Winter Crankbait Tips

Winter Cranking with Mark Daniels, Jr.

Riprap banks are always a good place to start when fishing a crankbait and Daniels, Jr. says the winter months are no different.
Riprap banks are always a good place to start when fishing a crankbait, and Daniels, Jr. says the winter months are no different.

Each year as the air temperatures start to dip and nature starts to slow down, Mark Daniels, Jr. starts to think about crankbaits. He counts the winter months as some of his favorite of the year for fishing, and he says that one of his top choices for lures is a crankbait. But, he does change his approach in what lures he uses and how and where he fishes them.

“Location, Location, Location”

Finding where the fish are is one of the biggest keys to success in bass fishing, and that is why Daniels always seeks out the high-percentage areas for winter crankbait fishing.

“My first choice is always going to be riprap banks, which can be found on pretty much any body of water in the country around a manmade structure. Bridges, marinas, and dams all have riprap, and they are excellent places for crankbaits,” he said. “It gives the baitfish and crawfish many places to hide, and the bass won’t be too far away.”

One key for Daniels is how he fishes this cover. “I see many people casting perpendicular to riprap, and the problem with that is your bait is only in the strike zone for a few reel cranks. I always try to fish them by getting my boat parallel to them, so the bait stays in the right zone,” he added. “If my bait dives to five feet, I’ll keep my boat in five feet of water. I always position it in the same depth as the maximum diving depth of the crankbait I am using.”

Daniels says that another top spot for winter cranking is transitions. “Whenever I go to a new body of water, I am looking for transitions where it goes from mud to rock or from gravel to bigger boulders or any change from one kind of structure to another. The bass are always attracted to them, and I look for that no matter what time of year it is,” said Daniels.

He will also look for grass lines, laydowns, dock pilings, and other fishy structure when casting a crankbait during the winter months.

Bait Selection

Daniels relies on a wide range of crankbaits during the winter, but they all share one common theme, a tight wobble.

The new SB-57 crankbait has made its way into arsenal of Daniels, Jr.
The new SB-57 crankbait has made its way into the arsenal of Daniels, Jr.

“That is the biggest key when the water is cold. You don’t seem to have much success with a wide, aggressive, wobbling crankbait. They seem to prefer something that runs tighter during the winter,” said the Alabama pro.

When asked for a few of his favorite winter baits, he listed a Rat-L-Trap, Luhr Jensen Speed Trap, Rapala Shad Rap, and flat-sided balsa crankbaits. He also mentioned the new Bill Lewis SB-57 square bill he helped design.

“The Rat-L-Trap has been my go-to for years, and it has great action and a tight shimmy that works great when the water is cold. The Speed Trap is another one that has a great tight swimming action,” he said. “The SB-57 has that same action and is a good choice for cold water.”

The Shad Rap and a host of flat-sided baits from Black Label Tackle are also in Daniels’ wintertime arsenal. “There is something about a balsa bait when it is cold. They don’t have any rattles, and balsa gives them an excellent action,” he added.

For lure color, it is all about water clarity. “If the water is clear, any of the shad patterns are great during the winter, and I start to pick up red and crawfish colors; the closer it gets to spring,” said Daniels. “If the water is stained or dirty, you can’t go wrong with chartreuse with a black back.”

Three Retrieves to Try

Daniels says he rarely casts and retrieves a crankbait; instead, he will impart action during the retrieve to get fish to react. He shared three ways that he fishes crankbaits when the water is cold.

Stop and Go

Lipless crankbaits as well as diving crankbaits are all great wintertime bass lures.
Lipless crankbaits, as well as diving crankbaits, are all great wintertime bass lures.

“I always begin the day by adjusting my cadence and experimenting with different speeds. I will reel the bait down to get to a specific depth and then pause the bait,” he said. “I will vary how fast I am reeling and how long I pause it until I start to get bites.”

Sweep It

Daniels will sweep his rod and pull up the slack when the water is cold or fishing around thick cover. “I sort of pull my rod and let it slowly bounce over logs, tree roots, and stumps and then reel up the line and do it again. You hang up your bait less than if you are reeling faster,” he has learned.

Burn It

“This is one time I will cast and reel it in, but I want to burn it as fast as possible. It is a good way to trigger a reaction and to try to get the bait to deflect off of something,” he said.

Crankbait Gear

When it comes to winter crankbait gear, Daniels uses a 7’ MH Favorite Fishing Rush Rod paired with a 6.8:1 Bass Pro Shops Johnny Morris Platinum Signature baitcast reel and he says that that retrieve speed is a tremendous all-around speed for any moving bait.

“It lets me get the bait down quickly, and it doesn’t wear me out like the slower gear ratios. Plus, it keeps the bait coming at me at a good speed,” he said.

Most often, Daniels spools up his reel with 12-pound Seaguar AbrazX fluorocarbon because he is always around some rough or hard cover and wants the added abrasion resistance.

When bass fishing during the colder months, Mark Daniels, Jr. can often be found on the water with a crankbait rod. He feels it is one of the best ways to cover water and catch wintertime bass.

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