There are a lot of lures out there that catch fish. The best ones catch everything, not only the species that they were designed for. When I think about some of the best all-around lures in my boat there are several that deserve an honorable mention for being great at catching multiple species of fish and performing for me during tournament competition when I’m fishing to make a living.
Ned rigs are incredible for catching all species of bass as well as walleyes. Suspending jerkbaits are great for catching bass, walleye and pike and a tube jig is a popular amongst smallmouth and lake trout anglers. However, if there was only one bait that I could use for the entire year to catch a variety of species it would have to be a soft jerk shad rigged up on a jig head.
All of the sport fish that we like to catch across Sunset Country eat baitfish like smelt, cisco, shiners and perch. Knowing that, it would only make sense that minnow imitating baits are a good option to tie on the end of our lines. Soft plastic jerk shad style baits are now widely available in a plethora of sizes and brands. They are all derived from the Lunker City Slug-Go and the Zoom Fluke as two of the first baits designed in this bait category back in the 90’s.
During the mid-2000’s as electronics on our boats started to get better with more accurate mapping and better sonar that allowed us to find fish with confidence, we started to fish off-shore structure more. We quickly figured out that the presence of baitfish around these spots was a good thing and that the fish in deeper water were focused more on eating these baitfish than anything else. That combination of events led us to using a soft plastic jerk shad on a jig to fish efficiently in deep water.
In a short amount of time, anglers were winning tournaments in the summer and fall with this presentation and over time it became accepted by anglers fishing for walleye, lake trout, pike and other species as well. My friends and I started calling it “the minnow”, our secret code for a relatively secret bait at the time and to this day we still call it that.
There are many nuances to fishing this bait but two techniques are most popular. Hanging a jig tipped with a soft jerk shad over the side of the boat, watching it with your electronics almost like you’re ice fishing. The other popular method involves casting it out and swimming it back to the boat. The most important aspect of each presentation is you want to keep the bait above the fish, so that usually means keeping it three to six feet above the bottom. Most fish that are focused on eating baitfish are programmed to look up so that is why it’s a good general rule to always keep these types of baits above the fish.
The bait that I use most often for this presentation is a Z-Man Scented Jerk ShadZ, in both four and five inch sizes, usually dependant on the size of the baitfish that the fish are focused on. If I’m after big lake trout and pike I might even bump up to a seven inch bait. I rig the plastic on a Smeltinator jig head from Lake of the Woods Sports Headquarters, a high quality jig with a premium Gamakatsu hook and a really good keeper to hold the plastic on the jig head. For fishing vertically I like a 3/8 oz jig to help keep it under the boat. The heavier jig is also easier to find on my sonar screen. For casting I like to use a 1/8 or ¼ ounce jig depending on the water depth and the wind conditions. You want the bait to almost float through the water column when you’re casting it and not sink like a rock to the bottom.
Over the years I have caught thousands of fish on these baits but the number one experience for me with this style of lure was earlier this year when I won my first pro tournament on the Tennessee River. I caught all of my fish hanging a jig tipped with a jerk shad under the boat and it felt like I was fishing at home!
These baits really do catch fish so if you’re interested in catching some bigger bass this fall, you want to try to catch more walleyes on artificial tackle or you want to catch a lake trout in open water or under the ice you should tie one of these jerk shad baits on