In 1995, a local bass angler at Lake Minnetonka, Minn., told North Carolina pro David Fritts that the bass don’t bite crankbaits very well.
Fritts, a crankbait guru, didn’t listen to him and finished a very close second in the four-day tournament with 20 bass totaling 77.12 pounds, an average of almost four pounds per fish. The next year, he returned to Minnetonka and won the tournament.
That fall, David appeared at the Worchester, Mass., Sports Show and had the audience laughing when he was asked about his trip to Minnetonka. He said: “Boy, I would like to be at Minnetonka when they ARE biting crankbaits.”
I had the opportunity to fish with David on one of his practice days as a press observer at the 1993 Bassmaster Classic at Logan Martin Lake in Birmingham, Ala., and got to see his crankbaiting technique up close.
As a bass fisherman, I haven’t fished a crankbait more than a dozen times in the past decade. In fact, the only times I have thrown them is when asked by beginning anglers, both young and old, how to use them. Fortunately, that day on the water with Fritts, I really learned a lot.
Although the crankbait does most of the work, there are a number of ways to enhance its effectiveness.
I’m sure those of you who saw him on the “Bassmasters” TV show in the 1990s will remember him running around the boat with his rod down and a bass hooked on his crankbait. When I was in his boat, I also had to run to stay out of his way, but he landed every bass of the 20 or so he hooked.
He gave a lot of credit to the rod he designed, a seven-foot Browning Crank’n Power model made of E-glass fiber, not graphite, with a soft action.
Graphite, he said, creates a much faster tip, which at the time of the strike and during the fight will actually cause less penetration and/or hook dislodging. With the softer-tipped Crankn’ Power rod, it gives the fish time to suck it in, engulf and close its mouth around the bait, allowing for more hooks to penetrate.
While playing the fish, constant pressure is maintained, but the reaction to sudden movements by the fish is less subtle than with graphite. I ordered one as soon as I got home.
Fritts also was not a fan of high speed gear ratio reels for crankbait fishing. He used a Lew’s Speed Spool model B-1NG with a 4.3:1 ratio filled with Stren cofilament clear Crankin’ line. He was fishing Rapala DTs in various colors, but was quick to tell me, “No one crankbait is ideal for all situations.”
The serious angler should have several of each type ranging from lipless to deep divers. Color choices are usually determined by experimenting. If one color is not working, try a different one.
After buying crankbaits and before actually fishing them, take them to the water to try. Crankbaits don’t all run true out of the box. Fritts calibrates every one of his, and marks their depth range on the bill with a permanent black marker. After locating fish at a certain depth, the right one can easily be choosen.
Line size is also important in determining the depth of a crankbait. Ten-pound-test monofilament may take the lure down to 15 feet, whereas 14-pound line may only allow it to go down to 12.
To get it deeper, hold the rod tip down or do what pro bass angler Paul Elias does, kneel on one knee and put your rod into the water with the reel just above the surface and start reeling.
These techniques, coupled with a good fish/depth finder, can make a crankbait deadly when worked over various structures. If the depth of a weed bed is known, a crankbait that will run just inches above where the fish are holding can be choosen. Just be sure all the hooks and barbs of the baits are sharp. And speaking of hooks, Fritts often downsizes the treble hooks to No. 6s.
I asked him about the use of rattles, and he told me an interesting theory about them. He obviously uses them in muddy and murky water situations, but would you use them when the bass are aggressive? Fritts believes when bass are overly active, the larger ones tend to be beneath the smaller ones and the noisy rattles will bring them up to the crankbait.
When I asked him about clear-water crankbait choices, he said he goes with tight wiggling action baits that have plenty of flash or color. Generally, the thinner the bait, the tighter the wiggle.
Avoid getting too close to the targeted area because bass are spooky in clear water. Make long casts and downsize the line diameter.
His last tip that day was a must for every crankbait angler, especially with today’s lure prices. Get a lure retriever.
I looked at some of the new lures introduced recently at the International Convention of Allied Sports Fishing Trades, and most were over $10; one was selling for $150.
As a dedicated wacky worm fisherman, I think about cranking, but never really do it. I tried it the last time I was out fishing on Saratoga Lake, and I don’t think I made more than a half-dozen casts.
Give them a good try, and let me know how you do.