Handling largemouth jerks an art
First, let’s get this clear and out in the open. I am not a bass fisherman. Oh, I have caught a few largemouth lunkers in my day that is for sure. I think the last one nearly twisted the spring out of the scale at two pounds. This personal best of mine of course gives me ample room for improvement down the road in my fishing career. You should see my last big buck.
Anyway, I was taught what very little I know about bass angling from one of the original best in Mississippi, one Don Norton, then of Brell Mar Products, which some may remember was a manufacturer of boat anchors for Bass Pro Tracker boats and numerous other hunting and fishing equipment over in Clinton.
Can’t deny it, Norton was and is a legend in the field of innovative outdoor equipment for fishermen and hunters alike including several designs of fishing lures still made today. I can recall seeing him back in the old days sitting at his office desk with his infamous yellow lined pad doodling out some new idea, which later probably ended up on dealers’ shelves.
Understanding the Jerk Method
I never could quite get the bass rod jerk right. There seems to be some kind of sixth sense that I just don’t have. Now, my time on a fishing rod pales in comparison to a hunting rifle these past 60 years, but some things I finally learned. I can “feel” a crappie or bream nibble, a halibut tug, a king salmon snap at a ball of bait eggs, a blue cat swallowing the hook, or a redfish dragging his fins in the mud like a bulldog going backwards, but the trick to jerk on a largemouth bass eludes me still. Maybe I just need more time on task.
The crucial moment in catching a big bass comes just after the fish tempts you with a first snatch at the bait or lure. If you pull back on the rod too soon, he’d be gone. There is a very thin line of time between that first twitch of the rod tip and that lunker locking his jaw down on that spinner or cast bait. When that rod tip goes down for a second time, you best be ready to jerk that bass stick with a quick action. Most of the time that will set the hook and hold the bass until he gets into the net,” Norton used to council me.
Just at that moment comes the tricky part. Too quick a jerk back on the rod is one thing that will foul up the catch, but also too powerful a jerk will end in the same result. I think this is where the neophyte like many of us becomes cast aside in the field by the highly experienced bass angler. It is that sense of the right amount of jerk added to the precise moment to jerk that yields the fish to the boat.
Practice Makes Perfect
Just like consistently knocking down doves from the sky with a moderate load of shot from a 20-gauge smoothbore is a sport for the truly experienced wing shot, the time-after-time landing of largemouth bass via the jerk method comes second nature to the angler who has spent the most time on the water working at it.
Norton used to give me a play-by-play analysis of my failure to land a bass while fishing a hidden oxbow lake off the Big Black River in Holmes County. Either I wasn’t reacting fast enough or too fast. The few times I began to snag a few smaller fish either by crook or hook, I began to get the sense of it all. It does take practice to make the jerk method work with consistency. And the only way to learn the pattern is to work at it over and over again.
“As much as knowing when to make the jerk to seal the deal by setting the hook well into the mouth of the bass, you also have to keep an eye out for the rod tip action and the lure retrieving motion. The lure has to be brought in with a consistent crank with no slack or pause. A pause can result in a small amount of slack in the line. If the bass hits then, your chances of making a good solid hooking jerk is diminished considerably. It isn’t impossible to recover under these circumstances, but it can happen so fast, most often the whole thing just quickly gets away from you,” I can hear Norton schooling me.
So the jest of it all is to work on eye-hand coordination between the rod angle, tip action, lure retrieval for speed and tight line motion, but equally as well learning that sense of when to dance the jerk. Once you learn to handle the largemouth jerk, you’ll find a need for more peanut oil and some hushpuppies.
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