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Crankin' For Bass

By Ron Kovach (submitted by Luhr Jensen), 🕔Mon, Mar 21st, 2011


Bass fishing with crankbaits is one of the most successful ways to get down where the trophy lunkers are. It's an addictive kind of angling and the lures available are nearly as numerous as the fish you're after. This report will help you select and effectively use casting crankbaits.

Bass anglers have a tendency to either over-simplify or over-complicate the selection and use of crankbaits. On one hand, some get into a rut by choosing the same plug, trip after trip, despite condition fluctuations. On the other hand, some novice bass anglers become overwhelmed by all the crankbaits on the market.

They don't know where to start when it comes to selecting the right lure for a particular condition from their tackle box. There is a systematic way to develop a concise repertoire of crankplugs for your tackle arsenal. By dividing them by (1) diving depth, (2) coloration, (3) size and (4) action, you will be able to narrow your choices down to suit the conditions you are fishing.


Perhaps the most integral component to crankbait design and function is the lip or "bill" of the lure. This is the planing surface The first challenge is to initially estimate the depth at which bass seem to be holding.

This information can be gleaned from a variety of sources. Using fish locators and similar electronic instruments, you can monitor both bait and bass activity. This will clearly give a strong indication where fish are holding. Without electronics, you can rely on past knowledge of prime spots on the lake, other anglers, current reports from marina operators or a basic understanding of bass movement based on seasonal patterns.

Once you decide on a depth to fish, select a plug that is correspondingly made to dive through that strike zone. For instance, Luhr Jensen markets an entire family of lures designed to attack a lake from the shallowest to deepest water.

If bass are determined to be in a sub-surface feeding mode, this is where a floating / diving minnow can be deadly. The P.J. Shiner is made to float at rest, then dive a few feet under the surface on the retrieve. This particular lure is highly effective on a straight "chuck-and-wind" or when gently "twitched" slightly below or on the surface.

Another way to fish the Shiner in a sub-surface fashion is to make long sweeps with the rod to quickly drive the plug down. In between sweeps, the Shiner will start to float to the surface. This is when you may expect strikes to occur. This process is known as "rippin'". P.J. Shiners are available in four sizes from 3 inches to 5 1/2 inches which allows you to match a lake's prominent baitfish size. For general, all-around performance, the 3 1/2-in. and 4 1/2-in. models are tops.

If the bass are working slightly deeper, select a more traditional fat-bodied plug with a small diving lip. The Speed Trap is sensational for this situation. The tiny 1/4-oz. plug can be retrieved F-A-S-T but still continue to run in a straight line. Or, you can reverse speeds and use a S-L-O-W grind with the Speed Trap diving 4 to 6 feet.

As you move off the bank, it often is important for your plug to made good, solid contact with the bottom. Luhr Jensen's Triple Deep series provides the basser with a concise choice of lures designed to hit 10-, 15- and 20-ft. ranges. Also, because of the large lip design and thoughtful hook placement, these lures can be bounced along the bottom on the retrieve without hang-ups. The TD-10, TD-15 and TD-20 are designed for practically any type of retrieve speed, getting down to their corresponding depth range quickly. These are excellent lures to try while making casts out into deeper water where bass have been monitored, suspending at some mid-depth range off the bottom.

If you're fishing for bass in brush, weeds, fallen trees, stumps and even beaver lodges, the Brush Baby is specifically designed to get you through these types of structure without hanging up. Patented "brush cams" guard hooks and keep the body away from brush, etc. The ultra-buoyant body quickly backs away from obstructions when you give the line a little slack, allowing you to fish through the type of structure bass prefer to hide in ambush in.

Another intriguing alternative which allows the angler more latitude in depth selection is the Hot Lips Express ® and Power Dive ® Minnow series of plugs.

These lures have specially designed diving lips which make them the steepest, deepest-diving plugs for their size, while still maintaining high fish-attracting action. These lures are capable of a true 10 to 20 foot diving range, normally unheard of in baits of comparable size. The newest deep-diving plug from Luhr Jensen is their Deep Secret. The new high-tech clear lip design drives the small lure just past 18 feet and the midsized 1/2-oz. model past a true 20 feet. Their "Easi-Crank" system makes all-day cranking possible despite the massive diving lips.

The best dimension to key in on when it comes to selecting proper coloration in a crankbait is to try to match it for the dominate forage bait in the lake. For example, if crayfish comprise the major source of food for the bass population, use plugs in traditional crawdad patterns. If shad are the major forage, then a standard Tennessee shad color or Metallic Silver patterns usually will be effective.

But also think about other sources of forage bait in a particular lake. If there are rainbow trout, perch, bluegill or crappie, then plugs in corresponding patterns may be the hot trick. Similarly, frogs or salamanders may be indigenous to the shoreline. Here a crankplug in the only favorite yellow-green color scheme may prove to be the sleeper.

When it comes to crankplug fishing, color selection also can be affected by climate and water conditions. A rough rule of thumb is to use dark-colored baits under dark skies or in stained water, lighter shades under bright sky or clear water. However, it also pays to try newer color patterns that give the bass something dynamic to look at. Luhr Jensen's Clearwater Flash pattern with its opulent prismatic reflection and the multi-colored Fire Tiger finish for example, can be dynamite in the Power Dive ® Minnow or Hot Lips Express ® plug series. This particular coloration closely resembles the rainbow-like hues exhibited by frantic shad minnows.

Other metallic colors such as Gold and Silver often produce erratic light refraction underwater. This also can serve to trigger strikes from bass when more traditionally-colored plugs fail to produce.

Crankbait size usually is determined in regard to the size and silhouette of the primary forage bait in the lake. If crawdads are on the small size, then a more compact lure in the 2 5/8" to 3 5/8" length would be appropriate. If shad are large and mature, switch to plugs from 4 to 4 1/2" long.

A recent development in crankbait technology has been to design plus which closely match the natural silhouette of indigenous baits. Fingerling Hi-Catch plugs are long thin-bodied lures made to imitate small baitfish in terms of size, action, color and silhouette. These unique plugs come in a wide array of colors ranging from fingerling trout to shad minnow, to perch and baby bass fry. The largest models will dive up to 12 feet on the retrieve.

The most subtle dimension to crankplug selection is the action of the lure as it is retrieved. This is sometimes hard to determine without first trying the bait with a particular spinning or casting outfit. You will find that some plugs track with a very "tight" side-to-side vibration, while other have a wide wobble. At times, bass definitely will key in on one action over the other.

Here again Luhr Jensen offers a systematic choice with regard to lure action. For a wide, slow, side-to-side motion, the P.J. Shiner would be a good choice used with a rippin' or twitchin' retrieve. Similarly, the thin Fingerling Hi-Catch will also have a seductive "wobble" with a slow retrieve. Faster retrieves produce more vibration and tighter swimming action from crankplugs. The Speed Trap, Hot Lips Express ® and Triple Deep TD series of baits excel in this capacity combined with modern high-speed baitcasting reels. Again it is important to be flexible and try different plugs at the same depths to key in on the swimming action the bass prefer.

By stocking your tackle box with specific crankbaits chosen as to their size, coloration, diving depth and action, you will have narrowed the field to a workable number of plugs to suit most any condition you'll encounter. You'll spend less time lookin', more time fishin' and you catch rate undoubtedly will climb.

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