Get the most from Crankbaits

Mike Cork

To get the most out of your bass fishing crankbaits, we are told to bounce them off something to get an erratic presentation and draw reaction strikes. Crankbaits get expensive and have open hooks. Throwing crankbaits into cover or digging them into rocky bottoms is quite a tough concept to get over when you are first starting to fish crankbaits. The thought of losing these expensive crankbaits, deliberately, is hard to swallow. Why would I throw a $10 or $20 dollar bill to the wind? Sometimes, casting these crank baits into the brush and cover feels like just that, tossing hard-earned money up into the air just to see who will take it from you.

If you want to improve your bass catching abilities with crankbaits, you will have to get over this thought process and fear of losing baits. There are a few things that helped me improve my ability to catch bass on crankbaits. Starting with shallow running baits, using technique specific rods and line, and finally practice will all help you build confidence to cast these expensive baits where you need too in order to catch bass.

Shallow running crank baits are easy to retrieve. So getting them hung up usually means you’ve only lost a minute or two of fishing time, and possibly spooked fish from the area when you go to retrieve your bait. I started with shallow running baits so that I could learn what rocks, limbs, grass, and other objects felt like. I got hung up a lot until I learned some important things. By starting with shallow running crankbaits, you can cast them into the thickest of cover knowing that you’ll be able to go in and retrieve them if you have too. After making a few of this type of casts, you’ll soon realize that these open hook backs can be retrieved through some pretty heavy cover without being hung up. It takes practice, but confidence will come.

When your shallow running crankbait is bouncing along the bottom, you’ll feel it dig into the rocks, clay or sand. Learn what these feel like so that when you get to deeper crank baits you’ll know what your bait is hitting. A slow retrieve is normally more productive than a fast retrieve. A slow retrieve also allows you to interpret what you’re feeling. Find a brush pile, the cast past it and bring your bait through it slowly. With practice, you’ll learn what it feels like when your line is dragging over a limb, you’ll learn what it feels like just before your bait hits that limb, and finally what it feels like when your bait hits the limb. Yes, all three of those feel completely different. If you know your bait is coming in contact with a brush pile, you’ll feel a slight resistance as your line runs over a limb. As your bait gets close to that limb it will try to dig under it, and the resistance will get greater. Then of course, when your bait hits the limb, you’ll feel the contact. Use shallow water crankbaits to learning how they react, you’ll feel a lot more comfortable throwing them in the heavier cover as you know you’ll get them back. Once you’ve practiced and discovered how to bounce a crankbait through a brush pile in shallow water you’ll build the confidence to start fishing deeper cover. The biggest piece of advice I can give to an angler learning how to bounce a crankbait through cover is to use the rod and not the reel. When you feel your line start to pull against a limb, start using your rod to feel your way through the brush pile just like if you were using a Texas rigged worm. Pulling nice and easy, you’ll feel each limb.

I have had very good luck with some of the deeper diving cranks working them like a Carolina rig. Once on the bottom, using sweeping motions to bounce the crankbait along the bottom. The beauty of a larger deeper diving crankbait is that in order to help get them to depth they are not near as buoyant as their shallower cousins. Sure, most rise when given slack but not as quickly, this allows you to bring your rod back in front of you after the sweep while taking up line, and the bait will not rise to far from the bottom. If you have a pool to watch this, you’d see your bait scurry along the bottom and then pause and slightly back up and then scurry along the bottom again. I have found this to be very effective. Be ready for your rod to load up with a bass on the pauses. This method allows you to feel the bottom very well, by using your rod to pull the bait across the bottom you’ll be able to feel each rock as it climbs over and around it. If you feel your bait start to hang, pause and give it some slack, 99 percent of the time it will float out of the crevice it was lodged in, and you can continue your sweep. This actually is very natural, just like a crawdad that was checking the crevice, but didn’t find anything and is moving on. When dealing with deep brush piles and deep water crankbaits, keep in mind that the larger deeper diving crankbaits do not normally float as quickly. If your bait loads up on a limb, you’ll need to give it an extra second or two more than a shallow water crankbait in order to float above the limb.

Know how deep your crankbaits run. Fishing a crankbait that only dives 10 feet over a 14 foot ledge is not going to produce as many strikes as a bait that is dredging the ledge. Back to the principle of hitting something to create erratic action, by hitting the ledge with your crankbait it will deflect in different directions during your retrieve. If you have a ledge that has a brush pile, knowing how deep your crankbaits will run can ensure you make contact with the brush pile. I have had patterns that involved fishing a 10-14 foot diving crankbait over 20 feet of water; however, there were brush piles that rose to 10 foot of water. Bass were sitting in the tops of the brush. Fishing a crankbait that dove to 20 feet, put the bait under the bass unless I came across the top of the brush pile. Trying to pull a 20 foot diving crankbait, through a 10 foot brush pile is difficult. Pulling a 10 to 14 foot diving crankbait, through the top of the brush pile is a lot less trouble and puts the bait where it needs to be. I could still hit the brush, creating a reaction strike from the bass, yet I didn’t have to dredge vertically through 10 feet of a brush pile to do it.

Quality fishing line has been very important to my bass catching success with crankbaits. In years past I used to use the same rod for crankbaits as I did most of my top water baits. The reason for this is that a good top water rod can also be a good crankbait rod. So, because I was lazy, I simply didn’t worry about the line when I switched over to crankbaits from top water baits. I didn’t use crankbaits that much, and didn’t see a need to worry about line when I did use crankbaits. This hurt my ability to know what my crankbait was doing tremendously. For top water, I like a monofilament line. Monofilament floats better on the surface of the water and doesn’t harm the action of most top water baits like poppers, walkers or propeller baits. To aggravate the situation more, I used heavy line, most often 17 pound. I did this for two reasons. First I often fish top water baits around heavy vegetation or timber, and two the heavier the monofilament the better it stays on the surface of the water. Switching to a good fluorocarbon line greatly improved my ability to determine what my crankbait was doing in the water. Fluorocarbon’s low stretch attributes sent very solid signals or vibrations to the rod which made it easy to determine whether I was dredging up sand or mud. Bouncing off rocks was like having the tip of your rod in a ceiling fan, and feeling your line come over limbs was unmistakable. I was amazed at what a simple change in line did for my ability to determine where my crankbait was and what it was doing. To further this, using the lightest line I could comfortably get away with not only improved my casting distance, but enabled my baits to reach greater depths. Unless I am using a squarebill in shallow water, I generally use 12 pound fluorocarbon lines. This seems to be a great all purpose weight and enables most baits to reach their full potential. If I’m really trying to get deep then dropping to 10 pound test is an option; however, that’s getting out of my comfort zone on strength.

Just like with most other techniques choosing the correct line for the application can be mind boggling. You can drive yourself crazy trying to figure out which is best for what you’re trying to do. Some basic things to think about that will help you make a solid choice are as follows. Monofilament has stretch which is good for bass forgiveness. If you are fishing fairly open water, where abrasion resistance is not a factor, monofilament will work. Other than cost I personally see no reason to use monofilament for fishing crankbaits, unless, you have trouble getting solid hook sets. The stretch of monofilament line can help prevent pulling the bait from a bass during the strike and can aid in preventing a bass from tearing the hooks free during the fight back to the boat. Braid doesn’t stretch and is my choice when fishing crankbaits or lipless crankbaits in vegetation; because it can cut that vegetation. Once a bass is hooked in a lily pad field or on the edge of a line of American pond weed, or any vegetation for that matter; braid has the ability to cut its way through the vegetation preventing a bass from wrapping you up and tearing the hooks loose. Because of the zero stretch, braid is great for patterns that require you to rip your bait free from vegetation to draw a strike. As I already mentioned, Fluorocarbon is my choice for fishing crankbaits, it’s abrasion resistant, sinks well, and it’s low stretch transmits back to the rod very well. I recommend anyone starting out with crankbaits use 12 pound test fluorocarbon. This will allow your crankbaits to perform at or near their max potential, will be strong enough to handle most any situation you throw at it, and it’s going to give you the ability to learn what that crankbait is doing because you’ll feel everything.

Lastly and probably the most important of all the things that have changed my outlook on crankbaits is the rod. A quality technique specific rod built to fish crankbaits with will greatly improve your bass catching ratio. Not only does a crankbait specific rod improve casting distance and accuracy, it is designed to help you control a bass after being hooked, and have the sensitivity to know what your crankbait is doing when digging through cover or over structure. I simply can’t say enough about having the right tools for the job. All the other factors are minor until you combine them with a quality rod designed to fish crankbaits and then it becomes magical.

With so many different crankbaits and possible patterns to work them, having one rod that performs well with all crankbaits is not possible. A rod that is designed for deep diving crankbaits is not going to be as effective as one designed for shallow running squarebill crankbait. Deep diving crankbait rods usually will be longer and have a medium or medium/heavy action with a moderate to fast action tip. This allows the rod to load up when casting, and give you greater distances. These rods have a lot more action throughout the blank which helps with the sensitivity, allowing you to feel what your bait is doing with a lot of line out and 10-15 feet deep in the water. A good squarebill crankbait rod, for me, is medium heavy with a fast action tip. I want a little bit stronger, and stiffer rod to cast baits into cover accurately, and then have the power to guide a hooked bass out of that cover. The Dobyns Champion Series 705CB GLASS has been a fantastic shallow water crankbait and squarebill crankbait rod. It’s a 7 foot medium heavy blank with a fast tip action. For deep water crankbaits, Randy McAbee and Garry Dobyns designed a series of rods that are perfect for dredging up deep bass. Of this series, the Dobyns Champion Series 805CB RM is fantastic, it’s an 8 foot blank with a medium/heavy action, and a moderate/fast tip action. With the right reel on this rod, you can literally launch a deep diving crankbait down an entire point. After a full day, fishing with a rod that is not designed to throw big baits you will be worn out; your shoulder and elbow will be aching. The 805CB RM rod takes all work out of casting these big deep diving crankbaits. With its medium/heavy action, you have the power to drive a hook home at the end of a long cast, and with the moderate/fast tip, you can feel everything a crankbait touches.

Anglers have told me that they can feel a crankbait bump into bass, until recently I believed they felt other things, rocks, limbs, sections of grass. Since I’ve started using quality rods, fluorocarbon lines, and learned what my crankbaits were telling me, I have come to believe that you can feel your crankbait run into fish. I can also honestly say that you can feel the crankbait in a void right before you feel a bass load up on it. This void being the vacuum of a bass flaring it’s gills to suck your bait in.

Last summer, Ron Fogelson put a whooping on me at our local lake with a crankbait once the topwater bite died. It’s been a year now that I have gave crankbaits an honest effort. While I still have a lot to learn, I have been impressed with these expensive baits thus far. I’m not saying they have replaced all my other techniques, but when it comes to summer ledge fishing I definitely get more excited about a crankbait rod in my hands versus a Carolina rig rod.

Get the Net it’s a Hawg
Mike Cork
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