In the mid 1990’s the Japanese jerkbait craze hit the United States bass fishing market. Japanese based companies like Lucky Craft, Megabass and Yo-Zuri began crafting minnow-type jerkbaits that were so realistic looking, I wanted to put them in an aquarium to keep them alive.
In addition to the detailed 3D holographic finishes, these jerkbaits from oversees featured “weight transfer systems,” which helped the lures cast farther and suspend in the water column, almost like an injured baitfish that freezes in fear.
My favorite places to throw these flashy, freezing jerkbaits were on the grass flats of Lake St. Clair and Lake Champlain for voracious smallmouth that attacked the lures with an uncompromised aggression. Watching a big bronze flash inhale a paused jerkbait over a grass flat is something that ranks pretty high on my fishing list. That’s why when I learned that mammoth spotted seatrout attack the very same suspending jerkbaits with an equal amount of aggression on the clear, crystal grass flats on the Gulf Coast, I found a new reason to live!
Make no mistake about it, seatrout love a suspending jerkbait. The lures perfectly mimic so many types of baitfish that swim in the lush seagrasses where big trout lurk. If I’m fishing vast grass beds with decent water clarity (2 feet or more), I almost always have one tied on.
My favorite outfit for a suspender in the brine is a 7-foot medium-action spinning rod with plenty of flex in the rod to work the bait properly. A spinning rod allows for easier casts in wind. Stay away from stiffer, heavier action rods for jerkbaits. A medium-heavy rod will work in a pinch, but a medium action or even medium-light rod helps with loading the rod for longer casts and keeps the angler from overpowering the bait during the retrieve.
These suspending baits require quick but soft snaps of the rod with pauses in between to make the lure flash wildly – freeze –then flash again. That flash, freeze, flash action just over the tips of the grass is an injured look that trout can’t resist. Many times trout will maul the lure on the pause, almost identical to the way a smallmouth would thrash one on that hesitation between twitches.
For line I go with a 10- to 14-pound test braid tied to about 5 feet of 12- to 15-pound fluorocarbon leader.
As for the conditions, I like a decent wind ruffling the surface and a high sun to really light up the jerkbait as it twitches, pauses and flashes over the grass. Also, these jerkbaits, which typically run 2 to 5 feet, are better suited for high tide when there is a generous amount of water over the grass flats or, better yet, along deeper edges of grass that roll off into some kind of ditch or channel.
Typically, I’ll start the morning with a topwater walker on the shallower flats. But once the sun gets up and the seabreeze chops up the water, I’ll back off to the deeper flats and edges and start twitching a suspending jerkbait down to 3 or 4 feet.
Admittedly, fishing the high-end Japanese jerkbaits for toothy critters in the brine became an expensive habit at $17 to $25 a pop. These days I go with the more moderately priced suspending baits like Rapala’s X-Rap (XR-10) or Shadow Rap (11) or a Strike King KVD 200. That way when a big jack crevalle or toothy Spanish mackerel slices your jerkbait off it’s not as painful to the pocketbook. Also, as a note of advice on the toothy critters, I prefer jerkbaits that have flashy inserts protected inside a clear/transparent body. Baits that have a chrome finish on the outside get stripped of their color in no time by teeth of all kinds, including the trout’s. Even the clear-bodied lures eventually get so scarred and marred that the reflective insert doesn’t throw light as well and then it’s usually time for a fresh one.
If you know what it’s like to get a big smallmouth bite going on jerkbaits and you want that same feeling along the coast, find decent visibility, grass and bait and chances are something spotted and sporty will take a swipe at a flashy, suspending jerkbait.