|Learning to fish with Crank Baits|
|Written by Mike Cork|
|Monday, 11 February 2013 00:00|
Crankbaits are a very effective tool for catching bass. In some presentations, once you get everything dialed in, there are times that you can catch fish on nearly every cast. With other presentations, you can call your shots, knowing exactly when you will draw a strike on a perfectly placed cast. However, catching bass on crankbaits has never been my favorite way to fish. For years I had trouble catching bass on crankbaits, they seemed like a chunk and wind bait that had no real appeal to it. If you made enough casts you were bound to bring the bait by a suspended bass and with a little luck you might catch that bass' attention. Over my years of bass fishing, I've learned a couple things. One is you can't always force feed bass what you like to throw. Two, to be an effective tournament angler you have to use the proper tool for the job at hand, and there are times when the crankbait is the proper tool. So, I had some learning to do.
I was intimidated by crankbaits because of price, time, and spooking possible strikes. I never really threw crankbaits where I needed to or made contact with the bottom for fear of losing hard earned money. Whenever I'd get near cover, I would get nervous and make wide casts ensuring I didn't hang them up. If I hung up, I'd lose time going to retrieve the bait and I'd spook bass that were positioned on the cover or structure. So, more often than not, I'd elect to throw something more weedless at the given target. Then there is the fact that I paid a pretty penny for some of these crankbaits, and leaving them in a stump or brush pile was not my idea of money well spent.
It wasn't until I started getting stomped in summer tournaments that I realized there was something to this style of fishing, and if I wanted to win a tournament I better figure it out. I had all these pretty baits in a Plano box that I would pull out and look at with admiration and envision how well they should work. They could have been in a glass case for a collector for as much as I was using them. I could imagine where and how I'd use them on the next trip to the water. The hard part was actually using them. Once I'd get to the lake, the stumps, grass, timber, and rocks all seemed like they had teeth and simply wanted to take my shiny new bait from me.
To help me learn to fish crankbaits better, I solicited the help of a good friend that is well versed in crankbait fishing. He was so confident in a crankbait that he didn't bring his boxes, saying he'd catch bass on my selection just to build some confidence in the baits I already had. As he peered through my boxes of baits, he started chuckling, "I can see your first problem already." As he continued laughing, "They all have too much paint on them!" He proceeded to explain that it was painfully obvious that these baits were all brand new or I hadn't been casting them where I needed to be in order to draw strikes.
We hit the water that day, and I learned many valuable things that got me started down a road of crankbait bass fishing like I hadn't experienced before. I learned some pretty amazing things. Like how much the proper rod and line helped with casting, feeling, and retrieving all the way to how weedless a crankbait actually is. Within a day, I was pulling squarebills through fallen timber like it was a spinnerbait, dredging deep rock piles as simple as I could with a jig, and ticking grass edges with complete confidence that I wouldn't snag a wad of bug filled vegetation.
With this new confidence, I was over the fear of losing my crankbaits and I actually started catching bass. Slowly I started making casts closer and closer to cover. Once I got close enough to contact the cover, I started catching more and bigger bass. With the proper equipment, working a crankbait through a brush pile is as exciting as using a jig; feeling each limb and anticipating each strike.
As I started getting more comfortable with crankbaits, I found that lighter lines helped tremendously in my ability to feel what was going on. Lighter lines also enabled better casting and better action of the bait during retrieves. I mention this because if you’re new to crankbaits, you might be thinking as I did when I first started "If I'm going to cast these expensive baits in places I can lose them, heavy line will increase my odds of getting them back once hung". While this theory is sound, I found I actually hung up less with lighter lines; I could feel the bait better and manipulate it through cover easier. I started my crankbait endeavors with 17 and 20 pound lines; this was a huge mistake. Thinking back now, I can see why I never felt much with these baits. Not only was I not achieving the crankbaits maximum depth potential and reaching the bottom, hitting cover gave a spongy effect at best because of the high diameter lines. I have found that even in the thickest of cover, I'm successful with 10 pound lines. I have on occasion moved up to 12 pound when fishing a square bill in very thick cover and felt I needed to be able to manipulate or horse a bass.
Rod action is also a vital part of the crankbait equation. Just about every manufacturer out there makes rods specifically for crank baits. I had never purchased a crankbait specific rod because I didn't throw them that often and the cost didn't seem to offset my needs. Once I moved to rods that were specifically designed for fishing crankbaits I found that casting distance and accuracy improved exponentially.
Within any manufacturer’s line of crankbait specific rods, you're likely to find several different powers and tip actions, each with a different specific use. A rod designed for large crankbaits to dredge ledges is going to be quite a bit different from one designed to fish squarebill crank baits in cover. Using a rod that has the appropriate stiffness and tip action for each application goes a long way in helping an angler achieve maximum feel.
After spending time with a crankbait, using the proper rods and lighter lines, I learned that I could tell bottom composition, I could walk a bait through limbs without hanging it, and I could feel various strikes that were undetectable before. Fishing vegetation is no longer frustrating; it is very easy to find the proper retrieve to allow your crank bait to tick the top or side of vegetation, without dredging it. I used to listen to the pro's talk about how they felt this or that with a crankbait. Kevin Van Dam once said that he could feel his line pulling over the backs of bass. I chalked this up to, "yeah right". However, now I can see where this is possible. With the right combination of equipment, I can feel the line hit a limb before the bait gets there, then you can feel a slight change just before the bait hits the limb, thus allowing you to pause and let the bait float over the limb. Should I be fishing an area that has no limbs, if I felt this same sensation then it could be the back of a bass.
Something I didn't know before obtaining the proper equipment is that crankbait strikes come in many different forms. There is the unmistakable grand slam that we all enjoy, when a bass knocks the rod out of your hands. However, there is also a swipe, a vacuum, and a complete miss. I am now able to tell when a bass swipes at the side of a crankbait and misses it. Sometimes it feels like the vibration of your crank bait simply changed sync, sometimes the vibration just stops for a second, but after it happens to you a few times its unmistakable. Then there is the vacuum, when a bass comes up behind your bait and sucks the water from around it. You lose all feel, but the bait is still there; it's like your line just goes limp yet it's still moving forward. A complete miss, when a bass strikes at your crankbait but does not contact it at all. This is very strange and the hardest to detect, however, with experience you can pick up on it. I first learned it by watching bass that were following the crankbait to the boat and making a last ditch effort as they saw the boat. It feels like a slight pull that doesn't stop the vibration of your bait. All seems normal, except for a split second your bait feels as if it's pulling just a little bit harder. As a bass strikes your bait, it creates turbulent water around the bait, and this creates a stronger pull on a sensitive rod. If you feel this and pause the bait for a second, you'll get follow up strikes.
Deflection is key; how many times have you heard or read that? Well, it's true. The more you can deflect a bait off of the bottom or cover in a single cast the better your odds of getting a strike are on that cast. The erratic change in direction when a crankbait deflects off something hits a primal nerve in a bass and forces it to strike. The strike may not be a hook up every time, but the more strikes you get the more hook ups that are possible. So the more deflection, the more strikes, the more hook ups. It's a vital key to being effective with a crankbait. Now the tricky part. Once you get a strike, remember what happened. Did your crank bait bounce to the left or right of a stump, did it pause and then rip over a rock, what exactly happened when you got the strike? This will be the key to the pattern of the day and what you'll want to try and duplicate to generate more strikes.
When working deep points, flats or ledges that are void of cover, grinding a crankbait into the bottom is the best way to create deflection. Remember, deflection is key, so even in open water situations you have to create deflection to get the most out of your crank baits. This is an area that proper rods and line are very important. To get your crank baits deep enough to reach the bottom, to create deflections, you have to be able to make long casts with line diameters that allow the bait to reach its maximum depth. Long casts also enable you to keep the bait in a strike zone longer per cast, with more deflections, creating more strikes per cast. I have a local lake that has a couple of well-known community crankbait fishing holes. In my early endeavors, I didn't want to reinvent the wheel so to speak, so I went to these holes to experiment with crankbaits. While other anglers could catch quality bass from these spots, I could only catch crappie. Yep, crappie on deep diving crank baits. Now that I've learned that my high diameter line was preventing my crankbaits from reaching the bottom, it makes sense. The crappie were suspended in these crankbait holes, and I could catch them above the bass that I couldn't reach, much less create deflections to cause them to strike.
These are some of the things I learned in my first year of crankbait fishing. Learning to fish with crankbaits requires some special tools, some expert knowledge, and time on the water. If you purchase a proper rod, fish with someone that can teach you some of their experience, and dedicate time to learning how to fish a crankbait, I promise you'll be as amazed as I was at how effective crankbaits are at putting bass in the boat.Mike Cork