Fall Cranking by Mark Lassagne
Arriving at the ramp, the temperature on your truck reads 48, seems like just a few weeks ago it was in the 70’s. It doesn’t matter; you’re here and going fishing anyway. It’s clear and cold so those thermals, helmet and snow suit will come in handy today. The weather has steadily cooled for almost a month — the ride to your first spot is bone chilling. You’re not sure whether to sit there with your gloves on, trying to warm up or to get up and fish. Water temp is down to 52 degrees, there’s a light mist over the water. No more shad busting the surface, no activity, the water all but seems dead. Not so!
You grab your 7 foot medium light action rod rigged with a shallow running crankbait, thinking to yourself, at least if I’m chucking and winding I might stay warm. After about three casts you hook a nice 3 lb bass, wow that was cool, even warmed you up a little. A couple more casts and you get a 4 lber, this is great! It’s not cold anymore. Must be a fluke, thinking to yourself I haven’t cranked any fish like that since… Aaaa… Yea, last November.
It’s cold water cranking time, chuck it out reel it back and hang on, the big ones are up and ready.
Crankbaits are an underrated cold-water lure. If you’re fishing around heavy cover like fallen trees, rocks and stumps, this is a lure can have some amazing results. During a time of the year that seems better suited for dragging a jig along the lake bottom, shallow crankbaits can be an effective tool in the hands of most any fishermen willing to brave the elements. Though an effective search tool most any time of the year, fall through winter can also bring home some big bass.
Looking at the graphs above you can see the catch rate slows a little starting in November (the best cold water month) but the size increases. Instead of catching 20 or 30 fish from 10 inches to 2 lbs you get 5-15 fish in the 2 to 4 lb range or even bigger.
The shallow cold water crank bite starts when the water is in the low 60’s and just gets better until the water reaches about 51 or 52 degrees. Once the water gets below 50 the bite can be tough, they still can be caught it’s just a longer period of time between bites.
The best conditions are steady cold days and nights without much of a weather changes. If a front comes through, the bite will be good until high pressure sets in. Blue bird days in the winter are very tough on crankbait fisherman. We have had several 20lb plus days up to and during a front, but when it clears up the fish get lock-jaw. Those 20lb limits turn into 8lb limits. Don’t give up on the great bite you had the day before, but just know, you may have to abandon the crankbait and work a bait that you can fish slow and methodical.
One quality that convinced me of a crankbait’s cold-water allure is the ability of a crankbait to be finessed around individual pieces of cover. For example, fishing Clear Lake a few years back I got on a great bite catching fish while everyone else was struggling just to get bit. Back in a little slough with fallen trees I would cast a little shallow running crankbait to the base of the trees and work it out through the branches very slowly. Most every tree had a 3 to 4lber just waiting for that little bait. The water was cold, everyone else was worming and tossing jigs not getting bit; I got about 20 fish that day and cashed a good check.
Keep repeating, in the fall fish will stack up, sometimes you can catch 20 fish from one small spot. If I’m fishing along and my bait hits a rock or a piece of structure that is in a good area (Meaning near deep water) I’ll make maybe twenty casts working to hit that structure each time. With a crankbait, you can really work a piece of cover by crawling the lure over it or bouncing it off of the cover repeatedly until you get the right angle, causing the fish to strike. Mix it up during the retrieve, I often times will crank it three to four times then pause for a split second trying to get a fish to react.
During the winter, there are times when you can catch a fish on the first pass but I’ve found most times it takes repetitive casts. Make multiple casts, four or five casts is a minimum to a good spot like a big rock or an unusual log in the winter. Sometimes I’ll spend 10 to 15 minutes cranking a single spot that appears productive. If you’re not getting bit try changing colors or bait types. If the fish are short striking the bait, it means your close. Try a subtle change like slowing down your retrieve or slight color change.
Bundle up and give it a try, I think you’ll be amazed at the results.
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