It is easy for any angler to get caught up in the latest and greatest tackle and techniques for catching bass. And we have all seen those gimmick baits that I like to classify as “guaranteed to catch fisherman”. I’m sure, like most bass baits, you could find someone that has had success with a Homer Simpson figurine crankbait, or one that mimics a beer can. And lets all hope that bass don’t learn how to read through some kind of miracle evolution because I’m certain they would be far less likely to eat a shad pattern with our favorite Pro’s name stamped on the side.
Do you remember the bait you used to catch your first bass? Though I cannot recall, exactly what I would have been throwing as a youngster, I’m fairly sure it was a chartreuse Fox Model Spinnerbait. Over the years, it became one of the first things I grabbed out of my dad’s tackle box. I also remember throwing a crankbait as my second choice, generally a Bagley B2 or something similar. Somewhere along the line I got side tracked. I learned to use a jig, and many years later, my boat became filled with soft plastic worms, and then creature baits, and drop shot baits, and six hundred pounds of other miscellaneous plastics. The spinnerbait I used to catch so many bass as a child, lost it’s appeal. Then when I did pick it up, I had far less success than I had remembered. And how many fish did I catch on a crankbait? Or how many pros have used a crankbait to win a tournament? To many to count, I’m positive. But I found myself not throwing them at all.
I have thought about all of this quite a bit lately, mostly due to my quest to fish for a living with the understanding that you have to be a complete angler to compete on a national level. As I looked back, I came to the determination that most of my tactical and tackle arsenal changes were made because I moved to Texas. I grew up fishing the clear water lakes of the west, where I came to believe that the cranks and the spinners were the way and the light. I had more success in the grass, and timber covered lakes of Texas using the soft plastic baits and jigs, which caused me to leave the lures of my youth behind. But anglers, like artists, find inspiration in the strangest places. In search of giant bass on Lake Fork, I began to use huge diving crankbaits in shallow water, which proved to be a successful presentation. Then I fished the B.A.S.S. Open on Lake Sam Rayburn as a non-boater and drew out a Texas Pro by the name of Cody Bird on the second day of competition. We left the marina 6:33, and within the next thirty to forty-five minutes I had three nice fish, and Cody had a heavy limit. Yes, using crankbaits. And that was all it took, I found a new excitement in an old tactic. I also remembered that this old tactic was one of the most proven ways to catch bass, and always would be.
So I dove in deep; no pun intended. I must have spent $1000 dollars on my first trip to the tackle shop. And during that shopping spree, I found a book that has become so dear to me that I keep it in the boat next to my crankbait boxes. This book is called Precision Casting, created by Dr. Steven Holt and Mark Romanack. These fine gentlemen deserve an award. I’m not sure how long it took Dr. Holt and Mr. Romanack to compile the data presented in the book, but in saved me decades. The book pictures over one hundred and twenty of the most popular crankbaits on the market. Next to the picture there is a table with the maximum depth attained by the crankbaits, using different pound tests and diameters of line at different cast distances. Below the tables are the dive profiles of the crankbaits using a baseline of a 70 foot cast on 14 pound monofilament line. For an example, a Norman DD 22 cast 70 feet on 14 pound achieves a maximum running depth of 13 feet. If you refer to the table to the right of the Norman DD 22, you will see that the same crankbait dives to 15.5 feet if cast the same distance using 8 pound line. So much for the number 22 Norman uses in the model number of this bait.
These depth characteristics are not posted on the packages of most of these crankbaits, so you can see where the book changes the game a little. But in my humble opinion, the focus on the maximum depth of the baits is not the most important thing shown by these illustrations. Dr. Holt and Mr. Romanack also graphed the actual path the lure takes as it is retrieved. You can see in the graph that the crankbait takes forty feet of retrieve to attain maximum depth, and then stays near the maximum depth for fifteen feet before it starts a steep climb toward the surface for the last ten and a half feet. Why do I see this illustration as the most important data in the book? You can run a crankbait over an underwater rock pile all day long and never get a strike. But if you actually bump the rock pile, and let the crankbait maneuver in and around the rock pile, your chances of connecting with a fish increase dramatically. So the graph shows you the proper distance your boat needs to be positioned from the rock pile, and how far you have to throw past the rock pile, for your cast to become effective in contacting this particular cover that you are trying to fish. Not to mention, whether or not your crankbait is diving to an adequate depth for contacting the cover.
You will quickly learn how many times it might have been just as effective to tie a lead weight to the end of your line as it was a crankbait, for all the good it did you. At least that’s what I learned. The crankbait has been, and will continue to be, a very effective fishing tool for a tremendous number of bass anglers, from the professional to the beginner. It will improve your own fishing successes dramatically to analyze the way you put this tool to work on the water. Make sure you are hitting your target depth, whether it’s a brush pile or a drop-off. If there is a need to get the lure deeper, adjust your boat position, your cast distance, or your line test and diameter, or even the model of crankbait you are using. As discussed in the book, your speed of retrieval has little to do with the maximum depth of the lure, but keep in mind that retrieval speed may need to be adjusted to entice the fish to take the lure.
One thing, not discussed in the book, is the color of the lure. It is easy to get lost in the vast spectrum of colors all of the different manufacturers provide. The best and simplest advice you will ever receive is to keep it simple. Bass eat what’s in the water; minnows, shad, small game fish, crayfish, and insects to name a few. Try to mimic those things with your bait. In clearer water, your lure should have a natural color, like a white or silver shad pattern or brown or green crayfish pattern. In dirty water, use brighter colors; fluorescent orange and chartreuse colors, usually mixed with a more natural color are my favorite, like a chartreuse body with a black back, or a fluorescent orange with an olive green back. You get the idea.
The book would be a good purchase, but if don’t get it, or can’t find it, the basic premise of this article is simple to remember. If you throw a crankbait, make sure it’s working for you and not against you. And if you don’t throw a crankbait, it’s never too late to learn or to start again, which ever the case may be. Simplify your choices by paying attention to the color and the performance of the lure, and try to stay away from the ones that are “guaranteed to catch fishermen”.