blaukat cautions against graphing over an area to check for suspended bass prior to fishing. He doesn’t want to alert fish to his presence or risk spooking them. Instead, he believes he can adequately cover a point with a jerkbait in 5 to 10 minutes of fan-casting from various angles, from deep to shallow and even sideways across the point.
A SLOW PULL
The retrieve is critical in cold-water jerking, and it’s a craft based in the art of subtle motion. The proper retrieve is something Blaukat discusses heavily in his on-the-water jerkbait seminars.
"A lot of different factors can influence which retrieve works best, including time of day, clarity, water temp and wind. However, you just need to experiment to see what’s working best on a given day," Blaukat says. "Obviously, the baitfish are cold and lethargic, so I want the retrieve to imitate that muted swimming action."
Conventional wisdom states that a jerkbait must sit still in cold water for up to 30 seconds to entice a strike. Blaukat disagrees.
"Most of the time I don’t let a jerkbait pause very long, even in cold water," he says. "However, when I do move the lure, I don’t move it very far. My twitches are very subtle. In fact, when the water temp is in the 40s, my retrieve is better defined as a pull than a twitch."
He encourages anglers to think of the retrieve less in terms of a specific cadence, but instead to work the bait slowly and keep it coming back to you. He adds that often he’ll simply reel it in very slowly once the lure has reached its deepest point. This type of slow retrieve can very much become a mental game. It requires patience and persistence in the cold. However, it can be a very rewarding technique for those eager souls venturing out ahead of the warmth of spring.
Top Midwest reservoirs for pre-spawn jerking
Randy Blaukat primarily hosts his instructional jerkbait trips on Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. However, he notes that similar bodies of water, classified as highland reservoirs, feature the same deep, clear water in which the pre-spawn jerkbait bite shines. While different manmade reservoirs will have differing levels of cover depending on their age (deep wood cover tends to disappear in these waters as submerged timber rots out), jerkbaiting should remain a prime tactic. In fact, when reservoirs lose that standing timber, suspended bass tend to roam even more in the open water.
Other highland reservoirs in the Show Me State include Table Rock Lake and Bull Shoals Lake—which cross into, or fall extensively in Arkansas—while Lake Cumberland and Kentucky Lake in southern Kentucky and Indiana’s Patoka Lake are additional great spots for targeting suspended bass with jerkbaits. Meanwhile, anglers in the upper Midwest know the reliability of a jerkbait when targeting smallmouths in the cold, clear waters of Lake St. Clair and the Great Lakes.
For more information on Randy Blaukat’s instructional jerkbait seminars, visit fishthemoment.com.
Everything you need to jerk up suspended early-spring bass.
For all his pre-spawn jerkbait fishing, Randy Blaukat insists on the same rod-and-reel setup. He pairs a 6-foot 11-inch Megabass Orochi XX Jerkbait Special spinning rod ($299.99; megabassusa.com) with a Lew’s TLC3000 large-diameter-spool reel ($129.99; lews.com), which aids in the longer casts critical to obtain maximum depth. Blaukat firmly believes spinning gear gives the angler a better feel for detecting subtle strikes often associated with frigid pre-spawn bass.
On the business end, Blaukat keeps it simple with Megabass jerkbaits. They come in multiple sizes and depths, but the 4 1/2-inch Vision 110 ($24.99; megabassusa.com) is his favorite. Some anglers like the Vision 110 +1 or +2, which are designed for added depth, but Blaukat uses 6-pound Seaguar Invizx ($24.99/200 yards; seaguar.com) line with his spinning gear. This allows him to get the original Vision 110 lure down as deep as most people do with the deeper-running lures fished on 10- to 12-pound test and baitcasting equipment. He notes that the Vision 110 jerkbait fished on 12-pound test will max out at 5 feet. However, his approach with spinning gear and light line adds 25 percent more distance to his cast and provides the ability to double the lure’s depth.
Hook choice can also be critical for landing more bass, as a properly weighted jerkbait is key for a slow descent on the pause. Blaukat often uses the stock hooks on the Vision 110, which feature a unique outbarb design. When he does change hooks, he usually swaps them for Gamakatsu G-Finesse Trebles ($10.38; gamakatsu.com), with a No. 4 hook on the front and back and a No. 5 in the middle. This usually provides the slow descent he’s looking for, but he also keeps lead strips and dots handy in case he needs to add weight to the lure.
One last tip: Blaukat never uses the drag system on his reel when jerkbaiting. Instead, he back-reels. This allows him to absorb the surge of a fish by simply reeling backward in unison with the fish’s pull to keep more control over bass on light line.
"I can back-reel a fish that’s barely hooked and have higher odds of landing it than by using the drag," Blaukat says.