Often scorned by their cohorts, anglers who fish crankbaits may actually be the sharpest knives in the drawer.
Crankbaits have earned the nickname “idiot baits” because they are so easy to fish that any idiot can throw one out, reel it back and catch a bass. And, not to ruffle any feathers across the Bayou State, but these so called idiot baits work really well in Louisiana. My introduction to crankbaits came over 25 years ago as I was standing on a little rock bar that jutted out next to an incoming stream that flowed into my grandfather’s pond. I had an enormous spinning rod and reel that looked like something better suited for surf fishing than bass fishing. To this TG&Y special, I tied the first crankbait I ever bought, a baby bass-colored model 6A Bomber.
I began heaving the medium diving plug into the pond much like a surfcaster would do to try to get his bait past the breakers. It wasn’t long before the tip of that rod was straining under the heavy load of a fighting bass. I stood there and caught one bass after another on that crankbait without ever really knowing what I was doing.
And while I was only 12 years old, I wouldn’t have classified myself as an idiot at the time. Some people, like my dad, might have argued the point, but I wasn’t an idiot. Ignorant, maybe, because I didn’t know how to fish a crankbait, and therein lies why every bass angler in Louisiana needs to have a few crankbaits in his tackle box.
You don’t even have to know how to fish them to catch fish on them. Every stage of a bass angler from a novice to a professional touring bass pro can catch fish on these baits. However, there is more to idiot baits than meets the eye.
Dale Taylor is one of the busiest bass-tournament directors in North Louisiana, and he has seen enough crankbait-caught bass come through his weigh-in trailer to know that these wobbling lures are a must. And, in kind of a retro fashion, crankbaits are making a big surge in the northern part of the state.
“We used to all catch big bass at Lake D’Arbonne on crankbaits back in the ’70s,” said Taylor. “I can’t tell you how many bass got tricked by the Norman Little N-type baits. They were kind of pushed aside, though, in favor of all the new baits that came to the market in the ’80s and ’90s. However, they have really caught back on in the last five or six years.”
On the other hand, Dennis Tietje of Roanoke has never put them down since he started tournament fishing several years ago. Tietje has qualified for the Louisiana Bass Federation State Team more than any angler in Louisiana, and he gives full credit to crankbaits for his success.
“I made it to the National Federation tournament two times,” said Tietje. “One time it was solely with a crankbait, and the other time a crankbait played a very big factor. I’ve got to say that in most of my biggest bass tournaments, crankbaits have played a huge role.”
Tietje frequently fishes Toledo Bend, a place where no angler worth his or her salt would ever go without taking a possum-belly full of crankbaits. But Tietje says crankbaits are just as at home in the shallow bayous and rivers of South Louisiana as they are in the big lakes.
It’s not enough for a bass angler to just go out and chunk and wind a crankbait, though. Some bass will be naive enough to fall for such a mundane presentation, but most are going to turn their backs to such a mechanical-looking bit of food. To maximize your catch on crankbaits this summer, learn which crankbait to throw when and where.
This line of crankbaits is headlined by baits like the Mann’s Baby 1-Minus and the Bandit Footloose. Their small lips and wide bodies give them an irresistible look in the water as they dive just beneath the water’s surface and throw a wake behind them.
Many anglers try a super-shallow diver after working an area over with a spinnerbait, but there are times and places where Taylor and Tietje reach for them before they even pick up the blade.
“Lake D’Arbonne has some of the prettiest grass this summer that I can ever recall seeing,” said Taylor. “And that’s exactly where I’m going to pick up one of these crankbaits.
“I generally throw them early in the morning and late in the day to try and pick off the aggressive fish, and this is the only instance in my mind when you don’t need your bait banging off cover.”
Taylor also reaches for a 1-Minus over on the Red River when he’s back in an oxbow lake full of laydowns and stumps where bass have gotten a belly full of spinnerbaits. His best retrieve on wood cover is crawling the 1-Minus down the length of a laydown or log.
“One of the great things about the Baby 1-Minus is that you can get on the inside grass lines at Toledo Bend and fish the sandy spots where fish spawn in the spring,” Tietje added. “It’s amazing where you can throw that bait with all those treble hooks and not get hung up. It probably hangs less than any crankbait I throw.”
Tietje also picks up a super shallow diver when he fishes the rivers in South Louisiana. The water in these rivers tends to be a little murky, and the wobble of these baits moves enough water to help fish locate them.
Tietje has another reason for throwing such a shallow diving bait, though.
“We’ve got a bunch of decomposing leaves on these silty bottoms, and a bait like the Baby 1-Minus will effectively fish the cypress knees without picking up leaves on every cast,” he said.
If Tietje had to pick his favorite crankbait for fishing South Louisiana, he said he would have to go with a 100-series Bandit. He, like many of his fishing buddies, considers it a “must have” in places like the Mermentau and Calcasieu rivers. But it’s also great for Toledo Bend.
“I first reach for a 100 Series just before the spawn at Toledo Bend when bass are first moving up,” he said. “They’re in that 3- to 6-foot zone, and they’re not quite ready to get on the bank. They’re still on that inside grass line, but they’re not feeding high in the water. The water’s still cold, and a bait that gets down to 2 or 3 feet is what you’re looking for.”
As for the two rivers, Tietje said the 100 Series works a little better on the Calcasieu River than it does the Mermentau because Calcasieu has deeper ledges, whereas the Mermentau is shallower.
Taylor reaches for the Strike King series of crankbaits or the Bandits when he wants something that dives 3 to 5 feet. And he usually wants something that dives that deep right after the spawn, when bass start fanning out on the shallow flats in Lake D’Arbonne.
“This is when we used to kill ’em on the Little N’s several years ago,” he said. “You’re basically getting on the flats and fan casting to roaming fish. You’ll get into a group of them every now and then, and that’s when you can catch several in a short amount of time. There is usually something different about the bottom that attracts these groups of fish.”
Lake D’Arbonne is getting up in age, and as a result, several of the smaller feeder creeks have silted in. Therefore, rather than a channel ledge that drops from 3 to 10 feet, the drop is more like 3 to 5 feet, which sets up perfectly for a shallow diver.
“That is still the deal on Lake Claiborne,” Taylor added. “D’Arbonne Bayou has a well-defined channel with a ledge in about 3 feet of water. Bass will migrate up and down that channel as they move in to spawn and back out. You can sit in the middle of the channel and throw a 100 Series to the edges, and wear them out.”
There aren’t too many anglers anywhere in the nation who don’t carry a box full of medium-diving crankbaits anywhere they go. They work particularly well in rivers like the Red and the Ouachita, but they are perfect any time you are targeting bass in 5 to 8 feet of water.
“A lot of our river and lake cover is in the right depth for the medium divers like the 200-series Bandit,” said Taylor. “You can work the 200 Series right through the middle of wood cover like laydowns and brushpiles without getting hung up. It’s dynamite coming through those limbs, especially if you can get it to bounce off one pretty good. You can feel when it’s getting close to a limb — then you’ve just got to decide whether you want to pause and let it float back up or pause before banging it into the limb.”
Taylor also picks up a medium-diving crankbait when he fishes the rocks at the Red River or the bluff banks on the Ouachita River. The key to this bite is to get your boat in close to the cover and make parallel casts so that the crankbait is actually bumping the rocks or clay as you reel it back in.
Tietje throws a 200 Series a little bit during the prespawn, as bass are moving up on the flats at Toledo Bend. They’ll get right on the edges of the creeks coming up on the flats where there is less grass, and a medium-diving bait will get down and stir up the bottom without digging so hard that you’re constantly hanging.
“You can also throw the 200 Series in fall when the balls of shad come up,” said Tietje. “Throw it through the shad and fish it just under the bottom of them. That’s often where the big bass can be found waiting on some easy pickings to come their way.”
The king of the deep divers in Louisiana would have to be the Norman DD22. While anglers may have personal favorites like the Risto Rap, DT16 or 9A Bomber, the DD22 gets the majority of deep cranking work in the Bayou State.
Deep-diving crankbaits are at their best when bass set up on the deeper main channels of places like D’Arbonne and Toledo Bend during the summer. An ideal situation would be a channel ledge in about 7 to 10 feet of water that drops down to 18 feet or more.
“This is the kind of fishing that will wear you out because it’s so much work,” said Taylor. “But those who stick it out and keep chunking it will eventually be rewarded. I’ve had times on D’Arbonne where I hadn’t caught a fish in over three hours, then get in the right section of the channel and catch five in five casts that weigh over 20 pounds.”
Taylor most often positions his boat in the middle of the channel so he can make quartering casts to the channel ledge. However, he frequently catches his largest bass by paralleling the channel wall as far out as he can while still being able to contact bottom with his DD22.
“It takes a lot of time on the water to really learn how to do it right,” he added. “A guy might hear that the bass are biting DD22s at D’Arbonne, so he goes out there and tries it for about an hour. His wrists get to hurting him too bad, though, so he puts it down — and it could have been the next bend that was loaded with fish. Don’t give up on them because they will catch fish during the summer.”
Tietje believes another reason a big DD22 is so effective during the summer is that the bass are looking for a big meal, whether it be a shad or bream. When this thing comes knocking around on the bottom then all of a sudden crashes into the stump that a bass is using for a hiding spot, he can’t help but take advantage of such an easy meal.
As you can see, there is a lot more to fishing a crankbait than just chunking it out and winding it in. A general rule of thumb to help you catch more fish this summer on crankbaits is to make sure you are bumping them into whatever cover you are fishing. It is that deflection that triggers a bass to bite out of pure instinct.
Maybe Taylor put it best about cranking with an attitude.
“As a general rule,” he said, “if you aren’t getting hung, you aren’t getting bit.”
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