Shorter days and cooler nights mean one thing to Curt Lytle—it’s time to break out the crankbaits. As a professional angler with over a dozen years of tournament experience to his credit, the Zuni, Virginia pro has spent countless hours chasing bass on reservoirs all over the country. In the fall, there’s a good chance he’ll be throwing a crankbait.
“Crankbaits are my favorite fall bait because the bass are really keying on shad and they allow me to cover lots of water,” he said.
Lytle, who qualified for three Bassmasters Classics and two FLW Tour Championships, reaches for a crankbait when the water temperatures start to drop back into the 60s and shad gather in large schools. He’ll continue to throw them when the water dips into the low 50s, but he said it’s not out of the question to catch bass on cranks in colder water.
“They work all day long if the bass are in the mood to chase,” Lytle said. “Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t, but you’ll never know if you don’t try.”
The most important factor for Lytle—as well as most other professional anglers—is the presence of shad or herring. These common forage fish often migrate to the backs of large creeks and coves, and bass usually follow.
“Will there be bass close to every school of shad in the lake? Maybe not, so you have to just start fishing to find out,” he said.
Lytle keeps a close eye on his depth finder as he works his way down a shoreline. Tight clusters of baitfish can mean bass aren’t actively feeding in the area. Instead, he likes to see loose schools of shad, a good sign that bass are chasing baitfish.
Crankbaits come in a rainbow of colors, but for Lytle, choosing the right color isn’t a complicated decision. They’ll all catch fish, he said, but he relies on silver and white in the fall because he’s trying to imitate a shad.
“Sometimes, I’ll use chartreuse if the water is stained or dirty, and I’ll use crawfish colors in the spring and around rocky cover where crawfish are most likely to be present,” he added. “Bass are really paying more attention to the action of the bait—the vibration, the speed and the amount of wiggle—than the color.”
So how deep should a crankbait run? That depends on a variety of factors. Lytle takes a look at his surroundings, studies his depth finder and chooses based on his observations.
“The depth of baitfish will dictate the lure I choose. I want a bait that will run either through or just above the baitfish because bass tend to stay below schools of shad and attack up instead of going down to chase bait,” he said.
The length of the lure’s bill will dictate the running depth as will the buoyancy of the bait. Baits that float run shallower than sinking or suspending baits. All have a place in Lytle’s tacklebox and he often throws a variety of styles until he hits the right one.
There’s more to chucking a crankbait toward the bank and winding it back to your rod tip. Lytle always bangs the bait into stumps, rocks and dock pilings if they are present, and he’ll pause the lure so that it either sits still or slowly floats to the surface. All of those tricks can entice bass that might otherwise ignore your bait.
“I keep five or six different styles rigged and I change baits often. I usually do best on a crankbait with a tight wobble in the fall, but sometimes they want a wider wobble,” he said. “You just have to try different baits until the bass tell you what they want.”