Doesn’t anyone use crankbaits anymore?
I was asked that while hanging out in the local tackle shop recently. With all the talk about plastic baits like the wacky worm, Texas-rigged worms, spider grubs, jig n’ pig, swim baits, plastic frogs and spinner baits, crankbaits are seldom discussed.
I know 90-plus percent of my fishing is done with plastic wiggly baits, and I really don’t give crankbaits a chance. But there are a few well-known anglers who use them successfully. In fact, they actually make a living with them.
One is a guy from Michigan named Kevin VanDam, who has cranked his way into a career earnings of $5.5 million, plus endorsements. And he’s also the No. 1-ranked bass fishing pro in the world. You cannot pick up a fishing magazine or catalog without seeing his face at least once. He has dominated the sport of professional bass fishing for the past several years and shows no sign of slowing down. He won this year’s Bassmaster Classic and $500,000 by cranking a $5.29 Strike King KVD HC square-billed crankbait.
I don’t know why we don’t use crankbaits, but I have learned from several pros how they can be used successfully. As an outdoors writer, I’ve had the privilege of fishing with several crankbait pros as their press angler in previous Bassmaster Classics.
My first was Mississippi pro Paul Elias, the inventor of the “kneel and reel” technique. Elias would make a long cast, kneel on the deck of his boat and put his rod in the water up to the reel. Then he would start his retrieve. This would give him a greater depth with the lure, and when he hooked up with a bass, this technique helped him keep the fish from jumping and possibly tossing the hook. He actually introduced this technique for the first time when he won the Bassmaster Invitational here in New York state at Seneca Lake in 1983.
David Fritts, a North Carolina Bassmaster, is another Classic pro with whom I fished, and he taught me some new tricks for crankbaiting. When I interviewed him before we took off on the first day of the 1994 Classic at High Rock Lake in North Carolina, he credited his cranking success to his equipment. At the time, he was using a seven-foot Browning Crank’n Power rod that he designed. It was a glass rod with a soft action. He said graphite rods tend to have a faster tip, and at the time of the strike and while playing the fish, it can cause less hook penetration and a lost fish. The softer tip of a glass rod allows the fish more time to suck it in, thus you get a better hook penetration.
His other tip was to use a slower reel ratio. Reels with 5.1:1 or higher also deter a good hook-set, which can result in lost fish. He prefers and uses a 4.3:1 gear ratio baitcaster. This combination allows for a more deliberate presentation and a strong and steady controlled retrieval of a hooked bass.
Fritts told me, “No one crankbait is ideal for all situations, and they don’t all run true right out of the box.” You should always test them, and if they don’t run true, tune them until they do. And while you’re doing this, note how deep each of them runs. Then, using a permanent magic marker, write the depth right on the crankbait. And speaking of depth, the size of your monofilament also influences depth. Ten-pound-test monofilament will usually take a crankbait deeper than 15-pound-test.
Watching him in the boat, I noticed he would make his cast and immediately drop the rod tip, then begin his retrieve. This will also gain depth. Now, cranking all day like David did can get very tiring on your arms, but I noticed that to take some of the pressure off, he put his left foot on the gunnel of the boat and placed the rod against this foot then began his retrieve. On that particular day, I really enjoyed watching him land fish caught on crankbaits.
Once he had the fish within a few yards of the boat, he had his rod down in the water and moved with the fish. Often, he ran around the boat until he felt that he could either grab it or flip it in the boat. And this is fun to watch, especially if you’re in the boat with him. But it does stop the bass from jumping.
Other crankbait tips I’ve learned fishing with the pros include the use of rattling baits in muddy and murky water situations. And there are those who believe that when bass are aggressive and the bigger ones are beneath the smaller ones, the rattling baits will bring them up. In clear water, a number of pros will throw crankbaits with a tight wiggle, and to prevent spooking fish, always downsize line diameter and make much longer casts.
Crankbaits are not the hardest baits to fish in your tackle box and anyone can catch fish with them. At their purist level, some might even call them a “no-brainer” bait that requires little more than a cast and retrieve and you will catch fish, but if you adhere to some of the techniques used by Elias and Fritts, your successes will definitely be greater. Next time you are on the water, tie on a crankbait and give it an hour or so and see what happens.
Remember, the main reason that crankbaits don’t catch fish is because they’re not being used. Right now, I’m heading to the river and will force myself to use a few crankbaits while I’m there. I’ll let you know what happens.