During fall, bass typically disperse, making it imperative to fish plenty of water to find them. When it comes to covering water and drawing a reaction strike, few baits perform as well as a crankbait, and for late-fall bass, a mid-depth crankbait is a perfect choice. Two B.A.S.S. professional anglers who use mid-depth cranks heavily during fall are Elite Series pro, Bernie Schultz of Gainesville, Florida, and Southern and Central Tour pro, Patrick Pierce of Jacksonville, Florida.
Mid-depth crankbaits have no exact definition, but most anglers consider lures that run in the 3- to 8-foot range to fit into this category. Some have small profiles, while others are bulky. The variety is staggering, but all imitate an important component of the fall bass bite—baitfish.
Patrick said, “If you are not fishing around baitfish during fall, you are wasting your time.”
Keeping in mind that baitfish should be nearby, there are several types of cover that provide textbook situations for working crankbaits. Aquatic vegetation, docks, blowdown trees, stumps, and rocks are several. Bernie notes that because bass key on shad this time of year, even a bank devoid of cover sometimes produces well, if it has shad on it.
Cranking submerged vegetation is one of Patrick’s favorite patterns. During fall, the majority of the weeds will begin dying, but you can often still find some patches of new, green growth.
“The bright green weeds are the ones you want to crank because the old growth or dead weeds foul your hooks too easily. With the crisp, new growth, you can swim your plug down into it and rip it out to trigger a reflex strike,” Patrick said.
Bernie concurs, adding that the patches of weeds are often too dense to work a crankbait through until cold thins it. He looks for new growth along a contour edge and works his boat parallel to the contour, paying special attention to any irregularity in the weed line. He notes that even a subtle change, such as a point, pocket, or isolated weed patch, could be a great ambush spot for bass.
Docks and blowdown trees are some of Bernie’s favorite locations to throw crankbaits in rivers. He looks for these cover types near deep water, such as the outside of river bends. When you see shad either on your sonar unit or flipping on the surface nearby, these cover types can be prime feeding locations. Deflecting your crankbait off of cover is key, and Bernie tries to bump his lure into the wood or pilings to draw a reflex strike. The trick is bumping the cover without getting hung. Practice and a good “plug knocker” are important.
Stumps and rock are good fall cover, whether located on a channel bank or a flat. On reservoirs, Bernie starts in the back of major creeks this time of year and looks for bass on either steep channel banks or flats. He looks for shad and then fishes in that area. If stumps or rock are near the channel, those areas will likely hold a good number of bass.
Patrick points out the importance of a quality sonar-GPS unit for locating offshore cover and marking hotspots as you find them. His Lowrance 520C unit is a critical part of his cranking system. The color display allows him to quickly separate fish from grass and hard cover. He also likes being able to easily mark prime cover on the GPS without having to tip off other competitors by throwing out marker buoys.
When staring at aisle after aisle of crankbaits, choosing the right one can seem like a rather daunting task. From the myriad options, Bernie and Patrick choose a relatively small number of lures to bring big sacks of bass to the tournament scales. Bernie relies on Rapala DT Fat-3, DT 4, Shad Raps (No. 5 and No. 7), and DT 6 models.
“I select a crankbait that runs slightly above bottom in whatever depth I’m fishing,” he said.
He likes the wide-wobbling, square-billed DT Fat-3 for crashing through heavier cover because it does not snag as easily as other models. In clearer water, he opts for the tight wobble of the Shad Rap.
“You can’t beat the Shad Rap No. 5 when bass are in clear water and keying on shad,” he said.
Patrick chooses Lee Sisson Killer P-2 crankbaits made from premium balsa for his mid-depth cranking. The lure is built with a circuit board lip that slices through the water and provides a wide-wobbling action. In extremely cold water, Patrick switches to a tighter wobbling flat-sided model.
There are infinite color combinations available on crankbaits, but Patrick and Bernie narrow their selection to several basic color schemes. Shad patterns (ex. Tennessee shad, gray ghost, citrus) get the nod in clearer to lightly stained water and sunny conditions. In stained water or on cloudy days, pale chartreuse hues are favored. Muddy water calls for bright chartreuse hues, such as fire tiger. Bernie also adds red as one of his choices, especially during cold weather.
“Red has worked well for me in really cold water. It has caught fish from Florida to Mexico to Texas and back again,” he said.
Most well-read bass anglers immediately think of a super-long, fiberglass rod as the necessary tool for flinging crankbaits. For deep-diving crankbaits that is a good choice, but it is not necessary for mid-range crankbaits. Bernie relies on a medium action 6 1/2-foot Shimano Crucial crankbait rod paired with a 7:1 ratio high-speed baitcasting reel for his mid-range cranking. Patrick prefers a medium action 7-foot St. Croix Premier Glass Crankbait Rod paired with a Daiwa Zillion 6.3:1 ratio reel. Both pros like a high-speed reel because they can burn the crankbait, if necessary, without wearing themselves out.
Patrick spools his reels with either Vicious 14-pound test Ultimate Monofilament or 15-pound test Vicious Fluorocarbon. Because of its low visibility underwater, fluorocarbon gets the nod in clear water. Bernie opts for Sufix monofilament in the 10-pound to 17-pound test range. The heavier lines are his choice for larger crankbaits, heavier cover, or stained water, while he moves toward the lighter lines when fishing small lures, open water, or clearer water.
This fall and early winter, reach for your medium stick, cover some water, find the baitfish, and crank up some quality bass.