Jerk those lipless crankbaits through heavy cover. It works!
Loud, flashy and long-casting, lipless crankbaits are the lure of choice when searching for bass in submerged hydrilla. As the plant strands towards the surface, it forms loose vertical cover rich in oxygen. Bass hide in these lush underwater fields, and nothing finds them quicker than a lipless crankbait.
Outlined here is a proven pattern that I’ve found works equally well in other types of grass, such as eelgrass, milfoil and peppergrass.
Virtually all lipless crankbaits feature some type of sound chamber—some rattle, some chatter, some clack and some emit a deep, singular knock. You’ll want to have a variety for various situations. High-pitch rattlers include the Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap, Yo-Zuri Vibe and Rapala Rattlin’ Rap. For a deeper knocking sound: Vintage Hot Spot, Rapala Clackin’ Rap. Some say the noisier, the better. Others prefer the low-pitch knocking sounds. Still others choose a lure’s sonics based on weather conditions.
Bass are often picky eaters, especially when they’re dialed in to a certain size baitfish. If you can’t see what the fish are feeding on, lure selection is a process of elimination.
Bass busting on adolescent baitfish (less than 2 inches) usually respond best to smaller, 1/8- to 1/4-ounce size crankbaits. Those chasing average size baitfish (2 to 3 inches) respond well to 3/8- to 1/2-ounce crankbaits. And those selectively feeding on large shiners or gizzard shad will be programmed for larger 5/8- to 1-ounce lures.
Another consideration is the height of the grass you’re cranking. Bigger baits generally run deeper, and that can create problems if the grass is tall. My general formula is this: Try to choose a lure that will make occasional contact with the grass, yet one that closely matches the size and profile of the baitfish the bass are feeding on. This may not always work out, but it’s a good place to start.
I carry chrome, gold and other reflective baitfish-matching patterns, which include shad and shiner variations. In most cases, these will get the job done. But there are times when wild colors can pay off, even when bass are keyed on a specific baitfish. There’s something about chartreuse, red, orange and other vibrant colors that can trigger strikes.
If I’m dealing with a large area of submerged grass and I’m unsure where the fish might be, I’ll start with a noisy crankbait in chrome or gold. Noisy lures generally draw fish from farther distances, and they can provoke them into striking even when they’re not in the mood. That alone makes them a strong first choice.
If after a time, I don’t get the response I’m looking for and I’m still confident in the area, I’ll switch to another color, size and/or sound quality. If strikes come quick and they’re taking the bait deep, I’ll stick with the lure I’m throwing. But if the strikes are few and far between, or the fish are slapping at the bait, those are good indications to make a switch.
Another crucial factor is the speed of retrieve. Some days a steady, casual winding of the reel will work. Other days it won’t. Bass sometimes want the lure traveling at warp speed.
I usually start on the deep edge of a promising grassbed, then work inward, traversing back and forth until I connect with fish. During late fall and early spring, I may modify my approach by starting along the shallow edge of an open water grassbed.
Look for irregularities and contour changes. Bass frequently gang up in key areas, so when you score, be sure to saturate that location before moving on. Once you find them, the fish will often hold in a specific area for days, or even weeks. So record the waypoint for future reference. As the plant ages and begins to top out at the surface, you can still find newer stranding growth by searching the deep contour edges of the grassbed.
Anytime I’m cranking submerged hydrilla, I want the lure to make occasional to frequent contact with the grass. The fish may be suspended above or within the strands of grass, or holding down on the bottom. Either way, by making periodic contact with the cover, then ripping the bait free, I know I can provoke them into striking.
In clear water, or when I want the crankbait to achieve its maximum running depth, I use fluorocarbon line. It’s strong, it sinks, and it’s less visible to fish.
When I’m fishing hydrilla so thick that it becomes difficult to fish a crankbait through, I opt for braid, which allows me to rip the lure free with a quick snap of the rodtip (that alone often provokes strikes!).
Whether I’m throwing fluorocarbon or braid, I generally use a 7-foot medium-heavy rod. I want the length for casting distance and controlling fish, and the power in order to snatch the lure free as it contacts cover.
It’s that intermittent contact with the cover, plus the sudden burst of speed that follows, that provokes the predatory instincts of a bass. Each time the lure makes contact with the cover, it appears wounded or disoriented, unable to swim right. As you rip it free, that quick burst of speed is interpreted as an attempt to escape. Nothing will incite a bass to strike quicker than ripping a loud and flashy lipless crankbait free from submerged stranding grass. Nothing!
One last tip: When the wind is up, try using a sea anchor or a powered staking anchor to slow your drift. Cast downwind as you blow across the grassbed. Bass are usually receptive to moving targets when the wind creates current, so be ready. FS
First Published Florida Sportsman January 2012