Tournament pro Hank Cherry relies on jerkbaits throughout the year but says during the colder months they are deadly and often the only thing you will need to throw to catch big bass. On the top tournament trails, Cherry relies on them throughout the country and during different times of the year, but when the water is below 55 degrees he believes they are tough to beat.
Water Temperature, Water Clarity and Locations
“When the water hits 55 degrees and up, I’ll put the jerkbait down because I feel there are other ways that will catch them as good or better. Anything below 55 or so is ideal and I have caught them in water as cold as 40 degrees,” says Cherry. Interestingly he also gauges whether or not to use them based on time of day. “In the fall and winter I will throw them all day, but in the spring I will use them for the first few hours of the day before the water starts to warm up and the fish start to move up shallower,” shares the North Carolina pro. There is another clue as to when the jerkbait bite will begin; and that is bird activity. “Once I start to see the seagulls show up and out in the middle of the lake, I know it’s time to start throwing a jerkbait,” shares Cherry.
The jerkbait has often been seen as strictly an ultra clear water technique. “I used to think the water had to be super clear, but I have changed my thinking some. If you are able to see at least two feet into the water, the fish are actually able to see it from a much farther distance and will be able to find the jerkbait,” says Cherry.
According to Cherry, the ideal locations to throw a jerkbait are on long points and bluff walls. “In the winter and into prespawn, those long points are where the fish will be,” mentions Cherry. Another key factor is the location of the baitfish. As the shad begin to move back into the creeks, the bass will follow and Cherry will be right behind them with a jerkbait.
Rod, Reel and Line
Hank Cherry’s jerkbait setup consists of a 7’ Medium Denali Rosewood Cranking rod with an Abu Garcia MGXtreme Revo reel spooled with 10-15lb test Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon line. “The Denali Cranking rod is really limber and has a great flex. I fished all year and only lost a few fish all year and I really believe it was the rod, because usually with jerkbaits you are losing quite a few fish,” claims Cherry. He chooses the MGXtreme reel due to its lightweight frame and long casting abilities. “You can cast that thing a country mile and one thing I have noticed is the reel doesn’t freeze up in the cold like some reels will do. I don’t know what it is about it, but I have used a bunch of different reels and they don’t do as well in the really cold weather” states Cherry.
The choice of lines is one of the most crucial parts of your jerkbait setup according to Cherry. “It’s real important to make sure you are getting long casting distance, and the right depth and action on your baits. All I use is Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon between 10 to 15lb test,” says Cherry. He varies the line diameter based on where he is fishing, what bait he is using and also how cold the water is. “12-15 are my staples and I will switch to 12 when it is a little colder. The InvizX is not as stiff as some other lines and it is also much thinner so you can get away with using 15lb and still get the good action on your baits,” mentions the Elite Series pro.
The retrieve speed and cadence is something that continuously requires adjustment according to Cherry. One of the most effective retrieves is a constant “jerk, jerk, pause” retrieve. The timing of each pause varies and is one of the most important parts of the presentation. “I will always count in my head the length of time that I pause the bait. I will switch it up based on what the fish want and will pause up to 15 seconds between moving the bait,” adds Cherry. The pause varies based on how cold the water is as well as how aggressive the fish are and he will try to replicate what is working that day on each cast, but he is also ready to switch it up if he is not getting bites. “Motion is what triggers the strike, you just have to figure out how they want it,” acknowledges Cherry.
Bait Selection and Colors
Hank Cherry groups jerkbaits into two main categories. The common shaped “cigar minnows,” as he calls them would include baits like a Megabass Vision 110, Lucky Craft Pointer and other similar baits. Cherry uses several different models. “The Megabass 110 and 110+1 are great baits and I have also been working with a new prototype jerkbait from Livingston Lures that is going to be perfect. The key is the thin profile and shallow bill,” acknowledges Cherry.
The other type of jerkbait Cherry uses would be what he calls “spoon bill” jerkbaits. A deeper diving Lucky Craft StaySee is one he relies on. “I’ll fish these almost like a crankbait in a little deeper water where I am trying to get them to hit off of the bottom. I’ll give it sharp twitches on slack line and then let it sit,” adds Cherry.
When asked about color selections, Cherry had a simple reply. “I’ll use the brighter colors for smallmouth and spotted bass and the solid colors and chrome finishes for largemouth,” says Cherry.
Like most professional bass anglers, Cherry makes several modifications to his lures to change their actions and catch more fish. “One of the easiest things you can do is to adjust your hooks. The differences in weights of hooks really change the action of bait,” says the tournament pro. He advises to experiment with different hooks to see the actions, but always prefers to change the stock hooks from his jerkbaits. “I change to #5 Gamakatsu trebles. The ones that come on most jerkbaits are just too small,” shares Cherry.
Fishing a jerkbait is one of the best ways to catch both quality and quantity of bass during the colder months. Top professional anglers like Hank Cherry have learned that in order to be successful when the water is cold, they have to know when to throw a jerkbait and also to make sure they are willing to find the right presentation for each situation. Mastering the jerkbait will ensure that you are able to catch bass when the water dips below 55 degrees.