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By Jim Porter

Soft jerk bait lures, the slowly sinking ones like our RIPPIN’ Stick and the SENKO, have created a once-in-a-lifetime impact on bass fishing. They are a true fishing phenomenon, the magnitude of which is rapidly changing the angling population’s entire approach to lure selection and presentation. If you haven’t cashed in on this superb method for taking bass, you need to ‘hat-up’ and start now. Let me give you some numbers. In the Fall of 2003, I started using the Bass Pro Shops STIK-O soft jerk bait in the Stick Marsh. All I had to do was demonstrate how to use it and EVERY client, young or old, make it work. In October-December of 2003, we caught slightly over 1100 bass on that jerk bait. The largest was a bit over 13-lbs. We guided January – May in 2004, with a catch of approximately 2400 jerk bait bass, with Gordie Braun’s 13-lb. monster being the big bass. The numbers would have been a LOT higher, but we had shiner and crappie trips mixed into the schedule. The Fall of 2004 and the Spring of 2005 saw more reliance on crank plugs, since the hurricanes of 2004 destroyed the grass in the Stick Marsh. The bass would still take the jerk baits, but we could cover more of the open water faster with the crank plugs.

All predators have basically the same trait towards obtaining food. They have an inborn instinct to lie-in-wait, stalk, or just plain chase their prey. Injured prey is even better. It's an easy catch. They do not have to expend energy to catch it. They absolutely cannot sit still and watch what might be INJURED prey slowly moved past them. Whether hungry or not, they have to try and capture it. The common house cat is a good example. He comes from a species that is a good hunter, and prey is constantly on his mind. Your cat gets fed very well, as does mine. But, even with no food needs, they still seem to like to kill mice and other small animals. A cat cannot stand to watch a string being dragged slowly across a floor, so he just has to suddenly grab at it. He can't eat the string. It doesn't smell like prey, taste like prey, move like prey, or even LOOK like prey. But, you can bet your lunchbox Twinkies that cat will try and catch it. Do you remember what the cat does when he DOES catch the string?? He looks at it, turns a claw over and looks at the other side, smells it once and drops it. If it is not worth having, the cat walks away. In Florida, I continually get the opportunity to show my guide service clients how the alligators do EXACTLY the same thing. Yep, a Gator is a few rungs down the ‘smarts’ chain, too. If I have a float marker out (or, even a shiner bobber will do), sooner or later, old Wally Gator will see it and come to check it out. The reptile will usually get 6-10 feet away and look the float over. Then, he will ease up to it ever so slowly and place his nose right against it. I don’t know if he is feeling of the plastic float or maybe smelling it. After a few seconds of this, the Gator will gently take the float into his mouth and chew on it a bit. It only takes a few seconds and the Gator has determined there is no food value in plastic and he drops the object and moves off toward greener pastures.
But, there is a reverse of this, too. If something is injured or splashing on the surface, the Gator will move directly at high speed to intercept it. In this case, he makes a hard and violent attack on the prey. That is PRECISELY what a bass, and nearly all other predatory fish, do, as well. They react to a movement, whether seen or heard. They do a quick calculation to determine if the energy effort to catch the potential prey is worth the return in food value. If the prey is moving fast, the bass makes a savage run and violently attacks. If it appears to be something slow or just easy to catch, they will grab it and do their examination. (It is like comparing the hard strike on a fast Rat-L-Trap to the soft, gentle tap-tap of an inhaled plastic worm.) A bass will simply mouth it, determine if it is something edible or not, and either swallow or spit it out. The bass isn't too mentally swift at this process, it appears. I have found pieces of wood, small rocks, and the old rip tabs that once came on beverage cans in their bellies. I have had them regurgitate soft plastic lures when placed in the livewell and have even seen soft plastic lures protruding from their anal opening. So, right away we know that their taste and smell capabilities aren't so great and their abilities to determine food from ‘other’ is sometimes lacking. A unique thing about a bass is his tenaciousness after having captured a possible food item. (This is another great ‘lesson’ that I get to demonstrate to nearly every guide client.) I heard for years that we needed to set the hook fast when the bass struck at our plastic worm, for he would quickly determine it to be fake and spit it right out. That is SO FAR FROM THE TRUTH as to be ridiculous. Unless you scare the bass with a sudden jerk on the line or letting him pull the line too tight, a bass normally WILL NOT drop that soft plastic lure! It is an absolute fact and I can direct you to thousands of people I have show this to, in person. You can actually lead a bass around and around the boat like a dog on a leash, so long as you give him line when he starts to tighten up on it. Being careful and moving gently, you can usually get him to turn and come back. He has captured that possible prey, it’s his, and he doesn’t want to let it go. It doesn’t LOOK, SMELL, nor TASTE like real food to the bass. But, if he thinks it is trying to get away in some manner, he just won’t let go. This particular action of retaining possession of the lure and holding onto it is normally found only with the soft plastic types. And, it really manifests itself when we are using the soft jerk bait with its thicker body. I suppose it must just feel real. Now for the ways to fish a soft jerk bait. It is so simple, you may not take my words seriously enough. But, what I say is true and I urge you to ‘just do it’!!

The soft sinking jerk bait can be fished slowly, fast, as a topwater, on the bottom, and anywhere in between. It can basically replace most any lure in your tackle box. AND, it looks, acts and feels more natural to fish than any other lure in that box, too!!! The most effective way to fish this lure is completely UN-WEIGHTED, using 18-inches of leader and a small swivel to prevent twist. WE recommend a 2/0 – 3/0 Z-bend worm hook (example: Eagle Claw styles L7013BP, LO95JB, or equivalent), based on lure size. The most deadly presentation method is simply to cast it around, or over, cover and let it sink slowly on a TOTALLY slack line. All you have to do is watch that line for the movement indicating a strike. It may be a sudden run of the line, or just a barely visible twitch. Sometimes, there is nothing to indicate a strike, as the bass picks the falling lure out of the water column and apparently just sits there with it. The lure finds those bass around grass, blowdowns, standing timber/stumps, and rocks like pure magic. They just cannot resist it!! A very SLOW ‘pull-drop’ retrieve is also great. Just be sure to let it ‘free-fall’ a lot. That’s when the strikes come.

I am spending this summer in the mountains of Western North Carolina, fishing clear high mountain lakes and other really clear bodies, such as Lake Fontana and Lake James. Over the three years I have visited this region, all the ‘locals’ have told me that the best fishing is at night. They state that the bass stay very deep during the daylight hours because the waters are just so clear. Well, I have limited out nearly every trip out for three months now and have done it in the daytime. I have used only the 4-inch JuneBug RIPPIN’ Stick rigged on the 18-inch leader. I started out tossing it into the middle of every blowdown and brushtop I could find. In some cases, I had to feed out extra line and let the lure drop as much as 30 feet down to a top suspended out over deep water. But, deep or shallow, I caught a LOT of bass. When this pattern seemed to slow down, I started skipping the lure up under every overhanging bush or cut-bank I could find. You don’t see or feel the strike as often up in this shallow zone, but the bass come on a regular basis. Our good friend, Don Hitchcock fished with us last week and got to see the methods work first-hand.

The jerk bait is also very effective rigged Carolina-style or Texas-rigged. It can easily replace all your other plastic worms. Again, I proved this to my clients over and over, every day. Working the jerk bait with short, rapid twitches across the surface was deadly method when the grass was still in the Stick marsh. The fish would either blow the lure up, or just swirl and take it. You could let them swim as long as you liked and they would NOT turn loose of it. Accordingly, we waited until they felt out resistance on the line and turned away from us before setting the hook. This allowed us to set the hook from the rear, rather than possibly pulling it out of the fish’s mouth from the front. Plus, it assured he had plenty of time to take it all the way into his big mouth cavity. We rarely EVER missed a hook-up. And, whenever we had surface feeding action, all we had to do was toss the jerk bait anywhere near the breaks and we had a sure strike. The soft jerk bait, then, replaced all topwater lures we used to carry. Some of you who use Fireline, or other ‘Super Lines’, know that those materials float. I have used Fireline exclusively for 8 years now and use NOTHING else. It is the perfect line? But, the fact that it floated caused soft jerk baits to sink very, very slowly. So, I came up with my own soft jerk bait, the RIPPIN’ Stick. It has about 15-20% MORE salt content, which makes it heavier. It sinks great, even with a Super Line. If you use monofilaments, any of the lure brands will do. Just try to use one that doesn’t tear up or get thrown off on every fish.

The RIPPIN’ Stick’s extra salt content makes it cast like a bullet and sink faster!! It is tough and will normally last for 4-8 bass attacks. And, it cost a lot less, too!! Now, go fishing’ and learn to use the soft sinking jerk bait. I am not pulling your leg – it can easily replace nearly everything in your tackle box. It’s that deadly!!


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