May is here and my crankbaits are ready to go... Crankbaits come in a lot of different shapes and sizes, and there's a lot to learn about the different types of crankbaits, when to throw them, what colors to throw and the tackle to use.
One of my old stand-bys this time of year is a Strike King Series 4 and 5. This is a plastic round-bodied bait with rattles in it that is a medium to deep diver, that comes in a variety of colors. The series 5 is the deepest diving of the two and runs down to about 12-15 feet. The series 4 dives about 8-12 feet and is a good choice when fishing shallower areas. That being said, any brand crank bait that falls in this category will work fine. First thing I do is change out the stock trebles with my Trokar Trebles as they are much sharper and stronger. I will change out the 4’s to the Trokar 2’s as they will give me a better hook-up and much more distance throwing the bait, which is very important when cranking.
The key to fishing any crankbait effectively is to keep constant contact with the bottom. You want the lure to be bouncing along on the bottom, knocking into rocks and limbs and other kind of structure. And you want to pay attention to the type of structure you’re fishing.
Before I start fishing, I will idle around in the my Ranger or as I like to call it “My Dream Rig” and graph the points or channel drops with the Garmin 550C and then drop a waypoint every time I find isolated structure with the Garmin 740. Only fishing the high percentage isolated structure spots in the area is a major advantage by saving a ton of time not fishing the low percentage spots. The Garmin GPS performs awesome in this technique; because the accuracy is so “dead on” that I can go back after marking the area and fish those small isolated spots with pinpoint accuracy. With out the accuracy of the Garmin I wouldn’t be able to do this. Idling at slow speeds with a quite motor like the Evinrude E-TEC will usually not scare the fish to bad when going over them.
If I catch a couple of fish off of submerged tree limbs or brush piles, then I’ll start looking for that type of structure on those points, or drops near the channel in the creeks. If I catch a few off of rocks, then I’ll look for areas that have obliviously have rocks. Some of the best spots are the ones that don’t have a lot of structure. You will want to find isolated brush piles or rocks and stay away from areas that are just covered up with it.
You can tell the difference in the type of structure by how it feels. With trees or brush, you’ll feel the lure start to load up slowly or the line rubbing on the limbs and then bounce through the tree. With rocks, the crankbait will knock them hard, and really bounce off them sharply. Grass is sort of spongy, and a lot of times you’ll find a little bit of it still on the hooks.
When you feel your crankbait hit a tree limb, you want to pause it for a second—just a second, no more—to let it float up, before moving it again. A lot of times the fish will strike the bait during that pause. The lure isn’t actually motionless, it’s floating back up above the limb, and the bass really react to the pause.
As for colors, keep it simple…I like sexy shad or a chart/blue back. I will use the sexy shad color in the more clear water situations and the chart/blue in stained water.
Utilizing the proper line, rod and reel combination will make the baits swim deeper.
Any time you’re fishing crankbaits, the line, rod and reel are going to determine how deep the bait swims and how effectively it catches fish. Under most situations, I’m throwing crankbaits on Bass Pro Shops XPS 12-pound fluorocarbon lines. Heavier line will get more fish out of the structure, but it won’t let the bait run as deep as it can go. If anything, I’ll switch to lighter line if I don’t think my bait is getting deep enough.
In some instances where I’m fishing open water with a minimal amount of snags or structure the fish can get me into, I’ll drop down to 8 to 10-pound test so the lure can work more effectively.
A lot of lakes or rivers have big shell mounds on the drops. These mounds are piles shells from mussels or other shellfish that have accumulated in one area. A lot of times the bass will stack over this type of structure, and you can bounce a crankbait through it and really do well.
With lighter line, the bait will get down deeper quicker, and thus spend more time in the strike zone on every cast. If your lure only spends half the retrieve bouncing off the bottom, only half of your retrieve has the potential to catch fish. You really want to get it to where 70 - 80 percent of your retrieve can catch fish, so light line is a big part of the equation.
Rod size is another important factor. If I make a cast with a crankbait using a 6.5 foot rod, I’m not going to get near the distance that I would with a 7.5 foot rod. I want to make the longest cast possible, so the 7.5 foot rod is the way to go, and I like a medium to medium heavy action. You don’t want the tip to be too heavy, or you can’t feel the structure, but if the tip is too soft, the rod will bend to accommodate the pull of the crankbait, and you won’t have any power left to strike a fish and fight it away from the structure. Kistler Rods makes some great rods for crank baiting. They are also very sensitive which allows you feel the structure better and even detect the strikes. Having a rod that is very light, sensitive and durable are three qualities that I look for in a rod. For the larger cranks like the Strike King Series 5 or even DD22 I use the Kistler Z-Bone 7.6 3 power medium action with the micro guides. This is a sweet rod!!
The type of reel to use when fishing crankbaits has always been a myth of freshwater fishing. A lot of hardcore crankbait fishermen like those old 4:1 reels that move a bait real slow. You want the bait to move slowly so the fish can catch it, but even with a high speed reel like an Abu Garcia Revo that has a 6.2:1 ratio, all you have to do is slow down the retrieve a little bit. After 10 or 15 casts, you usually settle into a nice rhythm for the bait. So you can really use just about any reel in your boat, just adjust the speed of your retrieve for the depth and speed you want the lure to run.
One of the most important things you want to pay attention to when fishing crankbaits is how true the lure runs. I catch way more fish on a lure that runs straight, as opposed to one than runs left or right. You can check the lure by making a long cast, then holding your rod tip against the gunwale and reeling in the bait. If it swims off to one side, or the line doesn’t track straight in from the lure, then your bait is out of kilter and needs to be adjusted.
Another way to check the action of the bait is to just let out a foot or two of line, and drag it in the water next to the boat. If the bait is way out of line, it will be really obvious, but for the fine tuning adjustments, you really need to make a long cast and retrieve to notice anything.
You want to check your baits for the way they track throughout your day, as fish, rocks, trees, pilings, any kind of structure can impact how that bait swims. If you find the bait is swimming off to one side, then you want to get a pair of needlenose pliers and very lightly grab the ring in the lip of the plug and bend it to the opposite side. You want to do this in very minor degrees, where you barely notice that you’ve bent the ring.
Then make a cast or two and see how the lure swims. If it’s still off kilter, bend the ring a little more. Once you have the lure running true again, it will catch a lot more fish.