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Crankbait Tactics for Huge Pre-spawn Bass

By Steven Vonbrandt

One of the most effective ways to catch huge pre-spawn bass in lakes and rivers are lipless crankbaits. These baits are especially effective when the water temperature is between forty-nine and fifty-eight degrees, especially in stained or muddy water in lakes and ponds, but it also works well in the rivers. Some of the techniques outlined below will help you catch bigger bass all over the country in the early spring starting in March, and peaking in April


There are a variety of lipless crankbaits on the market that catch bass, but in the spring, in most lakes and ponds, in the Northeast, the Rat-L-Trap by Bill Lewis Lures, the Rattlin' Rapala, Lucky Craft, and the Ambush Stealth Diver, are some of the best. All lipless crankbaits have a different sound. Some are much louder than others, and will produce bass when some other quieter bait won't. At other times, the more quiet rattling baits will produce better. You just have to experiment with several baits until you find the ones that are producing best in the particular body of water you're fishing. Sometimes the same baits, in the same size, by the same company, make slightly different sounds that can be better than the other, and experimentation is the only way to find which bait works the best. Some bait won't run as true at different speeds, and they turn sideways a little more than others, so you just have to watch them in the water, and find the best ones. The hooks should always be changed to a premium hook system such as Daiichi or X-Point. There are many other great hooks, but I prefer these. Most of your lipless crankbaits should be used in a 1/4 to 1/2 ounce size, but recently, bigger bass in the Northeast and in Florida have hit the larger Salt Water Traps in the 3/4 to 1-1/2 ounce sizes.


The best colors for the spring, especially if you have a lot of crawfish in the lake, are red, red/orange, and other variations of these colors. Some have spots on them and these are very effective. The standard chrome, and chrome with a blue back, and chrome and red, have worked especially well for the larger bass. If the water is extremely stained to muddy, we found that the red, and the chartreuse/brown combinations work well in this kind of situation. If you have a lot of bluegill in the area, and less crawfish or shad, then the Bluegill/Suncracker patterns work very well. The primary forage in the lakes are the best patterns, unless you know that many anglers are aware of this, and are using these colors also. Then switching to unconventional patterns can fool some of the wary bigger bass. Again, we switch only the front hook to a "Bleeding Bait Hook" by TTI-Blakemore, (Daiichi), and then change the back hook to the same brand but in the traditional nickel color.


Most people just cast the baits out and reel them straight in. While this will always catch some bass, there are more specialized methods that trigger strikes from the bigger bass. Cast the Rat-L-Traps out, and depending on the depth of the water, count them down to the level of the fish before starting the retrieve, and if it is a sandy and/or gravel/rocky type of bottom, let them sink to the bottom, then slowly raise the tip of the rod till you feel the lure vibrating, reeling the slack up slowly, then lower the rod tip, and do it again. Many times they will hit as it is on the bottom, and first starts to be lifted up. If these techniques don't work in a few hours, use a slight pumping action of the rod as you reel, keeping contact with the bait. If it hits a rock, weeds, or other structure, hesitate a second, and then rip it off quickly, and reel it in with a steady retrieve. You can also yo-yo the bait similar to a spoon or spinnerbait in deeper water near points and drop-offs, which can be extremely effective in colder water or on inactive fish that are suspended. Most of the time in water below fifty-eight degrees they hit very mushy, like grass or leaves, or even like you are snagged on a small branch, but most of the time it is a bass.

As they get close to the boat they will see you and make a dash for the trolling motor, and down to deeper water, sometimes even breaking the surface to throw the lure. The bass have to played very carefully as lipless crankbaits come out of the bass's mouth much more easily than you might imagine. Most of the bass will be in the shallower water off the flats, near deeper water, rip-raps, if available, or any place where there are baitfish and/or cover near the north shore or bay, close to food sources, near their traditional spawning areas.


I like to use spinning gear for the smaller 1/4-ounce baits, and I use baitcast gear for the larger 1/2 to 1 1/2 ounce baits. I use a 7 foot spinning rod in medium action for the smaller baits, so as not to pull the bait from their mouths, usually a S- Glass rod, a G.Loomis Cranking Stick, or a "Kistler" rod. In the baitcasters, I use a 7 foot, medium to med/heavy rod, with a high speed reel, but many people prefer a good reel in a 5:0:1 or 5:3:1 gear ratio. I always use P-Line or McCoy in ten to twelve pound test, but eight-pound test is preferred by many. Stren is also a good line for this. Fan cast the baits in as many directions as possible in the prime areas such as the mouths of the back bays with creeks, where grasses and riprap are on a harder bottom, and you will start picking up some of these monsters this spring. A good scent on the baits, such as "Megastrike" can't hurt either.

This year we have had a tremendous amount of success early in the year with the new "Stealth Diver" by Ambush. This is a very innovative design that funnels water over the face of the bait and into a hole and out the back. It creates a look and sound that most bass have not seen before. All these baits are available in the Delaware Tackle store in Wilmington, Delaware.

Sponsored by: GYCB (Yamamoto), TTI-Blakemore, Okuma, and Ambush Lures.

Steve is the owner of S&K Guide Service, and Co-owner of Delaware Tackle in Wilmington, Delaware. He also is a tournament angler, radio show host and producer, and freelance outdoor writer. He has over 40 years of fishing experience in the Northeast, 5 years exp. in California. He has fished freshwater and saltwater since 1962, and has devoted to freshwater only since 1989. He has fished tournaments from 1990 to the present, and won the Delaware State Sportfishing Tournament multiple times, registered a Chain Pickerel in 2000, just a few ounces shy of the State Record and a Largemouth Bass caught in 1999, that was registered in the Bassmaster Lunker Club at 10.16 pounds, just 5 ounces shy of the Delaware State Record. It also appeared in a feature article by the "News Journal" (Gannett Publications), and in all of Bass Pro Shops Master catalogs for 2003. Steve is also the 1998 Big Bass World Champ/De and in the N.A.F.C. "Hall Of Fame".


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