Crankbait Options For Spring Bass Fishing
From Elite Series Pro, Matt Robertson
The more his contemporaries don’t use crankbaits for bass fishing, the better Matt Robertson likes it, especially in the spring. Crankbaits aren’t everyone’s favorite lure during the spawning season, but on Robertson’s home water, Kentucky Lake, he has perfected techniques for using them, and even better, he has learned those same techniques will work on lakes around the country.
One of his techniques, slow rolling a lipless crankbait near the bottom, is something he learned when he was 11 years old. It was during a March bass club tournament he was fishing with his grandmother on Kentucky Lake, and after seeing her lose a huge fish in the 10-pound range on a lipless crankbait, he spent the rest of the day fishing the same way. With about 30 minutes left in the tournament, he hooked a 2 3/4-pound smallmouth and, as the old saying goes, the rest is history.
“That was the very first fish I ever weighed in during a bass tournament,” remembers Robertson, who this summer will be competing in his second Bassmaster Classic.
Crankbaits For Bass Fishing, Targeting The Flats
“I target the first flats around deeper channel banks, making long casts into water from 1 to about 6 feet deep, then move the bait only 12 to 18 inches at a time, just off the bottom. It’s almost like yo-yoing the lure, except that I’m still fishing it horizontally. I use shad-type colors, too, not the reds and oranges that work in vegetation.”
Robertson also works his 3/8- and 1/2-ounce lipless crankbaits for bass along ledges, long bars, and underwater humps fishing them the same way and in the same depth range. Here, he’s also targeting early prespawners that may actually spawn in these kinds of places.
“Not every lake has heavy milfoil or hydrilla that attracts bass,” notes Robertson, who gained entry into this year’s Classic by virtue of winning the 2020 Basspro.com Eastern Open on Cherokee Lake. “No matter how slow you reel a lipless crankbait, [it’s] still appealing to a bass, and when you retrieve it in slow, short hops, it’s still going to rattle and vibrate and look like an easy meal.”
Using Crankbaits For Bass After The Spring Spawn
After the spawn begins and some of the earliest spawners have left their beds, Robertson changes to a larger-bodied squarebill. He knows not all of these postspawners immediately head to deep water and stop biting.
Instead, they frequently go to small, tapering points and bars that might be as close as 150 yards from their spawning flats. Here, on the highest part of the point where the water is less than 10 feet deep, the fishing will be good for about three weeks. He doesn’t believe bass necessarily hold there that long, but rather, that other fish replenish the spot.
“This is what a lot of fishermen would describe as an in-between pattern,” says Robertson, laughing, “because it’s a type of rest area between the spawning flats and their summer structure. It doesn’t last long, but it is an easy technique and a good one I always look for.
“Remember, too, that vegetation changes everything. I’m fishing lakes that do not have abundant grass-like Rayburn or Toho. I also think it’s important to use a big-bodied crankbait because these fish will eat it. I use a Berkley Frittside Biggun’ in Kentucky blue color, and I retrieve it pretty fast. I’m hitting rocks, logs, stumps, or anything I can because I’m really looking for reaction bites from these fish.
“What’s interesting is that these fish are nearly always on the highest point on the bar, sometimes in just 3 feet of water. Deepwater is not really close, either. The larger the rocks, the more attractive these places seem to be, and frequently there will be a school of post spawners on them. That’s why an erratic, hit-any-cover-you-can retrieve works so well and can get the school fired up.”
When the bass leave the tapering points, these post spawners are heading to their summer structure, so Robertson changes to a deeper-diving crankbait, usually, a Berkley Dredger 20.5 or 25.5, because now he’s fishing ditches and drainages 10 to 15 feet deep that lead out of the spawning flats toward the main lake. On Kentucky Lake, this is when the bass move to the river ledges in 18 to 30 feet and the famous ledge-fishing pattern begins, but on other impoundments, the fish may be on the edge of the river channel or on top of deeper humps and ridges.
“What I’m doing is simply following the bass to those types of places,” explains Robertson. “This is pure postspawn fishing, and I like to follow those ditches out until they do meet the main-river channel. I want my crankbait to hit the bottom, and I’ll usually start exploring the ditch by casting ahead and up on top, then bringing the crankbait down the side of the ditch at about a 45-degree angle.
“Anywhere the ditch or channel I’m following intersects another channel, either the main-river channel or a larger tributary channel, that intersection can be an important fishing spot. When I’m all the way out at the intersection with the main river channel, I’ll have my boat on the downriver side and make casts at a 45-degree angle across the point formed at that intersection. Bass are often up on top of that point where a deep diver will still get down to them.
“If there is current in the main river, a crankbait won’t dive as well when you retrieve it downstream with the current, so if this is what’s happening, I’ll move to the upstream side and cast downstream so I can retrieve against the current. Again, as with all crankbait fishing, I think it’s important to be hitting cover or digging along the bottom to help attract the fish.”
In all of his crankbaiting, Robertson fishes Berkley 12-pound Big Game monofilament line, with a 7-foot Ugly Stik for the squarebill and lipless crankbaits and a 7-foot, 11-inch Abu Garcia Winch for the deeper divers. Both are medium-heavy rods with smooth, even, parabolic actions.
“Spring fishing probably offers more lure and technique choices than any other season of the year because it’s a lengthy period of transition during which the bass move from deep to intermediate to shallow water and back,” concludes Robertson. “To me, these three types of crankbaits can easily and effectively cover these different water depths and the cover and structure changes that come with them.
“All I do with lipless crankbaits is fish them a little deeper and more like a jig, something bass haven’t seen nearly as often. With larger-bodied squarebills. I’m just taking advantage of the fact those postspawn bass haven’t eaten in a week or more, so they’re ready to feed. When I use the deeper-diving crankbaits, I’m just following the bass into deeper water.
“For me, it really all does go back to that first little smallmouth I caught jig fishing a lipless crankbait. I’ve just been expanding on it ever since.”