When bass are moving from their wintertime habitat toward the spawning grounds, a crankbait can be a great lure not just for numbers, but also for big fish. Those fat females are full of eggs and they’re feeding up to have the energy to reproduce.
When I think of this time period – no matter where in the country you’re fishing – the water temperatures are still comparatively cold but warming and the fish are moving. Moving fish love a moving bait, and you have to cover water, so the crankbait is the perfect tool, but not just any crankbait will do.
In choosing the right tool, first you need to consider the proper depth. There are crankbaits that run less than a foot deep and others that hit the 25-foot mark. In the prespawn, I focus on the 2- to 6-foot range. That’s a “sliding depth,” the range that they use when they’re sliding and feeding. It’s been a long, cold winter with few feeding opportunities. Now, as the temperatures rise, they need to stock up.
I have three favorites wherever I go during this phase, two of which fill the biggest niche. The first is the Rapala DT6, which I employ when I want to hit the deeper part of the range. It’s balsa, with a minimal rattle (just a little knock, really) and when you kill it, it has a slow rise. That’s what you want when the water is cold.
The second is the Rapala OG Slim, designed by Ott DeFoe. It’s more of a traditional flat side, with a circuit board lip. It runs in the 2- to 4-foot range, the shallower portion of the pre-spawn strike zone. It’s also made of balsa, with a tight wobble and a slow rise.
Last but not least is the Shad Rap. I like the Size 5 or Size 7. They’ll run in that 2- to 6-foot zone, but they’re true finesse crankbaits, with an ultra-tight wiggle. I use them when the water is crystal clear, after a major cold front, or when there’s extreme fishing pressure.
Remember, these are transient fish, so you’re looking for “sliding” banks. Look at a map with contours. It can be on your graph or it can be a paper map. What you’re looking for is the banks between where the bass wintered and where they’ll spawn.
How do you find those places? For wintering, they’ll use the deepest vertical breaks in the section of the lake that you’re fishing. For spawning, look for shallow, protected flats in creeks, coves or pockets, especially those on the north or northwest side of the lake. They’ll heat up the fastest. Simply circle these two zones and then find the banks that run between them. Literally, you just connect the dots.
Most of the best banks will have a 45-degree taper. They could be on the sides of points. Somewhere on that point will be some sort of cover. It could be wood or grass, or even rock which tends to warm up the fastest. Your depth finder will help you with this, but a lot of time your eyes are your best tool. If there’s a particular type of rock on the bank, it likely extends into the water.
Now that you’ve located the key areas, how you fish them is also critical. If you’ve watched any of my other crankbait videos, you know that 90% of your strikes will come when you hit something. Crankbaits have bills that not only help them dive but also help them deflect. Set your boat up so that you can make quarter casts. Your bait should land in shallow water and work deeper. Then, when you feel it bump off of something distinctive, STOP IT. Let it rise up slowly for a count of two, and that’ll often trigger the bite. It’s an amazing way to locate and catch some of the biggest bass you’ll find all year.
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