Of the millions of crankbaits sold to fishermen every year, only a small percentage of those lures will ever have their hooks adorn the lips of a bass. Most will sit in tangled messes in a tackle box, having been thrown a few times, and tossed back into their container. Their hooks will be left to rust, and the crankbait’s potential never discovered. Why? Lack of confidence.
Confidence is what catches fish! And confidence comes from angling knowledge combined with experience on the water. When most beginning fishermen tie on a crankbait for the first time, they often have neither.
In the bass fishing world, it is quite evident that the higher the degree of steady success an angler has, the greater the chance that individual has also mastered crankbaits.
Tournament anglers are well aware that crankbaits are excellent search baits that cover a lot of water fast to locate the small percentage of fish that are active. Enough said, let’s talk about what a beginning angler can do to gain the necessary confidence to utilize crankbaits successfully.
1) THROW THEM! There is only one way to master crankbaits, and that is to fish them …a lot. Set a goal: “I aim to dedicate this year to learning everything I can about crankbaits!” Then on a regular basis, fight the temptation to pick up your favorite plastics or spinnerbaits by leaving them at home. Take only your crankbait box with you. This forces you to stick to it, until experience and knowledge begin to melt together into success.
2) FOCUS ON DEPTH: It’s essential to understand that a bass has a “strike zone” that expands or contracts depending on its activity level. (The strike zone is the area, or invisible bubble encircling it, indicating the space in which a bass will move to intercept potential food.) In order for a crankbait to provoke a hit, it must penetrate that strike zone, meaning an angler must present it at the same depth level as the bass. Fishing the proper “depth” is key. Fishing your crankbait under or over the strike zone of the fish is an exercise in futility.
Consequently, if a beginning crankbait angler is to explore the different levels of the water column until they locate the bass, it is vitally important to know how deep their crankbait runs. Don’t guess – know. If the package says the crankbait runs 6 feet, locate 6 foot water and test it. It might run shallower or even deeper. Experiment until you discover just how deep it actually runs, and jot that down.
It’s important to assemble a “set” of crankbaits in each basic color that covers a variety of depths. And it’s just as important to alternate them throughout the day until you start locating and sticking fish.
3) COLOR – SIMPLIFY: Ignore the 10,000 color combinations at the tackle store. Research the locate food forage. In most cases, a shad (or silver minnow color), and a crawfish color will work across the country. For stained or muddy water, a brighter color like clown, or chartreuse will help the bait be more visible. If your water has perch, rainbow trout, or bluegill as forage, you may want to add those to your basic arsenal of colors, but rarely will you ever need more than 5-6 colors.
It is important to understand: there are half a dozen factors more important than color. Shape, size, body shape, speed, depth, presentation, etc… all rank higher. Use the K.I.S.S method, (keep it simple stupid), and “chill out” when it comes to color. Changing colors every other cast is a waste of time. Stick to 5 or 6 basis colors and trust that they will catch fish! They will.
4) USE SHARP HOOKS: “I tried crankbaits, but I lost too many fish, so I gave up on them.” This common statement is largely due to dull hooks. If you don’t have razor shape hooks, don’t throw them. Never assume a crankbait’s hooks are sharp. Check them regularly throughout the day, and when a treble is dull, either learn to sharpen the hook, or change them out with ultra-sharp replacements. Sharp hooks can’t be emphasized enough.
5) SELECT THE RIGHT ROD and REEL: Less experienced fisherman often assume that “beginners” use spinning rods and “pros” use casting rods. Not true. Use what you are comfortable with when throwing crankbaits. But do select a rod with a softer action that has some “Give”.
A stiff or fast reacting rod can actually pull the bait away from a fish before the hook penetrates, or cause the bass to be lightly hooked in the lip. A softer rod gives the fish more time to swallow the crankbait and reduces the likelihood of the bass shaking the hooks loose. If you are loosing too many fish, your rod may be too stiff.
Again, whether your reel is spinning or baitcasting – it also plays an important part in keeping a fish on until it reaches the boat. It must have a good “drag” system. Cheap reels don’t “give” line immediately when a fish makes a strong run. As a result the hooks are torn out.
If you’re loosing fish on crankbaits, but your hooks are sharp, then it’s probably a rod and reel combo that doesn’t provide enough “give”. Don’t give up; adjust by using a reel with a good drag, and a softer rod.
6) USE THE PROPER LINE: Standard monofilament line has a certain amount of built-in stretch that can be a disadvantage in some fishing situations. Cranking, however, isn’t one of them. The reason we want a softer slower reacting rod, and a reel with a good drag, is to allow the fish more time to consume the crankbait. Too much sensitivity and stiffness in our equipment causes many beginning anglers to prematurely rip the bait away from the fish before it could be swallowed deep enough to ensure hook penetration.
For this reason, many pros believe the newer braids and fluorocarbon lines with “no stretch” simply compound the problem. Monofilament’s natural stretch tends to give fish more time with the crankbait before the angler sets the hook. So save your money – stick with mono and know it’s gonna get the job done.
7) SIZE: There are days when it makes no difference as to what size of crankbait an angler throws; the fish will aggressively smash any offering. But when a fisherman’s productivity is less than satisfactory, it’s time to “fine-tune” your presentation. When it comes to size, there are two options: SCALE UP or DOWN SIZE. Simple.
Begin with the old “Match the Hatch” cliché, (for the most part it still holds true), and try to imitate the size of the local forage. Generally go smaller in the spring, and larger in the fall as the forage grows. (Likewise, if the water is colder – go smaller, if the water is warmer – go larger.) On any given day, when the fishing slows down, however, try downsizing. These are generalizations, but they work most of the time!
8) CHANGE UP THE RETRIEVE: Crankbaits have unfortunately been called “idiot baits” because it’s assumed that all one has to do is cast them out and crank them back in. Wrong. Sure, when bass are extremely active and hitting anything that moves, a steady retrieve may be all an angler needs. But “stopping” or “hesitating” the crankbait several times throughout the retrieve will do wonders for increasing the number of strikes.
Most beginners would be shocked to discover how often a bass follows but doesn’t hit their bait. Bass often follow baits looking for something that indicates it’s alive and edible. The local natural forage is always swimming and stopping, and so when you hesitate and restart your crankbait, you imitate a baitfish or crawdad that has just seen the predator and rushes to escape. Before you change crankbaits, try increasing or decreasing your speed, and use the “stop and go” retrieve to trigger more strikes.
9) USE THE PROPER HOOKSET: Crossing the eyes of a bass with a jolting quick-snap of the rod may be necessary for driving home the single hook of a jig, spinnerbait, or plastic worm, but is totally unnecessary, (and even detrimental), when fishing a crankbait. Countless bass have been lost as beginners literally rock the boat during their explosive hookset at the first indication of a strike.
A slower, easy sweep of the rod up or to the side will prevent ripping a crankbait out the bass’ mouth. With a set of razor sharp trebles hooks, an angler only has to tighten up the line. With most crankbaits the fish with hook themselves.
10) FIND A CRANKBAIT MENTOR: A beginner will gather more knowledge in one day on the water with an experienced crankbait master, than in a summer spent trying to figure it out for themselves. Ask around; who’s an expert with crankbaits. Approach them and tell them you have heard they are the “go-to” guy or gal when it comes to crankbaits, and ask them if it possible to go out with them to learn the basics.
Take note: It is important when approaching the expert to assure them that you are not interested in discovering their secret fishing holes, but rather in learning how to select and present a crankbait in the proper way. Then, if they agree, watch and imitate them out on the water, carefully reserving your questions for those moments when something is not visibly apparent. Asking the right questions is more important than asking a million questions and wearing out your host. Be sure to pay for gas and sincerely thank them afterwards.
Remember: Crankbaits don’t catch fish – confidence in crankbaits catches fish. An angler who recognizes crankbaits as an extremely important tool, and believes in their ability to promote strikes, tends to fishes them longer, thereby increasing their fishing knowledge and success.
Following the ten basic suggestions above will assist in helping you gain the confidence you need to fish crankbaits, but understand, there is so much more to learn. So read the fishing periodicals, study the pros’ technique on TV, and research on the internet everything you can about these wonderful hardbaits. You might even want to keep a folder entitled “Crankbaits”, throwing every new tip or article you find into it. But remember, only time spent applying that knowledge out on the water will lead to increased crankbait success.
A bass fisherman who doesn’t throw crankbaits, is like a carpenter who has a saw, ruler, but no hammer; they are handicapped. The more tools an angler masters, the greater the joy that comes from steady success out on the water. The key to crankbaits begins with confidence. Set a goal, and make this next season “The year of the crankbait”. You won’t regret it.
Guest writer Chuck Bailey is a self-proclaimed “crankaholic”, and is the editor/writer of CrankbaitCentral.com, a website solely dedicated to educating anglers in the proper selection and use of crankbaits.