Described by many as the most fun bass fishing rig on the planet, the donkey rig can be a blast even if you aren’t reeling in a ton of fish.
Still, you can amplify the fun when you’re doing both, so we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about the donkey rig in the following complete guide!
Best Conditions for a Donkey Rig
While donkey rigs are fun to fish, they’re only effective a few times out of the year, specifically in fall and spring.
You’ll want to use a donkey rig in the fall when fish are feeding near the surface.
Donkey rigs are especially effective during the spawning season, as that’s when smaller fish are naturally at the surface. This makes it harder for bass to differentiate between your jerk-bait and a real minnow.
Not only are they more effective because this is when the fish are at the surface, but when it’s not the spawning season, bass don’t expect to see smaller fish around, so they’re less likely to be fooled by jerk-bait.
But when the conditions are right, it’s hard to beat the donkey rig. It’s something most bass haven’t seen before, which helps make it an exceptional rig when nothing else is working.
Donkey rigs are especially good at drumming up action, and since you can keep an eye on your rig the entire time, you’ll have a good idea if it’s working after a few casts. If you don’t see any fish after a few casts, then you might be fishing in the wrong spot, or the fish might be farther below the surface.
Either way, it helps you develop a plan for where to spend your time. Even better, the donkey rig keeps you engaged, so you’ll never be bored and miss out on the action!
How to Tie a Donkey Rig
While donkey rigs are a ton of fun, they also have a ton of pieces. This can be overwhelming if you don’t know how to set it up. Don’t worry; we’ll walk you through it step-by-step.
What You’ll Need:
- Two worm-style, wide-gap offset hooks
- Two rolling swivels
- Two leaders (a.k.a. jerk-bait or shad style lures)
- 2 ft of fishing line
- 1.5 ft of fishing line
As you can see, equipment is fairly minimal, but each item is important.
How to Rig It:
- Tie one of the swivels to your 2-foot fishing line. On the free end of your line, attach one of your hooks.
- Tie the second swivel on your 1.5-foot fishing line. On the free end of your line, attach your second hook.
- Tie your mainline through the smaller of your two eyelets (also known as a “snood”) on your swivel. Once done, tie off your line on the larger eyelet.
- Thread your leaders onto the hooks you’ve attached to your fishing lines.
Finding the Perfect Jerk-Bait
The most essential part of any rig is the bait. With a donkey rig, it’s no different. You need the right jerk-bait, or you’ll never fool the bass into a bite.
What is Jerk-Bait?
Jerk-bait is just a fancy word for a minnow-shaped lure. It’s thinner than crankbait, and shimmies and shines across the water to draw bass in.
There is a wide selection of jerk-baits to choose from, and we’ll walk you through what you need to know to find the perfect jerk-bait for your donkey rig.
Type of Jerk-Bait to Use
There are tons of different jerk-bait options, and what might work on one day won’t work on another. The best thing you can do is to try different ones until you find something effective.
It’s also a good idea to mix and match jerk-baits, as some fall to different depths than others. This gives you the ability to fish different depths simultaneously, doubling your chance at success!
Just make sure that one jerk bait isn’t significantly deeper than the other. Part of what makes the donkey rig so successful is that the bass like going after a fish that’s chasing another one. If they are nowhere near each other in the water, then this won’t work.
What Size Jerk-Bait to Use
You can really use any size jerk baits you want, but one really cool trick is using a large jerk bait and a smaller jerk bait
The important thing is that the larger jerk-bait is “chasing” the smaller one.
You wouldn’t expect a small fish to be trying to eat a big one, and neither does a bass! If you are fishing in an area with smaller bass, it’s alright to downsize your jerk-bait some, as long as the larger one is still chasing the smaller one.
Just keep in mind the smaller jerk-bait you use, the smaller bass you will catch!
What Color Jerk-Bait to Use
There are people that swear by the color of their bait, but the truth of the matter is that bass aren’t so picky about their lunch. As long as the jerk-bait you are using matches the colors of fish in that area, you should be alright.
Still, you do need to get the attention of the bass, without spooking them or presenting them with an obviously unrealistic minnow, which is why professional fisherman Mark Menendez recommends blue shad, baby bass, or a clear back/white belly combo of jerk-bait.
Don’t be worried about finding matching jerk-baits for your donkey rig. Mixing and matching colors is perfectly ok and might even yield better results! If one of your combinations isn’t working for you, don’t be scared to try and change things up with different color baits.
If you’re not into trying to swap out your jerk-bait, they do sell some that automatically change colors depending on the water temperature. This is a great way to match what the bass are more likely to be biting on for your current conditions.
However, some fishermen like to have a little more control over their rig, and a jerk-bait that changes color on its own is a bit out of your control.
Picking the Ideal Hooks for Your Donkey Rig
While drawing your bass in with the right kind of jerk-bait is essential, if you can’t hook ‘em, you can’t catch ‘em. But what kind of hooks should you be using with your donkey rig?
Type of Hooks to Use
When it comes to bass fishing, there are tons of hooks you can use. There are weighted swim bait hooks, drop shot hooks, and Texas rigging hooks.
One hook that you won’t find? The donkey rig hook. It just doesn’t exist. That’s alright though, because all you need is the extra-wide gap hook.
Also known as an EWG hook, they are perfect fits for jerk-bait. They allow for maximum penetration while fishing, helping to ensure that once you hook a bass, they don’t get away.
Since the bass are being aggressive when they are trying to catch jerk-bait swimming away, this is the perfect hook for a donkey rig.
When using an extra-wide gap hook with a donkey rig, there’s not much need to “set” the hook when you’re getting nibbles. The bass tend to aggressively attack it, hooking themselves.
Size of Hooks to Use
When fishing a donkey rig, you want to use large hooks. A 5/0 hook or a 4/0 hook is perfect for trying to reel in large bass.
Despite the fact that your jerk-bait is two different sizes, you should use the same size hook for each of them. Typically, smaller bass aren’t going to try and eat the smaller of the two unless they aren’t at all worried about the one doing the chasing. This means you’ve got a bigger bass, so you’ll need a larger hook to catch it.
However, if you downsize both of your jerk-baits and are trying to catch smaller bass, you’ll need to downsize your hooks too. In this case, you might want a 6/0 or even a 7/0 hook if you’re going after really small fish.
What Swivel Should You Use with a Donkey Rig?
You might think that a swivel is a swivel, and there’s not much difference between them. But that’s not the case. While swivels aren’t the most essential part of the rig, getting the right one can still be the difference between reeling in a monster bass and letting the catch of the year get away.
What Types of Swivel Do You Need?
When it comes to swivels, there are three main kinds: the rolling swivel, crane swivel, and barrel swivels. For donkey rigs, you want a rolling swivel.
While rolling swivels are more expensive than the other two main kinds of swivels, they more than make up for it out on the water. Their rolling design allows them to twist and reduce line twist, even when they are under considerable pressure.
What Size Swivel Do You Need?
When it comes to swivels for your donkey rig, the smaller, the better. Still, swivels can only handle so much weight, and if your swivel is too small, it might snap on you if you catch a bass that’s too large.
Each swivel has a pound rating, which will help give you a better idea of what will work for you.
If you are worried about your swivel breaking, think about getting a saltwater swivel, as these can usually hold up a little better without going up in size.
Still, your swivel needs to be heavier than your fishing line, and you don’t want to have a swivel that can’t handle the bass you’re trying to reel in.
You can always start with a larger swivel, and if you see the bass are going after the swivel instead of the jerk-bait, you can switch to a smaller swivel. However, if you start with a swivel that’s too small and a bass pulls it off your line, you’ll have to re-rig everything, and you’ll lose your setup.
What Color Swivel Do You Need?
Unlike jerk-bait, there is absolutely a right and wrong color swivel to use with your donkey rig. You want to use a silver swivel, as this matches the colors of minnows best.
While most swivels are silver, you need to watch for dark gray or even black ones. These swivels might blend a little better into the water, but if a bass sees them, they know that it doesn’t belong.
Meanwhile, your silver swivel will work in two ways. First, it will shine and glimmer, attracting the attention of the bass. From there, the silver color makes it look like a minnow.
How to Fish the Donkey Rig
The best part of the donkey rig is fishing it. Donkey rigs are far from boring. This makes them ideal for both kids and beginners.
Of course, it’s also a great way to catch fish when the conditions are right, so if you’re an expert fisherman, this rig can still be great for you, and a fun way to mix things up!
When fishing the donkey rig, you want to cast your line then start to reel it while the bait is still at the surface. When reeling in the line, you should follow a “twitch, twitch, twitch, pause” pattern, as this is the best way to mimic the action of an actual minnow.
If fishing at the surface doesn’t work, you can let your bait sink until it is just out of sight. At that point, you should reel the bait back in following the same “twitch, twitch, twitch, pause” pattern. If you’re fishing for schooling bass, it will be far more effective if you are fishing below the surface.
While fishing the donkey rig, your line should still be taut. That way, your bait will respond to each of your movements. You’ll need to keep an eye on the jerk-bait as best you can to ensure that it is moving as realistically as possible.
If you’re struggling with any part of your rig, you can mix it with different jerk-baits, hook sizes, or swivels. Just because one setup is ideal for typical conditions doesn’t mean that it will work every time.
Mixing things up and getting creative might be just what you need to get this rig working for you. After you have it ready and in the water, it’s easy to see why this rig is considered so much fun.