November 24, 2009 by Jason Sealock
Editor's note: This article is from the blogs produced by FLW Outdoors Magazine editors. Read more blogs by clicking here.
For some reason, crankbaits overtook other lures this year in the speck of cyberspace inside my head that is my attention span. My wife gets annoyed that I can't hear other words when I'm singularly focused on one task or noise. The problem is compounded when it involves something to do with fishing.
Back to my original train of thought: This year we've caught so many fish in so many different scenarios on so many different crankbaits that it started me on this quest to understand what it is about my favorite crankbaits that has made them ... well, my favorite crankbaits.
Some crankbaits I've been throwing for years. Some I only started throwing this year (like the Jackall MC/60).
What is it, though, that compels us as anglers to stock a box full of similar-looking crankbaits, yet reach for the same ones day in and day out? Obviously catching fish has something to do with it. The depth you're trying to hit has something to do with it. I think, however, as we become better anglers, we learn to quickly assess when a crankbait will catch bass or just cramp our arms all day in given scenarios. In fact, I'd argue, all of fishing really boils down to that single premise - assessing the best tool for the given situation or scenario.
Rapala DT Series background
David Fritts didn't invent crankbait fishing, but he's certainly in the discussion as one of the forefathers of it. I recently caught up with Mark Fisher, director of field promotions for Rapala. Mark has been with Rapala for nine years now and was a pro staffer for 12 years before that. So his mind houses more than 20 years of experience with their wide range of products. We got on the subject of the Dives-To (DT) Series, a subject dear to his heart.
"The DT Series is an evolution of Fritts' many years of experience and his intense study of the properties of balsa and what you could do with it," Fisher said. "The Fritts system of cranking employs 10-pound line and snap-casts to achieve specific depths. All the crankbaits in the DT line were designed along this system. That's why we say an actual depth and not a range."
Some crankbait companies look for a certain shape and then figure out the depth range it runs. Rapala attacks bait design from the standpoint that they want to be sure a bait does what they say it will do. If they say it will run 20 feet, then anything shy of that is a failure to them. Fritts worked painfully long hours with Jarmo Rapala to get the baits in the DT line perfect.
Building on reputation
One interesting note is that Rapala has the technology to basically take an existing balsa bait, scale it down 70 percent and reproduce the bait again at the reduced size. But Fisher pointed out several drawbacks to sizing baits.
"We have a basic silhouette, but we also have the capabilities to shoot an element and take it like you would in a copy machine and reduce it 50 or 75 percent," Fisher said. "We lose some of the action just straight reducing though. The dynamics of the baits change, so we have to play with lip angles, body widths and where the pull point is on the lip. All those aspects impact the action of the bait. All the baits maintain a family appearance, but each one is slightly modified and presents refined actions and characteristics that differentiate it in the family."
Rapala has a tongue-in-cheek statement around the office: No one ever returns a lure because it won't catch fish. But for them it's the standard by which their designs live. There is a mystique about Rapala. They know several folks who literally took their father's favorite Rapala to the grave, and it became a family heirloom.
"We think about that when we're building our crankbaits," Fisher said. "If we're building a DT 4, then it's critical to us that the bait does what we say it will do. Our engineers are as good as the world's best Swiss clock makers."
The early DT 20 didn't hit 20 feet consistently and had some swimming issues. A lot of that was just getting the designers to understand terminology in terms of what a crankbait does, like hunting or kicking out. Turns out it was simply a problem with the pull point on the lip, and now the baits hit their mark.
"When we build a bait to hit a specific depth in the Dives-To line, not only do we hit that depth, but we learn through the process of testing and tweaking what action is the best action at that depth," Fisher said. "I love to crank. I did before I ever came to Rapala. We don't ever knock any other crankbaits because there are a lot of great crankbaits out there. But so many things have been incorporated into the DT Series that give me such a confidence that, when I tie it on, I'm going to hit the depths I need to, and it's going to look appealing to the bass when it gets down there."
One of the most impressive things to me has been how consistent the baits are. Now, there are some anglers I talk with that believe one rattles a little different than the others and will go through 50 DTs to find the right noise in one. The baits are designed with a baritone rattle, but to me that is not the key. The key is that almost every one I've ever thrown runs true right out of the box. These are mass-produced lures, but they still fish like handmade lures.
"The balance, action and depths are incredibly consistent," Fisher said. "We're rolling hundreds of thousands of these baits out. Part of that goes to the consistency of the balsa we use to maintain that tolerance in every bait. And it shows in the success people have with them. Fritts said the DT 6 is the finest grass crankbait ever made. We get calls from guys all the time to thank us for making the baits that won them so much money."
One of the things Fritts taught Fisher in their work together is that most people will put down their crankbaits when the fishing is slow and pick up some other lures. Fritts learned that by changing the depth, action and profile on certain days, you can get the fish triggered again. So when others reach for a spinnerbait, topwater or a worm, Fritts just picks up a flat-sided crankbait or a round-belly bait or a deeper or shallower model and keeps "plugging" away at it.
I like to learn how people who are very fluent with a crankbait's capabilities work it to achieve a desired response from the bass. Fisher offered a great trick for fishing around grass. When he's cranking around grass, he'll reel the bait like normal, but occasionally he'll pop the rod tip and then throw slack back toward the bait by dropping his rod tip, much like you would while walking the dog. The slack allows the bait to pivot 180 degrees on its axis while still in its downward-facing position.
Next, he reels up his slack and sets the hook. Most of the time, he never feels the bite, so he sets the hook to be sure. Then if he doesn't have a fish, he'll start reeling again. Most of the time the bass will engulf the bait while it pivots, but if not, the change in direction afterward often triggers them. This technique works better with the bigger DTs like the DT 16 and DT 20, but will work with the others as well.
It's not feasible to make every color for every angler, so good lure manufacturers have a base of proven colors. Rapala believes that base is not only good colors nationally, but also the hot regional colors that are specific to an area of the country.
"We find out that regionally a certain color might be the hot ticket, and we look at that every year to make sure we have a good, solid nuts-and-bolts offering," Fisher said. "But then we also want to make sure we have those regional hot tickets for further acceptance of the baits. It's cool to see the trends in color - not necessarily on what baits sell the most, but what baits you always see in good anglers' tackle boxes. And, honestly, with David Fritts, Larry Nixon, Dave Lefebre, Terry Bolton, Tom Mann Jr. and the other pros, we have the knowledge to build the best crankbaits, and we wouldn't be able to otherwise."