St. Croix Staff Member Derek Hudnall Scores Hit With Unconventional Jerkbait Presentation
Derek Hudnall scored a top 5 finish in last week’s 2023 Gamakatsu Bassmaster Elite at Lake Seminole in Bainbridge, Georgia. Out of the ordinary? Not particularly; The Baton Rouge-based St. Croix pro has a track record of strong finishes in southern events during his five-year career fishing Bassmaster Elites. Hudnall used a SPRO McStick jerkbait in the American Shad color during a strong pre-spawning pattern that found Lake Seminole pushing shallow over the course of the four-day contest that saw relatively consistent weather. Strange? Not precisely; It’s no secret that jerkbaits can be strong producers when bass start to spawn, and Hudnall wasn’t the only competitor to fish for one.
What is unique is the location and the way you fished it.
“I found a backwater during practice where I caught two huge ones on one lure,” says Hudnall. “One of them was an 8-pounder. I was confident that I had found a lot of great ones.”
Hudnall fished for his chatterbait for much of the first day of competition, but found that something had changed. “I managed to put together a 15-0 lead on Thursday, but I lost confidence in the chatter. They just weren’t eating it, but it tasted like the big ones were still there. I ended up fishing a few other spots but came back to the backwater and saw a huge fish explode there at the end of the day. There was a ton of marlin there and I found out that’s what the bass ate.”
Hudnall entered day two of the event in 35he rise – a bit down, but certainly not out. She decided to fish for a jerkbait to mimic the abundant marlin in the specific area he was fishing.
“I found this sandy bald spot that was totally surrounded by hydrilla,” he says. “It was 4 to 6 feet deep and had patches of pop-up grass growing about 2 feet from the bottom. My favorite jerkbait rod is a St. Croix Legend Xtreme 7’1” Medium, fast, but it was too stiff to keep my McStick from digging into the grass. I had an idea that a softer rod would allow me to keep the bait in the top 2 feet of water and free of weeds, so I switched to a Legend Tournament Bass 7′ Medium Moderate and man, that rod was the ticket. There were so many marlins that the bass could hunt in that open spot and the bass kept coming for them. Nothing really changed weather-wise, so that spot held for the next three days and I kept catching them.”
In fact, Hudnall did. He caught 18-9 on Friday to go up for 35he place to 18he after day two and caught 19-4 on Saturday to move up to 7he at the end of day three, earning his ticket to the Championship on Sunday, where he posted another 19-12 in the same place and the same pattern to finish the tournament in 5he place with a four-day total of 72-9.
“All the fish that came and went from that backwater would stop there to feed, and there was so much bait there that you couldn’t have caught a fish in that place for a week,” says Hudnall. “After a 57he-finishing place at the 2023 Bassmaster Elite Launch Event at Lake Okeechobee, it was the perfect time to get a strong finish.”
At the end of two events in the young Bassmaster Elite 2023 season, Hudnall sits in 20he place in the Angler of the Year (AOY) points. It’s an enviable position to be in so early in the season, and the next two Elite events, both in South Carolina, play to Hudnall’s strengths.
“I really hate the word ‘strengths,’” says Hudnall, “because it implies that your talents have limits. When I talk to young fishermen, I prefer to talk about being confident in the situation you find yourself in. I have confidence in Lake Murray and Santee Cooper in South Carolina,” says Hudnall. “The fish are likely to be largely post-spawn, but there will be some spawning, probably some bed fishing, and some fingerling protection. Shallow fishing, but that’s where the similarities end. Murray has a large population of blueback herring and little vegetation. Santee Cooper has cypress trees and a lot of vegetation, so the fishing will be different.”
Hudnall says his confidence in Santee Cooper and Lake Murray relates not only to the lakes themselves, but also to the late spawning and post-early spawning period when they will take place. “More than any other time of the year, I am confident in this spring transition period and what is happening,” he says. ‘Ultimately it will come down to finding the right bait and cover. I’m not saying someone won’t have success at depth with the LiveScope, but I hope to fish 10-15 feet or less. Who knows… I could cast a topwater four days in a row, especially on Lake Murray, where the post-spawning fish go to fatten up with the herring at the main points of the lake. I think you’ll see a bit of that…feeding topwaters, flukes, jerkbaits and so on to the suspended fish that prey on the herring schools.”
Hudnall reminds anglers that while jerkbait is playing strong right now in the South, the bite will trickle north as water temperatures rise. “It’s great when the water temperature is around 50 degrees,” he says. “Keep a slower cadence and presentation at first, but make sure it remains erratic. I think the magic water temperature is around 55 degrees when you can really start to rev it up.”
Hudnall says that while he prefers the 7’1” MF Legend Xtreme for jerkbait fishing, there are several St. Croix rods in different series and at different price points that are designed specifically for this technique. “They make a 6’8” medium power, extra fast action jerkbait model on everything from the Bass-X and Mojo Bass to the Legend Tournament Bass, Legend-X and Legend Elite,” he says. “I love my Legend Xtreme because it is very light and well balanced. Fishing a jerkbait is physically intense, so fishing a really light rod that doesn’t wear you out is a huge benefit.” Hudnall says he always fishes his Sunline fluorocarbon jerkbaits from 10 to 15 pounds: 10 pounds in clear, open water and heavier if vegetation is involved.
Want more tips from Derek Hudnall? Come meet Derek and watch his seminar next Friday and Saturday, March 10 and 11, at Susquahanna Fishing Tackle, 392 Locust Grove Road, Columbia, Pennsylvania.
About Santa Cruz Rod
Based in Park Falls, Wisconsin, St. Croix has proudly produced the “World’s Best Rods” for 75 years. Combining state-of-the-art manufacturing processes with skilled labor, St. Croix is the only major producer that still builds rods completely from design to fabrication. The company remains family-owned and operates duplicate manufacturing facilities in Park Falls and Fresnillo, Mexico. With popular trademarked series like Legend®, Legend Xtreme®, Avid®, Premier®, Imperial®, Triumph® and Mojo, St. Croix is revered by all types of anglers around the world.