B.A.S.S. Insider: Cover Story, Episode 4

  • Editor's note: April through June 2006, B.A.S.S. Insider presented by CITGO airs each BASS Saturday at 8 a.m. ET on ESPN2. Click here for details.

    If you look into any serious bass fisherman's tackle box, chances are you're going to find a lot of crankbaits. In fact, if you check out a tournament pro's tackle, he'll have several entire boxes filled with nothing but crankbaits.

    That's because these lures, which first appeared on the Bassmaster Tournament Trail in 1972, are among the most versatile lures on the market today. You can fish crankbaits fast or slow, shallow or deep, and in every season of the year. They'll catch bass in brush, over vegetation, and of course, in open water where fish are often suspended.

    But perhaps the major reason so many pros depend on crankbaits is because they find bass for you, and they do it quickly.

    You can cover more water with a crankbait than you can with a spinnerbait, and do it easier; simply put, you can show your lure to more fish in less time. Crankbaits are not simply "cast and wind" lures, but they're not far from it.

    Right now in the spring is one of the best times of the year to fish crankbaits, because the majority of bass in most lakes are in water less than 15 feet deep, and this is the prime depth for these lures.

    At this time of year you can target both pre-spawn and post-spawn bass, whether they're hiding along the edge of a shallow weedline just waiting to come to a bed, or holding beside stumps in slightly deeper water after they've completed spawning. In either case, you can tempt them with a crankbait.

    Two of today's top bass pros who rely heavily on crankbaits are Ish Monroe, winner of the first Bassmaster Elite tournament on Lake Amistad with more than 104 total pounds; and Edwin Evers, a three-time Bassmaster winner also competing in this year's Elite series.

    Both anglers agree that spring is one of the best times of the year to use crankbaits, but that even then, one of the major keys to using these types of lures effectively is bouncing them either off cover or the bottom itself.

    When a crankbait hits an object like a log or rock, it deflects away at an angle, giving the lure an erratic action. This is what most often triggers a strike. Bass are attracted to erratic motion, so you try to create as many erratic actions as possible during your retrieve. Sometimes you can simply stop your retrieve when you bounce the crankbait off an object, and this may bring a strike, too. Or sometimes, the strike will come just as you begin reeling again.

    The same is true when you retrieve your crankbait along the bottom. In this case, it might appear to resemble a crayfish, which is a favorite bass food in many lakes, but more importantly, the digging, bouncing action of the lure simply creates an erratic motion.

    Crankbaits are normally chosen to match the depth of water being fished, and the lure's lip, or bill, primarily determines how deep the crankbait will dive so you can hit the bottom. Generally speaking, crankbaits with longer bills dive deeper than those with shorter bills.

    You can usually get a crankbait's basic depth range from information on the packaging when you purchase the lure, but depth also depends on the length of your cast as well as on the size line you're using.

    The bill also determines the crankbait's overall side-to-side action as it moves through the water. In bass fishing terms, this action is known as "wobble," and a crankbait with a large, broad bill will have a "wide wobble," as compared to a lure with a smaller, thinner bill that has a "narrow wobble."

    When bass are more active, as they usually are in the spring, a wide wobble is often a better choice, but this is something the bass will have to tell you, so try both styles. In case you're wondering just how wide a "wide wobbling" crankbait may move from side to side as it comes through the water, the answer can be as much as 6 inches.

    Are you beginning to see why top pros like Monroe and Evers carry so many crankbaits with them?

    Line size is also important when fishing crankbaits. Most pros prefer smaller line sizes like 10 and 12-pound test for crankbaits because a thinner line diameter gives the lure better wobbling action and also allows it to run deeper. When you're fishing extremely shallow water that is also slightly dingy and off-color, however, a heavier line can be used.

    Ish Monroe really likes to fish extremely shallow water in the spring, as he's doing here along an inside weedline at Toledo Bend Reservoir. In order to keep the lure from snagging on the hydrilla on every cast, he's using a small, square-billed crankbait that was designed specifically for fishing shallow cover like vegetation and brush.

    These lures, which run less than 18 inches deep, have been around for several years and played an important role in several national tournament wins. A number of different manufacturers offer them now, but they all have one thing in common: the short, squared-off bill. You can fish them right over submerged vegetation, and even work them through shallow laydowns and brush. By holding his rod tip high, as well as by stopping and starting his retrieve, Monroe can keep the lure running even shallower and actually draw fish out of the vegetation for a strike, because his crankbait looks and acts like a small baitfish.

    Evers' favorite depth for fishing crankbaits is about 6 to 12 feet, and he's won national B.A.S.S. events fishing crankbaits at this depth. Again, the keys to his style of fishing are making a lot of casts to cover the water, and hitting targets like stumps and rocks as often as possible. He varies his retrieve speed, too. He reels fast, then slow, and periodically he even stops reeling then starts again to try to trigger a reaction strike.

    When you constantly run your crankbait into obstacles like rocks and stumps, you occasionally need to tune it to insure the lure runs straight and true. To do this, make a short cast and hold your rod high to keep the crankbait running shallow, and reel very fast.

    If the lure runs to one side, hold the lure so you're looking directly at the bill and very gently twist the line-tie eye in the opposite direction the lure is running. Don't turn it very much, and keep testing it until the lure runs correctly on a retrieve. Although most crankbaits will run properly right out of the box, occasionally you may need to tune one like this before you even use it, so always check it with a short cast and fast retrieve before you start fishing seriously.

    As you can see, crankbaits catch not only largemouth but also quality smallmouth and even spotted bass. For all three species, the keys are the same: make sure your lure runs deep enough to reach the fish, and whenever you can, ricochet the crankbait off cover and structure to give it an erratic action. The bass themselves will do the rest.