Try small crankbaits early

It’s fall cranking time in parts of the country where the bass and shad are moving into the backs of the creeks.

The cooler water temperatures, brought on by cooler days and nights, help trigger it. The fall also brings a lot fronts passing through which lead to high bright skies and crisp mornings, which make for ideal cranking conditions.

Early in the day, the water is colder and there is little wind. The bass aren’t chasing the shad, which makes the crankbait a good choice because it’s a bait that will trigger them to react when they’re not overly active.

You might catch some on the spinnerbait or topwater, but they won’t draw as many bites as they will later in the day when the water warms.

I’ve found that smaller crankbaits work best under these early morning conditions, so my go-to lure is a Strike King 1.0 or 1.5 square bill crankbait, one that has erratic “hunting” actions.

Also, the shad in a lot of lakes this time of year aren’t big, so smaller baits really shine.

I want the lure digging the bottom early in the morning, but when the shad gets active later in the day, I’ll fish it a little higher in the water. I’m usually fishing in water 5 feet deep or less and with a medium retrieve, controlling the depth with rod position or line size. If it’s shallow, I hold it high; if it’s along the edge of a channel, I will hold the rod lower. I have three rods rigged with the same bait, but in line sizes 10, 14 and 20, to help control depth, too.

The key to finding fish is to look for creeks with plenty of bait activity. I don’t fish a creek unless I see signs of shad on my graph, fish flitting on the surface, or plenty of fish eating birds working the area.

I prefer major creeks with a lot of swings in and out from the bank. I’m looking where the creek channels may be somewhat silted but they have visible stumps and cover along the edges.

A lot anglers target banks where the channel swings tight to shore, and those can be good, but I prefer where the channel swings away from the bank and cuts across a flat. If you can find a shellbed, gravel spot or a couple of stumps out there, it’s automatic. Those get overlooked more so than the obvious laydowns and other visible cover you see lying along the bank.

That’s where Side Imaging features on modern electronics pay off. In fact, that’s exactly how I won the Bassmaster Classic on Lay Lake, fishing isolated stumps where the channel wandered away from the bank – areas I found with my electronics.

Of course, Side Imaging can be tricky to use in shallow water because you don’t get as clear of picture very far away from the boat, so I set my range to a maximum of 50 feet on each side. By doing so, I can see a 6-inch depth change in the channel and the stumps really become more obvious.

Once you mark them, you can go back and pick off the fish that others are missing.          

Remember, it’s all about the attitude!

Kevin VanDam's column appears weekly on You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter