Cover crasher — Crankbait tips for the Atchafalaya Basin

When Atchafalaya Basin bass retreat to the shade of flooded trees and submerged vegetation, it’s hard to beat a crankbait for triggering bites. Here are some thoughts on how to maximize your efforts.

If you had to pick one lure to use this summer to stack up Atchafalaya Basin bass, which would you pick. A worm? A jig.

Well, if you didn’t think “crankbait,” you might be missing the boat.

Crankbaits in the Atchafalaya swamp are hotter than cayenne pepper at a crab boil. They are critical parts of the arsenal to catch hot-weather bass.

Why? Because they can catch fish when those other lures fail.

Ripping, waking, banging or bouncing the lures around the natural cover of the Basin triggers reaction strikes from bass during warm summer months.

Whether worked around grass or pounded into wood, there are crankbait models that will draw strikes.

And with factors ranging from water flow to river stages impacting fishing in the massive area of bayous, bays and canals, the ability to choose from color patterns such as crawfish, crab, shad, or other forage makes the crankbait a must-have tool for catching bass in the maze of water.

Of course, having many options for how the lures work is another plus.

The two basic choices for the Atchafalaya are square-billed baits and lipless, vibrating models.

Square-bills are perfect for the mostly shallow Basin because they run in the 1- to 4-foot range. Common examples of square-billed lures are Bandit 100 series, Strike King’s KVD and Bagley’s Balsa B.

The size and shape of a lure, and the angle and size of the bill determines how deep a square-bill crankbait dives. From a Mann’s Minus One to a flat-sided square-bill, water depths from a foot to 12 feet are covered by selecting the right bait for the job.

The size and angle of the bill determines how steep the bait dives. Fortunately, most packaging state the depth range for the bait inside.

Lipless cranks like Rat-L-Traps are great options because they can be used across the entire water column, with speed of retrieve and rod position dictating how deep they run.

While some anglers believe crankbaits must dive to the bottom to be affective, the lures should be thought of as a spinnerbait: Keeping the bait in the proper strike zone is more important than bottom bounce.

Brett Sellers, who fishes circuits like the B.A.S.S. Weekend Series and the BFL and has cashed his share of checks in the Children’s Miracle Network and other local tournaments, selects Bandit 100 series or Strike King KVD 1.5s for his square-bill Basin cranks.

“A 100 series Bandit catches fish across the Basin,” Sellers explained. “The KVD 1.5 has a bigger profile and catches quality fish.

“The bigger profile pushes more water; big baits catch bigger fish.”

Bobby Templet, The Bass Federation district officer and long-time Basin angler who competes on the Media Singles South Louisiana circuit and the Media Team South Louisiana trail, relies on Rat-L-Trap when he fishes in the Basin.

“Rat-L-Traps are great around grass, and the Atchafalaya has plenty of grass,” Templet explained. “A fast retrieve is great in the early summer.”

Cover is the next part of the puzzle. Stump, logs, grass or even crab traps qualify as South Louisiana cover.

Louisiana is loaded with grass, and hurricanes add plenty of laydown trees to the water. And the Basin is loaded with stumps leftover from logging operation in the past century.

Add to that the flooded trees and bushes that bass use as shade and protection from predators, and the abundance of cover can be overwhelming.

The old saying that grass means bass is true, and anglers use crankbaits to fish over, through, and around this fish-attracting vegetation.

Since much of the grass and water depths in the Basin grow in less than 4 feet of water, shallow-running baits and Traps are right at home.

Just choose the correct crankbait for the job.

“The Bandit and (KVD) 1.5 crankbaits deflect off of the cover easily,” Sellers said. “The KVD 1.5 comes through the grass easily, which makes it a better choice when the bass are on points with grass cover.”

And lipless lures will get reaction strikes when fish bury in submerged vegetation.

“Ripping a Trap from submerged grass triggers some hard strikes,” said Templet, who paints Traps to match bream, crab and shad found in South Louisiana waters. “Let the bait fall until it rests in the grass. Then pop it loose with a quick jerk of the rod.

“That sudden jump of the bait triggers a reaction from the fish.”

Laydowns are another option for crankbait anglers.

In the heat of the summer, big trees lying in the water offer shade, protection and room for fish to ambush prey.

Often the ends of the laydowns are in the main channel in slightly deeper water, offering fish options in water depth without losing the benefit of the cover.

A great pattern for summertime anglers is to catch fish off the points of the laydowns. A one-two punch of square-bill baits and lipless Traps are needed for fallen trees.

Start dissecting the tree by burning a Trap across the point of the tree. If that fails to entice a strike, begin working the Trap over the top of the tree.

This might seem like a snag waiting to happen, but lipless baits are fairly weedless once you get the hang of it.

Next, tackle the heart of the tree with a square-bill. Banging the bait on the trunk or big limbs is a prime tactic for triggering resident fish to take the bait; the deflecting lure mimics a wounded fish that is hard for a Basin bass to ignore.

Finally, don’t forget the shallow water around the main trunk, where bass are accustomed to trapping baitfish against the hard edge.

With some patience and practice, both types of crankbaits come through the wood without hanging up.

“The best retrieve for wood cover in the early summer is a fast, burning retrieve,” Sellers said. “Hitting the cover, along with an erratic action, is best with a fast retrieve.”

As the summer ages, however, it’s best to slow the lure down a bit.

“As the weather gets hotter, a medium retrieve while hitting as much junk as possible is better,” Sellers explained.

Flooded cypress trees are another favorite target for anglers searching for bass in the Louisiana swamps. These trees provide shade in which fish hide, anglers can use that knowledge to build a stringer-building pattern.

Bumping or banging a square-bill against the trunk or cypress knees causes the bait to deflect to one side — and that erratic movement triggers strikes.

But Traps are also great for probing the shadows. Just cast the lure past the target and work the lure through the expected strike zone in a way that will entice strikes — momentarily kill the retrieve or add a couple of short jerks.

And if the lure makes contact with a knee, the extra bump of the cover is all the better.

But there are infinite targets in the Basin, which is packed with flooded trees. Templet said there is a simple way to narrow down the options.

“I target cypress tress with grass patches near the base sof the trees,” Templet said. “Traps are good for big cypress trees with sparse grass cover — pause the bait and let it flutter next to a big tree when there is current pulling around the base of the tree.”

The Atchafalaya is a diverse place. Reptiles, amphibians, mammals and more call the place home. If the angler is going to match the hatch, crankbaits should blend in and mimic the natural forage. Crawfish, crab, shad and shrimp are only a few of the species that make up an Atchafalaya bass’ diet.

Luckily, crankbaits come in just about any color and design to match exactly what the angler needs.

Crawfish are abundant in the Basin in the summer. A rich source of protein, bass target the little crustaceans in the grass and around flooded cypress trees.

When selecting a crankbait to match crawfish, look for reds, browns and orange colors. As a rule, in muddy water chose darker browns. If the water is stained to clear, try natural patterns with more greens, reds and oranges.

Solid-red Traps work year round for crawfish imitation.

Sunfish and shad make up another part of the bass’ diet. Green, chartreuse and orange are good colors to incorporate into the mix for bream, while white-sided baits match the shad’s coloration.

“Traps come in numerous colors but I find a touch of purple, yellow and green added to a crankbait matches the forage of the Basin,” said Templet, who uses an airbrush to customize his lures. “Yellow and black patterns or yellow and green patterns are hard to find, so I am fishing with something the bass do not see as often.”

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About Jeff Bruhl 9 Articles
Jeff Bruhl is a member of the Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association, a pro angler and a pharmacist. His website, www.marshbass.com, covers freshwater fishing across Louisiana and the Gulf Coast.