Crankbaits are probably the most versatile but underutilized baits in the box. Do you utilize yours to their full potential? Here are a few tips on when, where and how to use those crankbaits to catch more bass.
CRANKBAITS IN THE WINTER
Nothing slows bass down like cold water, but bass still have to eat. Largemouth bass and especially Smallmouth Bass still feed daily. Some argue that bass go days without feeding in the winter but as an angler it seems there is always a good bass bite sometime throughout a day of wintertime bass fishing.
One great presentation for wintertime bass is the crankbait. During the winter bass primarily target dying shad and crawfish and crankbaits represent these well. Crankbaits are so versatile and can be fished slow or fast, deep or shallow. You can pause a crankbait to not only allow the lethargic bass to catch the crankbait but it will also trigger a bite as bass know that the energy gained from the food it consumes must equal or surpass the energy expended to catch that prey.
DEEP OR SHALLOW
Wintertime bass go deep. Fact or myth? Well again from an anglers perspective many would argue that lots of bass stay relatively shallow in the winter moving up to feed in even shallower water when it’s time. Many would argue that once the water temps are stable bass pretty much resume a normal routine you might find in the spring or fall. Now it has been shown many times that bass go deep when water temps fall but there are still shallow bass to be caught. For those, like me, who are still patiently attempting to learn and gain confidence to pursue deep water bass and relinquish the shallow techniques for those deeper bass all is not lost and many anglers are proving that lots of bass still prowl the shallows in search of prey and can be caught even on fast moving crankbaits.
Whether a lipless or a conventional crankbait you can work shoreline cover and underwater structure with the same results in the winter as any other time. The feeding period will be much smaller and sometime after noon is often the best bite for as water temps rise. Even just 1 or 2 degrees can turn bass on and provide a flurry of fish in a short span of time.
RIPPING GRASS WITH CRANKBAITS
Look for grass as this water will tend to be a bit warmer already and bass love to hang in there waiting for a shad or crawfish to swim by. You need to penetrate the weeds a little, ripping the crankbait through the grass. Even lethargic bass will be jolted with an energy boost by something ripping by them and you can cover lots of water this way in search of active bass.
Rocks and solid cover can be great places to search. Locate cover near deeper water say 12 to 15 feet and you have a great place. Crank fast and ricochet bait off the cover causing the crankbait to swim erratically. This will trigger the bass the same way as ripping through the grass. A good tip is to pause your crankbait after you feel it hit something and hang on as this is oftentimes when the bass will hit.
Wintertime bass fishing can be tough at times but there are plenty of bass still willing to cooperate in the winter if you just get out there and give a crankbait a try and experiment with the crankbait tips you read right here on RAMBLING ANGLER and you too can enjoy a longer season bass fishing and join many other anglers in dispelling the wintertime bass fishing myths.
To catch more bass, along the shoreline, flipping docks and brush piles works great. There are the obvious bass baits like the jig and pig or tube bait but do not overlook the crankbait, both lipless and conventional. I have had great success catching bass by flipping crankbaits along docks and heavy cover using short cast and pulling the bait, rather than reeling it, past likely looking cover. I choose a lipless crankbait like the Red Eye Shad or if I use a conventional crankbait I go with a deep running Rapala DT10. It is important to use a deep running crankbait in this situation as it will dive quickly on such a short line and allow you to search the cover more effeciently than a shallow running crankbait as it would not get deep enough on such a short retrieve.
Having said that everyone knows that there is always exceptions. I do flip a shallow running crankbait at times when the bass are so tight in the cover and refuse to leave it to chase a bait. I’ll throw a Rapala DT FAT 3 and work it carefully through the cover pausing it when it hits a limb or dock piling. This allows it to float up and away from the cover. Obviously this is a power fishing technique and will work best when there’s a long continuous stretch of good cover. Fish this cover quickly leaving you with nothing to fish hence hurting the efficiency of this power fishing technique. When you stick a bass with this method slow down and grab a jig or tube and probe the bottom portions of the cover. Also check back later. The brush will oftentimes replenish with more bass.
Dredging crankbaits across the bottom is a proven method for triggering reaction bites from prowling bass. Whether you are fishing muddy bottoms, rocky bottoms or stumps, dredging the bottom causes bass to react. The best way I have found to dredge the bottom with your crankbait is to use a crankbait that runs deeper than the water you are fishing. I also like a crankbait that has a lot of bouyancy as this allows the crankbait to float up and away from the cover you are fishing and keeps the crankbait from hanging up.
I prefer to pull the crankbait steadily through the cover as long as it does not hang up. With a steady retrieve crankbaits will deflect and dart over and around cover hanging up less than you might think. Manufacturers, like Rapala, have designed their crankbaits to do just this as they know that this is what the angler has asked for and it works. Different bills on a crankbait cause different reactions when dredging the bottom.
SQUARE BILL CRANKBAITS
The square bill crankbait displaces water equally to both sides of the crankbait which causes very little wiggle. The rectangular bill also will stick momentarily on the cover fished and then spring back as you pull it through the cover. This instant stop on the stump or rock is what the bass want. This is a great crankbait technique in cold water as the reactionary forces are there along with the pause needed to get cold water bass to bite.
ROUND BILL CRANKBAITS
Round bill crankbaits displaces water evenly as it flows over the round bill causing more of a uniform wobble and as a result more vibration. The round bill will normally go around the cover it hits. Round bill crankbaits are used in deeper applications and can also be fished fast to cover more water.
KNOW YOUR CRANKBAITS DEPTH
To catch more bass with crankbaits you must know exactly what depth your crankbaits are running. This is especially true if you’re a tournament angler and don’t have the time to test your setup during the tournament. A good way to acquire this valuable information is to run your crankbaits yourself and write down the results. Although there are many variables that effect the running depth of a crankbait, like water density and maybe even barometric pressure, the things you should know are a little less scientific. The items listed below can’t be determined by the depth rating on the box. You have to test it yourself. Keeping a chart in your boat with this information can really help save some time. Of course, you’ll probably remember this information if you fish crankbaits often.
LINE SIZE AND TYPE
The type of line and its diameter can drastically affect the depth your crankbait will run. Braided line allows the angler to really feel the crankbaits action however the lack of stretch of braided line can cause you to rip the hooks from the bass’s mouth on the hook set or when the bass makes a last-minute run at the boat so be cautious. The stretch of monofilament can give you a little more time to react to this run and possibly save a lost bass. Practice will help you handle either just fine but I always use monofilament when fishing crankbaits in cold water and the bite is light or the bass are just swiping at the crankbait. When you are hooking the bass outside the mouth a limber rod and the stretch of monofilament can help you get the bass in the boat.
The length of your rod will help you catch more bass on crankbaits. You can hold the rod tip down to get the crankbait to run a little deeper or hold the rod tip high to bring it back up to possibly clear some cover and keep the crankbait from hanging up while keeping it close to the cover where the bass live. Lowering the tip when the crankbait is clear of the cover will start the crankbait digging again.
SPEED OF RETRIEVE
Crankbait retrieval rate is an often-misunderstood method for crankbait depth. Many anglers believe that the faster you retrieve the crankbait the deeper it will go. In fact, a steady slow to medium retrieve will allow the crankbait to perform more efficiently and achieve maximum depth.
ON THE WATER CRANKBAIT TESTING
This is the best way for you to understand your crankbaits performance. The reason it’s best for you to perform your own test is that you know the types of water you fish as well as the types of tackle you prefer. Rig your rods with the line types, brands and dimensions that you commonly use. Jot them down in your journal or phone. If you use a swivel be sure to include one in your test. Record the rod’s power and position and use the same rod position and retrieve for the entire test. A rod tip pointed at the water will cause your crankbait to run deeper than one at waist level. Cast out your bait and reel it back to the boat. Feel for the crankbait to hit the bottom and record the depth next to the previously recorded information. Repeat with the other set ups.
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