Northern Smallmouth: Early-winter jerkbaits for shallow water

Up here in Canada and the Great Lakes region, I like to target shallow flats, where Smallmouth feed on small baitfish before descending into their wintering holes. Although I catch Smallmouth on jerkbaits from Spring to Fall, this is truly the best time to catch a big one!

The Vision Oneten jerkbait has been my favorite bait for over 10 years, and has several advantages that make it special. They cast a mile, have incredible ability to react to the most minute movement of the rod tip, and can be highly effective fished at any speed. Fished slow, it mimics a wounded or dying baitfish, and when fished aggressively, it acts like a panicked or spooked baitfish that can trigger the most aggressive strikes. When targeting areas shallower than the 110’s running depth, you want to make sure you don’t hit bottom. To keep your jerkbait higher, crank down only once or twice before starting your jerk-jerk cadence, and avoid downward jerks of your rod (picture the hands of a clock, where 12 is straight up–you want to keep the direction of your jerks between 9 and 3).

I like spinning gear because I can cast it further and use lighter line, which will allow the bait to move more freely. Lighter line has a smaller diameter, so there is less resistance getting in the way of hard-darting and dancing action. The 6’8” Ronin Orochi XX or the 7’0” Levante Shaky Head are my primary choices, spooled with 20lb braid and 10lb Fluorocarbon leader. There are situations where I’ll go even lighter, to 10lb Braid and 8lb (or even 6lb) leader material when I’m less concerned with breakoffs.

The Vision Oneten Jr is another bait I love this time of year. It casts incredibly far for a small bait, and its smaller profile can be a gem when spooked or negative fish are present. Of course, the Oneten Jr is effective when fished aggressively, but one seldom-used presentation that has worked well for me is a simple, straight retrieve. Cast it out, and with the rod tip high, employ a slow retrieve to keep it just under the surface, mimicking small baitfish like Emerald shiners or “pinheads,” as we like to call them. The retrieve is slow and steady, and can be a deadly option. The Orochi XX Ronin or Drop Shot spinning rods are great options spooled with 10lb braid and 8lb Fluorocarbon leader or just straight 8lb Fluorocarbon. The set up just depends on how aggressively I want to fish it.

One question I get asked all the time is if I change the hooks. I never change my hooks! I have played with every type from round bend to EWG’s and trust me when I say, you don’t want to mess with the factory settings. Megabass hardbaits are tuned and weighted perfectly. Changing hooks will not only compromise action, but also change how it sits or suspends in the water. The light diameter Katsuage hooks that come with Megabass jerkbaits are super sticky, and penetrate easily. Set your drag lighter and when necessary, replace old hooks. Lost fish are part of the Jerkbait game, especially when it comes to Northern heavyweight Smallmouth!