There are just as many possible retrieves as there are baits when it comes to jigs and soft plastics. We can swim them, hop them, crawl them, even burn them over the top of vegetation. All of these presentations can be excellent producers in the right conditions. However, I have produced more strikes and outweighed many partners fishing with me on any given day by simply shaking my baits. Whether it’s a jig or a Texas rigged creature bait, simply keeping your bait in one place and making it shake or quiver will catch the biggest and most bass a piece of cover or structure has to offer.
This all stems back to my west coast angling days. We fished lakes that were generally small by Southern or Eastern standards. These lakes, just like any other, had community holes. Unfortunately, all the good areas were community holes, because the lakes were so small. In a tournament of one hundred boats, eighty of them would be ganged up and taking turns on the same four or five humps or ridges.
With this kind of pressure on the bass, every angler looked for a way to present something different to them. Most bass could tell you the serial numbers on hard baits. One, because the water was so clear and two, because they got to see them about every 6 or 7 minutes. My father, an avid bass fisherman, was also a thinker and tinkerer. At the time, we poured our own soft plastics, and he came up with a mold to make a straight tail worm that when at rest would curl up on its self just like a live night crawler. This worm was 6 inches long when straight; this is important.
During our first outing with the new idea, we were disappointed in the outcome. It just didn’t produce as well as many other options. Back at the drawing board we just couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t a great idea. We filled the bath tub up with water again to watch the dynamics of this new idea. It did everything we expected and wanted it to do. With a slight pull, it straightened out, when you stopped pulling it curled back up on itself just like a live night crawler dropped into a puddle. Why isn’t this catching a ton of bass?
The answer was simple. There is an enormous difference between the amount of movement you make with your hand in a bathtub and the distance your rod pulls a bait when you lift on it. Remember the worm is only six inches long. So without getting into a lot of diameter, circumference and radius times pie equations, basically when you pull your rod just two or three inches the bait would straighten out. Have you ever tried to move your rod tip just three inches? If there is as slight breeze you probably can’t even get the line tight in three inches of rod tip movement; but, the bait is still moving. So with our new found information, we took the prototype back to the lake and discovered that, while difficult to maintain slight movements, it was very effective and out produced standard soft plastic offerings.
What does all this have to do with shaking a bait in one place? It takes very little rod movement to make a jig or soft plastic presentation move. The slightest twitch of a rod tip can hop your bait off the bottom several inches. Throw braided line into the equation and now your possibly hopping your bait a foot off the bottom with a simple pop of the rod tip.
When you’re crawling your jig or creature bait along the bottom, and you feel it contact something – a rock, a limb, or a stump – pause for a second, and let your bait settle to the bottom. Then try to shake it in place. Remember that moving your rod tip just inches can make your bait move violently, so slow down and gently shake just the tip of your rod to make the bait quiver in place. If you can shake your bait in place for 30 seconds and not have to take up line to keep in contact with your bait, you’ve done it correctly.
The best situation is to have your bait over a limb, on the back side of a boulder or stump. This will help prevent you from moving your bait too far towards you. Now you can shake your bait on the bottom, then pull it up some and shake it again. The whole premise behind this is to keep the bait in the strike zone longer. Larger bass can be finicky and keeping a bait in their way can draw anger strikes. It also presents a more natural look. Crawdads, bream, and other small fish don’t jump up and down two or three feet in the water column screaming come eat me. Instead, they sneak around picking at algae or other small crustaceans all the while keeping an eye out for mister bucket mouth. The wrong flinch, turn, or quiver and it’s all over, survival of the fittest takes over. By shaking a bait in one place or as near to one place as you can, you are simulating a meal having trouble in a more natural way.
Think about a dying bream or shad on the surface of the lake; one that’s not completely dead, but it’s obvious that it’s not going to make it. It’s not jumping two or three feet and then laying there, but rather simply quivering maybe making small surges that gain it a couple inches at a time before it drifts into a semi circle of death. This same thing happens every minute under the water where we can’t see. We as anglers are normally working our soft plastics and jigs way too fast. That is if imitating a wounded or dying meal is the objective.
When is shaking a bait better than other options? The quick answer is any time the pressure is on. Pressure could be in the form of local fishing pressure or a cold front that has just moved through. However, I will shake a bait in place any time I feel my bait is in a strike zone and hasn’t produced a strike. There are days that bass just don’t want to eat aggressively. It could be a long summer day that the wind just didn’t blow. Without the wind to pile up the bait fish, bass aren’t going to get aggressive and waste a bunch of energy cruising, especially in the summer when metabolisms are high, and this would eat up a lot of life. Finding a couple brush piles on points or ledges and shaking a bait in the middle of them could turn a slow day into a day that you found them “stacked like cord wood”.
Presentations have been developed and used throughout the professional circuits that employ this very concept of not moving the bait very far, yet still giving it action. Three off the top of my head are the drop shot, the flick shake, and the shakey head. All three were designed to catch bass when the bite was tough. All three are designed to get in the face of a bass and antagonize it into striking. They do work with faster presentations, but the main goal of keeping a bait in the strike zone longer is what these techniques are all about.
I’ve been fishing for over 40 years, and since those days of experimenting with the old man back in my teenage years, I’ve learned that when the bite gets tough, or you just know there is a bass up against that stump, the best way to catch it is to shake your bait without moving it.