All bass tournament pros have their favorite lure choices for each season, and rarely do they agree with each other. The exception comes now, during the late autumn and early winter, when crankbaits seem to be everyone’s first choice.
“Crankbaits offer a number of advantages, such as letting you cover a lot of water,” points out Yamaha Pro Dean Rojas, “which is important because bass are moving a lot during this period. The different models of crankbaits allow you to cover water depths as shallow as four feet or as deep as 20 feet, too, which certainly helps when you’re looking for fish.”
“Crankbaits are also effective around different types of cover, such as rock, vegetation, or wood,” adds fellow Yamaha Pro Brandon Palaniuk, “which is unusual for a single lure type. They also draw both reflex as well as feeding strikes, because they imitate baitfish so well.”
Palaniuk grew up fishing Lake Coeur d’Alene in northern Idaho where crankbaits were practically the only lure he could use efficiently along the lake’s miles of rocky shoreline. Today, rocks remain his first choice when searching for late fall and early winter bass.
“The best places often seem to be transition zones where the type of rock changes, such as from small gravel to larger chunk rock,” he continues. “Bass everywhere like edges because they give them an ambush point, and larger rocks provide that edge. These transition zones are nearly always noticeable along the shoreline so you can easily visualize them extending out under the surface, and they frequently attract schools of bass, too. That’s why I’m always looking for them.”
“I like rock, but I also look for vegetation and brushpiles, laydowns, and other wood cover,” notes Rojas. “Both types of cover attract a lot of baitfish, and they’re also easy to fish with a crankbait.
“With vegetation, I like to reel my crankbait down to the very top of the vegetation, then either rip it out with a violent jerk, or if the water is colder, I’ll stop reeling and just drag the lure slowly over the vegetation with my rod. This type of erratic action, which is so easy to do with a crankbait, is normally what brings strikes.
“The colder the water, the better this dragging presentation works, because you can still vary your speed according to how the bass are reacting.”
Both Yamaha Pros advise early winter fishermen to look for steeper breaklines where the depth changes quickly. Creek and river channels that swing close to a shoreline are among the best places to look for bass now, because it means the fish don’t have to swim as far to reach shallow feeding areas. Instead of moving long distances horizontally, they can simply move up and down in the water column.
“They come shallow to feed, so what I like to do with a crankbait is cast to the deeper water and retrieve into the shallow water,” explains Palaniuk, “because it forces a bass that may be following your lure to commit to a strike before the lure gets away. If you retrieve from shallow water to deep, the bass can just swim back down into deeper water and disappear.”
When he’s fishing deeper brushpiles, the Yamaha Pro will retrieve his crankbait into the brush and stop it momentarily, then slowly crawl it through the limbs and branches. This is completely different from summertime tactics, when he’s retrieving much faster and trying to deflect the lure for a reflex strike.
“This is just another example of how versatile crankbaits can be,” concludes Rojas, who fishes Lake Havasu and the Colorado River near his home in the winter months. “This time of year, bass are not only feeding heavily in preparation for the colder months ahead, they’re already becoming less active as water temperatures continue cooling.
“Rather than keep changing lures, all I have to do is change my retrieve. When I go fishing this time of year, I still have three or four rods on my boat deck, but they’re all rigged with crankbaits.”