Jerkbaits vs Swimbaits: Which is Better for When?

Jerkbaits vs. Swimbaits

It’s time to dive in! Jerkbaits vs swimbaits, which lure wins out? We’ll be approaching this topic today from a surf fishing perspective, but many of the same ideas here transfer to all types of fishing. In this break down, we’ll distinguish the difference between a jerkbait and a swimbait and then we’ll talk about when and where you might use one over the other.

Swimbaits vs Jerkbaits: What’s the Difference?

The difference between a jerkbait and a swimbait is defined in an ambiguous way in the world of fishing. Most commonly, a swimbait has a natural swimming motion that’s achieved by either a soft body (most commonly) or joint(s) in the lure. Jerkbaits, on the other hand, are one, solid, slender-bodied lure that gains it’s fish-like appearance through the way the angler works the lure.

Feel free to reach out in the comments section below if you have a better or more clear differentiation between jerkbaits vs swimbaits.

What’s the definition of a swimbait?
keitech easy shiner swimbait
Keitech Easy Shiner

A common definition of a swimbait: “any bait that imitates the natural swimming motion of a forage species”. Technically, one could argue that many types of lures fall into this category, but we won’t get into that today. Refer to the statement of difference above.

There are two main categories of swimbaits:

  1. Hard-Bodied Swimbaits
  2. Soft-Bodied Swimbaits

Hard-bodied swimbaits usually have joints that create a natural motion of a fish while soft-bodied swimbaits are molded with a specialized tail to create movement that resembles a fish. Both require the lure to be moving through the water to create their motion, and both assume little movement on the angler’s end to create their swimming motion.

In this article, we’ll be focusing on weedless, soft-bodied swimbaits, or, “soft plastics” since these resemble the most common definition of a swimbait. The way these swimbaits work is this: You’ll purchase whatever size swimbait you want and then you’ll purchase the hook separately. If you’re using a “jighead” hook, that’s all you need, because the jighead is weighted. With other options like the Texas Rig, you’ll have to purchase the bullet weight separately. Just a fair warning so you don’t show up to your fishing spot with nothing but the soft plastic.

What’s the definition of a jerkbait?
lucky craft jerkbait
Lucky Craft FM 110 Jerkbait

A common definition of a jerkbait: “An artificial bait mimicking a small fish, with hooks and a bill which causes it to dive when pulled or reeled in.”

Jerkbaits are almost always a hard plastic bait with a slender body and two or three treble hooks. Most have a bill that determines the depth at which the lure may dive and the general action of the lure. A longer bill will cause the lure to dive deeper (more than 5-feet), while a shorter bill will make the lure dive shallower (1 to 4-feet). Typically, surf fishing lures have a shorter bill and dive only 1 to 2-feet like the Lucky Craft FM 110.

Where and When Should You Use Jerkbaits?

  • Within the top few feet of the water column
  • In good structure
  • In clean water
  • When you want your lure to suspend upon slowing your retrieve

Jerkbaits are a fantastic lure option for any type of fishing, especially surf fishing. They have great action, they cast decently, and they hook just about everything that touches them. What makes them tough to use sometimes? They hook everything… especially seaweed. Oh, and rocks too.

If you want a really simple rule to follow, here’s mine when it comes to surf fishing. If the water is clean enough and the snag potential isn’t drastic, throw a jerkbait. Otherwise, maybe use a swimbait.

Jerkbaits are tougher to work through weeds and loose particles in the water. With the hard plastic material, the bill and the multiple hanging treble hooks, their swimming motion is easily disrupted when something like seaweed catches on.

Another factor that sets jerkbaits apart from swimbaits is that they’re typically “suspending lures”. So, they rise when you slow your retrieve and dive when you retrieve faster. This can play into which type of lure you select per conditions and location.

Where do I like to throw jerkbaits?
where to use jerkbaits
Where to throw a jerkbait

Although they can get pricey and losing them isn’t fun. I won’t typically throw a jerkbait into sandy flats. I actually like to throw them most, where I think I might lose them. Sounds strange, but at the end of the day, fish like structure and to catch them, your best bet is to get close to that structure.

If I find some really defined sandy structure like troughs and holes etc., I’ll give it a go, but I’m most confident throwing jerkbaits where sand meets rocks.

In the image above, I would throw a jerkbait there when the water covered the exposed area. The rocks provide great structure for halibut to lie near. They’ll use these rocks to ambush they’re prey. While it’s quite possible to get snagged, it’s a risk I’m willing to take. Often times, I’ll fish rocks with even more jagged edges and growth on them providing more snag opportunities, but that’s something you’ll have to live with if you want to have good success.

How to retrieve a jerkbait:

I like a slow retrieve with minimal jerks. I know I’m defeating the purpose of its name, but I like that slow steady retrieve. the only time I jerk the bait is to get weeds or loose material off my bait.

Where and When Should You Use Swimbaits?

  • The water is too weedy for jerkbaits
  • You want to dive deep
  • To work every nook and cranny, slow or fast
  • You want to work through living vegetation

Swimbaits are yet another fantastic lure for all styles of fishing, including surf fishing. They’re more versatile and they can withstand harsher conditions.

My simple rule: When it’s too weedy or snaggy for jerkbaits, swimbaits it is.

With Texas Rigs, weedless jig heads, and other options for rigging, swimbaits allow you to work areas that simply wouldn’t be possible with jerkbaits. Growing eel grass or other vegetation? No problem. Snaggy bottoms and surroundings, maybe you’ll snag here and there, but I’d be willing to bet you’ll snag a lot less on weedless swimbaits than jerkbaits.

Loose kelp? No lure can work through all kelp conditions, but weedless swimbaits are just about the most hardy in that respect. I also like to think that in rougher surf, swimbaits aren’t affected as much as jerkbaits are because they’re typically deeper down in the clearer, less turbulent water.

Where do I like to throw swimbaits?
Where to Work a Swimbait

I like anywhere you think you might lose a lure in the image above. I’ve worked them through worse and I’ve only lost two to date. I’ve been really impressed with how weedless swimbaits can run not only through kelp and eel grass, but over and around rocks. Even rocks with reefy, jagged edges!

You can see that center lane where there’s a bright sandy pocket and then out deeper it starts to get a little denser with rocks. I’d run my swimbait right through that section.

How to retrieve a swimbait

Again, I like a slower retrieve than most. The biggest take away for me from using swimbaits is that I’ve learned to trust my instincts more. Look at you lure as you run it through some shallow water. Get a good feel for how it swims and when you cast, picture it. You’re controlling that lure now, and even though you can’t see it, act like you can. Run it through in your head and make the lure do fishy things. Get in the mind of that bait. That’s my best advice.

Wrap Up: Swimbaits vs. Jerkbaits

At the end of the day, you can use swimbaits and jerkbaits interchangeably. Some anglers will use them in opposite situations to the next guy and both anglers might have really good reasoning behind their methods. This is just what’s worked for me and this article is an accumulation of the things I’ve learned.

When it comes to swimbaits vs jerkbaits, there’s a place in your tackle box for both of them. I’ve learned to love them both for different reasons and I’ll use them both for different reasons under different circumstances. When all logic is lost, go with your gut, I find that’s when I’m most successful.

Curious what the best lures for surf fishing are?

My Lure Throwing Set Up:

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