That crankbait won’t hunt. Or WILL it? Looking at modifications to the crankbait
by Thad Rains
IDENTIFYING THE CHARACTERISTICS
PART 2 of a series of articles
By Thad Rains
In the first article, we discussed how to identify a way to help find specific types of crankbaits. This article will look at modifications that might enhance your existing crankbaits. We will even talk about things that will help some crankbaits hunt or react differently than most other baits. This article will be dedicated to some of the things that you can do to modify your crankbait to enhance its performance
Some of these things are very basic, that most fishermen do anyway. But this article will also include some more bizarre, unique ways to change the looks, sounds, running depth of your lures. This can be anything from changing the hooks to a better brand to drilling holes in the bait to add/remove the rattles. Using paint to enhance the appearance of the lure. Adding doodads (what Triton Mike called his dressed treble hooks), changing line ties and tuning. So, lets get started.
One of the first things that I do to the non-premium crankbaits is to change the hooks and also upsize at least one of the hooks. Most anglers do this already, but I will give some reasons why these make sense and what the effect is on the bait. Changing hooks can be easy or hard, depending no when you do it and what tools you have available. The preferred way is to change the hooks before you go fishing, with a pair of split ring pliers. Texas Tackle has a GREAT pair to do this with, called Split Ring Pryers. Their website is www.texastackle.com.
Phone number is 1-800-437-3521. Or, you can do it the old fashioned way, with your fingernails and thumbnails. NOT fun.
When you change the hooks out, you are putting on a hook that you have confidence in. Some baits come with standard hooks, some with premium hooks. Change out front and back. There is a personal preference as what brand or style to use, but you have more confidence and trust in the hook holding capacity of the premium hooks. And most of the better hooks hold a sharper point for a longer time.
Upsizing the hooks is also a preferred modification by many anglers. This will give you several advantages, and two disadvantage on your lure. The advantages include these traits. Giving more gripping/holding power to the lure; slowing the lure action down on it’s side to side swimming movement; slowing the retrieve because of the added water resistance (very minimal); and, changing the sound the bait makes while being retrieved through the water (again, minimal, but it is changed). The disadvantages are that are the larger hooks have a tendency to become fouled with each other. If this happens, your crankbait will twirl through the water and put twists in your line. It is easily fixed when you get the bait back. Another trick to fix this is let the bait float up and then rip it down and forward. This will sometimes unhook the fouled hooks. The second disadvantage is that the small amount of added weight and water resistance can make the crankbait unbalanced. Here, you have to do some manual tuning to get it to run properly again.
This brings up the tuning of your crankbait. The first article indicated that some baits cannot be tuned to the point that is desired. The easiest way to tune most crankbaits that run to one side is to take a pair of long nosed pliers and bend the line tie to the side the bait may be running. Some anglers say that you need to bend the line tie the OTHER way to get the correct running status. It all depends on how you are holding the bait, either toward you or away from you. What I have done, is get the bait facing me, with the line tie toward me, and bend the metal away from the direction it was tracking towards. This, in effect, turns the eye toward the direction that the bait was running. I just prefer that the bait is facing me and not facing away while tuning.
A note on tuning baits. MAKE VERY SMALL CHANGES TO THE BAIT AT ANY ONE TIME! Sometimes, it only takes a very small move in any part of the bait to get it running correctly. Some other things that can be used to tune the bait include: widening/narrowing the treble hooks; replacing the split ring with a larger/smaller/oval one; adding a split ring (if there is not one, but also doubling up on the split rings); tying a loop knot vs. direct to the split ring/line tie; placing the long nosed pliers flat on the bill of the crankbait and twisting it VERY modestly (as given by David Fritts in a BASS University session); changing the split rings on the hooks to smaller/larger ones if that is available; and on and on. There are a LOT of different ways to help tune the bait. Others will be mentioned more as a modification, than just tuning. Many of the above mentioned methods are also modifications, but we will focus on a few others.
Let’s get back to some other modifications. The first thing that I normally do, is to change the back too to a Doodad (as so named by Triton Mike on the BFHP) or a dressed treble hook to the back. Mike Bucca uses feathers and flashabou/mylar to add more enticement to the baits. There are commercial varieties available, as well as some of the BFHP sponsors offer them to the public, now. I tie my own, one that Triton Mike called the Thad Special. These dressed treble hooks do a couple of things to help your bait. First, is to add a sight attractant that is visible, even in low light conditions. Second, it slows the bait down during retrieve and exaggerates the side to side wobble of the bait. Third, it is a modification that most bass haven’t seen, or seen very little of. I am a big believer in trying to show the bass something different. Does it make a difference? It does to me, so I have more confidence in what I am doing.
One big modification is not a secret, but is very effective is to change the appearance of the crankbait. Changing the appearance of your bait on the water can be difficult, or easy. If you are getting strikes, but not hooking up much, because they are short striking, here is a way to make your bait more enticing. Many people use the colored pens to change some colors on baits. Some repaint the bait before they get on the water. Here is an inexpensive and quick trick. Buy some fingernail polish, some remover, and a clear coat. You can make immediate on the water changes in about 2 or 3 minutes, even with drying time. Some colors I like to use are hot pink, hot red, bright green (chartreuse), orange and almost any of the colors with sparkles in them. That being said, you can also take some glitter and mix with colors. OR you can paint a very thin coat of some glue/clear fingernail polish on the bait, and add glitter in different colors. That would be something similar to what Ryan Colemans (https://www.spotsticker.com/
) used to do to some of his spinnerbaits, adding Gamber Dust to them. So, there are three quick modifications.
Another modification is to add eyes to your crankbait. You can buy different colored eyes in most tackle stores. Glue them to the bait where eyes would normally appear on a baitfish, OR, glue them on the back AND the front. It makes for a lot more strikes, especially with the doodad. This and previous adding must be done in fairly exact proportions (if you have a bait that is running close to out of control or the SPECIAL bait) because it can vastly influence the bait, either in a positive or negative manner. To make things even more different, add some eyes to the bill of the crankbait. All of this does change the balance of the bait and can be negative, so experience is one of the best teachers here. Experiment on some baits that don’t seem to be perfectly balanced first.
You can also add external weights that impact the balance of the bait. Normally, adding weight will increase casting distance and get the crankbait to dive deeper. The Storm Suspend Dots/Strips have been used for years with success. Some anglers use soft wire (solid solder) to wrap around the hooks to add weight. The new Strike Masters Sticky Weights is also a great way to add weight to your crankbait. It can be a little messy, but clean it up before you start fishing again.
Another big modification is to add or remove rattles. This can be a very delicate procedure, because you have to drill into the rattle chamber, then remove, replace, or add different rattles. The soft compounds, like lead, add more weight than noise making ability, but that is not always a bad thing. The added weight gets your lure to a deeper depth, generally, than it was meant to run. Most fishermen that I talk to that do this, say they want a louder bait, so they put more stainless steel ball bearings, brass BB’s, glass beads or even tungsten into the cavity. But what about clear water conditions? Do you want the same loud bait? Or something that just SOUNDS different? Again, experience is the best teacher here. I have added/removed rattles from baits that I was experimenting with, and found that one small rattle in the chamber can be very effective. So, too, can the louder bait. One of the best experimental lures actually has 3 different rattles in it (a deep diver, so a larger rattle chamber). No other bait sounds like it, so I have achieved the something-new theory. Several words of caution. If you are drilling holes in the bait, make sure that it is secured and that you are not drilling into the chamber walls or the rattle itself. Normally, I try to use a drill bit that is just larger than the article I want to insert, remove.
When you are finished with the drilling and changing rattles, you then need to seal the hole/s you drilled. You can use almost any glue of your choice, but the better glue I have found to be a craft 24-hour epoxy. Found in the crafts department of most all-purpose stores. You may need to retune the bait after the glue has set. You can also glue the rattles/weights into place, if you want to change the attitude of the bait, but if it is the slightest bit off-balance, you may need to start all over again.
Okay, now a big one. HOW DO YOU GET YOUR BAIT TO HUNT? The term hunting confuses some. Many people say that if your bait is not hitting something on the retrieve, you are fishing too shallow of a crankbait. So you want baits in mid-water to act similarly. These "hunting" baits run straight back to the boat or track toward the angler, but intermittently kick out to one side or the other, imitating what a crankbait does when it hits underwater structure or cover. This will often prompts a strike from nearby bass. Baits that alternately dart to one side and then the other on retrieve, like an old Bass-O-Reno, are simply considered wide-action, rather than tight action, lures.
Most hunting baits are wooden, and many apparently have a softer line tie (such as brass). Wooden baits are reportedly the easiest baits to make hunt, because many varieties are hand carved and tuned. After fishing 1000’s of hours and using many crankbaits, I've learned that to get this hunting action, you need to have a TIGHTLY tuned bait (the special bait referred to in the first article). This means that the bait must be performing at it’s maximum. When it exceeds this maximum it suddenly goes over maximum, loses its dynamic balance, and kicks off to one side or the other. It then returns to center tracking back to the angler, to lose the dynamic again. Some anglers claim hunting can result from an anomaly in the wood, a knot or an imperfection, that causes the bait to be less stable and exceed maximums more frequently. I've had my success with finely tuned lures rather than relied on imperfections to create hunting action.
Plastic baits can be made to hunt, but only a few crankbaits fall into this category. But HOW? Some experiments have proven that you have to get the bait to the maximum of its running capability, almost out of control. When you get this bait, it takes VERY LITTLE modification to push the envelope to out of control. Some of the newer plastic baits claim that they do hunt. Or the pro staffs of the bait company do. Some statements are correct, some are not, but that is just life. Okay, how to get a plastic bait to hunt. Normally, once you have this special bait that is almost out of control, a very small weight increase can often cause the hunting action. Maybe ¼ of a Suspend Dot or a larger split ring, either on the front, middle or back hook. It takes a LOT of patience in this part of the tuning. A small fraction of any minor changes may push it over the limit, and you get a twirling bait. Normally, if you have a bait like this, a change of the back hook to the next larger size will get it to hunting.
Other methods to get the bait to hunt? Well, here are a very few I have had some success with. Taking the dremel tool, and putting very smooth grooves into the bill of the bait, paralleling the general line of the bill. Using the same dremel tool, putting some concave grooves in the sides/bottom/top of the bait. This small amount of difference in water pressure is often all it takes to get this desired action. These actions can also ruin the bait for good. So be very careful in how you practice this on your baits. Normally, any time you are removing parts of the bait, it weakens it, especially the bill area. You can try to make the bait stronger by applying a sealant, but often this will mask the changes you made. These few modifications are only a small portion of ways I use to change a crankbait to get it to hunt, but they are some of the more successful ones.
The next article will focus on equipment and techniques to more effectively use a crankbait. GOD BLESS our troops and local authorities.
A note of thanks goes to some of the sponsors on the Bass Fishing Home Page, as well as Triton Mike and Ralph Manns. They helped immensely in the preparation of this article.