Crank Up Your September Bass!
September 24, 2010
The transition period between summer and fall can be one of the toughest times of the year to take bass. The right crankbaits can help!
The right crankbait can cover water quickly and thoroughly. Try some of our experts' tips to catch more transition bass this year. Photo by Ed Harp
As summer winds down, the days become shorter, and the nights get cooler. Fall is on the way. Water temperatures are beginning to drop, and bass, sensing the change, are beginning to move toward their end-of-the-year feeding locations. This movement begins slowly at first, but accelerates as the season progresses. The trick is to find them and then follow their movements.
According to Mike Wells, a bass guide and avid crankbaiter, late summer is the time to inventory your crankbaits. The bass are still - at least for the most part - deep. They're beginning to move and will be scattered until they begin schooling in the cool waters of fall. As such, you need a bait that can cover lots of water and do it efficiently.
Crankbaits, says Wells, are the perfect tools for this job. They can be worked over, around and through a variety of structure and cover from shallow to deep.
MAKING SENSE OF YOUR CRANKBAITS Wells suggests sorting your baits into at least five groups, maybe six. First, there are your shallow runners; then you have medium runners, deep runners, suspending baits and, finally, hard jerkbaits. He believes it's a waste of time to sort by any criteria other than running depth for this time of year.
Shallow runners include baits that will run no more than 3 feet deep. Medium-running baits generally dive to 6 or 7 feet. Deep runners, according to their manufacturers, will dive to 20 feet or more. Running depth is determined by bait design, line size, casting distance and cranking speed. Consider this when sorting. Smaller diameter line will allow lures to dive to deeper depths. At one time this meant using a lower line test weight, but no longer. Spool up with some of the new premium lines for maximum strength and narrow diameters.
After sorting some lures into the first three categories, move on to your suspending baits and your jerkbaits. These categories will overlap. According to Wells, lures of this type should be categorized based on intended use. Create your own criteria based on your needs.
You may wish to consider creating a sixth category: customized lures. Place lures in this category because you have customized them yourself. Some of the best crankbaiters - anglers such as legendary smallmouth guide Bob Coan - believe these are the most effective baits of all because they are, or at least should be, customized for your waters and your fish.
A favorite of Coan's for this time of year is a suspending deep-diving bait. His custom lure looks a lot like one you might find on the shelf of a tackle store, but it's not. Coan's bait suspends because he has weighted and balanced the bait himself.
To do this, Coan takes four Storm SuspenDots (small pieces of lead tape will also work) and carefully positions them on the underside of the lure. He puts one SuspenDot on the bottom side of the running lip - just forward of the screw that holds the lure tie in place. Then he places three more SuspenDots in a triangle pattern around the first hook tie on the belly of the lure - one in front of the tie and one on each side of the tie.
According to Coan, once this bait is cranked down, you can "stop it, go pour a cup of coffee, drink the coffee, eat a bologna sandwich, and when you go back to it, you will find it just where you left it."
Wells, on the other hand, likes to customize jerkbaits. He says that a small amount of added weight will allow for a more stable suspension or allow the lure to fall ever so slowly. Just be sure that your weight placement doesn't adversely affect the action of the lure. Generally, weights placed on the belly forward of the hook screws work best.
After sorting and customizing your lures, Wells and Coan both recommend tuning them. You can do this in a swimming pool or on the water. (You do not need especially clear water to tune a bait - just watch the line where it enters the water.)
Make certain that your baits track straight and true on a medium speed retrieve. Most of these baits are precision engineered to produce a specific wiggle when retrieved at a specific speed. They usually work best when running true.
If a bait is running left or right, adjust its retrieve by bending the tie screw left or right, in the opposite direction of the way they're running, until the lure runs true. Be sure to bend the eye of the tie only - don't twist it in the plastic of the lip or you could break it.
Experienced crankbaiters will tell you that snaps, rather than split rings, are best for attaching your line to the lure. These anglers believe that the width and unevenness of the split ring cause the lure to run improperly. Even worse, they point out, the lure does not track the same each time it is retrieved.
FINDING FALL BASS FOR YOUR CRANKBAITS With your baits properly divided and modified, it's a matter of finding the bass. A little pre-season scouting will go a long way in this regard. Before fishing, you should have a good working knowledge of the area you plan to fish. Locate weedbeds, drops, channels and other forms of structure. This will save time once the fishing starts.
Begin your early fall fishing by working summer holding locations. After all, this is where the fish will be starting from, so you may as well do the same.
Summer holding areas are normally deep, so fish these areas with deep-running baits. Nearly every manufacturer produces a wide selection of them. Choose one that's designed to run at least as deep as the water you're fishing. In most cases, you will provoke more strikes if your lure is occasionally striking the bottom or some of the cover there.
After searching these summer areas, move along the channels, breaks and weedbeds near or adjacent to these spots. You should have these areas located and be able to find them quickly. Fish them thoroughly - inside bends, outside bends, drops, ledges and humps.
According to Wells, weedbeds can be especially productive at this time of year. He recommends fishing the inside edge - shallow side - first with a bait that runs at the depth of the tallest weeds. In some cases, he likes his lure to strike the weeds as he retrieves it.
From there, if bass have not been found, Wells moves progressively shallower until they are found. Make your move in a consistent
and logical manner. Start deep and move up, slowly and carefully. Follow, and fish thoroughly, any bends, breaks or irregularities in the cover.
Later in the season, bass can be located in ditches, depressions and other deep-water areas located along or on flats that are used by them as late fall feeding areas. They tend to hold in these areas as they are moving into their late fall feeding patterns.
In some cases, bass will strike suspending baits while ignoring everything else in your tackle box. Why this is the case is a mystery, but anglers like Coan use this technique regularly and with great success. If you're not having success with a conventional crankbait, try a suspending bait. Vary the cadence of your pulls and stops until you find the magic formula. It varies from day to day and sometimes even within the same day.
If you're uncertain as to the most productive depth to fish, consider throwing a sinking, lipless crankbait. This style of crankbait can be retrieved from top to bottom and everywhere in between. Experienced anglers recommend varying size, speed and running depth until you find what the fish want. These baits are especially effective when retrieved across the tops of weeds. Crank them just fast enough that they "tick" the tops of the vegetation. If they foul in the weeds, a hard jerk will usually pull them free.
CHOOSING CRANKBAIT COLORS As for color, there are about as many opinions and favorites as there are anglers who cast these baits. Bob Coan suggests using reds and greens where water clarity offers at least 3 or 4 feet of visibility. (To measure visibility, drop a solid white lure or object into the water and measure the depth at which you can no longer see it.) Where visibility is less than 3 or 4 feet, most anglers, including Coan, recommend brighter colors, such as chartreuse, "clown" or "firetiger." In very clear water, many successful anglers choose natural colors that emulate the prevalent baitfish. Shad, bluegill, herring or crappie colors will shine under these circumstances.
Developing skill at locating and catching fall's transition bass can be a daunting task. Crankbaits can help. No other baits can cover so much water so quickly and so thoroughly.