By Nick Simonson
A raised eyebrow, a nod, a frown, a crossing of the arms; these silent cues often speak volumes more than any run-on sentence or flamboyant pounding-of-the-table speech ever could and deliver a message with an efficiency that connects with people on a primal level. Silence often is golden and stillness many times conveys the power of the storm being held back just behind the calm. So too is it in spring with those hard baits that pay off for predator fish coming off the spawn, and it’s often the stillness, the pause and the calm before the action that sets those game species off and puts them on the line.
With options like jerkbaits, working that pause into the cadence for aggressive spring fish seems to be the moment that spurs an attack and inhalation that all but guarantees a solid hookset. From splashdown to just before the boat’s edge, working times of stillness into a strong cadence of rips, pops and reels can turn followers into biters. Starting with the cast, it is important to let lures designed to be at rest, stay at rest. Whether it’s a topwater lure like the Zara Spook, or a floating jerkbait like the Rapala XRap, give a lure time to settle in the water, counting to ten or watching the ripples made from splashdown slowly fade. This allows nearby fish who might have fled the sudden commotion to get an idea of what it was and perhaps realize that it looks edible. The long pause before a retrieve sets up success when the bait starts back to the boat and often a strike will occur in the first few feet of the point where the bait landed.
Be certain to utilize a bait’s buoyancy or neutrality while in the water. For suspending baits that when retrieved don’t return to the surface, their ability to hang still drives fish mad. Whether worked faster through warmer water, or slower after cold fronts have caused temperatures to dip, making sure there’s a pause in the retrieve is key to setting off trailing fish. That pause can be longer on those tougher days where fish are lethargic, so adjust to the conditions and the mood that bass, walleyes and pike might be in based on the elements – but don’t forget that the pause is as important as the speedy snap of a retrieve.
Work pauses in throughout the retrieve on any hardbait, but leave room just before the boat or the shore for a hookset. As aquatic real estate dries up, fish may become desperate and strike. Pausing too close to the boat though, might not provide enough line for an effective snap of the rod, or the shadow of the watercraft may spook the fish and suggest something is amiss. Learning how and when fish strike and spook on a retrieved hardbait is unique to each water and each species.
Whether it signals weakness – like the flit of an ailing baitfish that is wounded – or just suggests a quick meal has slowed down and is likely prime for the plucking, the pause is a cue that anglers can easily impart on any jerkbait. It works across species, from shallow foraging walleyes to smallmouth guarding their springtime fry, to muskies and pike looking for a quick dine-and-dash and the cue of a pause is attractive to all of those fish and then some. While knowing the plan for puppeteering that perfect motion on a bait is important, so too is providing a natural pause to the lure. Experiment with the process this spring and summer for a more solid connection with angling excitement that will seemingly put the openwater season in fast forward.
Featured Photo: Big spring bucketmouths will slam a properly-worked jerkbait. Make sure to adjust the length of time in each pause to the weather and water conditions and the mood of the fish. Simonson Photo.