Running cranks can put bass in the boat all year long—especially now.
This season’s late spring delayed ice-out and kept water temperatures cold across the northern tier of the Bass Belt. While this could cause some bass fans to forgo crankbaits in favor of finesse, they’re still a top option for putting fish in the boat.
Begin The Search
The keys to success are targeting high-percentage areas with the right baits and presentations. Let’s start with location. In spring, bass migrate to the warmest water they can find. Dark-bottomed bays, canals, coves and backwaters are classic spring spots for winter-weary bass to soak up a little warmth. Bass also like to tuck tight to things that warm up. When fishing a flat, for example, look for them positioned near stumps or logs.
As you cast likely cover and structure, think about how your bait will approach the area where you think the fish are holding. You want bass to see your bait and have time to react to it (the same holds true in summer, but it’s absolutely critical in spring). Avoid throwing the bait so it passes directly overhead, because that limits the bass to a very narrow window of attack. Instead, try to figure out the best angles.
Sometimes this means making multiple passes over the same area. After fishing my way across a promising spot, I often turn around and work back through it at a different angle. Keep in mind, though, that shallow spring bass can be spooky, so keep noise to a minimum. I leave the trolling motor running on a low setting, rather than turning it on in bursts.
The Right Bait
Lure selection hinges on small baits. I like 2- to 2½-inchers that produce a digging, shimmying action. One of my favorites is Rapala’s new Scatter Rap Crank. It hunts back and forth, with a moderately erratic action at slow speeds, and the faster you go, the wider the action becomes.
Besides giving the bait great moves, the potato-chip shaped, scatter lip design also fishes through woody cover well, careening off the side of snags. The Scatter Rap is very similar to the Storm Wiggle Wart, which also offers tremendous action, vibration and rattle to let bass know it’s coming.
In the clear conditions so common in natural lakes this time of year, subtle lure colors are best. The fish have time to look at the bait—they’re not racing up at 30 mph to grab it like they will later in the season.
To help keep a low profile, I use 12-pound fluorocarbon, which is plenty strong and virtually invisible. Of course, if you’re facing low-vis conditions in a rain-swollen creek arm or other scenario, brighter color patterns can help bass home in on your bait.
As you cast likely cover and structure, think about how your bait will approach the area where you think the fish are holding.
Cool-water cranking is almost like worm fishing. It’s a pause-and-pull affair that gives bass a chance to get the bait. Cast out, reel the bait down, then make a three- to four-foot pull, pause the bait, twitch it, and pull it to bottom again.
That being said, it’s smart to experiment with aggressive approaches, too, because sometimes they’ll trip the fish’s trigger. Try banging the bait off rocks or timber—but don’t go too fast, because the water is still pretty cold.
There are also times a big bait, such as a 3-inch Rapala DT-14, outperforms smaller cranks. It’s a deep diver, but I fish it slow and steady in shallow water, grinding bottom to aggravate the bass.
Migrate With Them
As water temperatures rise into the 60s, the urge to spawn takes over. Bass gravitate to firm-bottom shallows, often near weedgrowth, stumps, logs or docks. A lake’s fish don’t all spawn at once, however, and by the time water temperatures reach the high 60s and low 70s, bass are often scattered around the lake, in different stages of the spawn.
Cranks shine as search baits here, too. In fact, they’re deadly weapons all spring. Fish them in fast-warming areas early, then use them to scout bedding areas, adjacent weed flats, tributary points, channel edges and flooded woody cover later.
Just remember to keep it slow when the water temperature is less than 60—or after a cool front pushes through later in spring, because in the end, patience is the key to cold-water cranking.
Editor’s Note: For more tips and tournament news from NAFC Member Scott Bonnema, visit ClassicBass.com.