A spindly twig peeked just above the water line, offering evidence of the tree lurking just beneath the surface. I flicked my bait past it, cranking it down to about ten and some change. Earlier, I’d settled in on a slow turn, erratic, “three-twitch-short-pause” retrieve. The superbraid shuttered as the bait banged the trunk—I killed it. I kept my eye on my line, monitoring it for any sign of life below. For a fleeting second, my heart’s cadence rattled my temples.
My line gently ticked—instinctively I snapped my rod tip to attention to 12 o’clock. The bait’s trebles punched hard, reflexively she countered, lurching straight down—awakening my drag.
Summer is here, a time when fish seek deep water as surface temperatures soar. When the mercury sends fish south, one of the best tactics for a heavy haul is lobbing suspending baits. Personally, I opt for the long, slender, stick-style jerkbaits. For me, these excel for several reasons. First, they’re considerably easier to crank than pudgy-bellied crankbaits with their sizey bills. Depending on which model you choose, they’ll dig as deep as their fat-bodied cousins.
Secondly, they have a tight wiggle, an action which imitates the natural swimming action of most baitfish. Additionally, their narrow profile mimics natural forage much closer than fat baits. How many times have you seen natural baits that resemble a traditional crankbait? Baitfish rarely get that fat, as they’ be slow and an easy target for predators. Stick-style jerkbaits are also easy to throw with spinning gear.
I like a spinning rod for several reasons. First, they’re able to zing baits in windy conditions that cripple baitcasters. A spinning rod also allows you to gather line quickly after fishing the most productive water in a less tiring manner than a baitcaster. And with the new braid superlines, spinners are no longer hamstrung by small poundage clear lines (mono or fluorocarbon).
No matter what style of equipment you choose; working suspending jerkbaits is easy. When working cover, such as timber, docks, bridges, etc.—simply cast past the target. Crank the bait down to depth, then start your retrieve. An erratic retrieve works best, and pausing (or “killing it”) increases bites and hook-ups ten-fold. Pausing works best if you freeze the bait when you get to the structure. By doing so, you’ll often trigger a reaction strike from fish hanging tight to the cover. For an aggressive presentation, try ripping the bait on a fast retrieve, with erratic, crisp twitches of the rod tip and short pauses. Remember, the majority of strikes occur on the pause.
There’s plenty of stick-style suspenders out there. Two of my favorites are the SPRO McRip and the Rapala Jointed Deep Husky Jerk. These nondescript baits cast well, and when killed—suspend motionless. The McRip has an aggressively rolled back, extending from the dorsal area down to the nose. This helps the McRip clear underwater snags better than less aggressively designed jerkbaits. The Jointed Deep Husky Jerk is my go-to when a little more action is required, as the jointed tail adds a seductive wounded baitfish wobble. The Spro is available in ten patterns and the Rapala in eight.
(McRip $11.49; spro.com; Jointed Deep Husky Jerk; $6.99; rapala.com)