By Captain Mike Hogan
The school blue fin that day several seasons ago were keyed in on something as evidenced by crashing pods everywhere, but we found ZERO interest in any of the “usual” baits behind the boat. We finally took one on a mini-green-machine that was tipped with one of my 10″ soft baits. After dressing out the fish, we quickly discovered a belly full of seven inch sand-eels and we quickly realized that everything in my offshore gear bag was too big to “match the hatch. Bingo! Twenty minutes later, I surfaced with a crude version of a 7″ soft jerk bait spreader bar with softbaits pilfered from my inshore tackle bag. Despite my friend’s mutterings of “too-much-free-time” our frustrating morning turned to running drags and a favorite in the rotation was born.
If you think about it for a moment sand eels find their way into the diet of just about every blue water game fish in our waters. If you see whales working in the area, there’s a good chance they’re working on sand eels. Due to their relative long and slender profiles, soft jerk bait style baits are excellent imitators of sand eels or any pint sized bait for that matter, including juvenile squid.
Once deployed, Soft jerk bars are great for creating a tight bait ball effect, giving pelagic species a reason to join you, with all that “protein” behind your boat. Furthermore, the soft baits dancing in the water look particularly real. Their slender design is so similar in profile to a sand eel or small squid while their flexible movement in the water is more natural than a traditional skirted lure. I also enjoy the fact that soft jerk bars are so easy to rig, modify, change and/or repair which makes them very adaptable to changing conditions.
I’ll start with 7″ baits on my bars. Not only are they better suited for matching very small bait, their small size allows for adding more baits to the teaser lines on your bar, further creating a tight bait ball effect. Generally speaking, they larger the bait, the fewer I’ll attach to the bar. Overloading the bar will result in poor swimming action and increased tangles. In terms of color, I stick to the basics: Black, Bone, Amber and Chartreuse. Amber is unbeatable as a squid imitator and chartreuse is my favorite sand eel color. One of the many advantages of soft plastics is the availability of colors, so try any you like. You certainly can’t go wrong with the old adage that suggests: “dark colors for dark conditions and bright colors for bright conditions.” Translucent colors are especially effective for two reasons: 1. both squid and sand eels are translucent in their natural environment. 2. If lighting conditions change, your baits will change accordingly.
But before going any further on how to fish them, I’d like to take a moment and share how I construct my bars which vary in length and, consequently, so do the number of flanks I’ll run, either two or four. Regardless, I usually run five 7″ baits to a flank and four 10″ baits to a flank and pull a Jet Head for a stinger. For the sake of this article, we’ll make a three line 7″ soft jerk bar.
We’ll also make it so that bar is “collapsible” in the sense that it can be deconstructed, allowing you to use each flank separately as a daisy chain.
18″ Soft-Jerk Bar
- 80lb Fluorocarbon. ( 3 24″ pieces)
- 60lb Fluorocarbon (12 6″ pieces)
- Bulk Pack of 7″ soft jerk-baits (14 baits plus extras for replacements)
- Duo-lock Snaps used to attach baits
- Appropriately Sized Crimps
- Two Rigging beads
- (3) ½ oz egg sinkers
- (3) Octopus Skirts
- Stinger of your choice (I prefer Jet Heads)
Part 1: Lay out the Bar
Size up soft baits accordingly and note how many inches between crimps so that the baits won’t overlap too much. I’ll use a Sharpie to mark each spot. Spacing will vary based on the size soft baits you’re using. (In this diagram, we’ll be using the 7″ Hogy, so we know spacing will be 5″ between baits.)
Part 2: Prepare the Bar
Each bar will vary with how your stinger line will pass through the center. Since this is a “collapsible” bar, we’ll need to add an extra step so that we can connect the running line. In this case, we’ll thread through a 12″ piece of 200lb test mono with a heavy snap on one end and a loop with chaffing gear on the other. To ensure proper placement, we’ll secure the centerline with two beads held in place with crimps on either side of the bar. The extra length will stagger your baits thereby creating a bigger foot print.
Part 3: Build Flanks (28″)
1. Start by creating a loop with chaffing gear and appropriate sized crimps on the 80lb test running line.
2. Slide 4 double barrel crimps onto the running line and close the flank line by adding an octopus skirted 1/2oz egg sinker and a 175lb test ball bearing snap swivel.
Making sure the crimps are properly spaced, attach your 6″ short flouro cuts so that the tag end is pointing towards the bar. (This design allows the baits to swim more freely and also minimizes tanglers)
3. Attach Size 6 Dou-Lock snaps to 6″ line pieces. Once attached, simply clip on the baits by threading the snap through the nose.
Part 4: Assemble Bar
Attach the flanks to the bars using double ended snap swivels. (Not only does this help with storage, but the flanks can easily be used separately as a straight daisy chain.) Finally, attach your favorite offshore bait to the center flank. I prefer a jet-head with some weight.
As the owner of a soft bait company, I’d love to suggest a spread consisting of nothing but soft baits… But that’s neither practical nor most effective. I recommend a healthy mix of smaller jerk bars and chains and larger baits that will help in creating the sense of a small feeding frenzy behind the boat by adding some commotion. I’m always changing things around based on sea conditions and trolling speeds, so I don’t have one particular spread that I recommend. In a typical small bait situation, I troll six Rods: (2) 7″ soft jerk bars, one with a jet-head stinger on one and the other rigged with a 14″ weighted soft bait, both of which are different in color than the baits on the bar. I’ll then surround the bar with a 10″ soft jerk rigged behind an Ilander Head and a mini green machine chain behind a large bird which I tip with an extra bait from one of the bars. Closer to the boat on my flat lines, I’ll troll a swimming plug behind a soft bait daisy chain and a cedar plug chain on the other side.
Though soft baits can be trolled at higher speeds, they troll best between 4 ½ and 5 ½ kts, similarly to bulb squid bars. You can up your trolling speeds by adding weight to each of the baits, but I generally troll at moderate speeds and have my best luck on the bars I rig at around 5kts.