IF THERE’S one lure that’s synonymous with bass fishing, it’s the crankbait. They were there when the pioneering anglers of the sport were dragging canoes up into deep, untamed waters looking for big, uneducated wild bass, and these lures have contentedly persisted through the decades – happy maintaining residence in tackle boxes along the east coast, unperturbed by the endless trail of new lures arriving on the scene.
Just as bass are no longer prowling only the rivers and streams, crankbaits are no longer just for catching riverine fish and for casting at fallen timber and other river-born fish-holding structure. They’re just as applicable in a modern impoundment as they we were in a small tributary of the Clarence River in 1970.
Granted, they’re not always the best lure to choose, but – as with all lures – there is a time and place to deploy them. Let’s have a look at some of the places where we can use a crankbait to good effect, and the best time to do it.
In the latter part of last summer and into early autumn, some of the dams in the southeast Queensland region were fortunate to see a rise in water level. Some were lucky enough to have long bankside grass completely inundated by water, and not only were these great places to target with surface lures (sometimes successfully in the middle of day), they were also a fantastic location to work over with a crankbait.
Many of us would opt for a spinnerbait in such a situation, but there were many times when a crankbait easily out-fished a spinnerbait, both in size and numbers of fish. The terrain in these areas varied from small fully-submerged shrubs to long grass and reeds, with sporadic pockets punctuated through the flooded vegetation. All provided differing locations for fish to hold in, and necessitated varying presentations and approaches to efficiently fish them.
Casting the lure back into the gaps and small pockets was the most effective approach to take, and in a lot a cases a bit of aggressive rod work was all that was required to rip the lure through any wayward vegetation that interrupted the retrieve of the lure. Strikes were usually very aggressive, with fish launching their attack from close range and just as quickly retreating back to the vegetation – in most cases taking your lure with them.
One of the other places worthy of prospecting with a crankbait is a shallow flat, especially when scattered fish are located with the sounder. In a lot of cases the same task can be achieved with a lipless crankbaits, but if a timbered or heavily bouldered bottom is present it can be a touch more risky and potentially more expensive.
One of the other advantages of using a crankbait in such a location is that you can drive and bounce the lure into and off the structure. This technique is not only greater for tempting the aggressive fish in the area, but also for turning on those cautious fish that more inclined to not strike at a slow rolling retrieve.
The effectiveness of a crankbait in a riverine environment for casting at timbered banks is well known and widely used, but it’s also just as applicable in an impoundment for casting at snag-lined and timber-covered banks. Clarrie Hall Dam last year was a perfect example of such a situation, when low water levels and fish confined to heavily timbered gullies saw a hot bite, with crankbaits one of the best ways to extract a few fish. The aggressiveness of the bite and the close quartered nature of the fishing really made it an event for those strong of nerve and with a willingness to lose a few lures.
The models and brands of lures in this category are as broad ranging as there are places to fish, and ways to catch bass. It’s best to have the spectrum of choices covered within your tackle box, from little shallow divers to considerably larger deep diving models. What you want to aim for is an assortment of lures that’ll do the right job when required. A shallow diving MinMin isn’t going to hit the 5m mark and get down to the base of the submerged trees where the fish are holding, just as a Hot Lips isn’t going to enable you to fish it across the top of weed bed that’s a foot from the surface. It’s a matter of matching the right tool to the job.
Any of the Rapalas are a reliable choice, whether it’s a Shad Rap, Fat Rap or the hybrid of the two – the Risto Rap. Just as effective is the Rebel Shad R, and if you’re looking for something with a bit more of an Australian flavour, search no further than the Halco Scorpion or anything from the Predatek range. Some of the newer arrivals that are largely based on the more glamorous Japanese lures are the River2Seas and the Team Daiwas. Then again, if you want to go the whole hog you go always go top shelf and lash out the bucks on a few Mega Basses, which work a treat.
The tackle best suited for fishing crankbaits is basically the same as what you’d use when fishing with other lures for bass. However, there are a few differences. I opt for a spin outfit in all cases except when pinpoint accuracy is needed, such as when fishing in amongst the timber. In most cases you can pitch a spin outfit further than a baitcaster, and it’s best to be able to cast too far, rather than not far enough.
As far as rod length goes, anything between six- and seven-foot is ideal. Be sure to consider whether you have sufficient grunt in the rod to slow fish up when needed though. A recent trip proved the point, when too soft meant just about every fish landed required manoeuvring the boat into the weed and manhandling the fish out.
When you’re choosing a line to run over the rod I strongly recommend opting for a low-stretch gelspun variety. Increasingly it’s being recognised that perhaps a more elastic mono may be beneficial to reducing the occurrence of pulled hooks and lost fish. One of the other methods introduced to address the problem is the development of crankbait-specific rods that are more forgiving and cushioning in their reactions and characteristics. While I appreciate their innate benefits, I believe that upgrading trebles, longer leaders and a refinement of one’s rod work can have similar influences over the connection between angler and fish.
The size of the line used is best matched to the location you’re fishing, and it could range from 20lb in tough, aggressive, timber country to 4lb in wide open shallow flats. The same rule should also be applied with regard to the leader material knotted to the end of your main line. And, the just as if you’re crankbaiting for bream, make sure the trebles you’re using are sharp and you have a ready supply of new ones for when they get blunt.
So rediscover those hidden gems you’ve got tucked away in the back of the tackle box, dust them off, and get out there and give them a swim. You might just find out how effective they can be!
• Choosing a crankbait with a rattle in it can make it easier for the fish to detect, increasing your catch rate.
• The feeding behaviour and physiology of the bass means an upgrade in treble size can increase your hook-up rate.
• Use the sharpest hooks you can get and religiously check their sharpness.
• Store lures hookless. It reduces wastage of trebles and ensures all hooks used are new and sharp from tackle box.
1) Lures that imitate bony bream are often good choices in dams where these baitfish are present.
2) A selection of successful bass fishing crankbaits.
3) Ward Ellwood, a keen Australian basser, caught this fish in Lake Moogerah on a crankbait.
4) Sunken weeds and grasses are a fantastic location to work over with a crankbait.