As the fall shad migration reaches full-swing in many parts of the country, fishing with soft jerkbaits is an outstanding way to quickly locate quality bass. When the bass aren’t responding to noisy reaction baits, a more subtle approach can lead to an exciting day on the water.
You’ll rarely see Elite Series pro Jonathon VanDam fishing the autumn months without a soft jerkbait within reach. Not only does he catch quality bass with this technique—it also allows him to quickly eliminate unproductive water.
An all-terrain alternative
Hard reaction baits will certainly catch plenty of bass, but what happens when the larger bass seek shelter in thick, shallow cover? These areas aren’t conducive to large baits and treble hooks, which forces VanDam to adapt his approach.
“The great thing about soft jerkbaits, such as the Strike King KVD Perfect Plastic Caffeine Shad, is you can put them just about anywhere without the worry of hang-ups,” VanDam said. “On a weightless Texas rig, you can cast to thick
vegetation, gnarly blowdowns and chunk rock flats and fish it effectively. You simply can’t do that with hard reaction baits.”
In addition to its weedless properties, a soft jerkbait is extremely castable. Very few anglers have the ability to skip hard baits, leaving heavy cover bass largely unmolested throughout the fall.
“A weightless soft jerkbait skips across the water like a pebble,” VanDam said. “Regardless of your casting skills, you can put these baits into some crazy places. It’s pretty difficult to skip a hard jerkbait under a dock, but a soft jerkbait has the same basic action and can get into the darkest areas of docks where the true giants live.”
Catch fish others leave behind
Schools of active bass aren’t difficult to locate throughout the fall. As they aggressively feed on big balls of shad, they blow their cover by busting the water’s surface. When you locate a group of schoolers, it’s safe to assume that you’re not the only one.
“It’s hard to have a school of fall bass to all to yourself,” VanDam said. “But soft jerkbaits can help you catch fish that other anglers are missing. Most folks will throw a spinnerbait, crankbait or lipless crankbait at these bass, but you can go behind them with a Caffeine Shad and mop up. Its erratic action always seems to fool some of the better ones. These schools get educated, so it’s important to show them something different.”
VanDam utilizes a Caffeine Shad in specific areas this time of year. Instead of focusing on main lake cover, he focuses heavily on the 2 to 6-foot depth range. It’s very possible to catch good fish simply fan-casting, but he has his best luck in areas adorned with a few specific characteristics.
Focus on your retrieve cadence
There’s no need to get too bent out of shape about your retrieve cadence, but it is important to pay attention to what the bass are ‘telling’ you. VanDam uses a few, simple tips to draw more reaction strikes from fall bass.
cadence again. Regardless of the conditions, you should be able to pick up a few bites with this retrieve.”
Use correct casting angles and watch your line
Proper casting angles are essential to keeping your soft jerkbait in the most productive strike zones. Remember, VanDam is targeting the 2 to 6-foot range, so he avoids making perpendicular casts to the bank.
“I almost always make 45-degree casts to the bank,” VanDam said. “I’m not specifically targeting bass sitting in deeper water—I’m looking for shallow, active bass. A 45-degree angle lets me concentrate my efforts in my key depth range.”
Regardless of the level of bass activity, it’s essential to be a ‘line watcher’ when fishing a soft jerkbait. There will be times when you’ll see them boil or flash on your bait, but don’t count on that to detect all of your bites.
“When you’re working your soft jerkbait slowly, you’re not always going to see them eat it,” VanDam said. “Many times, you’ll start to jerk your rod tip and feel a bass on the other end of your line. This can lead to awkward hooksets at times, so make sure to watch your line. A lot of your bites will come on the fall, so keep an eye out for any jumps or twitches in your line. If you see this, set the hook immediately.”
Color selection doesn’t need to be complicated
VanDam doesn’t get too carried away when selecting the proper color for his soft jerkbaits. Instead of rifling through compartments, looking for crazy colors, he has developed ‘groups’ of colors for specific conditions.
Instead of digging through your crankbait boxes wondering why a school of bass has shut off, try throwing a soft jerkbait this fall. Not only can you catch schooling fish with this technique, but you can pick off a lot of bass in-between schools as well.
What’s the biggest bass you’ve ever caught on a soft jerkbait? Comment below or share your picture with us on the Wired2Fish Facebook page!