Shallow or deep, day-in and day-out, crankbaits produce.
For targeting bass at specific depths, it’s hard to beat a crankbait. But with so many different makes and models on the market, how do you choose?
David Boyd has fished Lake Talquin, outside Tallahassee, Florida, for over 20 years. Crankbaits are his “go-to” lure. “Crankbaits are good search tools because they cover a lot of area,” Boyd says. “They put out vibrations and provoke a reaction strike.”
David subscribes to the theory that the muddier the water, the shallower the fish. Shallow water doesn’t necessarily mean open water. When he fishes shallow water, he almost always looks for structure. This can be stumps, points, docks, clam beds or vegetation. Here, he typically uses a square-billed crankbait and retrieves it aggressively. Most of us have an attachment to our plugs, especially if they cost five or 10 dollars each. We don’t like to lose them. David thinks anglers need to get over this.
“If you are not getting hung up with a crankbait, you are not using it correctly,” he says. He frequently uses square-billed plugs such as the Arashi for fishing near shallow water vegetation such as hydrilla and coontail. When it inevitably gets hung up, he rips it free with the 17- to 20-pound fluorocarbon monofilament he uses for this type of fishing. This often triggers a strike when it’s torn free.
New square-billed plugs are also useful for fishing docks, stumps and other structure since they don’t get hung up as easily as plugs with round bills. When they hit objects, the square-billed plugs tend to stop with the nose down and the tail with the hooks up. The plug then jumps up and over the obstruction. Sometimes, the angler can just hesitate retrieving when the lure contacts something and let the lure float above it. Round-billed plugs usually rotate on their bill when they contact something. This turns the plug sideways, which entangles the hooks into the structure.
There is, however, a solution for anglers getting crankbaits hung up in structure. Lure retrievers actually work and are essential for fishing lakes like Talquin. Many of these consist of a 1- or 2-ounce weight with a spiral wire for threading the fishing line through and a ring for attaching a heavy line. Several short lengths of chain trail from the main weight to entangle the hooks. The retriever is attached and allowed to slide down the line to the lure where the unit grabs and pulls the lure free. These retrievers are amazingly effective; in fact, on a recent trip to Talquin, we saved almost 30 dollars in rescued crankbaits.
Round-billed plugs certainly have their place and that’s usually in deeper water. Some round-billed plugs can reach 30 feet or more but that’s overkill in Florida. Even on Lake Talquin, certainly one of the deepest lakes in the state, most bass are caught much shallower than that.
The day David and I fished Talquin, we anchored off a point near the river channel in roughly 14 to 15 feet of water. Scattered logs and stumps littered the bottom. David tied on a round-billed No. 7 Fat Free Shad and tossed it 30 feet directly off the bow while explaining how he uses crankbaits. On his third cast, as he cranked the plug toward the bottom, the lure stopped and the rod flexed. “It’s a fish,” David exclaimed. “No, it’s a snag,” he quickly added. After several more casts and a few more snags the rod bent over again but this time started pulsing as David cranked in line. Within a few minutes David reeled a 4 ½-pound bass to the boat. Over the next 20 minutes, he caught five more bass and they all weighed between four and five pounds. This didn’t include the one I caught after he generously handed me his rod and made room on the bow of the boat.
David confessed that he only fishes deep water when he has to and if it’s in the summer, he prefers plugs with a wide, side-to-side wiggle. In winter, David likes plugs with a tight wiggle, such as the Shad Rap, that imitates the narrow vibrations of a shad.
He also prefers monofilament for fishing crankbaits. The added stretch works better for the way he sets the hook. Sometimes he switches to a reel with heavier mono to make a crankbait run a few feet shallower, or to thinner lines to make a plug run deeper.
He also resorts to bending the eyelets on some plugs to ensure they track straight—or to intentionally make them favor the left or right, sometimes useful when casting a plug along the side of a dock or steep bank. FS
First published Florida Sportsman March 2015