"If I'm practicing for a tournament and the lake has a lot of shad in it, I'll always reach for the small crankbait first," he explains. "I have one tied on at all times. It's a great 'go to' bait, and not just in practice, either." Ponds says a small crankbait, such as the Bandit Flat Maxx, is the perfect bait to run an aggressive postspawn pattern with. "I'll fish it over shallow ledges that might drop off to around 7 feet or so," he explains. "Basically, the first breakline is what I like to target, and I'll run it very aggressively with that Bandit Flat Maxx or a Bandit 200 to pick up the easy fish."
Once he has found a concentration of bass with the small crank, he'll back off and dissect the area with a Carolina rig, or similar technique. "The small crankbait is my perfect search bait," he says. "You can cover so much water and really pinpoint the sweet spots on a piece of shallower offshore structure much more quickly than you could with a Carolina rig." Aside from using the small baits as search weapons, Ponds says that they can also play into his overall tournament strategy as a primary tactic.
"That's particularly true if I'm running shallower grasslines that have a distinctive edge," he explains. "You can get the smaller crankbait down so that it just ticks the edge of the grass in 4 feet of water. They really shine in this scenario." Fishing around heavy cover — particularly standing timber and laydowns — Ponds maintains that a small Bandit 200 will beat most any other presentation when the bass are actively feeding. "That's my 'go to' bait when I'm fishing around cover," he says. "The primary baitfish in the lake will determine the color of the bait I'm using, but it's really about putting it in play more than anything else."
Recently, the swimbait has taken over as the dominant "big fish" bait on the Elite Series, but Ponds isn't convinced. In fact, he's a solid believer in the concept that big baits don't always equate to big bass. "Think of [the small crankbait] in the same way as you might a drop shot," he points out. "I've seen a lot of big fish caught on a drop shot, and I've caught a lot of 7- and 8-pound bass on a small crankbait."
However, the Mississippi pro notes that if your mindset is to seek out only giant bass, then the small-bodied crank is probably not your best tool. But if you're just out for keeper fish, you could do far worse than a downsized diving bait. "Most recreational fishermen just want a bait they can go out and catch a bunch of fish with and one that offers the opportunity of catching a giant. That's what a small-bodied crankbait is all about."