Learning to fish with crankbaits is a must for any bass angler. Crankbaits are a useful tool for catching bass. In some presentations, once everything is dialed in, there are times an angler can catch fish on nearly every cast. With other presentations, an angler can call the shots, knowing exactly when bass will strike on a perfectly placed cast. However, catching bass on crankbaits has never been my favorite way to fish. For years I had trouble catching bass on crankbaits, they seemed like a chunk and wind bait with no real appeal to it. If I made enough casts, I was bound to bring the bait by a suspended bass. With a little luck, I might catch the attention of bass. Over my years of bass fishing, I’ve learned a couple of things. One is we can’t always force feed bass what we like to throw. Two, to be an effective tournament angler we have to use the proper tool for the job at hand, and there are times when the crankbait is the appropriate tool. So, I had some learning to do.
Learning to fish with Crank Baits
I was intimidated by crankbaits because of price, time, and spooking possible strikes. I never really threw crankbaits where I needed to or made contact with the bottom for fear of losing hard earned money. Whenever I’d get near cover, I would get nervous and make wide casts ensuring I didn’t hang up. If I hung up, I’d lose time going to retrieve the bait, and I’d spook bass positioned on the cover or structure. So, more often than not, I’d elect to throw something more weedless at the given target. Then there is the fact I paid a pretty penny for some of these crankbaits, and leaving them in a stump or brush pile was not my idea of money well spent.
It wasn’t until I started getting stomped in summer tournaments when I realized there was something to this style of fishing, and if I wanted to win a tournament, I better figure it out. I had all these pretty baits in a Plano box. I would pull a bait out and look at with admiration and envision how well it should work. These baits could have been in a glass case for a collector for as much as I was using them. I could imagine where and how I’d use them on the next trip to the water. The hard part was actually using them. Once I’d get to the lake, the stumps, grass, timber, and rocks all seemed like they had teeth and only wanted to take my shiny new bait from me.
To help me learn to fish crankbaits better, I solicited the help of a good friend who is well versed in crankbait fishing. He was so confident in a crankbait; he didn’t bring his boxes, saying he’d catch bass on my selection to build some confidence in the baits I already had. As he peered through my boxes of baits, he started chuckling, “I can see your first problem already.” As he continued laughing, “They all have too much paint on them!” He proceeded to explain it was painfully obvious these baits were all brand new, or I hadn’t been casting them where I needed to be to draw strikes.
I learned many valuable things from watching and learning from my fishing friend. He got me started down a road of crankbait bass fishing like I hadn’t experienced before. I learned some pretty amazing things. Like how much the proper rod and line helped with casting, feeling, and retrieving all the way to how weedless a crankbait actually is. Within a day, I was pulling squarebills through fallen timber like it was a spinnerbait, dredging deep rock piles as simple as I could with a jig, and ticking grass edges with complete confidence.
With this new confidence, I was over the fear of losing my crankbaits, and I started catching bass. Slowly I started making casts closer and closer to cover. Once I got close enough to contact the cover, I started catching more and bigger bass. With the proper equipment, working a crankbait through a brush pile is as exciting as using a jig; feeling each limb and anticipating each strike.
As I started getting more comfortable with crankbaits, I found lighter lines helped tremendously in my ability to feel what was going on. Lighter lines also enabled better casting and better action of the bait during retrieves. I mention this because I’m sure other anglers think like I did, “If I’m going to cast these expensive baits in places I can lose them, a heavy line will increase my odds of getting them back once hung”. While this theory is sound, I found I hung up less with lighter lines; I could feel the bait better and manipulate it through cover easier. I started my crankbait endeavors with 17 and 20-pound lines; this was a huge mistake. Thinking back now, I can see why I never felt much with my crankbaits. Not only was I not achieving the crankbaits maximum depth potential and reaching the bottom, hitting cover gave a spongy effect at best because of the high diameter lines. I have found that even in the thickest of cover, I’m successful with 10-pound lines. I have on occasion moved up to a 12-pound line when fishing a square bill in very thick cover and felt I needed to be able to manipulate or horse a bass.
Rod action is also a vital part of the crankbait equation. Just about every manufacturer out there makes rods specifically for crankbaits. I had never purchased a crankbait specific rod because I didn’t throw them often and the cost didn’t seem to offset my needs. Once I moved to rods specifically designed for fishing crankbaits, I found casting distance and accuracy improved exponentially.
Within any manufacturer’s line of crankbait specific rods, you’re likely to find several different powers and tip actions, each with a different specific use. A rod designed for large crankbaits to dredge ledges is going to be quite a bit different from one designed to fish squarebill crankbaits in cover. Using a rod that has the appropriate stiffness and tip action for each application goes a long way in helping an angler achieve maximum feel.
After spending time with a crankbait, using the proper rods and lighter lines, I learned I could tell bottom composition, I could walk a bait through limbs without hanging it, and I could feel various types of strikes undetectable by me before. Fishing vegetation is no longer frustrating; it is very easy to find the proper retrieve to allow a crankbait to tick the top or side of vegetation, without dredging it. I used to listen to the pro’s talk about how they felt this or that with a crankbait. Kevin Van Dam once said he could feel his line pulling over the backs of bass. I chalked this up to, “yeah right”. However, now I can see where this is possible. With the right combination of equipment, I can feel the line hit a limb before the bait gets there. Detecting this slight change just before the crankbait hits the limb, allows me to pause and let the bait float over the limb. If I were fishing in an area with no brush or limbs, then, I reckon, this change in the line could be the back of a bass?
Something I didn’t know before obtaining the proper equipment, crankbait strikes come in many different forms. There is the unmistakable grand slam we all enjoy when a bass knocks the rod out of our hands. However, there is also a swipe, a vacuum, and a complete miss. I am now able to tell when a bass swipes at the side of a crankbait and misses it. Sometimes it feels like the vibration of your crank bait simply changed sync, sometimes the vibration just stops for a second, but after it happens a few times its unmistakable. Then there is the vacuum, when a bass comes up behind a bait and sucks the water from around it. An angler loses all feel, but the bait is still there; it’s like the line just goes limp yet it’s still moving forward. A complete miss – when a bass strikes at a crankbait but does not contact it at all. This is very strange and the hardest to detect, however, with experience it can be identified. I first learned it by watching bass following the crankbait to the boat and making a last ditch effort as they saw the boat. It feels like a slight pull but doesn’t stop the vibration of your bait. All seems normal, except for a split second, the bait feels as if it’s pulling just a little bit harder. As a bass strikes a bait, it creates turbulent water around the bait, and this creates a stronger pull on a sensitive rod. When I feel this, pausing the bait for a second, gets me follow-up strikes.
Deflection is key; how many times have we heard or read that? Well, it’s true. The more I can deflect a bait off of the bottom or cover in a single cast the better my odds are of getting a strike. The erratic change in direction when a crankbait deflects off something hits a primal nerve in a bass and forces it to strike. The strike may not be a hook-up every time, but the more strikes I get the more hook-ups I will get. So the more deflection, the more strikes, the more hook-ups. It’s a vital key to being productive with a crankbait. Now the tricky part. Once we get a strike, we have to remember what happened. Did the crankbait bounce to the left or right of a stump, did it pause and then rip over a rock, what exactly happened when the strike occurred? This will be the key to the pattern of the day, and what we’ll want to try and duplicate to generate more strikes.
When working deep points, flats or ledges void of cover, grinding a crankbait into the bottom is the best way to create deflection. Remember, deflection is key, so even in open water situations we have to create deflection to get the most out of crankbaits. This is an area where proper rods and line are very important. To get your crankbaits deep enough to reach the bottom, to create deflections, we have to be able to make long casts with line diameters allowing the crankbait to reach its maximum depth. Long casts also enable us to keep the bait in a strike zone longer per cast, with more deflections, creating more strikes per cast. I have a local lake with a couple of well-known community crankbait fishing holes. In my early endeavors, I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel so to speak, so I went to these holes to experiment with crankbaits. While other anglers could catch quality bass from these spots, I could only catch crappie. Yep, crappie on deep diving crankbaits. After many years of experience, I’ve learned the high diameter line I was using prevented my crankbaits from reaching the bottom. The crappie were suspended in these crankbait holes, and I could catch them above the bass I wasn’t reaching, much less create deflections to cause them to strike.
These are some of the things I learned in my first year of crankbait fishing. Learning to fish with crankbaits requires some special tools, some expert knowledge, and time on the water. If you purchase a proper rod, fish with someone that can teach you some of their experience, and dedicate time to learning how to fish a crankbait, I promise you’ll be as amazed as I was at how effective crankbaits are at putting bass in the boat.
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