When pro angler Dave Lefebre briefed me by phone during his drive home from Minnesota that he’d scored a couple crucial big smallmouths on a jerkbait fished in 17 feet of water during the 2016 Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship on Mille Lacs Lake, I knew I had my lead for this article. Although Lefebre didn’t win the Championship with those fish, his second- and third-day catches boosted him to 3rd place for the event, ensuring him a berth in the 2017 Bassmaster Classic.
During the event, Lefebre targeted smallmouths around large isolated boulders he’d located by side-imaging. His main focus was a group of bass holding near two boulders about 10 feet apart in 17 feet of water. When the fish decided to feed, he observed them rise from the bottom, which enabled him to catch a few on a drop-shot rig. But when the smallies were spooked or decided to stop feeding (which was most of the time), they tucked down in the trough between the rocks and blended into the bottom.
Trying to coax bites from these sullen smallies was nearly impossible even with a drop-shot rig. But Lefebre felt if he could dance a jerkbait erratically in front of them, he might tempt one to bite. At one point on day-two, he tied on a slow-sinking Rapala Shadow Rap Deep and cast it well beyond the two rocks and slowly worked the lure to the bottom with slow pulls and lots of patience.
When he finally felt it tick bottom a short distance past the rocks, he started a rip-pause-rip retrieve. While not always successful, this enticing dance drew the occasional strike from huge smallmouths, one weighing 5.8 pounds and another 5.3 pounds, allowing him to cull two smaller fish and gain several pounds.
When was the last time you danced a jerkbait on the bottom in 17 feet of water? Throughout his long career, Lefebre has been known for his independent approach and figuring out solutions to puzzling situations. Perhaps best known for his jig and crankbait skills, jerkbaits play a key role in his year-round arsenal, too.
“When I started using jerkbaits, Rapala’s Husky Jerk was in vogue and I caught lots of big largemouths and smallmouths on them in spring,” he says. “But I realized there was no such thing as a true suspending jerkbait. In spring, with as little as a 10-degree difference in water temperature from lake to lake, suspending baits might rise or sink slowly. I spent a lot of time at the kitchen sink with a thermometer, ice, jerkbaits, and various hooks and weighting methods to make them suspend at water temperatures I expected to encounter.”
The game has changed since his Husky Jerk days. Improvements in suspending technology allowed Lefebre to expand his use of jerkbaits. “Now we have an array of suspending baits—some that truly suspend at a certain depth, as well as those designed to either sink or rise slowly—in the most lifelike baitfish colors yet,” he says. “I don’t view these jerkbaits as gimmicks or rip-offs but rather as specific tools that help me maximize my catch at different times of the season.
“The deep-lip models of Rapala’s Shadow Rap and Shadow Rap Shad series have great action and cast well. The old spoonbill-type baits were hard to cast and difficult to get down down deep. And they didn’t have the crisp cutting action needed in a jerkbait.”
Bass anglers routinely attempt to mimic dying baitfish with lures. But Lefebre points out that careful observation of dying baitfish shows it’s not easy to get details right.
Struggling preyfish act disoriented but still exhibit a subtle kick. A preyfish may start to sink, then turn and swim upward a bit before stopping and drifting back. As it attempts to maintain an upright position, often a slight shudder travels through the body. Lots of things are happening. “All these movements are triggers for bass,” he says, “and good jerkbaits can replicate these movements. Whether…