Many anglers automatically think "slow" and "soft" for spring bass fishing. While plinking tubes and stickbaits certainly lures bites, you may be missing the bigger picture.
During all phases of spring, bass can occupy depths from just a few feet down to 20 or more. While the trend is toward the shallows where spawning eventually will take place, chilly weather may vacuum bass from shallow habitat.
For that reason, spring bass fishing often means covering water of different depths and cover types, typically wood, grass, or rock. Crankbaits excel for depth control, and their fishlike profiles attract prespawn bass searching for a few good meals.
Traditionally, flat-sided crankbaits have been cherished for spring bass, with fatter baits reserved for summer. But there's more to this system.
Early Spring Patterns: Early in the Prespawn Period, deep-diving cranks are great for scouring middepth ledges and deep flats with remaining vegetation, where bass can be intercepted on their way to the shallows. The key is to find coverts where bass want to hole up for the time, maybe a couple days, maybe even a week. But best of all, bass tend to use particular spots year after year at this time, provided current, cover, and water levels aren't drastically different. So what you find now may pay dividends for years.
Crank a big diver down to work the 10- to 16-foot zone where bass often stage when water remains in the low-50°F range, provided it's clear. Their large profile appeals to bigger bass looking for sizeable meals, such as adult shad. As usual with cranks, banging off stumps or timber, or ripping through deep weeds often triggers strikes. And when one bass commits, you may catch a half-dozen during the ensuing flurry.
In sunny conditions, bass in clear lakes and reservoirs often move closer to the surface where they hold among standing timber or at the top of grassbeds. In this situation, flat-sided baits provide subtle flash in a non-rattling package that often turns on the bite. Some have a coffin-shaped bill that helps them deflect through cover, often drawing strikes after impact.
If spring rains muddy a waterway, bass shift shallower and closer to cover. And wherever waters run murky, shallower patterns prevail. Medium-running baits work well in this situation, particularly with a slow retrieve. Storm Wiggle Warts, Bomber's 6A and 7A, and Norman's Deep Little N have long been favorites for the 5- to 8-foot range. Rapala's DT 10 has carved a niche in this category, and newer baits like Lucky Craft's CBMR and Livetarget's Crayfish work wonders.
Mid-Prespawn Patterns: As waters warm, bass typically shift shallower and at times their holding depths are rather precise. Water temperature and clarity, cover, and prey location affect depth selection, and it's difficult to predict from one day to the next. Instead, experiment with running depth in prime locations until a pattern arises.
In clear waters, shad-style baits like Rapala's Shad Rap have a well-deserved reputation for catching prespawn bass. Its thin body and narrow lip provide a natural shimmering action. Among pro anglers, no matter who their sponsor, the Shad Rap is a must-have bait. Other excellent tight-wobbling baits include Reef Runner's Rip Shad, Cotton Cordell's CC Shad, and Livetarget Gizzard Shad.
In dark shallow water, stubby, wide-wobbling plugs with square lips deflect around obstructions, while creating a commotion that triggers reaction strikes. For working a bit deeper, Rapala, Lucky Craft, Mann's Baits, and Yakima offer crankbaits are depth-designated to explore those zones.
Another prespawn pattern that emerges on reservoirs and large rivers is fishing riprap. Bass often move along bridges and feeder creeks as they shift shallower. They also seek the confined waters of marinas and harbors, where water warms quickly and baitfish often gather. Some fish may eventually spawn in these protected areas as well. Cranking walls with medium-shallow divers like the Bandit 200 and 300, Rapala DT 6, Bomber #6 Fat Free Shad or 4A is a winning approach on many systems.
Late Prespawn Patterns: In most waters, overlap occurs in the timing of the bass spawn, depending on water temperature gradients throughout a large waterway. Just before they begin nest building, bass hold along shallow cover and aggressively strike lures worked through it. While worms, soft stickbaits, and swimbaits certainly catch fish, shallow cranks quickly cover the area and help locate large groups of bass ready to start bedding. Once spawning begins, cranks rarely are a good option, though again, you may find prespawn bass in other parts of the lake.
When you scan the incredible variety of baits in the box of a crankbait expert, it's bewildering to choose among the array — short and squat, long and thin, or flattened. Lip angles range from straight down to straight out, with various widths, shapes, and materials. Sizes and colors increase options for some anglers, but cause confusion for others. To simplify the selection process, a few criteria are important for spring selections.
Lip Shape: While water is still cold, baits with a tight, shimmering action work well in clear conditions. For years, anglers in North Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee have carved flat, shad-shaped plugs from pine and cedar with a coffin-shaped bill that provides a tight wiggle and helps deflect off timber.
At the urging of North Carolina crankbait legend David Fritts, Rapala developed the DT Flat Series. Mark Fisher, Director of Field Promotions for Rapala, notes that they have proven popular throughout the Southeast and beyond. The DT Flat series follows Rapala's "Dives To" model so the #7 is designed to reach 7 feet and the #3 swims in the 3-foot range.
In warm shallow water with thick cover, particularly weed clumps near the surface or stumps and lay-downs, shallow running crankbaits with short downturned lips prevail. They wobble along just below the surface and rarely snag when steered with the rod and kept at a medium-slow pace. Such conditions occur during spring in off-color oxbows and murky upstream feeder creeks during the mid- to late Prespawn Period.
Mann's Baby 1-Minus led the way in the super-shallow genre, proving their effectiveness. Also try Strike Pro's Hunchback, Bandit's Footloose, Lucky Craft's WK series, and Rapala's DT Fat 1. For baits in the 2-foot range, consider Lucky Craft's RC 1.5, XCalibur XCS 100, and Yakima's Timber Tiger DC-2.
Lip Position: Along with body shape, lip angle suggests a lure's running depth. The flatter the bill, the deeper it's intended to run. Bills on Bagley's Original DB3, Mann's 20+, SPRO's DD Series, and Rapala's DT 20 jut straight out. Conversely, a downturned lip holds a bait close to the surface, creating a wake at slow retrieves.
Lip Material: Early lure designers used a circuit-board material and some custom makers employ it today. They feel it lets a bait change direction more readily, bouncing off cover. But many anglers find lexan and other polycarbonates durable, and clear materials preserve a plug's fishlike image. Although top anglers often express opinions about lip construction, many great baits exist with bills of many materials, as well as shapes.
Accurate casting to and among shallow targets is important, so medium-length baitcasters (51„2 to 7 feet long) work best, with monofilament up to 20-pound test. That line keeps baits up and provides abrasion resistance. It's also stretchy, and you can use the "bow and arrow" technique to free many snags from afar.
Repeat casting can pay dividends in shallow water, particularly when fishing woodcover where water color is dark. Cast from every angle and bang the cover until bass commit.
Extra-long casts are essential when cranking offshore structure with deep divers; just watch KVD in action. It takes most crankbaits about one-third of a cast distance to reach maximum depth, and the bait rises toward the boat during the last third of the retrieve. So in a 30-yard cast, you have only 30 feet of maximum depth penetration. If you heave it 50 yards, even 60, you double your fishing power. Thin line helps reach maximum depth.
Rod manufacturers have expended considerable effort on crankbait rods, mixing materials to impart action to divers of all sorts, while increasing casting distance.
Crankbaits nearly always catch fish. And when the pattern's right, it's lights-out — big bass on every cast. It's not always that easy, but it can be.