I've been spending a lot of time targeting pre-spawn smallmouth up here in the northeast. By far my favorite bait to throw this time of year and my go-to bait is a suspending jerkbait. My jerkbait of choice this year was the 5/8 oz model of the Ripper. I have thrown the chartreuse shad color on cloudy days and the aurora ghost on sunny days. I always favor something a little brighter when there is clouds, especially for smallmouth. The aurora ghost is a great color and allows enough light to pass through it when it's sunny so it doesn't spook the smallmouth in the crystal clear water up here on these glacial lakes.
As with most jerkbait bites; the days I had more wind, the better my results. Most of my smallmouth were on staging areas. Deep dropping points at the mouths of major spawning bays as of recent, and main lake humps close to wintertime haunts a few weeks ago when the water was cooler.
In the cooler water (48-52 degrees) I was moving the bait with subtle twitches and very long pauses; up to 10 seconds. The past two weeks now that the water is in the mid to upper 50's I have been able to move the bait a lot faster and trigger a ton of strikes. I always jerk the bait with slack in the line and finish with slack in the line. This enables the most erratic action for the bait and really draws the smallmouth in.The majority of my bites have come on the pause but some of the more aggressive smallmouth have been hitting it on the move.
I am very impressed with this jerkbait. It is a little larger profile than what I usually throw which makes casting it into the wind much easier. The three Daiichi #4 treble hooks are sharp right out of the package and provide great balance to the bait. The hooks are strong enough even against a charging smallmouth. It has a great rattling sound to it and sits perfectly level in the water once paused.
I have been throwing these baits on a 6'10" Denali Kovert Crankbait rod paired with a 5.4:1 Abu Garcia Revo Winch reel. I have experimented with both 10lb and 12lb Berkley 100% Fluorocarbon line. My preference has been the 10lb; I find it easier to throw in the wind and enables me to really move the bait as erratic as I need to to get the bass to bite.