October 01, 2022
By David A. Brown
Ever finish your burger meal and realize there were a couple of fries left in the bottom of the bag? Same deal when the schooling activity common to fall tapers off but leaves hungry bass darting below.
Oklahoma pro Matt Pangrac sees this a lot and his solution might just give you a sinking feeling. But that’s not a bad thing; so hold that thought.
Why does the schooling stop? Maybe it’s a change in sky conditions, wind or temperature; or perhaps it’s just the fishing pressure getting to them.
In any case, the same bass that were blasting baitfish at the surface will often show remarkable aggression to a vulnerable meal falling through the water column.
Lots of ways to create this ruse, but Pangrac’s found a neko-rigged soft plastic jerk shad does a great job of convincing hesitant bass to open their mouths.
Why It Works
Noting that he drew his inspiration from fellow Okie bass pro Jeff Kriet, who fared well on a northern lake by following a schooling rally by free falling a tube through the bait. The marauding smallmouth quickly zeroed in on the bait and he added several bonus bites.
“You’re making an erratic fall with a shad bait,” Pangrac said. “A lot of the schooling type baits are straight retrieves, but the key to this (neko-rigged fluke style bait) is you want to keep it in the area and create as much of an erratic look as possible to draw those fish in.
“The best way to do that is with a neko rig because when you pull it, the bait has a tendency to do vertical and less horizontal so you can keep it in that strike zone.”
Just like those straggling French fries, the appearance of extra helpings won’t last long when bass recognize the opportunity for easy pickings.
“I’m looking to maximize my bites and get bites I wouldn’t normally get,” he said. “A lot of times, with schooling fish, if you don’t get those fish when they’re up on top, it’s hard to ‘clean up’ with the fish that are still down there that are eating the wounded shad and aren’t willing to come up to the surface.
“Especially on clear lakes, like Table Rock, Bull Shoals, Grand or Tenkiller, you can catch a couple extra fish.”
He generally starts with a standard-size fluke, but he won’t hesitate to go with a super fluke if the fish are on hefty gizzard shad or blueback herring. For the necessary fall, he’ll insert a 1/16-ounce tungsten nail weight into the bait’s nose.
“I’ll use a smaller than normal hook because I want to create as much action and realism as I can,” he said. “I use a size 4 Gamakatsu Brent Ehrler G-Finesse Stinger hook. It looks like a crappie hook, but it’s kind of like a fly hook, so it has the diameter to keep the bait.
“I insert the hook point slightly behind center of the bait so it’s skewered through the top half. When you’re casting to schooling fish or pitching to dock posts, you can get their attention by popping it on the surface to look like the scared baitfish and then when you stop it and open your bait to give it slack, that bait is going to spiral down to those fish that are still eating the wounded, dying baitfish.”
Another benefit he notes is the dependable hook ups. By hooking his bait through the top edge, he leaves plenty of gap, so he has no problem driving home this super sharp hook.
“Most of the time, they’re going to jump and throw this bait and now you have the fish pegged on a single hook,” he said.
Tackle And Technique
Pangrac fishes his Neko-rigged jerk shad on a 7-foot, 4-inch Denali Lithium Pro Multi-Spin rod with a 2000 size Denali spinning reel holding 12-pound Sunline SX-1 braid main line with a 2-foot leader of 9-pound Sunline Shooter fluorocarbon.
“You can go lighter or heavier (with the leader), but 9-pound is a good all-around size,” he said. “That’s going to be enough to where if you’re fishing this rig around dock posts or some type of structure, you can still move the fish; but it’s light enough to still look natural.
“The larger diameter of your line on a free fall—and this bait is deadly on a free fall—the more drag you’re going to get, so the less natural it looks.”
As he concludes, this Neko-rigged jerk shad technique puts a valuable tool in his schooling fish lineup—one with a killer one-two punch.
“This rig allows you to get a feeding bite while you’re working it, as well as a reaction bite as it falls,” he said. “It’s just very natural looking and an easy bait for bass of all sizes.”