For many years ... actually decades now, I have been a big fan of jerkbaits. From the start of bass season until it closes, I will always have at least one tied on and ready to go. Without doubt, my favorite is the Rapala X-Rap as it casts like a bullet and can suspend a couple of meters below the surface if you so desire. It can be equally effective at catching a quick limit as it can at that kicker fish you need to cash a cheque. The X-Rap is the perfect search bait because even when most bass are shut down, there’s often one ornery one, perturbed enough to not let that uber tempting, injured minnow get away! And fortunately for you, bass often hang out together- so the one that gave himself away, can tell you others might be nearby and cacheable with a slower moving soft bait.
Maximizing Results With Your X-Rap:
Wil admires a nice northern Ontario smallmouth; caught from the bow of a canoe
Early in the year when water temps are below 60 F, I work this bait a lot less vigorously than when temps hover around 70 F or more. The slower, longer jerks and longer pauses when it’s cooler cater to the fish’s slower metabolism. Short yet rapid fire twitches attract the attention of hungry bass - especially smallmouth from shallow waters. Ah ... but shallow to one angler may not seem all that shallow to another. Conversely shallow in one lake may not really be considered all that shallow in another. As a general rule though I think many anglers use these baits most often when they are in just six or seven feet of water... Big Mistake!
Here in Ontario I have no hesitation at all suggesting your X-Rap can be cast and worked effectively for bass in waters up to 15 feet deep. This is especially true in our many clear water conditions for smallmouth where this bait shines. Additionally, once those big smallmouth begin chasing pelagic baitfish (usually by early fall) well away from shore – that suspending jerkbait can become highly effective in twice that depth ... for suspending bass that are simply looking up to feed on those smelt, small cisco or shiners.
One key to success is making the longest cast possible. A 6.5’ Rapala Shift, medium heavy rod, matched with a Shift 35 series spinning reel and 8 lb test Suffix Floro maximizes the distance I can hurl this lure. In very rocky or heavily infested zebra mussel waters, I’ll move up to 10lb floro. I would use a seven footer and have on occasion for even longer casts, but the downward jerks are tougher to do with the longer rod. Don’t be afraid to fish with the wind in your back either to increase your distance.
Another key element when fishing a jerkbait is to resist the urge to reel in the bait between jerks. Instead, reel just the slack line caused by pulling the bait down and forward. I also like to move my rod back after my typical two jerk cadence so that I’m not pulling the bait out of the strike zone too quickly. And ... don’t be afraid to experiment either. Many times that two jerk cadence just won’t cut it and I’ve had to switch it up to three or four. Vary the length of that jerking motion too and you will notice an amazing difference in how that bait runs and can mimic a dying baitfish. Pay attention to what cadence the bass prefer on any given day or even time of day. It could very well be different from early morning low light conditions when they want it fast and furious compared to high noon when they want a more slow and methodical approach. In short let the fish decide and follow suit!
What About Off Colored Waters ... and Largemouth?
Wil checks out a good largie; caught from the bow of a canoe
In some super muddy waters, jerkbaits are in my opinion not as effective as some other beefier artificials. Admittedly though here in Ontario we don’t have too many of these lakes compared to our US neighbors. Even Lake Scugog is much clearer than it once was, now that zebra mussels have become well established. I find in even semi-stained waters where largemouth and smallmouth often are in the same general area, these rattling jerkbaits can be highly productive for both species. X-Raps can be worked overtop deep weeds or ripped thru sparse weedgrowth without too much trouble for largemouth as well as smallmouth. One difference I have noted however, is that largemouth seldom will want the bait worked as quickly and aggressively as their smaller mouthed cousins.
Does Lure Color matter?
This past weekend our Aurora Bassmaster club had a little club tournament on Go Home Lake. For many the bite was quite tough, but afterwards, the small handful who threw jerkbaits appeared to do ok. I caught my share on a 4” white (Glass Ghost) color X-Rap but my limit was small and I placed out of the money. Brad Jamieson threw the same sized X-Rap in hot pink however and caught bigger fish, for his first win of the season! “I recalled seeing an episode of Anglers Edge and heard Al Lindner mention how northern smallmouth love this colored X-Rap. So I switched from a perch colored one to the pretty pink bait ... and it did the trick,” he said. At a club tournament earlier in the season the same color also made a big difference for me on Lake St John when I switched to this color to help me place 2nd.
Brad Jamieson is a hot young stick with the Aurora Bassmasters who won his first tournament of the season as a non boater thanks to his trusty X-Rap
However ... Despite personal color preferences I must admit that when, where and how a lure is used, far out way the importance of what color you choose to throw. As noted however, I have seen color become that last deciding factor to make a real difference. Sometimes it just means bass become better hooked when you tweak with colors so this can make the difference between landing or loosing fish. Other times, color can simply help fish see your lure better and if they’re actively feeding – that can get them chasing it down from greater distances instead of staying put!
There are more color varieties of X-Raps than you can shake a flippin stick at but I keep my preferred list fairly simple:
Clown color = this chartreuse/white and red bait is chosen in real dingy water or if quite windy or stormy;
Hot Pink = semi stained or tannic colored waters or if it’s an overcast dreary day;
Glass Ghost, Olive Green, Silver, Gold = clear waters, wherever pelagic baitfish exist;
Perch and Yellow Perch = whenever perch are a forage source for bass.
Wil at the bow of his bass boat with a big ol’ Simcoe smallmouth and the X-Rap that fooled the ol’ girl
Regardless of your color choices, next time you hit the water for bass, be sure to tie on a jerkbait and begin covering water ... cast after cast after cast could very well equal bass after bass after bass!