The Ultimate Shallow Water Smallmouth Lure?

by Chris Gorsuch

By Chris Gorsuch

Most every angler has a favorite lure and presentation to throw when the water is low and clear. Just ask any angler what their favorite shallow water lure is and in most cases their eyes will light up as they begin to explain the how, what and why of their favorite lure. 

   For some it is top water lures.  The sounds and visuals of a bass breaching water to destroy a top water plug and the leaps that follow, are truly reasons to put them as a favorite. For others, rolling a spinnerbait across fast water seams and having the spinner come to a complete stop, as if it were hit by a freight-train, then followed by sounds of the blades ‘clanging’ together as headshakes break the water’s surface is nothing short of spectacular. 

   For decades now, I have annually logged over 200 days on the water, attended dozens of outdoor shows, seminars, podcasts and interviews, and this one question comes up the most. For me, the soft jerkbait is the ultimate shallow-water lure. To throw one is simple, to be successful, anglers must trust what they can and cannot see. Let me explain. 

   Years and years ago, I had an angler out on a hot summer morning when the river was at extremely low water levels. We bumped and banged my 20’ jetboat over and around rocks to get to a shallow flat that was 12-18” in depth. I lowered my shallow water anchors and stood on the back deck pointing out all the casting targets I wanted my client to hit. To my surprise, he looked me in straight in the eyes and said, “Why?  The water is gin clear and I see cannot see any fish here!”   I was taken back some, but smiled and replied, “Trust me.”

   I handed him the rod and guided him into the cast. The five-inch soft plastic smacked the water, he twitched and paused, watching the fluke style bait start to sink. Within seconds the lure disappeared, and the shallow water erupted with what would be the largest smallmouth he had ever encountered. Drag screamed and for a moment all hell broke loose. There, cloaked in complete camouflage, the massive smallmouth blended into the shallow rocks as if it were invisible. 

   This scenario would play out dozens of times that morning in areas as shallow as 12”. We would look into a shallow pool and count every rock in the clear water. Visually there was no indication of bass, and to the eye- an impossible habitat for a giant bass. And yet, time and time again, a long bomb cast would break the quiet surface near a rock, gravel bar or grass bed and a giant would appear. 

   Watching the lure twitch just inches under the surface and then disappear has to be one of the most exciting ways to fish for trophy smallmouth. At least it is for me!


  With the exception of heavy grass or wood, I prefer to nose hook my soft jerks with a 1 or 1/0 wide-gap finesse hook. Gamakatsu is my hook choice, but there are many brand offerings out there to choose from. I rig them side-to-side ‘through the eyes’ rather than up and down. This through the eyes method of nose hooking allows the bait to twitch left and right and appears more natural. If there is shallow grass or wood, the only option is to use a 3/0 or 4/0 round-bend or offset-shank worm hook. Place the hook point just under the skin in the back to make it as snag-proof as possible.  

  Proper position and nose hooking has two advantages. First it allows the soft jerk to move more naturally. Half the bait is not pinned by the large offset hook.  Second, nose hooking produces more hook-ups than offset hooks most days. After watching videos of smallmouth bass hitting minnows in the nose rather than from behind like walleye and other species, it just makes sense, and the results speak for themselves.  If you are a fan of offset hooks, don’t change. But if you start to encounter missed hooksets, give nose hooking a try. 

Line Choices

   Fluorocarbon leader to braid or full a full spool of fluorocarbon line is my clear choice. Fluorocarbon sinks, and if there is even a hint of wind, monofilament or straight braided line will not allow the weightless bait to fall correctly. Fluorocarbon is also extremely abrasion resistant; you WILL need this in shallow rocky water. 

Rod Choices

   Here is where your opinion matters more than mine. A rod that casts light-weight lures well and has the required backbone to lay into a large smallmouth is beneficial. For me this is a 7-foot, medium action, fast rod. Choose one to your liking, moderate, extra-fast, we all have our favorites. 

   When fishing a soft jerk, I find that most anglers move the lure too much. Believe me, there are indeed times where a fast twitch-twitch-twitch is required to get a strike; more often than not, a twitch or two followed by a long pause is far more effective most days. You are imitating a dying or disoriented minnow. When done correctly, no bass on the planet can resist such a free meal. 

   This summer, go and explore the shallows of your home smallmouth water and experiment a bit with soft flukes. Just don’t be surprised if you end up having a whole arsenal of soft-jerks aboard all summer long. 

Author Chris Gorsuch is a licensed charter guide in the state of Pennsylvania. He started the Reel River Adventures guide service in ‘07 and spends 225-250 days on the water annually. His home base is on the Susquehanna River where he operates 20’ jetboats.You can follow his daily fishing reports on Facebook ‘Reel River Adventures-RRA’ & Instagram @Chris_Gorsuch

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