6 Go-To Crankbait Strategies for Cold Weather Bass
December 15, 2014
Cooling days and nights prompt active bass to feed, feed, feed as baitfish concentrate and the fish anticipate tougher conditions. The bass move up and down structure and change their behavior quite a bit based on conditions, but usually they are apt to take a lure that suggests a baitfish. Various crankbaits work wonderfully for taking advantage of the fish's behavior at this time of year. To help you out, we'll look at half a dozen cranking situations and the best kinds of cranks for each task.
Lacking specific knowledge about what the fish have been doing during a time when conditions can change daily, consider that some of the very best starting areas are prominent points, especially long flat points that connect shallow feeding flats with substantially deeper water. Because points connect a broad range of habitats and allow the fish to move vertically without going too far horizontally, they tend to hold fish most of the time.
Search with your electronics before you start casting. Look for bass, of course, but also watch for schools of baitfish to see if they are concentrated in a certain depth range. If that's the case, even if the bait is not over any given point, that's the depth range you want to concentrate on while fishing along that point.
Until you pattern the fish, rig a few rods with crankbaits that run down to different depths. Wherever you work along a point, the lure should kick the structure at least part of the time because that tends to trigger strikes. Good bets are medium and deep runners with moderate wobbles, such as Strike King Series 3, 5 and 6 crankbaits
Work all the way around a point, casting across the structure from one side, straight up it from the end and then across it from the opposite side. Lacking obvious clues from when you searched with your electronics, work the point at a broad range of depths. Use mostly steady retrieves, but slow the bait a bit when it's grinding along the bottom.
When the sun shines brightly for a day or two, even if the air temperature is a bit cool, look for wood in shallow areas that can be warmed by the sun. Wood can take on various forms. Stumps, flooded trees, laydowns and manmade structures such as docks and flooded fence posts all hold fish. Shallow wood tends to be best if the water is at least a little bit stained, but that's not critical.
Use a square-billed crankbait, such as an XCalibur Square Lip or a Cabala's Pork Chop, so you can bump the wood and the lure will kick off it without getting snagged too frequently. Position the boat as close to the cover as the water color will allow to ensure casting accuracy, and pick apart the cover, much like you would with a spinnerbait. Cast under docks, between trees and past brush, and bump the wood as much as possible. You'll get snagged occasionally, but most fish will hit the lure as it deflects.
Make plenty of casts too, and work the cover from many different angles, but keep moving. If fish swipe at the bait but don't take it, or if any fish you do catch are barely hooked, try changing colors or adding occasional quick pauses to your retrieves.
Vast weedy flats also can turn on when the sun shines brightly. Sunrays warm the shallow water, and the plentiful vegetation provides concealment for the bass, which is important when bright sun increases visibility. Weedy flats tend to produce best when the water is clear.
Pay careful attention to your temperature gauge. Even a couple of degrees of added warmth atop a flat can make a very large difference, drawing the bass and causing them to feed more actively. If you find slightly warmer water atop a weedy flat, fish that area thoroughly.
For fishing over weeds it's tough to top a lipless crankbait like a Rat-L-Trap or Strike King Diamond Shad. With a lipless lure you can control your fishing depth, which means you can fish the bait effectively a foot down or 10 feet down, depending on the depth of the tops of the weeds or the bottom depth, if you're working the open side of a weed edge. You can even vary the running depth during a presentation, which allows you to work down a slope and keep the lure right around the level of the top of the grass.
Make long casts and keep the lure moving. Fish over submerged vegetation, moving the bait just quickly enough to hit the tops of grass some but not stay bogged down. When the lure does snag in the weeds, don't fret. Pop it out with a sharp snap of the rod and be ready. Often that's when fish attack. Study the weedbed through polarized glasses as you fish and give extra attention to gaps in the weeds, lines where different types of vegetation meet, and to other irregularities. Also be sure to work the edge of that weedbed.
Water Under the Bridge
Bridges hold fish. It's as simple as that. Truthfully, the structures stand out as good places to fish most of the year, and for various species. They become especially important during transition times when changing conditions have fish on the move.
Normally built in narrow areas, bridges often span natural funnels, where baitfish and game fish alike congregate, and the pilings provide hard structure from one bank to the other. That means whether the fish are close to the bank, right at the first break, or down fairly deep in channels, you'll likely find pilings at the right depth under a bridge. Because pilings provide structure from the bottom to the surface, fish often suspend beside them at the depth of the baitfish.
The best crankbait for the job depends in large part on the depth you want to work. Fish you've already caught or clues from your graph may answer that question. If you're still searching, divide casts among three or four rods rigged with crankbaits that allow you to work a range of depths. Wobble is another important consideration. If the water is fairly cold, use a tight wiggler like a Berkley Flicker Shad or a Rapala Shad Rap. In terms of size and color, try to match prevalent forage. However, if the water is off-color, don't be afraid to use chartreuse or other bright colors to help you get the attention of the bass.
Cranking bridges from the right angle can be really important on some days. Whether due to current, shade or some other factor, the fish often will position themselves on one side of the pilings and will only ambush meals coming from a certain direction. Work your way around pilings, working the bait as close to them as possible, even bumping the structure when you can, and pay attention to the direction the bait is moving any time you get a hit.
Finally, don't overlook those first main breaks into a lake's main basin. Whether you're talking about a break in a natural lake or the inundated channel edge in a reservoir, the bass get on those breaks late in the year as they prepare to stray deeper during the winter. They could be atop breaks, along the slopes or farther down them, but they are apt to be along the breaks somewhere, and crankbaits are great tools for finding those fish.
For breaks that extend long distances, often without much variance, one of the best ways to find and catch bass is to troll crankbaits. Many bass fishermen rarely consider trolling, but pulling crankbaits parallel to a break allows you fish and search at the same time, and to keep your lure in the strike zone all the time.
No fancy trolling gear is needed for bass trolling. Just pick a lure that runs to the approximate depth of the bottom (considering that baits run a bit deeper when trolled than when cast), make a long cast off the back, and hold the rod to the side. If the break is fairly sharp, the width of the boat often creates enough separation to use a deeper-running bait on one side than the other and still have both lures working along the bottom.
If you prefer to cast, study your map and pick out irregularities along the break, places where the pitch of the drop is steeper or flatter, or where the breakline makes a hard turn. Mark each spot with a floating marker buoy and work it thoroughly with a deep-runner such as a Fat Free Shad. Similar to working points, fish the structure from various directions and pay attention to patterns as you fish.
For a "best of both worlds" approach, begin by trolling, but watch your electronics as you fish, and when a strike correlates with something interesting on the graph, toss a marker buoy and fish that area more thoroughly by casting.