Crankbaits are some of the most lifelike lures at a basser's disposal. Their shape, coloration and movement lend themselves to mimic bass' favorite meals, from crawfish to shad to bluegill. Since bass eat these critters year-round, cranking year-round makes sense. Here's how four Elite Series pro stay on the fish all year with crankbaits.
Alton Jones says that early spring is prime time for tossing square-billed crankbaits. He focuses on shallow water that has "new grass" growing. These areas are baitfish magnets.
"Cranking in the springtime is great, especially if there's grass in the area, like hydrilla or milfoil," Jones explains. "If the grass is just starting to grow, it may be 6-inches tall and a lot of times it'll be in 2- to 5-feet of water, and this is a perfect setup for a squarebill."
Jones' favorite squarebill in early spring is XCalibur's XCS100 crankbait. He uses a stop-and-go retrieve, moving the bait along at a good clip. If the bait snags in the grass, Jones pauses to let it back up and float out of trouble. Later in the spring, as shad and other bass forage grow larger, Jones upsizes to an XCS200 square bill. He moves from the new grass to shallow points and shallow sand bars on the main lake, most of which are no more than 5-feet deep.
"Bass will spawn on these ridges, and you'll also have postspawn fish come out of the pockets and set up around them," he says.
Jones cranks with a 7-foot, medium-action Kistler Z-Bone rod mated to an Ardent XS1000 reel spooled with 14-pound-test Silver Thread fluorocarbon. Jones places an emphasis on retrieve speed in the spring.
"Some days they want it ripping fast, other days they want a stop-and-go, and others they want it bogging down in the grass. Every day is unique," he says. "Each day I'm looking for that first bite to try and figure out exactly how they want it. That first fish will tell you. Once you figure it out, it's game on."
Alabama pro Tim Horton does most of his fishing on manmade lakes with well-defined underwater structure, much of which is ideal for probing with deep-diving crankbaits. This is especially true when the majority of bass are holding in deeper water.
"In the summer, I focus on areas on the main lake where there are steep drops that get hit by wind or current produced by power generation," he says. "Many of these areas are in 10- to 14-feet of water."
He prefers a Bomber Switchback Shad in shad patterns, with Citrus Shad being his default selection. In dirty water, he likes a little more chartreuse. He fishes the Bomber with a 7-6 Duckett Micro Magic cranking rod with a 7.4:1 Lew's reel and 10-pound-test Vicious Pro Elite fluorocarbon. If he's cranking around heavy cover, he'll go up to 12-pound-test line.
Fall fishing is nearly synonymous with pulling small, shallow-running crankbaits around the backs of creeks. While Edwin Evers agrees with the location of fall cranking, he disagrees with the small-bait sentiment.
"The shad are huge that time of the year, and no one else throws a big squarebill," he says. "I'll lob it around the backs of creeks and pockets, and on flat rocky points, depending on the type of lake I'm fishing. With a big bait, you can catch some big ones."
Evers' squarebill of choice is a big one and he loves shad patterns. He throws the bait on a 7-foot medium-heavy Bass Pro Shops cranking stick with a Bass Pro Shops Pro Qualifier 6.3:1 reel spooled up with 20-pound Bass Pro Shops XPS fluorocarbon.
Evers says the key to cranking the fall is twofold: locating shad, then picking apart the cover that's available in that area.
"You need to cover a lot of water to find them, and a lot of times you'll see the shad flipping because you're so shallow," he says. "Plus, if I see a good-looking log, I may make 10, 15 or 20 casts at it until I get a bite. You need to be repetitive, and that's how you catch the great big ones."
During the colder months, Elite Series pro Ott DeFoe almost always has a crankbait of some type tied on. If he's on a lake where grass is the primary cover, he's using a lipless crankbait. If there's rock and wood, he opts for the lipped variety.
"I've caught fish on crankbaits during the winter in water as cold as 42 or 43 degrees," the Knoxville, Tenn., pro says. "It's not just one or two, either; you can catch 'em pretty good."
Though the bass' metabolism slows significantly in winter, crankbaits work on a reactionary level.
"You're more apt to get a reaction strike in the winter, and a crankbait is a great way to do that," he says.
DeFoe's go-to wintertime crankbait is a No. 5 or No. 7 Rapala Shad Rap, depending on how deep the fish are holding. The Shad Rap's tight wiggle makes it a good choice in cold water. He keys in on rock, such as gravel, riprap or chunk rock. Each of these types hold bass, and when they're on a bank that slopes at a 45-degree angle or steeper, all the better. Natural, subtle crawdad colors get the nod. DeFoe considers himself "old school" when it comes to lipless crankbaits. He prefers Bill Lewis' original Rat-L-Trap. He says that it has a narrower shimmy than any other brand, making it better for cold water. He opts for either a 1/4- or 1/2-ounce model.
On grass lakes, DeFoe looks for small ditches and depressions in the bottom. The lakes that have mostly grass in them are natural lakes with few contours, so a drop of just a foot will likely hold bass. As with the Shad Rap, DeFoe prefers natural, crawdad-looking colors.
"Perhaps the most important thing to remember about fishing in the wintertime is that it's winter. If you're getting five or seven bites a day, you're doing pretty good," he says." Don't go out looking to catch 20 or 30. You've got to be patient. Also, most of the time there's no need to go out at sunup. Getting there at 10 o'clock or noon is as good as any time to be fishing that time of year."
Originally published May 2011