Despite what the manufacturers say, no matter how pretty they look, or how much they cost, no bait comes with a guarantee to catch bass. Most however, are very successful in "catching" bass anglers. I guess that explains why my, and most likely your, tackleboxes are overflowing with baits we just "had to" have.
Now that we have established that all baits do catch "something" let's focus our discussion on what I believe is the most often used and "misused" bait - the crankbait. I say "misused" because a lot of anglers believe all there is to fishing a crankbait is tying one on, throwing it out and reeling it in! That may work on occasion, but consistently productive "crankbaiters" know there is much more to it than that.
What I like most about crankbaits is their versatility. They can be effectively fished within a wide range of depths and in just about every type of bass habitat. Learning how to properly select and present a crankbait comes with experience, lots of time on the water under various conditions, and good old trial and error. Among the key factors I consider when selecting a bait are water depth, temperature, clarity, noise, cover, activity level and available forage; which should sound familiar if you have read any of my past articles.
I believe the first step towards successful crankbait fishing is selecting a bait which runs at the proper depth. Effective crankbaiting requires your bait to make contact with underwater structure, ricochet off the bottom, kick up a mud trail, or tick the top of a grass line or some hydrilla. Simply put, the name of the game with crankbaits is contact!
Although most lipped crankbaits are designed and rated to run within a certain depth range, the only sure way to determine if your bait is getting to a desired depth is to tie one on and retrieve it through water of a known depth. If you feel the bait touching the bottom move to slightly deeper water and try again. Repeat this process until the bait no longer makes contact with the bottom. Note the depth and you have established the true working range for that particular bait.
Another factor which impacts on how deep your crankbait runs is line diameter. Heavier/thicker line creates more water resistance thereby decreasing the achieved depth. Line diameter affects smaller baits more dramatically than larger ones. On occasion I will deliberately use a heavier line as a form of depth control so I can use a particular bait in shallower water or keep one working just above weed or grass lines.
Many anglers mistakenly believe the faster they retrieve a crankbait the deeper it will run. Truth is, every crankbait has an optimum speed at which it performs best. You need to experiment with different retrieves to find the one which achieves the greatest depth without negating the baits motion and performance. The surest way to achieve maximum depth is to make long casts and keep your rod tip low during the retrieve. Short casts and a high rod tip tend to pull the bait upward long before it can reach its potential depth.
My next crankbait consideration is whether to use plastic or wood. I base my decision on several conditions the most important of which is water temperature. Since bass in cold or deep water are often less aggressive and tend to relate more to the bottom, plastic baits are my choice. Why? Plastic baits do not have the natural buoyancy of wood so you can crank them down deep and slow your retrieve to a crawl without having them start to quickly rise to the surface. I particularly like the new family of "suspending" or "neutrally buoyant" crankbaits because they allow you to keep your bait in the "zone" with an effective presentation. Plastic baits also tend to have a wider wobble and therefore displace more water and create more vibration at slow speeds.
When fishing shallower or warmer water under conditions which cause the bass to be more active and aggressive it is time to increase the speed of your retrieve. This is when I break out my wood baits. By design, wood baits produce a much finer vibration and appear more shad like as they move through the water. Do not get me wrong; I am not discounting the effectiveness of plastic crankbaits in warm or shallow water. Under certain conditions and in particular applications "plastic" crankbaits are very productive warm, shallow water producers. My tackleboxes are full of "shallow" running plastic baits which are consistent bass catchers. My objective is merely to share some BASICS considerations you can apply when deciding between wood and plastics.
Next, since you are trying to convince a bass your crankbait is an appetizing meal which should not be passed up, size is very important. In the late spring and early summer I prefer to use smaller crankbaits. Why? Because at that time of the season a lot of newly hatched fry and other small forage abound. Too large a bait will look out of place and unnatural. Logically, as the season moves towards fall and into winter I gradually increase the size of my bait to keep pace with the naturally available forage which has grown and matured.
Water clarity also affects what size bait to use. In muddy or off color water, I prefer fatter plastic baits with built in sound chambers since their side-to-side wobble displaces more water and creates more vibration and noise, thereby making them easier for a bass to locate. Remember, in dingy water bass rely more on their lateral lines (hearing) than their sight to locate food. Clear water is just the opposite since bass tend to rely primarily on their sight to acquire food. Also, in clear water, fast-moving baits in natural colors tend to be more productive than do bright colors.
Last but not least, always remember a crankbait is nothing more than a tool. How effective a tool it is depends upon you. It is up to you to select the right tool for the existing conditions and then properly use it. Lots of practice, patience, and the ability to recognize when and what adjustments to make are critical to crankbaiting success. Remember when you tie a bait on there are "no" guarantees. That's why they call it fishing and not catching! In any event, I hope these few BASICS have convinced you there is more to using a crankbait than just throwing it out and reeling it in.
As always, if you have any questions give me a call and I'll do my best to answer them. Better yet let's get together and put the BASICS OF BASS KNOW HOW to the test out on beautiful Lake Gaston. Just give me a call at (252) 586-2770 to reserve your bass fishing date or to order a Gift Certificate for that special bass angler in your life.
Lastly, since I can only fish out of one bass boat at a time, the opportunity exists for someone to get an incredible deal on my 1998 ASTRO 1850 DCX (19' dual console) with a Mercury 150 OPTIMAX (under warranty). So, if you are looking for a top of the line, fully loaded, mint condition boat at an unbelievably low price, call me for the details.
Till next time, have fun fishing, be safe and courteous on the water, and please practice catch and release so we all can enjoy bass fishing for many years to come.
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