Cold Weather Crankbaits

Cold Weather Crankin’

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There’s a bitter wind blowing out of the North, it’s spitting snow, and the lake’s temperature is a frigid 42 degrees. What lure should you be casting?

Most bass fishermen would opt for a slow-motion presentation, either crawling a jig across the bottom, slow-rolling a spinnerbait, or vertical-jigging a spoon. All of the above are logical choices, but many anglers who chase bass for a living are taking a faster route to Lunkerville. They shift their winter bassin’ into a higher gear by extending their crankbait season into the coldest months.

“Winter bass will surprise you,” New Jersey pro Mike Iaconelli knows.  “Sometimes they’ll hit a crankbait when you can’t buy a strike on a slow-motion lure like a jig or shaky head worm. I’ve had great days crankin’ when the lake was just a couple degrees shy of frozen!”

Basics of Late Season Crankin’

“Crankbaits are a surprisingly good choice in late fall and winter – I routinely catch bass on ‘em when the lake temp has dipped into the low 40s,” says Missouri pro Brian Snowden. “But you need to adjust the way you fish ‘em to compensate for the cold water.”

While Snowden fishes beefy 1/2- and 3/4-ounce crankbaits in summer and early fall, he downsizes in late fall and winter. “Bass are cold-blooded creatures, and their metabolism slows down as the water they inhabit gets colder,” he explained. “A fisheries biologist told me that it takes a bass 10 times longer to digest a meal in 45-degree water than in 80-degree water! No wonder bass feed infrequently in winter, and target smaller prey when they do feed. Small crayfish and immature shad are their favorite winter meals, and a compact 1/4- to 3/8-ounce crankbait convincingly mimics this size forage.”

The biggest misconception about winter crankin’ is that you must always use a slow retrieve, Snowden continued. “A crankbait is a reaction-strike lure — it catches fish by provoking a predatory response, even when bass aren’t hungry. I use a fairly rapid stop-and-go retrieve all through the winter month to trigger strikes.”

Crankin’ Clear Lakes

Most experienced bass anglers are skeptical about the productivity of crankbaits in cold, gin-clear water. Not Tennessee bass expert Steve Dodson. The veteran highland reservoir angler has found crankin’ can provoke savage reaction strikes in late fall and winter from the clearest lakes – as long as there’s a good chop on the water. “Once the water temp drops into the 50-degree range in late fall, you can have a ball crankin’ windy points,” he said. “Waves crashing against the bank roil up the water and get crayfish and bass moving around. Cast a quarter-ounce crankbait right against the point and they’ll jump all over it!”

Cold Weather Crankin’

Winter is a good time to switch from those big, chunky deep divers to more smaller, more compact crankbaits.

Murky water entering a normally clear reservoir system in cold weather presents another window of opportunity for crankbait fans, Dodson promised. “A late fall or winter rainstorm can send a gush of warmer, muddier water into the main lake via the tributaries. Right after the storm, head for the extreme back-end of inflowing creeks and crank your way out to where the water starts to clear up. Bass will stack up in that warmer, murkier water to gorge on shad and crayfish.”

Murky Water Crankin’

There was a time when the vast majority of bass pros shunned crankbaits during late-season tournaments on off-colored lakes, and opted for a slow, painstaking flipping or pitching presentation with a jig instead. But today, many pros don’t stop crankin’ murky water until the lake darn near freezes over! “Bass in murky lakes will remain shallow even when the water drops down into the mid 40-degree range, as long as they have some isolated wood or rock cover to relate to,” Alabama pro Gerald Swindle promised. “And, they won’t hesitate to smack a crankbait, provided you use the right presentation.” Swindle’s favorite coldwater crankbait is the Lucky Craft Big Daddy Strike 3, a chunky medium-running squarebill known for its remarkable ability to deflect off hard objects. He fishes this plug in both shad and bluegills patterns, focusing on rocky points, stump flats and shallow coves with scattered cover. “I present a squarebill by casting past a submerged stump, limb or rock, and then reeling it a fairly fast clip, using my rod to steer the lure into the cover,” Swindle said. “I want to actually hit the cover with the lure, not just come close, because the bass are sluggish now and their visibility is limited, so they won’t move more than a few inches to grab it. Almost every strike you get crankin’ cold, murky water will come the instant the lure deflects off the cover. This is heavy-contact crankin’, so use heavy line and check it frequently for abrasion!”

Lee Bailey, Jr., a Connecticut pro, cranks the same general areas in murky flatland reservoirs as Swindle, but works them over with a totally different fishing style. “Gerald uses a wide-ranging crankin’ style in winter; but I’m more comfortable making a lot of real short casts and trying to hit as many submerged objects as I can,” he said. Like most pros, Bailey uses a high-speed reel for cranking, but once he’s got the lure down to its maximum depth, he pulls it with his rod rather than cranks it with the reel handle: “This slows my presentation down and gives me a great feel for how the lure is banging along the bottom or rooting through cover.” Lee’s top choice for cold, murky water is a chartreuse shad Norman Little N, a 3/8-ounce medium-runner which he doctors with lead tape so it suspends. “This crankbait works especially well on big laydown trees – bass will suspend under the ends of the limbs in winter. Rooting the lure down the length of the tree, then pausing when it reaches the tips of the branches, often triggers a strike.”

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Kayak Cranking for Bass

Bass boat fishermen benefit from the ability to motor long distances quickly to find water and structure to match how they want to fish. Kayak fishermen on the other hand must find a way to catch fish wherever they are, and this requires an array of versatile go-to baits and techniques. Yak anglers can rely on using shallow crank baits, which can be fished almost anywhere around a shoreline or structure. To learn more about shallow water cranking, I asked Arkansas Kayak Anglers  members Tim Hotchkin and Jason Klingman to share some of their tips in a round-table discussion.

What time of year or in what situations do you find success in using shallow crank baits?


Hotchkin: I use square bills year round depending on structure of the lake or river. My favorite times are spring and then the transition of summer to early fall. I really like them around structure like rocks or stumps anything I can bounce them off of.

Klingman:  I use a Skirmish M9 square bill. It runs a little deeper than the average square bill. It will run 6ft. As most square bills they work the best when you can run them across the bottom or over structure. I have also had some success running them over the top of a grass flat.

Kincy: When fish seem to be away from cover or more active, I’ll throw a crank bait to cover a lot of water. Rocky shorelines and rip-rap are productive spots.

Are there particular baits (if you wish to share) or things you look for in a crank bait when choosing one to use?

Hotchkin: I am a big fan of the XCalibur square bills if you can find them. They are a silent model and have great action. If I want something with a rattle I have been throwing the Skirmish M9 and have been really happy with them. I try to match the hatch or keep natural shad like colors. I really like sunfish colored baits on small lakes that have a big sunfish population.

Klingman: You want to throw something that the bass are eating. The most popular things to throw are shad and crawfish imitators.

Kincy: XCalibur XCS, Bandit 100 and Bomber Square A lures are some of my preferred cranks. For a really tight wiggle check into a crank like the Ugly Duckling Lure models 4S and 5S.

Ugly Duckling 5S Crankbait

When fishing from a kayak, how do you approach the shoreline when cranking?

Hotchkin: I normally pick a section of shore that looks good at the depth I want with structure I like and parallel the shore starting as close as I can and fish the stretch. Then I go back over it just slightly further out and continue that pattern till I find the depth the fish are holding and then cover as much water as I choose.

Klingman: This depends on the type of year for me. Ideally when throwing at the bank you would want to throw parallel with the bank but, where we live and how low the kayak is to the waterline you can have some run-ins with venomous snakes if you get too close. So I throw it as close to parallel to the bank as I can while avoiding the situation. In a shallow flat I’ll throw it in any direction and try to hit as much water as I can in different directions. I have seen that changing the angle of the cast can make a big difference.

Do colors matter? If so, how and when?

Hotchkin: Colors do matter to an extent. Normally though it’s one primary color they like and many variations within that will work.

Klingman: Colors matter when they are not feeding. In my opinion if they are eating a crank bait I can catch them on any color. I am still learning which colors work best when they are not as aggressive.

Kincy: A wise man once said that lures often catch more fishermen than fish. The Plano box shouldn’t look like a rainbow, stick with a few basic colors.

Finally, any other tips to share for someone getting into using shallow running crankbaits?

Hotchkin: Pick a basic shad pattern and try a couple different brands to see which ones work best for you. Don’t get caught up with buying 20 different colors of one bait that hasn’t really been proven on your home waters.

Kincy: If you find a bait and color you like and have confidence in, always have two in the yak and about five more at the house. Nothing is worse than not having your go-to lure when you need it.

There you have it. Some insider crank bait tips from a couple of top-notch kayak fisherman. Hopefully this inspires you to get out the yak and to get cranking.

Fishing Spinners

In Line, Spinnerbaits, Buzzbaits,  Livebait Spinners1

Spinners refers to a family of fishing lures that have a metal shaped blade(s) attached to the wire of the lure. When the lure is in motion the blade spins creating varying degrees of flash and vibration that mimics small fish. Spinners will catch all types of game fish. Fish can see the flash of the revolving blade in clear or stained water, in dark or murky water they will use their lateral-line to feel the vibration from the turning blade. Spinners are relatively easy to use, they will catch fish with a simple straight retrieve, and when a fish strikes a spinner usually it will usually hook itself.

Spinners have four basic designs, first is the standard inline that have a blade or blades that rotate around a straight wire using a clevis, most all inline spinners have a weight on the wire to make the spinner heavy enough to cast. Second are spinnerbaits, this spinner is shaped like an open safety pin. They will have a lead head molded on the lower arm and a spinner attached on the upper arm using a swivel, some models have multiple blades that are attached on the upper arm using a clevis and a bead stop. Third are buzzbaits, they are similar to a spinnerbait or a inline spinner but have a specially designed rotating propeller for surface fishing. Fourth are live bait spinners that use night crawlers or minnows on a hook or a series of hooks with a spinner blade in front of the live bait.

Understanding Blade Styles

The main fish attracting component of a spinner is the blade. The type of blade and shape will determine the depth and sound (the thump) of a spinner upon retrieve. All blades have a different amount of resistance as it travels through the water. A broad blade such as the Colorado will rotate at a greater outward angle from the wire shaft producing a lift and thump compared to a narrow willow blade which will run tighter to the shaft and spin faster producing less sound.


From the image above the Colorado will run the highest in the water producing the most vibration. The Indiana, Fluted, Turtle Back and French are intermediate styles running at mid range depth levels used for slow to medium retrieves in light river current or lakes. The Inline and Willow run the deepest as they spin tightest to the wire shaft. These are good for fast retrieves in swift conditions, and deeper water presentations. In using spinnerbait’s the willow blade is a good choice around vegetation and cover as they revolve tight to the upper arm catching less floating debris and weeds.

Blade Sizes 

3The sizes of spinner blades are based on a numerical system starting with 0 or 0/0, the smallest for stream trout spinners, size 3-4-5 for bass and pike up to the 7-8 for muskies along with the new popular magnum 10. The larger the blade size the more water resistance and vibration when compared to the same shape in a smaller version.

Multiple Bladed Spinners

Many of the spinners today offer double blade options. The inline spinner that has two blades is commonly referred as a bulger which rides high in the water even breaking (bulging) the surface when retrieved rapidly. Spinnerbaits that have 2  blades in “tandem” provide more flash which gives the image of schools of bait fish.

Blade Colors

There are countless blade finishes, colors and combinations for spinners today on the market, the most common are metallic hues with silver, gold and copper which provides a flash to sight-feeding predators in clear or stained water. Painted blades flash less but create more underwater contrast. They can be particularly effective during low-light conditions or in murkier water.

Spinner Tails, Skirts and Dressings

Tying materials to the tail of a inline spinner or silicone skirts on spinner baits adds a realistic appearance and increases the profile of the lure as it swims through the water. The dressed tail also provides lift and resistance enabling the angler to retrieve the lure at a slower rate. Years back traditional hook dressings on spinners have been animal hair (deer hair, squirrel tails and “marabou” from chickens) with a few feathers as attractors especially red. With the advancement of synthetics materials such as flashabou and silicone skirts adds a fluttering flash in different incandescent or solid colors increasing the total flash profile of the spinner.

Spinner bait skirts over the years also evolved from the solid living rubber colors to silicone skirts because of all the available molded-in patterns, metal flakes, and incandescent colors.

Depending on personal preferences and fishing conditions many anglers prefer to use an undressed spinner for speed and depth relying on the blade flash and vibration as the only attractors. Other options are soft plastic tail dressings such as an imitation minnow or tailed grub. Soft plastics are also used on traditional dressed spinners tails to change the appearance, profile and action of the lure, these are known as trailers.

Listed below is a reference guide to help you identify the common types of spinners and how they are used:

Types of Spinners: 

Inline Spinners


Double Bladed Inline Spinners


Flash Inline Spinners


Magnum Double Blade Inline Spinners




Magnum Spinnerbaits



Buzzbaits resemble either a standard spinnerbait or inline spinner with the exception of a rotating propeller blade replacing a flat blade. Buzzbaits are a topwater spinner and must be retrieved rapidly to produce a loud clacking sound as they move across the surface. Excellent lure for bass and pike.

Live Bait Spinners

11By combining the vibration and flash of a spinner blade and the attraction of live bait, these produce an effective fish catching combination for most all species of game fish. The (top) is a weight forward spinner that is tipped with a night crawler, this spinner is cast and retrieved, primarily used on the Great Lakes for walleyes also known as the trade name erie dearie. The (middle) is a crawler harness with multiple hooks (2 or 3) and is also tipped with a night crawler, this spinner is rigged on bottom bouncers and sliding sinker rigs, for trolling of drifting. A single hook version is also used for minnows. The (bottom) is a strip on an old time fishing rig also called Prescott Spinner. Made from stiff wire with a rotating blade on front. The wire is slid through a minnow attaching a double hook on the end loop.

Winter Bass Fishing Lures, Tips and Tactics

Grub Fishing Lures


Winter is the best time for fishing equipment maintenance


Winter. Some people absolutely dread it. I saw an ice-covered pond a few days ago and morning frost has been pretty consistent lately. My winter jacket is back in rotation on the coat rack along with gloves and tuques.

The good news for some is that I don’t think winter will arrive any time in the very near future, but nonetheless it’s not a bad time to think about maintenance on your retired-for-the-season fishing equipment.

Maintenance doesn’t mean I’m throwing in the towel by any means; there’s still plenty of fish to chase and some are in their peak season. I embrace the seasons Canada has to offer and I feel each brings unique experiences.

Taking the proper steps can prolong the lifetime of your gear and prevent any nasty surprises come spring.

  • Break It Down: Remove fishing lures and check line for abrasions and discoloration. Any spools with monofilament or fluorocarbon should generally be stripped and discarded. These lines are damaged by UV rays and wear and tear, which causes them to break down over the course of the season depending on how much use they get. Braided lines tend to hold up better over time and can generally last multiple seasons if cared for properly. Good signs that it’s time to replace braided line are noticeable fading, nicks and fraying.

I don’t know about you, but throughout the season I tend to throw random lures in random places out of convenience. By the end of the season, my tackle boxes look nothing like they did at the beginning. After removing your lures, it’s a great opportunity to sort, inspect and clean lures. You could go as far as swapping out any old or rusty hooks if you feel so inclined. A great way to protect your precious selection of lures from rust in the off-season is to add rust-inhibiting patches/chips to your tackle boxes. Some of the popular brands are Bull Frog, Zerust and Inhibitor VCI.

  • Tune It Up: Reels play such an important part of casting and landing fish, so it’s only natural to ensure they’re in tip-top shape each season. Start by removing the reels from the rods. Give your reels a quick wipedown with a damp towel or cloth to remove any accumulated crud and gunk. This is an opportune time to take apart your reels to clean and lube them. Some high-quality reel oil and grease, rags, Q-Tips and an old toothbrush are the basic items you’ll need for this task. With so many reels on the market, it’s best to refer to your manufacturer’s instructions on how to properly disassemble and maintain them. Thankfully, there are also a number of YouTube instructional videos to help with the process if you’re unfamiliar. Once completed, it’s important to remember to back the drags off completely to ensure they don’t seize up due to sitting for a long period of time under pressure. It may sound like a tedious task, but it’s worth it to ensure your reels are performing at their best when the time comes.
  • Polish It Off: Rods don’t usually get a lot of thought when maintenance time comes around, but they’re also a crucial element when it comes to success on the water. Remove any built-up grime from the blank and grip with a damp cloth and a mild detergent. It’s also a good idea to clean and inspect the guides with a Q-Tip. Dirty guides increase friction as line passes them, which in turn can decrease casting distance and cause other issues. Running a Q-Tip through each guide can also help spot any damage to the inserts. A scratched, chipped or cracked insert can increase the likelihood of a line break and could very well cost you the catch of a lifetime. Q-Tips tend to “catch” on any such imperfections when cleaning guides.

Although I’ve begun to store away some equipment, other gear is beginning to see the light of day again. Another season changes and it’s time to layer up and enjoy.

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