UPCOMING EVENT: Rayovac FLW Series - 2015 - Lake Erie

Crankbaits to the max

Bass Edition, May-June 2009

-------------------------------------- Editor's note: Learn more about FLW Outdoors Magazine and how to subscribe by clicking here. -------------------------------------- I have a favorite crankbait. It dives to about 10 feet, has a green-and-white shad pattern with iridescent sides, and I've seen some good fish eat it on nearby Kentucky Lake. But like any outdoor writer, I'm not content to throw that one crankbait every time I think I've found a cranking-plug bite. No, I've got to test, toy with and examine as many crankbaits as I can get my uncalloused, little, office-bound hands on. I admit, I may be better off learning the tendencies and abilities of a few crankbaits, rather than testing so many. But I enjoy comparing body styles, bill shapes, lengths, weights, sounds, buoyancies and every other characteristic of the lures to all others. Heck, I've even gone so far as to buy some balsa to start tinkering with my own designs. Some may ask why I go through the trouble. But that's easy. I don't agree with the thought that one crankbait can do it all. And I don't want to believe four or five can do it all either. To me, there are so many variations of crankbaits that I'm convinced if a person could learn how they perform and in what situations they excel, that person could go out every day and get on a crankbait bite. Thus, he or she could take crankbait fishing to the max. However, I also admit there are people who don't have the same opinion as me, such as David Wright of Lexington, N.C, who is considered an expert on fishing crankbaits and who uses a refined crankbait system. "I normally don't use rattling crankbaits," Wright said. "I almost always use wood plugs ... I do not like fluorocarbon. I've tried fluorocarbon, but I'm a mono man ... I don't like fiberglass. I'm a graphite man." Sure, Wright's comments stung a little. I mean, he has won nine FLW Outdoors tournaments. And he's been cherry-picking entry fees from less-ade?quate crankers in the Carolinas for a few decades. And he learned to fish crankbaits at the same school as the oft-titled "Crankbait King," Tums pro David Fritts, also of Lexington, N.C. And he's pulled more fish from the water with a diving plug than I could ever hope. But I'd venture a guess he did a good bit of experimenting over the years to arrive at his cranking system. And he, along with Fritts and Chevy pro Anthony Gagliardi of Prosperity, S.C., knows what works where, when and why through hours spent with a cranking rod. Luckily, they shared their thoughts. School is now in session. Rattles vs. no rattles A rattle does two things to a crankbait: It adds sound, and it adds vibration. Gagliardi believes there are times when each may have an advantage. "I do use both," Gagliardi said. "My determination most of the time is water clarity. If I'm fishing real clear water and the fish are fairly pressured, I would use one that doesn't rattle. If the water is a little colored, most of the time I do use one that rattles." Wright has a different theory. Three decades ago, he and a friend experimented with a rattling and rattle-free crankbait. The test involved his friend's submerged ear and Wright retrieving the lures nearby. Based on the results, they found little difference in the sound of both approaching crankbaits, and although his friend has no lateral line to test vibration, Wright has since put little thought into using rattling crankbaits. Floating vs. suspending Floating crankbaits seem to be far more popular than suspending versions. The main reasons for that are simple. First, crankbaits are classically made of balsa, a material that floats. Second, when a floating crankbait contacts a potentially bait-stealing piece of cover, it has a chance to make it through without getting hung because the buoyancy helps it to "walk" over. And if it runs hard into or under a limb, stopping the retrieve for a second will let it float up or "back out" of the snag. Suspending crankbaits are more common during the cold season or any time a slow retrieve or even a pull-and-pause retrieve is needed to get sluggish bass to bite. Rather than floating out of the strike zone when the lure stops, a suspending crankbait stays nearly in place. Some pros also rely on them to reach greater depths. Buoyancy is the enemy of a deep diving depth, thus, suspending crankbaits can be worked deeper than floaters. Plastic vs. wood Crankbaits have been made from dozens of wood species by tinkerers trying to whittle their way to the perfect lure. But like with most aspects of fishing, modern technology is taking over. With computerized molding systems, plastic crankbaits can now be weighted, shaped and tested quickly, easily and inexpensively into the most effective patterns. Fritts catches fish on both types in any season, but in the coldest and warmest months, when it's toughest to make fish bite, he leans toward subtle wood. Plastic is used in addition to wood in spring and fall when fish are aggressive, because plastic crankbaits are often louder and flashier than wooden models. Square-bill vs. round-bill Of the classifications mentioned here, this is perhaps the one that creates the most extreme divide. Standard theory goes: Square-bill crankbaits are used for fishing shallow around thick wood or grass cover. Round-bill crankbaits are used for any other diving application, but primarily for deeper work. Generalizations aside, square-bill crankbaits really are more suited for shallow work because they can rarely dive deeper than about 6 feet. But they are by no means the only option around shallow cover. "When a round-bill hits something, it turns and goes around it most of the time," Fritts said. "A square-bill is totally different. You can pull it up to something, and you can almost make it hit it twice. It deflects totally different." Fritts prefers the deflection of a square-bill during hot or cold periods in shallow water. But in his opinion, a round-bill is easier to keep free of hangups, and it's his main option. Flat side vs. round side The jury is still out on the best applications for flat and round crankbaits. Body shape is often linked to bill shape, and thus, is decided accordingly. But if not, it seems to be a matter of personal preference when to choose one over the other. "Your flat-sided ones are going to give you a little bit tighter wobble," Gagliardi said. "Your rounder ones are ones that seem to have a bit wider wobble. I like the tighter-wobbling crankbaits in cold temperatures. The wider-wobbling crankbaits seem to do better in the warm months." Slow-roll vs. burn The most productive retrieve speed can not only change throughout the day, it may change depending on which fish on a spot eyeballs the lure. But in general, fast retrieves catch aggressive fish that bite out of reaction, and slow retrieves are for finicky fish not willing to chase. Many pros are progressing to using a fast retrieve for both offshore and shallow shoreline cranking. A fast retrieve presents the lure to more fish in the allotted time - an advantage in tournaments. However, most agree there are seasons and situations that call for a slower retrieve, and they characterize speed choice with their own rules of thumb. "Every crankbait I fish in the warmer months, I'm going to fish pretty fast," Gagliardi said. "In wintertime and early spring, I slow the retrieve down." Constant contact vs. sudden impact One of the easiest ways to know a crankbait is in the strike zone is to make constant contact with the bottom. And for tournament pros who fish fast for reaction bites, it's one of the best ways to cover water quickly with a crankbait. They use long casts so the time the lure spends in the strike zone is maximized, and it works. But what many anglers don't know is constant contact may result in a crankbait that doesn't create the action it is intended to create. It also makes it difficult to get good hookups when fish can't strike from below. "There are a lot of baits out there that when they get on the bottom, they won't even run," Wright said. "I call it `breaking away.' It will get to the bottom and curve up to the left or right." Deep divers with large, broad, shovel-shaped lips seem to be the worst culprits, and shallow divers with small bills the most cooperative. To avoid the situation altogether, shoot for a sudden impact and deflection. "I'm going to throw my crankbait out there, and I don't want it to hit anything except something sticking up," Fritts said. "That is the best way to fish a crankbait." Stop and go vs. go, go, go Crankbait fishing doesn't have to be a constant chuck-and-wind affair. Fish may prefer a steady grind one day, but they may respond to a crankbait's sudden change of direction the next. "Unless the water is cold, I don't ever really stop my crankbait much," Gagliardi said. "The only time I ever stop my bait is if I hit something." But in cold water, Gagliardi often employs a sweeping retrieve with a suspending crankbait. It keeps the lure moving slowly and in the strike zone for fish that are slow to take the bait. "It's almost like fishing a Carolina rig, but a little faster," he said. "I pull the crankbait with my rod, take up slack and pull more." Similarly, Wright rarely stops reeling his crankbait, at least on purpose. "Ninety percent of the time it's just a straight retrieve," Wright said. "But you have to be careful when you say `straight retrieve.' When I hit cover, my rod bends, my line stretches, and I guarantee the crankbait almost stops completely. "I don't do stop-and-go, except for the fact that my crankbait does it on its own when it hits cover." For Fritts, however, a slowdown or stop of the crankbait right before it hits a piece of cover is a good thing. "I try to make the bait quit vibrating," Fritts said. "I call it `pausing' a crankbait. I raise my rod and pull the bait to me, but I don't want it vibrating. I want to slow that bait down to a slow-roll. I think it gives it a more lifelike action." Jointed vs. solid Jointed crankbaits have yet to catch fire and take over much of the solid, one-piece crankbaits' domain. There is no season a one-piece model won't work. But there is a time when a jointed crankbait may work better. In early spring, when fish are aggressive and in tune to bait migration and the water is dirty, the unique swimming pattern of a jointed crankbait puts off more vibration than many solid crankbaits. Some also create unique noises when the two halves click together. Both factors make them suited to attract fish. Graphite rods vs. fiberglass rods Fiberglass is becoming a product of the past in the fishing-rod world. But to dedicated crankbait anglers who mastered the trade when fiberglass was in, making a change in an effective system would be like removing a link from a chain. The whole thing would come undone, wouldn't it? For Wright, that's not the case at all. Because he uses a stiff rod with only a bit of softness in the tip, and, more importantly, he wants the most sensitive rod he can find, a graphite rod is the only choice for him. Fritts disagreed. He prefers the same style fiberglass rods he has used for decades, relying on the American Rodsmiths David Fritts Cranking Series rods. "Graphite is fast," Fritts said. "If a fish is sucking that bait in, your rod tip tries to pull it away from the fish before he ever gets a bite on it. Glass is slower. Fish can get your bait and get clamped on before your rod pulls it away from them." Fluorocarbon vs. monofilament Crankbait anglers have been some of the most stubborn to accept fluorocarbon into their tackle boxes. And Wright and Fritts are still among that group. They both use monofilament and don't seem eager to change. For Wright, it's about rod selection. He uses stiff, heavy rods, which require a forgiving line, and mono fits that description. For Fritts, it's about durability. Fluorocarbon is tough and doesn't stretch, but a hard-pulling crankbait will try to stretch it all day. Eventually, the line may break. Monofilament, however, can stretch repeatedly and still hold up. Monofilament is also buoyant. Want to fish a diving crankbait shallower than its normal range? Switching to a large-diameter monofilament will help. Advantages of fluorocarbon come for anglers wanting to fish deep. Fluorocarbon sinks when it hits the water, and it is generally smaller in diameter than the same pound-test in monofilament. Both of those factors allow crankbaits to dive deeper with fluorocarbon than with monofilament of the same test. The added depth may be small, but if an extra foot is needed, fluorocarbon can provide. Cover also plays into the decision. No-stretch fluorocarbon helps to feel every bump, tick and wobble around cover. But pull a lure into wood too fast, and the line can be too unforgiving to avoid a snag. High-speed reel vs. low-speed reel Low-speed reels typically have about a 5:1 retrieve ratio or slower. They are still quite popular for crankbaits and are especially suited for handling the torque of winding slow all day with big-lipped offshore divers. But not all pros are willing to give up their speedier options. Those who toss large plugs and grind bottom at a high rate of speed often use reels in the range of Tums pro David Fritts6.4:1. The high speed may put some wear on the angler by the end of the day, but the extra speed helps to burn big lures. The same goes for shallow cranking, in which case some use reels closer to 7:1. A few thoughts from Fritts Coffin bills A coffin-bill crankbait, also known as a four-corner-lip crankbait, is much like a square-bill crankbait in that it has an unusual deflection when it hits a piece of cover based on which part of the bill contacts first. Many can dive deeper than the average square-bill, and they are often used around laydowns and stumps. Like square-bills, Fritts reserves them primarily for summer and winter. But rather than picking a set scenario for when to use one, consider it another "deflection option" to experiment with when cranking cover. Rod angle Proper rod position is important for sensitivity and control with a crankbait. Fritts keeps his rod about 2 or 3 inches off the water and slightly off to one side or the other. Doing so, he always has a tight line to the lure to feel every wobble and to easily jerk, pause or pull around cover. Slow floaters and sinkers "Floating" and "suspending" categorize most crankbaits. But there are a few others that can be considered. Fritts likes a crankbait with very little buoyancy, what he referred to as a "slow-floater." The lure doesn't suspend, but it doesn't float away from cover too quickly to look unnatural. Two categories of rattlers Fritts prefers rattling crankbaits for nearly all his fishing. But he divides the noisemakers into two categories: those with little rattles and those with big rattles. Big rattles make crankbaits loud, and they are used when fish are feeding. Little rattles are more subtle for less active fish, and they get the majority of the work, including nearly all the work deeper than 10 feet. A quick jerk Fritts' pausing technique is good for enticing moderate bass, but it's difficult to master. Another option is the opposite. When the lure hits cover - a stump is the best example - give the rod a slight jerk. The sudden jolt can draw active bass to bite, but get used to using a plug knocker when trying the technique.

Tags: magazine-features  curtis-niedermier 

/tips/2015-08-21-schenck-to-retire

Schenck to Retire

There were tears. There were moments of silence. And then there was a great applause. That was the reaction from the crowd at Bank of the Ozarks Arena, when Indiana veteran Shad Schenck announced his retirement from professional fishing near the end of the day-two weigh-in at the Forrest Wood Cup. Schenck cited the demand of balancing full-time work life with full-time fishing life as one of his primary reasons for stepping down from the Tour. READ MORE »

/tips/2015-08-17-a-day-with-the-hawks

A Day with the Hawks

About 1,400 miles separate Roy Hawk’s home in Lake Havasu City, Ariz., from Hot Springs, Ark., but Hawk’s path to get to Hot Springs for the 2015 Forrest Wood Cup has stretched far beyond that. The Western pro’s FLW profile shows a career of ups and downs, of trials and errors. He’s fished a mishmash of tournaments, from two seasons on the Walmart FLW Tour to Bass Fishing League qualifiers in the South to Rayovac FLW Series events in the middle of the nation to dozens of tournaments in the Western states. Generally, he’s had good success. In 77 FLW appearances, Hawk has earned almost $400,000. He won back-to-back Western Division Rayovac events in 2009. That’s why out West, Hawk is known as one of the region’s best. Elsewhere, however, he’s not yet had that keystone win that’s needed to make his a household name in the bass fishing industry. Maybe that all changes this week. READ MORE »

/news/2015-08-16-cup-practice-begins

Cup Practice Begins

Welcome to Hot Springs, Ark., and the Forrest Wood Cup. Today, Sunday, marks the start of the official three-day practice period for the 2015 Cup. Right now is when pros start to piece together the puzzle that is summertime fishing on Lake Ouachita. To find out how the pros are preparing for this championship event, I head down to Brady Mountain Resort way too early in the morning to pester a few of them before they back their boats into the lake. I find out that for some pros, this morning is the first time they’ve launched a boat in Lake Ouachita this season – or ever. For others that made pre-practice trips, it’s the first time they’ve seen the lake since it went off limits earlier this month. READ MORE »

/tips/2015-08-13-british-bbq-star-heading-to-hot-springs

British BBQ Star Heading to Hot Springs

Now, a little barbecue and a little bass fishing are nothing out of the ordinary for Southern folks in the summertime. But Shea’s not Southern. He’s not even American. Shea is one of the premier British competitive cookers, and he’s traveling with his crew – the British Bulldogs BBQ team – across the Atlantic to test his slow-cooking mettle against some of the very best pitmasters in an event sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS). READ MORE »

/news/2015-08-06-ouachita-pre-practice-report

Ouachita Pre-Practice Report

Lake Ouachita officially went off-limits to all Forrest Wood Cup competitors on Monday, Aug. 3. That means that from now until the official three-day practice period opens on Aug. 16, no Cup competitor can be on the lake and competitors may only gather information about Ouachita from publicly available resources and fellow qualifiers. READ MORE »

/tips/2015-07-22-how-to-fish-the-prop-bee

How to Fish the Prop Bee

The Brian’s Bees Prop Bee isn’t the most popular topwater bait on the Walmart FLW Tour. Rather, it’s more limited in scope. It’s a niche bait. When a tournament falls into the window where the Prop Bee shines, however, it’s one of those “you-gotta-have-it” baits that is practically a shoo-in to produce a few top-10 finishes. READ MORE »

/news/2015-07-17-new-rod-roundup

New Rod Roundup

Rod companies continue to impress each year with a new crop of lighter, faster and more affordable (sweet!) rods. On the subject of price, these days, a tournament pro or an average angler could be fishing with rods that cost less than $100 apiece, but without giving up anything in the realm of quality. READ MORE »

/news/2015-07-16-10-new-frogs-and-toads

10 New Frogs and Toads

These days, frogs and toads aren’t just mimicking frogs and toads. They’re designed to be perfect imitations of rats, bream and various oddball creatures. New models at ICAST this season offer anglers some of these “alternative” species, as well as new sizes, colors, action types and degrees of realism. Here are 10 new models that we feel are of greatest interest. Click here for complete 2015 ICAST coverage. READ MORE »

/news/2015-07-16-7-terrific-topwater-baits

7 Terrific Topwater Baits

If you don’t like fishing topwater, just give up fishing already. These seven new baits will help you get your surface-fishing fix next season. READ MORE »

/news/2015-07-15-cool-new-electronics-at-icast-2015

Cool New Electronics at ICAST 2015

These days, anglers rely on cutting edge electronic devices not only to find and catch fish, but also to share their fishing experiences with the world. The following new products, as seen on day one at ICAST 2015, will help you do all of the above. READ MORE »

/tips/2015-07-13-no-patterns-no-transducers

No Patterns, No Transducers

In his fifth season on the Walmart FLW Tour, John Cox nearly won the 2015 Angler of the Year award while fishing from a 19-foot aluminum bass boat with no depth finder transducer. He fished only shallow – more or less – made four top 20s and came up 14 points shy of Scott Martin’s winning AOY point total. READ MORE »

/tips/2015-07-10-5-frog-tactics-that-work-now

5 Frog Tactics that Work Now

Beyond the simple joy of slamming hooks into the mouth of a shallow, surface-feeding bass, frogs also offer technical advantages that allow anglers to capitalize on some of the best big-bass action of the summer. READ MORE »

/tips/2015-07-03-scott-canterbury-fireworks-fanatic

Scott Canterbury: Fireworks Fanatic

If you’re looking to put together an impressive Independence Day celebration this year, you might seek the consultative advice of Quaker State pro Scott Canterbury. He happens to be a professional when it comes to fireworks. READ MORE »

/tips/2015-06-30-birge-dominates-roy-race

Birge Dominates ROY Race

Zack Birge isn’t wasting any time filling out his tournament-fishing resume. The Oklahoman won the 2014 Rayovac FLW Series Championship on Wheeler Lake last fall then joined up on the Walmart FLW Tour for 2015 and went on a season-long tear that earned him the Rookie of the Year award. Birge, alongside his wife, Kristina, was presented with his ROY trophy this afternoon on the weigh-in stage at the Potomac River tournament, where he finished in 77th place. He finished 29th overall in the AOY standings to best a group of 18 rookies. READ MORE »

/news/2015-06-25-aoy-shake-up-martin-makes-his-move

AOY Shake-Up: Martin Makes His Move

Scott Martin has been talking about winning the Angler of the Year title since before the 2015 Walmart FLW Tour season started. It’s on his mind and for good reason: Angler of the Year is the only major FLW title he hasn’t won in what Martin has built into one of the most decorated professional fishing careers in FLW Tour history. Today, on the first day of competition at the Tour finale on the Potomac River, Martin has unofficially moved into the lead in the AOY race for the first time all season. READ MORE »

/tips/2015-06-22-coy-and-roy-on-the-line

COY and ROY on the Line

FLW is hauling a lot of hardware to Maryland this week for the final stop of the 2015 Walmart FLW Tour event presented by Ranger Boats on the Potomac River. The world’s largest tournament fishing organization is also going to be writing some fat checks. READ MORE »

/news/2015-06-17-shallow-patterns-from-chickamauga

Shallow Patterns from Chickamauga

While Michael Wooley was patching together an offshore pattern that ultimately gained him the win, Dudley and Davis climbed into the top 10 by fishing shallow water almost exclusively. Their results are worth a second look. READ MORE »

/news/2015-06-14-chickamauga-aoy-update

Chickamauga AOY Update

On the heels of his third consecutive Walmart FLW Tour top-10 finish, Shelby, N.C., pro and 2010 Angler of the Year Bryan Thrift moves into the lead in the 2015 AOY race going into the final event on the Potomac River in LaPlata, Md., June 25-28. Thrift won the Tour’s fourth stop on Lake Eufaula back in May and followed it up with a ninth-place finish this week on Lake Chickamauga. His AOY point total through five of six events is 945. READ MORE »

/tips/2015-06-12-is-this-the-new-bass-fishing-capital-of-the-south-

Is this the New Bass Fishing Capital of the South?

Dayton, Tenn., is situated on Richland Creek, a tributary that flows into the western side of Lake Chickamauga, one of the hottest bass fisheries in the country. Local officials with a flair for marketing – and good business sense – believe that Chickamauga can be the sellable “brand” that attracts bass fishermen to come and spend their time and their money in Dayton. They believe that old-fashioned Southern hospitality and small-town charm, plus trophy bass, are just the recipe for turning Dayton into “The New Bass Fishing Capital of the South.” READ MORE »

/tips/2015-05-23-the-next-big-ledge-bait

The Next Big Ledge Bait

If you’re a ledge fisherman, go buy another Plano tackle tray, because the list of baits that you need to have in your arsenal has grown once again. Ledge maestro Ben Parker, who developed the Nichols Lures Magnum Spoon and unveiled it to the fishing world at the 2014 Walmart FLW Tour finale on Kentucky Lake, has drummed up another big hit for offshore anglers – “big” being the key word. The new Nichols MBP Swimbait (MBP stands for Magnum Ben Parker) is a jumbo swimbait that already helped FLW pros cash checks on the Tennessee River ledges at this month’s Rayovac FLW Series tournament on Kentucky Lake. READ MORE »