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Crankin' Early Springtime Bass

Try throwing that crankbait this spring - you may be the only one doing it
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Every avid fisherman knows how deadly crankbaits can be as a summertime pattern for catching boatloads of bass. Typically, when the water temperatures reach the 70 to 80 degree range, summertime cranking is effective because bass readily chase down their fast moving prey with lightning speed. However, most bass fishermen will not even consider tying on a crankbait until water temps reach the mid 60’s and bass move toward their deeper post spawn haunts.

What most of these fishermen are missing is an incredible bite that can often yield some of the biggest bass of the year. Some of the best crankbait fishing I have ever experienced has been in the early spring when water temps are just starting to get out of the thirties.

There are two types of crankbaits that I concentrate on the most. They are a lipless crankbait like a Rat-L-Trap or Cordell Spot and a deep diving wide wobbling crankbait like an Original Wiggle Wart or Bomber 6A. These two baits shine in the early spring for producing some of the largest bass of the year and are consistent performers.
Rat-L-Trap and Storm Wiggle Wart

Lipless Crankbaits
My lipless crankbait of choice is the Rat-L-Trap. It is an inexpensive bait; usually around three bucks, and can be found in any tackle shop. This is a great lure to start the day with because you can cover large amounts of water quickly in order to locate active schools of fish. It works best on grass covered flats or shallows that are adjacent to deeper water. In the pre-spawn spring, the large female bass will spend much of their time in deep water, but will be close to shallow flats, which they use to feed. This is commonly referred to as staging.

Fishing for these staging bass usually involves positioning the boat in 12 to 18 feet of water, but adjacent to the shallow flats. Depending on water clarity, I usually look for flats that are 4 to 8 feet deep. If the fish are feeding, they will be somewhere up on the flat cruising. If, however they are not feeding, they will be in deeper water, just off the edge of the flat but relating to it.

If the flat has weeds on it, all the better. You want to retrieve the lipless crank just above the weeds, giving it an occasional jerk or brief pause. An erratic and fairly slow retrieve is the idea here. Most of the strikes you will get from this bait will be reaction strikes, or strikes that are enticed by sudden changes in the baits speed or direction. If the bait gets down into the weeds, usually it just takes a quick solid jerk on the rod to free the weeds from the hooks, then just continue the retrieve. Many times the strike comes immediately after jerking the rod to free the Rat-L-Trap from weeds that have entangled themselves on the hooks. Always be ready, and always pay attention to how you are retrieving the bait when you get bit. That way, when you do catch a fish, you can duplicate the retrieve.

My color preferences for the lipless cranks are chartreuse, red or chrome. I will usually use chartreuse or red first thing in the morning. As the sun gets higher, I will change to reflective colors like gold or chrome. The key here is to let the fish tell you what they want. Use one color for 10 minutes. If you don’t get bit, keep changing until you do.

This is a great cold-water pattern that I have used to catch bass in temps as cold as 40 degrees. It is also a great pattern for early walleye. I have caught as many as 40 walleye in a morning in 39 degree water throwing a lipless crank on points and flats.
Smallmouth on the rocks
  Another victim of the Rat-L-Trap
Wide wobbling crankbaits
My first choice for a slow moving wide wobbling crankbait is the Original Storm Wiggle Wart. This bait has a much different application than the lipless crankbait. The Wiggle Warts specialty is rocky or gravel covered areas of the lake, like rip rap dams or gravel points.

The best way to fish these baits is to cast them parallel to the shoreline in 6 to 14 feet of water. Begin casting shallow and move deeper until the fish are located. Reel the lure fairly quickly until the bait reaches the bottom. Once it hits the bottom, slowly creep the bait along the rocks, pausing it briefly every third or fourth revolution of the reel handle. This will allow the bait to float slightly above the rocks then dart back down to the bottom again when you resume the retrieve. Continue this retrieve back to the boat. This erratic stop and go retrieve will trigger a strike. Most of the time, the bass will strike the lure as you resume the retrieve just after the pause.

Bass will move deep or shallow throughout the day depending on wind, light penetration, weather patterns and various other reasons. Your focus here should be on the location of the fish and adjusting your presentation accordingly to stay in contact with them. Early in the year, warm windy days will bring the fish shallower as the shallow water warms more quickly. Cooler, cloudy or calm days will tend to push the fish deeper.

I will typically use 8 to 12 lb line depending on the depth I wish to fish. The small diameter of 8 lb line will allow it to dive as much as 4 feet deeper than 12 lb. The standard Wiggle Wart will dive from 10 to 12 feet on 10 lb monofilament so adjust your line size according to the depth you want to fish. Keep in mind that because of the clarity of the water this time of year, the fish can easily see your line. The smaller your line diameter, the better chance you will have of getting bit.

My color preference for the Wiggle Wart is anything natural looking. I use mostly greens and browns but will throw chartreuse, red or a shad pattern if the water has some color in it.

The rod selection for these techniques is very important. For the lipless crankbait it’s best to use a glass rod or a graphite rod with a medium action and a moderate power. Since the bait is almost always moving, sensitivity is not a priority. More important is the ability to get the fish in the boat. A glass or medium action graphite rod will actually keep fish hooked better on a crankbait than a heavier action rod. On the other hand, for the Wiggle Wart, a sensitive graphite rod is important. Because of the stop and go retrieve, it is important to have the sensitivity to feel the strike when the bait is paused. The rods I prefer for these presentations are the St. Croix Premier Glass crankbait rod in a 6'6" medium moderate action and a St. Croix Avid rod in a 6'6" medium fast action.

The line that I prefer for the Wiggle Wart is fluorocarbon. Fluorocarbon has a smaller diameter for the same weight class as monofilament. For this reason the crankbait can achieve a greater depth on fluorocarbon than on monofilament. Fluorocarbon is also more sensitive than monofilament and has half the stretch, which allows the angler to be more in tune with what the bait is doing. The line choice for the lipless crankbait would be 10 or 12 lb. monofilament. Because the lipless crankbait is constantly moving and being fished fairly shallow, the attributes of the more expensive fluorocarbon are not necessary.

Key Points
The main objectives when throwing these baits in cold early spring water is keep it as slow and erratic as possible. Experiment with retrieve speed, depth and color until you start catching fish. Use the lightest line you can get away with. Finally, be patient; bass tend to school up early in the year. You may go hours without a bite then catch four or five fish on consecutive casts.

Try throwing that crankbait this spring. You may be the only one on the lake doing it, but you will be the only one consistently catching fish.


© 2024 Troy Coburn
This article was originally printed in Colorado Fisherman magazine and had been re-published with permission from the author.
About the author, Troy Coburn:
Troy Coburn is one of the most avid bass fisherman you'll meet, spending over 100 days a year on the water. Troy is a professional licensed fishing guide whose specialty is fishing for trophy bass, wiper and walleye on Denver metro lakes such as Aurora and Quincy Reservoirs. Troy is a four-time Colorado B.A.S.S. Federation State Team qualifier and two-time Denver Bassmasters Angler of the Year. Troy has appeared on numerous occasions with Charlie Meyers in the Denver Post Outdoors section, is a frequent guest on Terry Wickstromís Mountain States Fishing TV show and AM 950 The Fan Outdoors radio program, and conducts fishing seminars for the International Sportsmenís Exposition and at Bass Pro Shops during their Spring Classic event. Troy is proud to be sponsored by Bass Pro Shops, Daiwa Reels, St Croix Rods, Jewel Bait Company, P Line and Rod Wrap.