Crankbaits For All Depths
By Bonita Staples
Crankbaits are one of the easiest lures to use because they have the action built into the bait. The places you use crankbaits, how you add your technique to that built-in action and your retrieval speed can make the difference between you and the other anglers on the lake.
We will start with the long, slender minnow-type baits typically called jerkbaits. You can do more with this bait than just jerk it through grass. There are several different styles available, some with rattles, some with longer lips that dive to 16 feet. The Smithwick Deep Suspending Rattling Rogue and the Rebel Deep Minnow run about 10 feet and the Bomber Deep Runner Long A will get down to 16 feet. These work great along the edges of grass, along tree lines, creek channels or fishing for suspended bass in open water. Since they suspend, or float up, you can crank them down and stop, then crank again. This action can entice bass when the fishing gets tough.
At this point I had better back-up and give you some ground rules. When I refer to a specific depth that a lure will run, it is based on using 12- pound line. If you use lighter line, it will go deeper and heavier line shallower. The further you cast a lure, the better the chance it will reach the proper depth and the longer it will be in the right depth zone.
You need to match the rod to the bait you are casting. The heavier the bait, the stiffer the rod. I like the Falcon LFC-1-176 rod or Falcon FC-4-17 for the lighter crankbaits. It's also best to cast side arm, so you keep the bait closer to the water and are not affected by the wind as much as if you cast overhand. When you crank back, keep your rod tip down close to the water. This is less tiring on your arms.
The first four or five cranks need to be fast and then crank in a medium speed, steady retrieve, stopping when the lure hits something and then starting up again until you get the lure back to the boat.
Some of the medium-diving baits are the Bomber A series, Bagley's Kill'r B, Bill Norman's Deep Little N and DD-14, Storms lightnin' Shad, Excalibur Fat Free Shad, Rapala Shad Rap and Manns 10 and 15 Plus. When I say that these are medium-running baits, I'm referring to the eight- to 14-foot range. That does not mean that you can't fish them in shallow water. One of the best techniques, is to throw a Bomber 6A or 7A or a Norman DD-14 up near shore and let it dig into the bottom all the way back to the boat. The lure bouncing off of the bottom, darting from side to side, will trigger a strike when a steady retrieve from a shallow runner won't work as well.
The deeper divers like the Mann's 20 and 30 Plus, Bagleys DB3, Excalibur Fat Free Shad, Bill Norman's DD-22 and DD22+4 and the Storm Deep Lightnin' Shad are for the 16- to 30- foot range. You can work the treetops along creek channels and long points or submerged roadbeds. These are harder to crank back and will wear you out if you try to crank too fast. Keep your rod tip down and reel back at a slow, steady speed. After you cast the lure out, reel fast about five turns. This will get the lure down to the right depth and then you can slow down to a steady, easy, slow speed back to the boat. You need to use a long rod, 7-1/2 to 8 feet (Falcon LFC-4-18 one-piece rod) to get the distance on your cast to get the full depth that these lures are capable of reaching.
I left the most universal crankbait to the last and that's the lipless crankbait. These baits can be used from shore to just about any depth you want to fish. The best known is the Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap, then the Cotton Cordell Spot, which is now the Super Spot and the Rapala Rattling Rap which is now the Rattlin' Rapala. Some newcomers are the Berkley Frenzy Rattl'r, Bagley's Shad-A-Lac, Mann's Maniac and Luhr-Jensen Sugar Shad. They come in sizes from 1/8- ounce to 1-1/2 ounces with the 1/4-, 1/2- and 3/4-ounce sizes the most commonly used.
If you learn how to work these baits in grass, treetops, laydowns and stickups, you'll be surprised at the numbers and sizes of bass you can catch. Throw close to shore, hold your rod tip high and start reeling as soon as the bait hits the water. You can work these baits over the tops of grass, rip it through the grass or stickups, down the side of a laydown or just about anywhere you can put a spinnerbait.
As far as colors, I prefer to stick to natural bait colors, shad, shiner, perch and crawfish, but some of the new photo finishes and colors like firetiger might make a difference under certain applications and conditions.
I've worn the finish off of a few of these crankbaits in Tennessee shad over the years. Experiment and take chances, especially in places where other anglers aren't throwing them. It might surprise you how well they will do.