CRANKBAITS AND COVER
By Ken Poor
To fish any lure effectively you need to put the lure in the bass’s strike zone and if they are holding in or close to cover that’s where your lure must be. Understandably many anglers are reluctant to fish a crankbait in or close to cover. They look for areas with open water and little or no cover and give up on them when they don’t catch fish.
Open water may work for some species of fish such as walleye or muskie, but largemouth bass prefer to live in or close to cover and if that is where the bass are, then that is where your lure should be.
The main problem that comes with fishing cover, for most anglers, is that past experience, adrenaline and/or instinct has taught them, when they feel something bump their lure they should set the hook or speed up their retrieve. Exactly opposite of what they should do with a crankbait specifically when fishing in or around heavy cover and the results are very often a lost $5 fishing lure.
Generally, this is the result of not developing a feel for the difference from what a crankbait feels like when it runs into cover or a bass slamming the bait. What we really need to do is slow down our presentation and develop a sense of feel for bringing a crankbait through thick cover. When a crankbait runs into cover, normally if you stop the retrieve immediately, the buoyancy of the lure will allow it to float free.
The trick for doing this is to use the correct retrieve for the situation you are fishing, using the correct crankbait, and bringing a boat load of patience, especially during the learning process. With a little practice you can learn to bring a crankbait through fairly heavy cover without hanging it up. That’s not to say you will never get hung up, but you can keep it to a sensible minimum.
When you are working a crankbait in or around heavy cover such as brush, trees, or thick weeds use your rod for a very slow pull-pause retrieve, so that you have time to stop and let your crankbait float free when it comes in contact with the cover. Do not use your reel and a steady retrieve. Only use the reel to pick up slack line during the retrieve. Keep in mind that when you use a crankbait around cover it should make contact with the cover. Don’t bury it into a stump or thick weeds – just touch it and then pause – let it float clear – then continue your retrieve.
Crankbaits are made from balsa wood, cedar or hard plastic and crankbaits used for largemouth bass, will normally weigh from 1/4-ounce to ¾-ounce. Crankbaits can be floaters, sinkers or neutral buoyancy. When working heavy cover with a crankbait you should always use a floating model that will float towards the surface when you slow down or stop your retrieve.
Most crankbaits have a plastic lip just beneath the nose called a bill. The angle of the bill creates resistance as the lure is retrieved and makes the lure dive below the surface. Length, shape and angle of the bill will determine how deep the lure dives and how much the lure will wobble (action).
Crankbaits with long wide bills dive deeper than crankbaits with a short narrow bill. A narrow bill will cause the crankbait to have a fast, tight action compared to one with a wide bill. In cold water the tight action is generally a better choice than a crankbait with a lot of action. The action of your crankbait is often the difference in whether or not you put fish in the boat.
Anglers should have a selection of crankbaits with different actions and that reach different depths. Shallow divers are good for water 1 to 3 feet deep, medium divers 4 to 8 feet and deep divers 9 to 20 feet plus. Lipless crankbaits do not have a lip to make them dive and the floating models are most effective in shallow or medium-depth ranges. Of course if it is a sinking model crankbait it can be fished at any depth, but the floating models are the style to be used in this technique.
As a starting point, choose a crankbait that will dive deeper than the cover you are working. This will make it easier to work your lure slowly and still make contact with the cover. Use a slow pull-pause retrieve. When you feel your crankbait touch cover – pause your retrieve – dip the tip of your rod and let it float up and clear of the obstruction before continuing your retrieve.
The shape and color of the body of a crankbait is intended to imitate some type of forage such as perch, minnows, shad or crawfish. Silver/ black, yellow black or red/brown are all good basic colors for most lakes and rivers. Experiment with colors and profile – but always let the fish tell you what they want.
The two most common body profiles for crankbaits are a thin body and a wide body. Some thin profile crankbaits have a jointed body to provide extra action. Typically, crankbaits come with two sets of treble hooks, one on the belly of the crankbait about in the middle, the other hanging from the tail. Hook sizes and the exact position of the hooks are matched to the crankbait for balance and proper action. Always sharpen your hooks. Never assume that hooks are sharp enough even on a new lure right out of the box.
Use light spinning gear spooled with 6 or 8-pound test line for twitching, thin profile, small (2 to 4- inch), floating crankbaits on the surface. Use this setup for working the surface of open weed pockets, under or along the edges of piers, under overhanging trees or close to other types of cover.
Larger wide body crankbaits can be worked on heavy spinning gear, but my preference is a 6-1/2 or 7 ft., medium/heavy bait-casting rod with a soft tip. Spool your baitcasting reel with a high quality 14-pound test monofilament line when you are working lighter cover and for heavy cover I prefer a 30-pound test braided line. If you prefer to tie your line directly to your crankbait, either remove the split-ring from the eye in the crankbait, or check your line for “nicks” every few cast.
Many crankbaits have hollow bodies with metal BB’s inside of them. The BB’s rattle when the crankbait moves through the water and the purpose is to attract fish to the crankbait. The BB’s come in different sizes that causes different rattling sounds and sometimes different rattles sounds seem to work better that others.
Keep in mind that when you use a crankbait around cover it should make contact with the cover. Don’t bury it into a stump or thick weeds – just touch them. Use a pull-pause retrieve so that you have time to stop and let your crankbait float free. Often times that short pause will trigger a strike from that big bass you have been looking for.