Baitfish for Bass: Search, Suspend or Sink Crankbaits
May 21, 2019
Crankbaits mimic exactly what they eat when hungry — other fish!
Mid-spring is the time of year when water temperatures on many bass lakes finally begin to warm up.
This “spring turnover” is exactly the opposite of what happened just a few months earlier in the fall. During this time of the year, the cold water is at the surface, and the warm water is below.
As the lake begins to make its spring transition, the cold and warm waters begin to mix together.
But before all of this ever happens, the bass begin to feed on whatever food is available … but they’re still lazy. They will not move quickly or swim long distances in search of food. Instead, they rely on the food source to come to them. It is your job as anglers to find the fish and entice them to strike at whatever you throw at them. Often, bass will strike out of instinct to ambush/attack, but on occasion they do strike because they are hungry, and crankbaits mimic exactly what they eat when hungry — other fish!
TIME AND TACKLE
First, fish early, before all the boating activity begins, and late, after it all ends. Water-skiers and other recreational boat traffic tend to slow the bass bite considerably during the day. It is still possible to catch fish throughout the day when there is a lot of boat traffic, but the best chances will always be early or late in the day. And crankbaits are often seen best by bass when the light is low. Generally, the less light there is, the better the fishing will be. Cloudy days, wind chop or a combination of the two might even make the bite last longer into the morning or begin earlier in the evening.
Second, whether you are using spinning or casting gear, your crankbait rod should be 6 1/2 or 7 feet long. I always use a medium or medium-heavy rod. I want it to be stout enough that the last one-third of the rod will not bend too easily when you have a heavy fish on.
Any good reel that matches the style of the rod you are using works fine. It is best to spool the reel with a braided line that allows you to feel the crankbait as it bumps into rocks and weeds, and it is not likely to fray or nick as it comes in contact with these objects.
SO MANY CRANKS, SO LITTLE TIME
There are many types of crankbaits available. To name a few, there are fat ones, thin ones, long ones, short ones, suspending jerkbaits and sinking countdowns, lipless lures and long-billed diving lures. Many fishermen think of a crankbait as a fast-moving, deep-diving bait. In many cases they are, but crankbaits should also be capable of responding to an irregular and slow retrieve, suspend when needed, run shallow over structure and deliver good action at any depth.
Natural colors are what I use most during this time of the year. I especially enjoy bluegill, shad perch and crawfish colors. If these colors are not producing, try throwing lures with color combinations like silver/blue, chartreuse/white, chartreuse/blue or solid black.
The amount of sunlight you do or do not have, as well as the clarity of the water, also plays a big role in springtime’s still-cold-water bass fishing. You want to use a lure that provides the best view, as well as the best target, for those fish. When the sun is bright, and the water is clear, the darker colors seem to out-perform all the others. But, bright colors work best in pre-dawn and on into the nighttime. Go with natural-colored baits when the water is clear; switch to brighter colors in the darker or stained waters for best results.
SEARCH, SUSPEND OR SINK
Remember: Bass are still lazy in many waters this time of year and will not put a lot of energy into chasing down their prey. Cold water has kept the fish’s metabolism slow. Because of this, you need to present the lure in a manner that keeps it in the strike zone much longer than you would during other times of year. Retrieving the lure at a slow speed with occasional stops puts a crankbait at the desired depth and will keep it in the strike zone for a longer period of time.
Suspending crankbaits offer even longer periods inside a strike zone. When retrieving one, pause the bait occasionally for 3 to 5 seconds. This will give inactive fish time to strike as the bait sits or wobbles in place. As the fish are investigating the bait, they often strike out of instinct as you begin to reel again.
Lipless-style, sinking crankbaits are to be used as a search-style lure retrieved rather quickly, but with a little practice they can be deadly springtime bait. With a 1/4-ounce bait, I use a lift-and-pause retrieve, working the bait just fast enough to keep it off the bottom, but slow enough for the sluggish fish to strike. Most lipless crankbaits have rattles on the inside that give off heavy vibrations that excite the fish. Just being able to bring this lure into close proximity to a bass is often enough to entice a strike, even if the bass is not hungry.
BUT WHERE ARE THE BASS?
Woody structure, such as docks and downed trees, shallow rocky shorelines or rocky points and muddy bottoms in clear water are all good options to find both largemouth and smallmouth bass in mid-spring. The sun beating down warms these areas sooner than other parts of the water, and will stay warmer, longer into the night. Not only are bass be attracted to these areas, so are their favorite baitfish and crawfish.
When you find these areas, work them diligently. You want to make sure you get your bait right in front of the mouth of the fish. They will not be eager to move far from their hangout. You might be eager to move after a few casts, but don’t. It will be worth it in the long run to stay put. The best way to catch a lunker bass is to put your lure in all the possible places that might hold a fish. Do not throw once or twice and move on. For best results, throw four or five times in the same area. I often catch fish after multiple casts into the same downed tree.
And it’s not easy to fish in the middle of a thick weedbed. Because of that, I like to throw my crankbaits to cover all the workable edges of the weedbed. A good weedbed can stretch far off a shoreline, so water depth can vary a lot around a weedbed. Sometimes, the outside edge of the weeds can be in water only a couple feet deep; other times the edge can be in water several feet deep. The type of weeds, and how clear the water is, play a large role in the decisions you need to make when fishing crankbaits on and around weedbeds.
POSITION AND CAST
Don’t scare off the bass before you have the chance to catch them. Shut off the big motor and use your trolling motor to move close and to position your boat within casting distance of your target zone. Start your casts on the outer edge of the zone, reel into clear water. Stay back, cast again, deeper into the zone and near any cover or vegetation associated with it. Cast again, retrieve. Cast again, retrieve, and only move your boat closer to reach farther into the target zone.