Crankbait Basics from a Bassmaster
As a power fisherman I absolutely love to fish crankbaits. The reasons are simple. I can cover an immense amount of water, and I can elicit the reaction type of strike for inactive bass.
KNOW YOUR CRANKBAITS - each crank bait has it strengths and weaknesses. Wide wobble baits, tight wobble, wood baits, plastic baits, floater and suspenders. Get comfortable with a crankbait or a family of crankbaits. Learn what depth a particular bait will run on a mean line size. You can then use the general line conversion to add or take away depth. Example: Under the same casting distances a Norman Deep Little N on 12 lb. line will run approximately 10.5 feet. On 10 it will run 12, on 8 it will run 13.5, on 6 in the 15 range. On 14 it will run in the 9 range on 17 it will run about 7.5 feet and so on and so on. On an average expect about a foot and a half depth change with every line size change.
As a general rule use wide wobble crankbaits in warmer water (60 degrees and up) and use them for fishing around wood cover. Use tight wobble crankbaits in colder water (45 to 60 degree water temp) and use for fishing around weeds. Use cranks all year round.
Wide Wobble Baits (60 degrees and up):
Wooden - Bagleys diving B series, Poe's hundred series
Plastic - Mann's Plus Series, Fat Free Shads
Tight Wobble Baits (45 to 60 degrees):
Wooden - Rapala Shad Rap and Risto Rap, Cedar Shads
Plastic - Berkley Frenzy, Bomber A family, Rattle Traps, Norman N family
Just as in any other lure type I have two main concerns when choosing color. I'm thinking about primary forage then I'm thinking about water clarity. On the forage end I can lump together three basic color schemes.
1. Shad Imitating Baits - this includes all types of shad, herring, minnows, or shiners. Crankbait colors like pearl, white, silver, and chrome. (gel-flake colors)
2. Perch /Sunfish Imitating baits - this includes all types of Sunfish, Bluegill, Perch and Red Ear. Crankbait colors like chartreuse blue back, chartreuse black back, brown and chartreuse, firetiger(PERCH)
3. Crawfish Imitators - Crankbait colors that involve browns, oranges, khaki, blacks and blue in the mix.
I. THE DEFLECTION FACTOR - this is probably the most critical aspect of crankbait fishing. 90 percent of the strikes I receive from crankbait fishing occur when the bait bounces off something or changes direction. Think about that statement. This is the key to crankbait fishing. You have to be hitting off of cover, ripping the bait from weeds, or causing the bait to change direction to get the bites. Simple as that. Knowing this you must first be prepared to lose some baits. Early on in my crankbait fishing, the fear of losing my 3 dollar plug was my biggest downfall. Another key is casting at cover from many different angles. Use multiple angles when deflecting off cover. Eventually the crankbait will bounce off the cover in the right way to elicit a strike. The ability for a crankbait to crash and bounce off of cover and to trigger that inactive, reaction type strike is uncanny. Even when the bait is running in open water or hitting clean bottom areas, I use techniques to cause that bait to change movement. Changing speeds is my biggest method. Also throwing a jerk or pause into the retrieve will have the same effect.
The Bow and Arrow Release - One of the biggest tips that helped improve my deflection success has actually been the retrieval of snagged lures. After a friend of mine drew Rick Clunn, he showed me a modification of a retrieval technique I already knew. This let me get out more snags which equated to more strikes as the bait freed itself and more time fishing. More of a popping rhythm to the bow and arrow technique.
II. PARALLELING GRASS - this is an awesome technique. It involves fishing grass lines (inside or outside grass lines). It helps you locate the sweet spots along long stretches of grass. The biggest bass and the biggest concentrations of bass, use the irregular spots in a grass line. This is typified by some form of point or turn and is often a clump separated from the main body of grass. Again think about cranking factors when fishing grass. A tighter wobble bait, with a pointier lip is better. Use line size to just barely tick the grass. I'll often rig up identical crankbaits on three different rods with different line sizes to find the perfect combination. Also key to this pattern is ripping the bait free when it gets hung in the grass. My normal procedure is to first bow to the bait when it is hung in grass. It will often back away and float free. If that doesn't work, I will snap the rod tip to try and free the grass.
III. LIPLESS CRANKBAITS - in a category by itself. A true reaction bait. Your looking for the same deflecting principles, although it's less of a deflective bait. It's absolutely perfect for the ripping technique in grass situations and is an awesome yo-yoing bait for cold water.
1. Grass - The rattle type baits work in the same grass paralleling technique talked about earlier. But they really shine as coverage bait for unidentifiable grass lines or grass flats. You can cover a tremendous amount of water. Using the ripping technique, you can free the bait anytime it hangs in grass. Keep the same cranking traits in mind. Heavier line will allow you to keep the bait further up out of the grass. Choose colors according to the two golden rules: primary forage and water color. Use wider wobbling baits in warm and tighter in cold. You can usually determine the wobble of a rattle type bait by looking at the width of the nose of the bait. I always like to put a bigger belly hook on the bait when possible. The nose down retrieve protects the belly hook better.
2.Cold Water Tool - a really underutilized technique. It's an awesome fish catcher under winter and early spring conditions, say water temp. between 40-50 degrees. Again it produces that reaction type of strike associated with sluggish cold water fish. The yo-yo technique also imitates the action of a naturally dying shad or minnow. Yo-yoing is a lot like fishing a jig or slow roll spinnerbait. I'll cast the bait out and let it fall to the bottom on a semi-slack line. Once in a while a bass will inhale it on the initial fall. After the bait hits the bottom I will pump or rip the bait back off the bottom. Again I will let it fall on a semi-slack line waiting for it to hit the bottom. I really experiment with pumping and ripping motions and speeds, until the right retrieve is found.
IV. THE DELAY FACTOR - there are three parts to this hook setting principle. First, I use sweep-step type of hook set. By keeping your rod tip low and sweep-stepping up or to the side I am increasing my chances for a good hook set. I am also slightly delaying the set, waiting to actually feel the fish. Second, I am using a glass rod. The glass rod is less sensitive and more forgiving than an all graphite rod. Again this lets the bass really get the plug before I pull to set the hook. Third, I use a monofilament line. Mono by nature has a stretchy characteristic to it. This enables even a little more delay in response time. (deep water is an exception) LINE SIZE IS KEY - the heavier the line the shallower the crankbait will run. The lighter the line the deeper the crankbait will run. Knowing this you can use line size to determine and fine tune the running depth of your baits. Lighter line like 8-10 pound test can help a bait achieve maximum depth. While using heavy line can keep your crankbait riding over heavy grass. (1 ½ foot difference for each line size change)
HOOK SIZE AND STYLE- I generally like to bump up on hook size when I can. I also generally like to use a bigger belly hook. I use regular round bend hooks. I don't like the super wide gap trebles.
SUSPEND STRIPS - I use these when I want to get a suspending type of lure. I use them in conjunction with bigger hook replacement. I probably do this more in the early spring and in the heat of the summer more than any other time.
PAINT MARKERS - I use these hobby pens to give a personal modification. I most often use a black marker to put on shad dots or a red marker to add some gills. I also use my paint markers to help identify my special crankbaits. Remember every crankbait is different, so mark those special performers.
TACKLE and EQUIPMENT:
As far as rods go I am a big believer on the limber theory. This for me goes with any treble hook type of bait. The slower action of the rod not only slows down your response time a little bit but helps you land far more fish. My rods of choice are Team Daiwa SLT Cranking Rods in both a 6'6" and 7' model. The 7' for long cast situations and the 6'6" for up close target casting. Both of these rods incorporate glass into the blank giving it that slow whippy feeling. As for reels I'm looking for something with three characteristics. First I want a reel with a large capacity spool for long cast. Second, I'm looking for a reel with a medium, not a slow retrieve. I like to have the option to reel super slow or fast. Third, I want a superior anti-reverse system. The reels I choose are the Team Daiwa Millionaire with a 5.1 to 1 ratio for long cast situations and the TDS (5.1 to 1) for up close target casting. Line - I use green line for all my cranking. I use Berkley line sizes ranging from 8 to 20 pound test. I probably use 12 pound the most.
Crankbait retrievers - definitely a tool to have! I use both the hound dog type and the pole retrievers.