"Right now, here in Arkansas, we're experiencing some unseasonably warm weather," said Bassmaster Elite Series pro Stephen Browning. "It's 10 or 12 degrees warmer than usual, and those kinds of temperatures can really lead to some good fishing."
The 8-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier is a recognized crankbait expert, so it's no wonder he reaches for his crankbait box when conditions warrant, and this is definitely one of those times.
"You have to keep in mind that water warms a whole lot slower than air, but when you've got warm winter temperatures and bright sunlight that's penetrating the water, it's often enough to bring the bass up and make them feed," he says.
"My favorite pattern at these times takes me to the middle of creeks where I like to focus on channel swings. The structure here is almost vertical, and that's perfect for this time of year. When weather and water conditions change, bass won't often move very much horizontally, but they will move vertically, and channel swings are great areas to concentrate them."
Browning's lure of choice for this pattern is a Live Target Crawfish Crankbait. It's not a deep-running bait; it doesn't have to be. The affable Arkansan expects bass to be relatively shallow under these conditions, so a bait that can dredge the bottom in 15 feet isn't necessary.
"I throw the crankbait on a 7-foot, 2-inch St. Croix Legend Tournament Series rod that has a medium action — basically a crankbait action in a graphite model," he says. "I like a Lew's Speed Spool Speed Pro model casting reel with a 5.4:1 gear ratio because I don't want to overwork the bait. These fish are still a bit lethargic, and with a faster reel you might have a tendency to work the lure too fast. For line, I like 14-pound-test Gamma Fluorocarbon."
For his presentations, Browning puts his Triton right up near the bank and parallels the channel with his retrieve, keeping his crankbait in the strike zone for as much of the cast as possible.
"You need to make multiple casts to key targets like wood and rock or any other irregular features you find," he says. "The fish are moving and feeding slower in the cooling water, but multiple presentations that bang into cover are going to help them find the bait and eat it. That's a real key to success with this pattern — multiple presentations and keeping that crankbait in contact with cover.
"Bass will move up on unseasonably warm days with lots of sunlight," Browning reiterates. "They're like dogs sunning themselves when it's nice out. Best of all, these are some of the most comfortable and productive days for anglers, too."