May 14, 2018
We started the day by tying big topwater plugs on two of our lines.
An acquaintance had told my friend Gregg and I that striped bass in Arkansas’ Lake Ouachita were running shad on top near dawn and dusk. That being the case, the popper and floating stickbait we were prepared to use as the sun rose seemed like tickets to success.
Action started quickly. We had motored only a short distance from the ramp when we spied the first school a quarter mile away. Thousands of shad were exploding from the water as the stripers chased them and gobbled them down. When we reached the spot, however, the big linesides were no longer blowing up on baitfish. They had sounded.
We cast the topwaters anyway. Sometimes a few big fish linger behind the others and will still blast a splashing surface plug. But a single boil beneath Gregg’s lure was the only indication the stripers were still near, and that fish refused to strike.
“Time for crankbaits,” Gregg said, grabbing another rod on which he had tied a deep-diving Cotton Cordell Red-Fin. I had one, too, but before I could cast it, Gregg hooked up.
If you’ve ever connected with a big landlocked striper on an artificial lure, you know “hooked up” may not be a good description of what really happened. There’s nothing tentative in the way these predators strike. No little pecks. No mushy feeling. No wondering.
Instead, a striper smashes the lure like an African lion knocking down a Cape buffalo. It creams it. It murders it. It destroys it.
In this case, it nearly yanked the rod from Gregg’s hand. But despite all his whooping and hollering, my pal managed to hang on and watch helplessly while the fish stripped line.
“This son of a gun doesn’t want to stop,” he said, grimacing. But a slight tightening of the drag did the trick, and Gregg soon had the long, silver fish where I could net it. It weighed 38 pounds.
While crankin’ that morning, we caught two more stripers in the 25- to 30-pound class. Two friends pulling crankbaits nearby landed an even bigger pair – a 40-pound beast and a 51-pounder that was close to close to state-record size at the time.
Lots of experienced fishing guides will tell you fishing with shad, herring, eels and other live bait is the most reliable way to catch striped bass. Stripers also will hit a wide variety of artificial lures, including topwater plugs, soft plastics, spoons, jigs and more.
For many of us, however, crankin’ crankbaits holds special appeal. Something about that lure gyrating crazily through the water makes it uniquely charming for both fish and fishermen. Few enticements garner a striper’s attention quicker, and none will elicit more bone-jarring strikes.
You’ll want to make the most of your crankin’ sessions, though, and these tips can help.
In some striper waters, small fish rule. Take the Arkansas River in my home state of Arkansas, for example. You won’t catch many stripers over 10 pounds there. So fishing with largemouth-bass-sized crankbaits works great. Among my favorites are Bomber’s Long A, Sebile’s Magic Swimmer, Spro’s Aruku Shad and Creek Chub’s Jointed Pikie.
If you’re fishing where monster stripers lurk, however – places like Lake Ouachita in Arkansas or Lake Cumberland in Kentucky – forget smaller cranks. Instead, you’ll need the biggest models made specifically for stripers and other large predators.
These plugs have the size and action needed to draw strikes from monster linesides and, even better, they come rigged with heavy-duty hooks and hardware that won’t get demolished. Good ones include the 7-inch Cotton Cordell Red-Fin, Yo-Zuri’s 3D Magnum Sinking, Heddon’s Magnum Hellbender and Bill Lewis Lures’ Super Trap.
The big crankbaits preferred for striper fishing aren’t cheap. But, fortunately, you can work with a much more limited array of crankbait colors for stripers than for black bass.
Silvery, gray and bone-colored lures are tops because they mimic the colors of the schooling baitfish (shad, herring, etc.) stripers prey upon. In murky water, try rainbow-trout- and perch-colored lures. At night, go black.
Don’t use superlines when crankin’ stripers. If you do, you risk getting a broken rod or having hooks pulled from lures due to the lack of stretch.
I use 25- to 50-pound mono when targeting the big guys. Stripers don’t seem to be particularly line-shy, even in the clearest water, and if you’re using line this size, break-offs are minimized, reducing the loss of expensive crankbaits. Where small stripers are the norm, drop to 12- to 20-pound mono.
One of the most versatile striper crankbaits I’ve tried is Bill Lewis’ Super Trap. This rattling lipless crank can be worked in a variety of ways: jigged around deep humps and other structure, counted down to suspended fish or buzzed past stripers on shad schools, to mention a few.
In my experience, though, Super Traps work best when rapidly retrieved to produce a lot of sound. Don’t retrieve without occasional pauses, however. I turn the reel handle three or four times and then quickly sweep the rod forward. After the sweep, I pause and hold tight. If a striper lurks nearby, it will hit during the pause.
Monster Plugs for Monster Bass
We’ve already mentioned that bigger crankbaits work better for bigger stripers because they’ll stand up to the fish’s power much better. But there’s another good reason for using big lures. A crank with a larger profile will usually attract a heavyweight striper’s attention much quicker than a lure with a smaller contour.
That’s why many of today’s striper fans turn to giant black-bass plugs for enticing monster stripes, even though these lures are expensive and can get broken off if line gets nicked or abraded.
Some currently in vogue include Strike King’s 10XD Crankbait, Lucky Craft’s SKT 110 Magnum Crankbait and Rapala’s Super Shad Rap.
Key to Baitfish Schools
In many of our lakes and rivers, stripers feed almost exclusively on schooling baitfish like shad and herring. To catch them, watch for broad bands of pixels on your fish finder that indicate a mass of baitfish, then tie on a crankbait you can run just above them. Stripers rarely dive for dinner. They’re much more likely to go up and attack a crankbait.
Troll a Jointed Plug
If you don’t have a fish finder or are having trouble finding bait with the one you do have, try trolling big jointed plugs early and late in the day to locate stripers cruising main-lake structures such as points, humps and flats. These lures have the most erratic action of any crankbait style, run very shallow and present a sizeable profile that appeals to big fish. Pulling a couple on long lines behind your boat may be your ticket to success.