Techniques and Equipment to Enhance Your Crankbait Effectiveness
by Thad Rains
Techniques and Equipment to Enhance Your Crankbait Effectiveness
(3rd in a Series of articles)
by Thad Rains
The previous two articles dealt with identifying some of the characteristics that make some crankbaits “special” and how to modify your existing crankbaits to make them more effective. This article will focus more on equipment and different techniques to make the most of your crankbait experience. We will discuss some basic physics and how those principals can impact your retrieve. First we need to discuss some issues on what can affect the running depth of crankbaits, besides the design and bill. Some of the factors that affect the running depth of crankbaits include line diameter (the smaller the line, the less water resistance, thus allowing the bait to go deeper). Position of the hands and body during the retrieve (hook setting capabilities come into play here). Rod length (longer the rod, further the cast, more running depth for a longer period of time). Reel retrieval capacity, (normally, the lower the gear ratio, the less line you get per reel handle turn). This is not an inclusive list, but touches on some of the major factors. So, let’s start with some basics.
We will first start with what rods I prefer to use for crankbaits. I say rods, because I don’t use the same one for all situations. Some have a more limber tip (for the smaller crankbaits) and some have more of a true parabolic curve with even distribution of pressure throughout the whole rod. One thing that they all have in common, is that they are LONG. I don’t fish a crankbait on anything less than a 7 foot rod. Most are even longer, up to and including 8 foot. These are mostly custom-built graphite rods that maximize the true running characteristics of a crankbait. Recently, I have picked up some of the Dobyns crankbait roads and LOVE them for what characteristics they bring to the table. The 805 CB RM (RM stands for Randy McAbee) is my favorite deep diving crank bait rod. I also have an 806 CB rod for the Strike King 25 foot baits and a 764 CB RM for the shallow and mid-depth crank baits.
The primary reason I use a longer rod is to maximize the running depth of a crankbait. If you look at how a crankbait works, using the protruding lip to force itself underwater, you have to consider what is happening underwater. First off, all crankbaits have a maximum depth that they will go to and then maintain that depth until it nears the point of retrieval. In a normal cast, the crankbait will dive relatively quickly, get to it’s running depth and then start working it’s way back up to the point of the cast. If you are trolling with a crankbait (using an electric trolling motor or a gasoline engine) to maintain a constant speed, the bait will dive down to it’s maximum depth and stay at that depth. Because you are using the forward motion of the motors vs. your hands and arms, to impart the action to the bait, you have different dynamics at work. So, reasoning goes, if you can keep the bait in the water on the retrieve for a longer period (longer rod, further you can cast) the deeper it will dive. I told you we would be discussing some basic physics.
The longer rod also gives you more hook setting power and fish fighting capabilities. When you set the hook, the longer rod will impart a higher hook penetrating power than a shorter rod of similar actions. One of the most common mistakes on fishing a crankbait is the lack of a good hook set. Many people that I have observed, including some pros, just start reeling the fish in, without a sharp sweep set or any hook set. Most crankbait fish are lost by not setting the hook. When you feel the fish hit the bait, or you feel the side to side wiggle stop, SET THE HOOK. It does not have to be a violent hook set, but at least a sweep set needs to be attempted. This one technique, setting the hook, will be one of the biggest differences on your hooking and landing ratio. The longer rod helps in this practice as well. If the drag is set correctly, and you don’t have any frays in your line, you can land a lot of fish by just using the sweep hook set whenever you think you have a fish on. I normally put my drag on so that a 3 lb fish can pull just a little bit, instead of driving all the way down (tension knob). If you get a bigger fish and the hook is set, you can then increase the drag to fight the bigger fish. If you drive the tension all the way down to it’s maximum, you will generally tear the hooks out of the bigger fishes moths, causing frustration and sadness. SO, set the drag so a 3 lb bass can pull just a little bit and then change it as needed.
Now, let us talk about how to use your rod while fighting a fish. Using basic leverage theory, you can see why the extra length is important to fish fighting techniques. If the fish starts to jump, you have more rod length to control the fish with, either changing the angle of pressure or even putting the rod tip underwater. Be very careful with this last statement. If you DO feel you need to put your rod tip under water to try and control the fish and keep it from jumping, you are giving up a HUGE amount of versatility. Namely, when you employee this technique, you give up most of the mobility of your rod to change angles. Since water is much denser than air, if the front ½ of your rod is in the water and the back ½ is out of the water, then the more powerful back ½ will be the first part of the rod to react. It follows, that you are pressuring the fish with the most powerful part of the rod (not the tip) and you can over power a fish and rip the hooks out.
Another hazard of putting your tip under water is that your reaction time becomes much slower. Again, the resistance of the water does not allow you to use your rod as quickly as you might need to. The longer rod gives you a few more options, when it comes to controlling the fish (like you can control a big fish anyway). One of the best ways to fight the fish is to control the angle that your rod is positioned. If you have the rod straight up in the air, you are promoting the fish to come up and maybe even out of the water. If it is to one side or the other, you know the rest. CAN you use your rod to keep the fish from jumping? Sometimes, but not all the time. Just be aware of what things you are giving up to try to maintain more control of the fish. Both the positives and the negatives of your actions. One thing to remember, the fish is doing anything and everything it can to get loose.
This leads into the next subject, how are you holding your rod while retrieving the bait? You can greatly impact the action and depth of the lure just by how you are holding your hands during the retrieve. Are your hands pointed toward the crankbait, making a continuous straight line to your lure (maximum amount of hook setting options) or are they off to the side, at a 10:00 to 2:00 position? Or, are you fishing with the rod over your head to keep the bait from going too deep? Are you ripping the lure through grass? Is your rod tip about 2 to 3 inches above the water, a foot or two above the water, or even waist high? Each position impacts the running depth of the lure by a resultant distance your rod tip is above the water. There are a lot of variables to consider. There is a time and application for all of the above mentioned rod positions. You just have to determine what is best for each situation. One thing that many people do not consider, is how to set the hook when a fish takes the lure. Do you set the hook straight up, or go to the right or left? We all have built in tendencies, and that is what we use the most, but it is good to learn other angles, in case of restricted space. For instance, many pro’s say that they use the rod to bring a crankbait over a limb or stump. Good information, if it is followed up by a quick reel down BEFORE the lure comes over the limb. If you do not reel down, you have no hook setting power if your rod is pointed to the sky, over your head. If you use the reel to bring the crankbait over the limb, you still need to have your rod in the correct position to set the hook as well. It takes practice but you need to let the situation you are fishing dictate your hand/arm/body are positioned. As the saying goes, there is no better teacher than experience.
What do I mean, by letting the situation dictate how you are going to retrieve a crankbait? Just that. If you are fishing a bluff on your right or left and the fish are only biting when the lure bounces off the face of the bluff, you put your rod tip over on the bluff on your retrieve. Simple, sure, but you would be amazed at how many people do not do these simple things. If you are fishing in brush or timber, you normally would incorporate many different rod positions working the lure through all of the cover. Straight, sideways, up, down, even almost backwards. Triton Mike Bucca wrote an article called “Snaking a Crank In Heavy Cover” that should be mentioned. Basically, you should throw a crankbait where the fish live, and THEN try to work it out, with a fish, hopefully. What I try to do is put the crankbait in the vicinity of the fish, maybe even where they may not have seen a crankbait before. So, throw your crankbait where the fish are, and then figure out how to get it out of the tangle. You will be surprised at the results. Will you lose a few baits? Sure, but the reward is much greater than a few baits, unless it is one of those SPECIAL crankbaits as mentioned in the first article. (Did you get the point, I just made 3 times? Throw it where the fish are? I sure hope so.) That is, UNLESS you are throwing the upper end of the crank baits, like $20 to $50 or more, so PLEASE throw those on heavier line to get them back.
A good straight on retrieve is used when you are checking the running attitude of the bait. If it runs off to one side or the other, you know you need to do some tuning, if you are trying to get it to run straight. Many times, you might want a crankbait that runs to one side or another. These situations include docks, bluffs, ledges and cables. If you tune the bait to run to one side, you can get your bait into places that a fish may have never seen a crankbait. Having a crankbait run to the right or left, getting under the normally unfishable water, can often result in a happy fisherman. Some baits run better to one side than the other. Many baits come out of the package with this sidewinder attitude. How do you determine if it is a crankbait you want to keep that runs like this? I try to get some type of predictable path that I want it to follow. If you can consistently track the same pattern and attitude, it is much easier to put the crankbait where you want it, even if it is not tracking straight. Another tip of the hat to the longer rod here, as you can make the crankbait run deeper under some cover, it you can extend the tip much farther than normal.
Let’s take a look at the reels now. There are many different choices that have a large impact on what your crankbait is doing. Here are some of the different things you need to look at. Normally, reels come with a set gear ratio that dictates the power of the reel and the retrieval recovery of line. For instance, a 6.2:1 reel, normally has a line recovery of around 25” to 28” per reel handle turn. The 5.0:1 reels have more power, but less line recovery per reel handle turn generally 20” to 24” per reel handle turn. The 3.8:1 reel has a 15” recovery per reel handle turn. Now we have reels upwards of 9:1 gear ratio, but I would not recommend those for cranking, unless it was a flat Rat L Trap style bait. The slower the gear ratio, the more power you have to land a fish, but you give up line recovery capability for that power. How does this impact the action of your crankbait? It is one of the least explored, but most important issues with crankbait retrieval.
Let us examine that last statement a little more in depth. HOW does the reel impact the way a crankbait acts? Several different ways, to be sure. If you are in a shallow location or even over grass, and you want the bait to get a reaction strike, it doesn’t make much sense to use a lower geared reel that has a line recovery of about 14 inches per reel handle turn than a higher speed reel that has almost double that capacity. You would be doing twice as much reeling with the lower geared reel. Just an observation, but there are times when the slower geared reel would be the ideal reel to use, even shallow or over grass. The latter situation could be that the bass are cruising the shallows or are lethargic, and need a slower presentation. Instead of a wacky worm or a fluke, maybe a shallow crankbait that has been modified and will just sit there, quivering a doodad at them.
Normally, the lower geared ratio reels are used for deep diving crankbaits, but not always. This will allow them to get down quickly, and then stay in the strike zone longer. You can also achieve this with the higher geared reel, by reeling the lure down quickly, then using a much slower retrieve, one that might be used while slow rolling a spinnerbait. This takes more discipline, but it can be done.
I normally use a premium copolymer line on all my reels, McCoy’s Mean Green as of now. Normally 12 to 17 pound for crankbaits, spinnerbaits and top water baits. Twenty pound for pitching, flipping, T-rigs and C-rigs. I also have a rod with nothing but braid on it, 65 pound Lynch line, one of the original braids, and it is like casting thread. No stiffness at all. BUT, if the wind is blowing more than 15 MPH, you will get some line bow in it. These rigs are used for Texas fishing, when I go to a clear lake with clarity to 10 or 12 feet, I normally downsize the line to 10 or 12 pound test, but not always. I don’t even have any line that is less than 10 pound at this time. Use what you feel comfortable with. Most premium lines don’t have a couple of advantages though, over McCoys. They normally have a larger diameter (20 pound the diameter of most 17 pound test) and they are generally retain more memory, so less friction while casting, so longer distances with Mean Green. These last are general statements, not facts. Just some observations of an avid fisherman from hours on the water.
So, remember some of these tips while on the water and see if they make a difference for you in your crankbait fishing. These observations have been learned by spending many hours on the water to make myself a better fisherman. Do not hesitate to try different things to see what the effect may be. Like holding your tip near or at water level, holding it much higher and to the side, and see what different feelings you get from what the crankbait is doing. Learn to feel what the lure is doing, within its surroundings. Is it digging bottom, running out of tune, tracking one way or the other, or is it doing exactly what it is supposed to do? Just getting the feel of the way a crankbait reacts can boost your confidence in using that bait.
In conclusion, the longer the rod, the longer the cast, thus, letting the lure run deeper for longer. Throwing a crankbait to places most people might not throw a jig is a good strategy, because those fish may have never SEEN a crankbait. Remember to SET THE HOOK. Body, arm and hand positioning have a HUGE impact on what is going on with your bait. Try some of these small changes next time you go out and see if it makes a difference at all. It might make the difference that will put you in the winner’s circle, or it may just be one more piece to the puzzle of bass fishing.
The next article will be more on techniques on HOW I fish a crankbait, specifically, what conditions and where do I throw the bait and why. Finding fish that will hit the crankbait successfully. Tight lines, keep safe and good luck. Thad Rains.
Tight lines, keep safe and good luck.