Crankbaits that work best for smallmouths in rivers are not the same as the cranks that work best in lakes. At least, a fairly stark delineation often exists, though the two styles morph into one when rivers drop and clear, or at the other end of the spectrum when wind, waves, and rain draw the curtains in lakes.
The perfect “lake crank” is smaller and duller, more realistic, and more translucent than a river crank. The lake crank is less aggressive, too—meaning less thump, less flash, and less noise. The lake crank is more sinuous. It whispers, while the river crank screams to be heard through rushing water.
A photographic history of crankbaits looks like the evolutionary chart of man, from shambling ape to the upright, quasi-civilized, comparatively hairless versions of today. Bulbous, opaque, rattling ancestors have gradually given way to more slender, graceful, and realistic versions. The difference, in this analogy, is that the old-school Neanderthal crankbaits continue to hang around and catch bass.
To proclaim, “The Golly Whomper was good enough for Granddad, so it’s good enough for me,” is just caveman logic. We have too many cranks to choose from to accept such limitations. The crankbaits of today are sleek and stylish, and some may call it window dressing, but that’s true only in some cases. The best of today’s cranks are streamlined for dynamics and efficiency and not just for looks, because it’s always better to be good than to look good.
River smallmouths push against current and develop muscles seldom used by their lake-dwelling cousins. They typically move farther to spawn and to find optimal seasonal habitats. All of which adds up to calories spent. Water clarity in a river can change drastically in a matter of hours during a heavy rain, and clarity ranges farther in both directions in a river, from ultraclear to muddy, over the course of a year. Water levels change more drastically, too. All of which makes it more difficult to identify the perfect river crank. What’s perfect this week could be worthless next week, but that’s seldom the case in lakes.
As a general rule, the best river cranks are more aggressive. Rattles tend to be more important. Smallmouth rivers tend to be cloudy and noisy compared to lakes in the same area. If smallmouths can hear the bait over the ambient din of water rolling over logs or rushing through shallow rocks, and if they can see it from at least three feet away, the odds of a strike rise dramatically. The endless conveyor of the river is about to carry that meal away forever, and the oppressive need for calories urges an aggressive response. Nature calculates too many calories are spent chasing then fighting current to regain a prime foraging position, at the point of an eddy or on the edge of a current void just out of the flow. When aggressive river bass have the opportunity to hit something invading their strike window, they generally take it.
Baits that perform best in rivers at normal to high flow tend to be rounder, more resistant, with thicker bills, opaque sides, and aggressive colorations. An aggressive crank is bright, noisy, and wobbles broadly, shouldering out some serious thump. The rounder the shape, the more water it pushes—and the wider the bill, the wider the wobble.
Continued – click on page link below.