When and Where to use a Crankbait (a little how too)
by Thad Rains
When and Where to use a Crankbait (a little how too) 4th in a series of articles by Thad Rains
In the previous articles, we discussed some basics on differentiating between crankbaits and how to modify them. The last article also went into a little detail about how to use them. In this article, we will concentrate on WHEN and WHERE to use a crankbait. This is strictly based on my opinions and observations, so put into it what you will.
I use a crankbait on 100% of my fishing trips. That is a broad statement, but I do. Anywhere from a lipless crankbait to a deep diving bait, I try to find a situation that the crankbait will be successful. HOW, you ask? Well now, THAT is the question we face in this article. Some general statements that you may have heard are, “Use a tighter wobbling crank when the water is colder” or “Always have your crankbait digging into the cover you are fishing.”. Well, sometimes they do apply; sometimes they don’t apply. So let us take a look at what is going on with fishing crankbaits.
There are several ways that I use a crankbait, usually it’s to see what the structure/cover is like. The crankbait is an EXCELLENT search bait if you are looking for different structure/cover in the water. If this is your first time on a lake, or 1000th, it is good to feel that crankbait WORKING and you KNOW what is going on with it. When you get the feeling that you know if a bass “breathes on a bait”, you are getting into a zone that many don’t get to. What does it take? A LOT of TIME ON THE WATER (TOW). And primarily using a crankbait. Here, you also need to have a huge trust in your equipment, because it relates directly to what the bait is doing in the water. But you also must have a lot of trust in yourself, CONFIDENCE, that you know what is going on underwater.
When you get to this phase of ANY lure presentation, you have a single focus and can recognize if anything is out of the ordinary. THAT is what you are looking for, that something different feeling, to set the hook. When I am in the zone, I can set the hook without feeling the fish on the bait first, but in anticipation of the fish hitting. Many times, this accelerated movement may make the fish strike, but it is a special feeling. So, as I mentioned, you need to master some basic instincts to know what is going on.
When do you use a crankbait? It depends on what type of water/cover/structure you are fishing. If you are fishing a body of water that has little grass, you know that it will primarily be fishing structure/cover. How do you take advantage of this? It depends on what time of year it is, but I normally will start on a point, using a crankbait to find out what is down there. Is the composition mud, rock, gravel, sand or something else? Is that type of bottom going to hold fish at that particular time of year? If yes, then you know you are getting ready to get a hit. If no, then you may not want to spend as much time on that particular structure and move to a different location and start again.
Some areas to explore with the crankbait include points, humps, standing timber, stumps, rip-rap, road beds, brush piles, docks, creeks/creek bends, ledges, bluff walls, grass beds and individual pieces of grass, individual pieces of cover/structure, launch ramps, rock piles, open water. Well, you get the idea, anywhere and everywhere. What a lot of these situations have in common, is that they will have some type of lichen or spore growing, attracting the baitfish. If you are fishing most of the above mentioned areas, you normally want the bait to hit some part of the cover/structure. The one that you won’t try to hit anything is in open water. So let’s start with that one.
When fish are lethargic, or not biting, it is frustrating. Many times, the fish are suspended somewhere in the water column. If you find this situation, you will usually have to “put on your patient hat and hang on”. In Texas, we see this more in the summer months, when conditions are hot. Often, when this happens, many people go home, because it is tough fishing. But the imaginative angler will try to coax some fish into the boat. A suspending crankbait makes an excellent tool in this situation. If you can get the bait down to or just above where they are staging, and then just let it sit, moving it with the rod tip only occasionally. Some anglers, the more experienced in this technique, will take up to 15 minutes to retrieve one cast. You normally need to modify your bait somewhat to get it to the proper depth or attitude. Experience is the best teacher here. You cannot determine what will activate the fish, until you catch one. Ultra sharp hooks and smaller line sizes help with this presentation. Sometimes, you have to experiment with a floating/diving lure to get to the specific depth the fish are holding. Again, TOW and experience is the best teacher here.
This presentation also works on any of the areas you might be fishing, but normally, you want your bait hitting the cover you are fishing. If the fish are suspended over or in any of the above mentioned areas, you might want to consider the suspending baits to use for this application. But, let’s consider if the fish are more active and will chase a crankbait. That is when you can employ the lure to glance off of the cover. This will get your arm broken sometimes with the violence of the strike. If you have one of the SPECIAL baits that will hunt, this is a great opportunity to use it. See article #2 to help determine if you have a crankbait that will hunt or how to modify some baits to make them hunt.
Let’s discuss some situations that really are ideal for using crankbaits. Schooling fish are a great opportunity to employ the lure. Of course, sometimes, you could catch a fish on a bare hook in those situations, but not often. Other times are when fishing over/around grass. Flats and humps are other good areas to fish a crankbait. Standing timber, lay downs, underwater wood or stumps are all great opportunities to use these baits. Rip rap, rock piles, and pieces of individual cover. ALL other opportunities. I will try to dedicate at least one paragraph to each situation.
Grass: This is one of the BEST and easiest places to catch the more active fish. Any crankbait from the tightest wiggle (Bill Lewis Rat-L-Traps) to the widest wobble (Manns Baby 1 minus) can be used effectively in these areas. There are 3 ways that you can use a crankbait for this type of situation. Over the top of the grass, on the inside grass line and on the outside grass line. Depending on where the fish are generally located, there is a different approach to be used in each case. I mentioned the two baits that are normally used over grass. You can also employ some deeper diving baits, but hold your rod and reel differently, also SLOW your retrieve down substantially, so the bait is just ticking the upper portion of the grass bed.
On the inside grass line, you normally want to do a little downsizing and throw a shallower running crankbait. This might also be a good situation to use one of the baits that run a little to the right or left, to go over and touch the grass line. Sometimes, the fish want a faster/slower presentation than you normally use. Experiment with several retrieves and colors and bait styles until the fish tell you what they want. If it is a colder water situation, don’t be afraid to set the hook whenever the bait is interrupted on the retrieve. A lot of times, the interruption was caused by cover, but sometimes, the fish aren’t as active and just mouth the bait. So, experiment until you find a pattern that the fish like.
On the outside grass line, you have more options, because usually, it is associated with deeper water nearby. Again, consider using one of the baits that run to the right or left to get into the grass. Normally, I start out with the deepest bait available to hit bottom here. If the outside line is associated with a creek channel, so much the better for a deeper diving crankbait. But again, let the fish tell you what they prefer. If you are fishing with a partner, this should really enhance your odds on determining what presentation the fish want. One bite does not make a pattern. Two bites on the same lure/presentation within 30 minutes, usually means you have found what the fish want. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different colors, retrieves or crankbaits here. Only experience will guide you in what has worked for you in similar situations. Also, the deeper diving baits are an excellent search tool to find out where the grass is. If there is grass down there, this bait will normally find it. When you find the grass beds that are not on top, throw out a buoy or two along the grass bed line so you can line the casts up on a specific plane. Another reference to TOW, the great teacher.
Schooling fish: Here is one of the best opportunities to get a kicker fish. Most fishermen throw a bait that runs across or close to the top of the water, generally using lures that approximate the size of the baitfish. This is a great time to get a kid interested in fishing as well as the fish are more active and more likely to bite. But, now back to the kicker fish. MOST of the time, the larger bass are located below and a little bit away from the schooling fish (regardless of what species the schooling fish are). This presents a great opportunity to pick up one of your bigger deeper diving baits. Studies have shown that many times, the bigger fish don’t want to work as hard at eating than the smaller fish. So, they lay in wait beneath the ongoing action above, to pick off any of the dead and dying shad that were missed by the fish on top. You would be surprised at how many people don’t go after these fish. Try it sometimes, if the bait hunts, even better. Try to match the color of the baitfish and you will be surprised at what you might catch. This paragraph is generally dedicated more toward the largemouth bass. Spots and smallmouth bass are generally more aggressive, and they all feed, but there might still be an opportunity for the deeper approach.
Flats, Humps and Points: One of the easiest ways to find fish on these locations is with a crankbait. Normally, you want your bait hitting some kind of structure/cover here. If you are not, don’t worry, try to move so your bait can hit something, or go to a deeper bait or smaller line size or longer casts. Depending on the time of the year, you normally start off from the shallowest and go to the deeper water (usually used in the warmer months). If it is colder, don’t be afraid to reverse this process and put your boat in the colder shallower water and cast toward the deeper water. If these areas also have some kind of cover, perhaps a tree or stump, a ditch, rock pile, ledge, it is best if you fish it as well. These combinations of fish holding conditions bear closer attention, as they tend to concentrate the fish. Humps can be a little harder to find, because they generally occur out in the main lake, and not around the shallow shoreline. They are still great fish holding places, because normally, less fishing pressure is applied to these areas, because people don’t know where they are or don’t know how to fish them. Any hump that is out in the middle of the lake is like a gold mine. Especially when you fish in the hottest or coldest months, when the fish go deeper. Many anglers have actually put some cover on the humps, to add features that encourage the fish to stay around. Christmas trees, willows, PVC trees, concrete, rocks, etc. But before you add anything to the water, determine if it is legal within your state statutes or the lakes by-laws. Flats hold the same kind of fish. Again, if you can find an additional piece of cover, you enhance your fish holding capability. Anything, such as a creek, a dike, a roadbed, trees, stumps, ALL are great things to know about when fishing these conditions, because you enhance the fish holding characteristics of each area.
Standing Timber, Lay Downs, and Stumps: Many people use a jig or a spinnerbait for these areas. Both great baits to use, but I normally use a crankbait to probe these areas. I traditionally use a crankbait that will reach bottom in these situations, and then crawl it through or over or beside these items. When you feel your rod pulling back a little more, when fishing a piece of timber, you know that you have found a limb, or another lay down with that situation. Read article 3 for how to load your rod up or reel up to get your bait over this additional piece of cover. Be ready when the bait finally makes it over the cover, because it pops loose and gives an erratic action that will often result in a violent arm breaking strike. Some anglers call this a “train wreck”, because of the force of the fish on our line. When fishing stumps, you want the same action, either glancing off of or over the stumps. Again, the bait gets that deflection/erratic motion and often ends up with a fish. As you can see, I try to hit these fishing areas with the bait. You don’t have to, but it normally helps if you do, because of the multiplicity of fish holding characteristics.
Brush Piles: This condition is actually fished somewhat differently than the other wood objects in the water. Where the brush pile is located in the water will actually dictate how you should fish it. You DEFINITELY want your bait to get down over/into the brush pile. It helps to have a lure that deflects vs. digs in. Also, stronger lines and rods are normally used. If it is a shallow brush pile, fish it with a crankbait much like you would a spinnerbait. Yes, you will get hung up some, but the reward is normally worth the effort. On DEEP BRUSH piles, you have now found what most fishermen call a “Honey Hole”. These can be from 5 feet deep to as deep as the lake is. If the brush pile is too deep for a crankbait, use your best deep-water technique here Like a Carolina, Texas or drop shot rig and a jig and pig. You want to C-R-A-W-L your bait over, around and through this brush pile. Sure, a more rapid retrieve works here too, but when you get a bait down to this brush pile and let your bait hover right in front of a fish, it works wonders. The heaviest line and rod is generally preferred here, because when a BIG fish comes out and grabs your crankbait and dives back into the brush pile, it is VERY disheartening to hear your line go PING! When the fish does get into the pile, take your time and try to bring it out. Sometimes, you may have to disengage your reel and give them some slack, and sometimes they will swim out, sometimes not. But don’t be afraid to try this technique.
Rock piles, ledges, docks, rip rap, boat ramps and creek bends:. Try to fish these areas with a crankbait that will be hitting the above-mentioned structure/cover. If it is too deep, use your favorite deep-water technique, but that leads to Carolina rigging a crankbait. Which is another way to fish the ever popular versatile lure. But this is enough for now. Here is one quick point on riprap. Since it’s rock, it traditionally holds more warmth on cold winter days, so the water will be just a shade warmer. In the summer, it will be a shade cooler.
Isolated Cover: This will be the last one covered in this article, but it is one of the best hidden secrets of many fishermen. Isolated cover will normally attract some larger fish, because it is the only cover within a long distance. One of the best fishing areas I know of has a roadbed, a ditch and then one tree with one limb on it. The roadbed is about 20 ft from the tree, the ditch about 12 ft. When you get your crankbait down to that limb, hang on, because I can’t count the number of 5+ lb. fish that have been caught off of it. It has 2 fish over 10lbs., and 8 fish over 7lbs.caught off of it, by just a few anglers that I know of. Is it isolated? Not really, but it is a culmination of several fish holding structures. If this tree was on a hump, flat, point, bridge, etc., it would still hold fish. Whenever you find any kind of cover or structure that is isolated, remember it is called a HONEY HOLE. Isolated means that it is all by itself, and traditionally draws many fish from the surrounding area to it.
To summarize, try to fish a crankbait when you think that there are fish in the area. Don’t be afraid of getting hung up, because you have to put the lure where the fish live. Once the fish is on, then figure out how to get it out of the cover/structure. A lure retrieval device is VERY helpful in these situations.
Hopefully, this and previous articles will help you identify some opportunities to try a crankbait. They are excellent tools in your tackle box/bag to use to help you find and catch fish. Don’t be afraid to pull one out and try it next time you are on the water. The last article will be based on putting it all together, fishing a lake for the first time, how do we approach it and what do we use. Tight lines, keep safe and good luck.
Edited by Thad Rains (06/19/18 12:23 PM)
Tight lines, keep safe and good luck.