By Tim Tipton
March across much of the nation means jerkbait fishing and my region of the country is no exception. Bassmaster Elite Series pro and fellow Kentuckian Mark Menendez is known for his prowess with a jerkbait. The Paducah, KY pro looks for shallow, flat points with an immediate drop-off. Bass suspend off the edge of that break line and anywhere there is a shallow flat with a contour change is the first place he looks. They have spent all winter out on the main lake and Menendez observes they have a craving to move shallow and feed once water levels get right. The still-chilly water temperatures are a key to bass location and the jerkbait’s effectiveness.
His jerkbait of choice is a Strike King Wild Shiner which is 4 1/2 inches long and resembles a baitfish. The lure is long, lean and equipped with a medium sized bill enabling it to dive to around 5-feet deep. He changes the hooks out to the sharpest number 4 hooks he can find. He also modifies the bait to give it perfect neutral buoyancy.
He does this by filling his kitchen sink with cold water and experiments adding weight to achieve the desired effect. He uses suspend strips or dots under the throat and rubber core sinkers on the front set of treble hooks to help achieve the desired result. He will start with a 1/8 ounce sinker on the front treble hook of the 4 ½-inch bait; if he decides on a larger lure he will go with a ¼-ounce weight. If the bait goes to the bottom when dropped in the cold water, he will take side cutters and trim some weight off the sinker. Once he gets it close to neutral buoyancy, he will add suspend strips or dots to the throat area.
He will keep adding or subtracting the weights until he gets the buoyancy he is looking for. Once that is achieved, he will remove the strips and use a super glue to reattach them in place so they will not peel off during use. They key to the way he weights the bait serves two purposes; it gives it a head down appearance which allows the bait to get to maximum depth quickly when he jerks the rod, and the head down position mimics the appearance of a dying gizzard shad.
The five-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier likes to keep his color selection simple, opting for four different color combinations. He will employ chrome/blue/ orange, chrome/black/orange, or in overcast conditions he prefers clown or some color combination with white. The white works well on cloudy days because it produces better flash then does chrome under low-light conditions.
When fishing the jerkbait, Menendez utilizes a 6-foot, 6-inch Lew’s Tournament SL Speed Stick paired with a Team Lew’s reel with 6.4:1 gear ratio spooled with 8- or 10-pound-test Seaguar Senshi monofilament line.
“One thing I tell anglers in a cold water jerkbait situation is to sit down,” he continued. “We as people are more patient when we’re sitting down and it makes us slow down. The colder the water the slower you want to fish this lure.”