Crankbaits are some of the most effective bass lures ever developed. Most of them will catch bass right out of the box. But that's not how Elite Series pro Kevin Wirth fishes them. He often makes subtle modifications to his baits that make not so subtle differences at his tournament weigh-ins.
"A lot of crankbaits are good as is, but I want better than good," he says. "One of the easiest and quickest ways to customize any crankbait is to modify the angle of the bill. You can do it in a few minutes right in your kitchen."
He begins by holding the lure over boiling water. The steam will soften the bill. Once soft, the bill can be moved up or down slightly. Pushing it up will make the lure run deeper; pushing it down will make it run shallower. Take care to keep the plastic level. Twisting it will cause the lure to run crooked and roll.
One of Wirth's favorite crankbaits is a Bill Norman DD22. He often bends the bill up slightly. That makes this deep running crankbait run even deeper. "Never underestimate the importance of a slight change in running depth. Bouncing off a stump isn't the same as running an inch over the top of it."
He also believes in changing a crankbait's running attitude and vibration. Often he will drill a small hole in the front of his DD22s, just below the raised bill. He then rolls the BB forward and uses Super Glue to secure it against the hole on the inside of the lure. This stops the rattling. More importantly, however, it gives his bait a different attitude and vibration.
Bomber's Fat Free Shad is another favorite. "It's a great lure, it really is. But it's better after I shave the corners off the bill to give it an even tighter wiggle," he says. "A bass' lateral line is very sensitive. They can feel the slightest change in vibration. Taking a little piece off the corners makes a big difference."
Wirth cautions anglers to keep a few things in mind when making their modifications. First, practice on old lures. This is art, not science. Second, don't overheat the plastic. That'll make it weak. Third, go easy. A small change is good, a big change is bad.
And finally, different makes and models of crankbaits react differently to modifications. Every bait you make will be unique. Throw away the ones that don't catch fish and wear the paint off the ones that do.