October 03, 2022
With the interesting designs and eclectic finishes of modern-day crankbaits, it's hard to know whether the lures are designed to catch fish or fishermen.
Truth be told, it's probably a little bit of the latter, but given crankbaits' effectiveness in countless bass-fishing scenarios, it's most definitely the former, too.
The most basic approach to fishing a crankbait for bass is to simply cast it out and reel it in. This certainly works at times, but to take your crankbait fishing to a whole new level, it helps to know what style to use to target bass that are relating to a specific form of cover or structure at a given depth.
This is especially true during early fall when bass strap on the feedbag, ingesting as much protein as possible in preparation for the colder months ahead. Their most coveted foods this time of year are baitfish and bluegills, which is why fishing crankbaits are such a great way to pursue bass in the fall.
Another reason that crankbaits are a great tool now is they allow you to cover water quickly. In the fall you are looking for active schools of bass, and with the crankbait you can put the trolling motor on high and make cast-after-cast in your search for a mega school. With all that in mind, here are a few specific scenarios for cranking fall bass.
SQUAREBILLS ON RIPRAP
As water temperatures drop in the fall, look for riprap along the bank. The sun heats the rocks and, as a result, the water adjacent to the rocks stays slightly warmer than other areas of the lake or river. This warmer water attracts the bait, which then attracts the bass.
Squarebill crankbaits are the ideal lure in this scenario because they will bounce off rocks on the retrieve, which gets the attention of the bass, and won't get hung up very often. If your bait gets hung or slowed by a bigger rock, pause your retrieve so the lure slowly rises toward the surface. This will often generate a reaction bite from nearby bass.
My favorite squarebill crankbaits are the Bagley Balsa B1 and B2. Being made of balsa wood, both are super buoyant and will float up in the water column very smoothly following contact with the rock. The only difference between them is their size; the B1 is 2 inches long and the B2 is 2 1/2 inches. The one I reach for depends on the size of the forage around. If smaller shad are present, I opt for B1; for bigger shad or bluegills, I go with the B2.
A key component to fishing crankbaits is the line you use. The heavier the pound test, the shallower the bait will run. When fishing riprap, since rocks can be extremely damaging to line, I fish my squarebills on 15-pound Seaguar AbrazX Fluorocarbon. If the bass are holding on deeper riprap, I'll size down to 12-pound to get more diving depth out of my bait.
FLATSIDES FOR LAYDOWNS
In the backs of creeks or along a main river channel, it is likely there will be shorelines with laydowns scattered across them. These are prime stopping spots for bass as they move from one area of the lake or river to another as they transition in the fall.
Insects will hold on the wood, bringing in baitfish and bluegills. When a bass happens by a good laydown, it'll tuck right along the trunk of the tree or bury itself in the branches and wait to gorge itself on easy meals.
A flatside crankbait, like Bagley's Flat Balsa B2, is my preferred bait choice. Much like a shallow-running crankbait, this bait will deflect off the laydown when retrieved, but with the flatside design, the action of the bait is different. It has a tighter wobble but more vibration, making it ideal for the cooler water of fall.
As mentioned above, keeping my crankbait up in the water column will help keep it from continually getting hung up. Since I'm looking for an abrasion-resistant and smooth-casting line in this situation, I like to use Seaguar's 17-pound Tatsu fluorocarbon. It’s a double-structured fluoro, meaning it has two custom resins that deliver the best of both fluorocarbon properties.
PROSPECT MID-DEPTH WEEDS
In lakes where bass are vegetation-oriented, fish will continue to hold in and around the weeds until the weeds turn brown and die off. In September, the greenest vegetation in a lake is where you'll often find a school of bass holding in the mid-depth range.
Bluegills will also hold in these areas, so casting a mid-depth diving crankbait is a great way to mimic the forage base and cover water as you search for that greenest patch of weeds. Points and humps are great places to look since, like laydowns, they serve as rest stops for bass as they move from one spot to the next during the fall transition.
Selecting the right diving crankbait is critical, as you want a bait that will just tick the tops of the weeds. A bait that dives too deep will get hung up in the weeds, and one that doesn’t go deep enough will be too high in the water column to be in the bass’ strike zone.
On most bodies of the water, the target depth range for this pattern will be 6 to 10 feet. By varying your line choice, you can hit that depth with the same crankbait. If I need to keep the bait from dredging down, I'll fish my Bagley Diving Balsa B1 on 15-pound Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon. If I need to gain additional depth, I’ll go down to 12-pound test.
BURN FLATS WITH A LIPLESS
We've discussed how bass will stop on points, humps and laydowns as they move from one area to the next during their fall transition. But where are they and what are they doing when they are transitioning? They are likely cruising flats.
This could be a main-lake flat—a section of the lake that is devoid of structure but is between a summertime offshore spot and a point where they feed in fall.
Or the flat could be a section of bank in a creek arm (or a slough on a river) that is between the mouth of it (near the main lake or river) and the back where the fall feeding binge takes place.
Covering water is key here, as is being able to use one bait since the water depth could vary on these flats. A lipless crankbait is a great lure choice, as you can cast it extremely far. By changing your line type, along with the position of your rod, you can dictate how deep your lipless crankbait dives.
For instance, if the flat you are fishing is shallow, keep your rod tip up and use a monofilament line. Mono floats and will keep your bait up in the water column. On deeper flats, or when bass are holding closer to the bottom, I'll switch to Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon line, usually in 15-pound test. As I retrieve the crankbait and can feel it contact the bottom, I'll yo-yo it off the bottom and let it sink back down.
My two go-to lipless crankbaits are Booyah's Hard Knocker and One Knocker. The Hard Knocker has a loud sound profile, making it ideal for where the bass are extremely active. If the bass need something different, the One Knocker has a unique sound compared to other lipless cranks.
Reliable equipment for fall crankbait action
- Smart Storage: Keeping crankbaits organized allows you to quickly grab the one you need when you need it. Keeping them secure prevents them from being damaged. Accomplish both with Lure Lock’s Deep Box with Trays, which enables you to organize your crankbaits in a multitude of ways and features TakLogic gel to keep the baits from bouncing around and getting tangled. ($44; lurelock.com)
- Treble Swap: I swap out the stock hooks on all my crankbaits for Trokar's TK934 Round Bend Treble Hooks, which are typically far sharper and stronger than the hooks that come on the lures. ($8.99/6-pack; eagleclaw.com)
- Boat Positioning: When I need to keep my boat in place, I deploy my dual Minn Kota Raptor shallow-water anchors. That way I can focus on making precise casts without worrying about my boat getting too close to—or far away from—the cover I'm fishing. ($1,949.99 each; minnkotamotors.com)