Team Livingston Tip Sheet: Follow Hank Cherry’s Keys to Wintertime Jerkbait Success

If you live anywhere in the country (except where the lakes are all frozen over), wintertime is one of the best times of year to target suspended fish. People seem to forget that fish still feed a lot in the winter, they just don’t feed as often. They really don’t have to: the bait is all grouped up this time of year, the shad kill is going on, and that turns fish into really opportunistic feeders.

For that reason, this time of year is a great time to throw a jerkbait like the JerkMaster 121 with Electronic Baitfish Sounds MultiTouch Technology™.

Finding the bait is the key to locating fish in the winter, and the easiest way to do that is to look for birds diving and flying around. If you find an area where birds are actually diving and picking up the bait, you know you’re in the right spot. You’ll find fish on windy points a lot this time of year, but if you don’t have an array of electronics, you can just locate an area where birds are active and cast around until you’re able to fine-tune the location of the bait.

This is where EBS MultiTouch™ will be a big help, because the JerkMaster 121’s sound technology dramatically expands the “range” of the bait when you’re looking for fish. And fish just hit the EBS baits SO much harder, it’s amazing.

One little tip on MultiTouch™: Even though you’re fishing over shad balls in the winter, I frequently switch up the sounds from EBS™ Shad (the actual sounds of a panicked/fleeing shad) to EBS™ Craw (which emits the sound of a snapping shellfish). I’ve caught just as many on craw as shad because it’s a different sound that just catches their attention.

The first thing to do once you’ve located bait is figure out what that bait is relating to, and whether it’s on a 45-degree (point) or on a steeper drop-off. Shad can suspend in 5 feet in a pocket, or they could be in 25 feet on a point, but it’s really important to find the depth where the bait is in the biggest masses.

If you find fish suspended in 6 to 15 feet of water, stay off of them and make long casts toward shore. I tend to play with the retrieve depending on water temperature. I like to work the bait more in short twitches this time of year than stroking the bait, and pause to let it float up a little. That action imitates what the shad are doing underwater. If you’ve ever seen a dying shad, that’s exactly what it does: it floats up a little and then twitches.

The retrieve kinda goes day to day, but it’s generally better to fish slower, albeit a little more erratically.

Sometimes I’ll add weight to the JerkMaster 121, depending on how deep the fish are. The bait comes with No. 4 Daiichi 4X Strong trebles, and trust me, you can just take it out of the pack and sling it and do just fine. I fiddle with all my hooks on all my baits, though, so I’ll run the JerkMaster 121 with thinner-wire No. 4 trebles (which are slightly lighter than the 4X hooks), or I’ll go up in hook size depending on how deep the fish are.  You might be surprised at how a tiny little change in the size of the hook will affect the action, and the way you can fish the bait. If I find myself in a situation where fish are deeper – say 15 feet or more – it’s not unusual for me to switch the No. 4s out to No. 3s, depending on how I want the bait to fall.

I throw a medium-action rod and 12- to 15-pound P-Line fluorocarbon, which I prefer over mono because it doesn’t float the bait up, and has virtually zero stretch. I stick with more opaque colors this time of year because they’re more natural-looking for shad in the winter. My personal favorite is Blue Pearl, but you can go with almost anything in white or off white (Pure Bone or Bone Croaker, for example).