North Carolinian Marty Stone is one of the hottest bass pros around, but one of his cold-water weapons may surprise you. It’s the crankbait—in water as bone-chilling as 39 degrees.
Why does Stone cast cranks instead of jigs in such frigid conditions? Because he has learned that early season, cold-water bass often suspend as shallow as two feet beneath the surface—and crankbaits are the way to take ‘em.
“A lot of times you’re fishing under cold-water bass with a jig,” Stone says. “A crankbait stays at the bass’s level and triggers a strike that you wouldn’t get with a jig or a spinnerbait.”
The technique produces some of the biggest largemouths Stone catches all year. He relies on two patterns, one for hard cover, and another for submerged, aquatic vegetation. Here’s the lowdown.
In the cold-coffee environs of stained-water reservoirs, bass often hold just two to five feet deep. Here, Stone rocks hard cover like riprap and timber with a buoyant, wide-wobbling crank that jukes and bounces over rock and wood without snagging. His go-to is Lucky Craft’s half-ounce, Fat CB BDS3 in red-and-black Mad Craw (chartreuse stylings run a distant second).
On big impoundments, he speeds his search by zeroing in on riprap in the upper two-thirds of creek arms; the water is usually dingier and slightly warmer than on the main lake. The riprap may be around a bridge, ramp, marina or point—wherever it is, he typically coaxes bass from corners and subtle points or pockets in the rocks.
He makes quartering casts toward the riprap and retrieves with a medium to slow tempo enhanced with an occasional pause. Banging the lure off rocks often sparks bass to bite.
“Prime riprap needs only about four feet of water to hold cold-water bass, and there’s no need for deep water next to it,” says Stone. “But sunshine and a little chop on the surface really help the shallow rock pattern.”
He fishes timber such as blowdowns anywhere he can find it in a creek arm, but he favors wood at the points of protected spawning pockets—especially large trees with big limbs.
“I make my first casts to the outside limbs and work my way in,” he explains. “Sometimes it takes persistence. I’ve made up to 20 casts to a tree from different angles before getting bit.” He doesn’t stop after one bass, either. “I often catch two to four bass from a single tree,” he says.
The key to fishing wood successfully is making the bait ricochet off limbs and branches. While Stone may pause for half a beat after the crank bounces off cover, he never gives it a long rest.
A 7-foot, medium-action rod from American Rodsmiths handles his crankbait chores. He matches the rod with a 5:1 gear ratio Bass Pro Shops Midas casting reel spooled with Bass Pro’s XPS green mono; he uses 14-pound for riprap, 17 for wood.
Rocks and wood aren’t the only places for cold cranking. Weeds are bass magnets, too, but they require a few refinements in Stone’s system.
He ties on a dainty, 1½-inch, 3/8-ounce crankbait like Lucky Craft’s Flat CB MR to fish milfoil, hydrilla and other vegetation in chilly water. This finesse bait runs four to seven feet deep, has a tight wiggle and passes through grass relatively well. Though the water is usually clear in submerged grass, Stone fares best with the same red Mad Craw pattern he fishes in stained water.
“I look for grassbeds in the front parts of creeks on the lower end of a reservoir,” he says. “The water is usually clearer and more stable there.”
The most productive grass grows to within four to seven feet of the surface. Stone can fish that depth range more efficiently with a crankbait than deeper grass. Bass in shallower grass than four feet often move or grow tight-lipped when hit with weather changes so common early in the season, as well as increases in boat traffic or fishing pressure.
Stone finds sweet spots in the weeds by cranking grasslines. One key location is where the grass becomes thinner and easier to crank through. Another hotspot is a stretch of green, vibrant grass bordered by dead grass; he calls such places “magic” for cold-water cranking.
“My retrieve is medium to slow, but I don’t crawl the bait. I want it to nick the grass and rip through it. Bass react to that erratic action.”
If the crank bogs down in the weeds, Stone boosts his line size to make the bait run shallower. In fact, by altering line diameters, Stone can present his pet grassbaits at a variety of depths, while maintaining the same retrieve speed. Obviously, it pays to keep three or more rods rigged with key cranks and different line sizes, so you can quickly adjust to whatever depth grass you’re fishing.
Such tweaks have helped him hone his cold-water cranking into an extremely deadly presentation. Try ‘em the next time you’re tempted to fling jigs for chilled bass.