Jerkbaits – Lure Fishing for Trout and Pike Bait

So, what the hell are jerkbaits anyway? Anglers who are in to their predator fishing may have heard of mysterious pike surface lure terms like ned rig, whopper plopper and rapala ripstop. However, to the average fisherman these words are just gobbledegook. Jerkbaits in simple terms are artificial baits used for catching fish species like trout and pike, while top water lure fishing.

They work in a very similar way to crankbaits and swimbaits. A popular bass fishing spinner in the USA, here in the UK they’re used predominantly for predator angling. These imitation pike lures are “jerked” in the water to simulate an injured fish, tempting lager fish out of their hidey-holes to hopefully get hooked. In this article we’ll answer some common jerkbait questions, and will discover if fishing with jerkbaits is a viable tactic on British waters.

What is a jerkbait?

A jerkbait is a fishing lure that imitates small bait fish like minnows. They are designed to oscillate up and down in the water upon retrieval. This natural darting action can be exaggerated by applying short sharp jolts to the lure, and then pausing to let the jerk-bait sink again. The erratic motion of the lure traveling horizontally through the water simulates a distressed or injured fish, this coupled with the realistic size and shape of the lure, plus flashes of color, in theory grabs the attention of nearby predator fish.

What are the best jerkbaits?

As exciting as jerkbait fishing can be, without the right lure selection you may find bites few and far between. Choosing the right style of jerk bait is a difficult question to answer, as it wholly depends on the type of swim your fishing, what season your fishing in and the target fish species. Here’s a selection of tried and tested jerkbaits designs that have caught plenty of pike and trout over the years…

How does a jerkbait work?

The majority of the lures motion is created by the anglers movement of the rod tip. However, some jerkbaits are modified to help create certain actions. Glide jerk-baits are designed to move horizontally, and this side to side action while retrieving the lure helps you cover a large area of the swim. Pull, chop or slash jerk baits oscillate vertically in the water, allowing your to fish closer to the bank or obstacles. They also imitate injured fish a little better than gliders.

Another aspect of a jerkbaits design that’s important to their operation is weight and buoyancy. Floating baits are great for shallow waters and fast retrieval rates, suspending models can be fished very slowly and are great for tempting pike and trout patrolling drop offs, and fast sinking jerkbaits are ideal for deeper water, fishing close to the bottom to tempt a predator to strike.

Where do you fish a jerkbait?

Jerkbaits are most effectively fished in weed and snag free clear freshwater’s. Ideally you want to be able to see the lure down to a depth of 2 feet (0.61 m), giving you eyes on control of the baits movement, and clear sight of any fish following or taking the lure. Having visual contact with the jerkbait also let’s you tweak your retrieval style, and compare whether a pull or glide design is most appropriate for the swim.

How do you fish with a jerkbait?

The best way to fish this style of bait is with plenty of slack. Unlike other baits where you want to be in close contact and need to be able to feel the bite through your fingertips, with jerkbaits the more slack fishing line the better. The aim is to suspend the lure in the water, just like a real dying fish and with quick upwards or side-wards flick of your rod tip (not reel) to impart small erratic jolting movements.

Experiment with variable time lengths between rod tip twitches to find the sweet spot for the swim your fishing. Don’t be scared of testing times of 15-30 seconds between jerking the lure. You may discover the colder the water, the longer the delay required. On warm days constant twitching of the lure, while retrieving at the same time may provide more bites.

crankbait vs jerkbait

What’s the difference between a jerkbait and a crankbait?

The fishing technique between crankbaits and jerkbaits are very similar, the only major differences are their body shape. Crankbaits are short stocky lures, where as jerkbaits tend to be long and slender in comparison. This difference in size limits the number of hooks each can hold. Crankbaits usually have no more than 2 sets of hooks, where as jerkbaits have room for 3 or 4.

Crankbaits are lighter than jerkbaits, limiting casting range and are retrieved with less artificial input by the angler. They are more suitable to trolling behind boats in my opinion, and I find jerkbaits much more effective for the UK’s predator fish species. Crankbaits also tend to have bigger dive bills, making them better for deep fishing, as the shape and size of the bill aerodynamically draws them down in the water.

How do you deep dive with a jerkbait?

Deep diving jerkbaits relies on the shape and size of the dive bill. These are upwardly turned protrusions sticking out from the mouth area of the imitation lure. Every time the bait is jerked towards you with the rod tip, the dive bill acts as a water brake, producing resistance and pulling the bait down. This action is similar to an upside-down airplane wing, but rather than producing lift the force is a downward pressure.

How do you fish a jerkbait in the spring?

Even though a lot of angler believe jerkbaits work better in the cooler weather of Autumn and Winter, they can be very effective in early to mid Spring. Firstly make sure the water your fishing is crystal clear down to 2 meters, and go with a gold, shad, or clown-colored lure to attract fish. During Spring one of the best retrieval techniques is to use a sinking jerkbait, let it lay on the bottom of the swim for 30 – 60 seconds and then give it 3 quick jolts in succession, to imitate a bait fish so injured or exhausted, it’s find it hard to stay buoyant and swim.

Are jerkbaits topwater?

Yes, jerkbaits can be fished as topwater lures. You want to get your hands on a floating jerkbait with a small dive bill. This design configuration will allow you to sink the bait a few inches whilst jerking and pop back up during the pause phase. I’d recommend fishing with a shorter stiff action rod (6 – 7ft) for the topwater jerkbait technique, as this will help keep the lure flat during retrieval and when inputting movement. This style of topwater fishing works great on murky muddy waters, where seeing the lure any deeper may be difficult.

What line do you use for jerkbaits?

As jerkbait fishing is a clear-water bait method, you want a line that’s very difficult for fish to see. That’s why I recommend using a small diameter (0.025 – 0.028) light fluorocarbon fishing line, which are almost invisible to fish even in the clearest water. Avoid monofilament lines, as they are much more buoyant than fluorocarbon and aren’t transparent. Ideally you want your line to sink to help prevent spooking the fish, degrease your line with a glycerine based product like washing up liquid.

Are jerkbaits good in summer?

Not particularity! During the hot long days of summer predator fish tend to spend most of the time deep down and in cover, rarely venturing out to feed. However, during the magical hours of dusk and dawn, you may get some luck fishing a sinking jerkbait around the margins. Your lure presentation and manipulation needs to good enough to tempt fish out of the cool safety their hidey holes.


Autumn is by far the best month in the UK for fishing with jerkbaits. Grab yourself a varied collection of floating, sinking and suspending lures of different colors, and test which work best on the water your fishing. I’ve always found fishing a jerkbait on gravel pits or from a boat for pike on lakes catches a haul of fish, and are an extremely fun method of fishing. Another quick tip before I go is buy jerkbaits with long dive bills and use sand paper or a knife to reduce the size to fit the fishing conditions. You can also impart added shape to the bills to make them either dive quicker or move more erratically.

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