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Fall Cranking

Article: October, 2010
 Lake Fork Pro Guide Tom Redington
Fall is like Christmas for the crankbait fisherman. Tons of bass hit the shallows chasing shad as they feed up before winter. Moreover, a steady stream of cold fronts, with their accompanying clouds, wind, and rain keep bass active in the shallows all day long. After slowly dragging a worm around all summer, fall is the time for covering water with a crankbait. 

More than any other time of the year, bass are on the move in the fall in pursuit of shad. Depending on the day, you can find shad in the very backs of creeks, along creek channels, around points, or on grass and wood flats on the main lake or in the creeks. If that sounds like a lot of places to check, it is. Shallow and medium running crankbaits allow you to cover a lot of water at high speed. Once I start seeing a lot of shad in the area, I’ll slow down a bit and start working more thoroughly because the bass are likely nearby. Once you catch a few fish, you can establish a pattern. For example, if you fish a couple creeks and don’t see many shad or catch anything until you get to the very back, that tells you to start running the backs of creeks while skipping the front 3/4.

You’ll also need to experiment with the right crankbait to best catch the fish. Water depth, type of the cover, and water temp all play a role. In general, I like to keep my lure at or above the level of the shad. The deeper the shad, the deeper running crankbait I’ll use. In addition, I want my crankbait to make intermittent contact with the grass, rock or wood cover, but not continuously snagging in it. For example, shallow square bill crankbaits like the Lucky Craft RC 1.5 and BDS 3 run about 2’ to 3’ deep on a normal retrieve on 14 lb test. Switch to 10 lb test and/or point your rod tip straight down and you’ll get closer to about 4’ deep on your retrieve. Conversely, you can rig either bait on 20 lb test and hold your rod tip high to still get good action from these baits while keeping them only a foot or two under the surface. In grassy lakes, controlling your depth is critical to catching fish, so fine tune your setup to keep your baits just ticking the tops of the grass. Medium running cranks work well when bass relate to deep weededges or get on the edge of creek channels. In this case, I’m looking to get into the 5’ to 10’ zone and the medium running RC 1.5 DD and RC 2.5 DD are my go to baits. Finally, lipless crankbaits, like the loud rattling Lucky Craft LV500, are the most versatile fall cranks because you can count these lures down to any depth that you need. If the conditions turn sunny and calm and bass stop eating, pull out the LV100 or the little LVR Mini and you should still be able to get those finicky fish to bite.
As it cools in the fall, wide wobbling round crankbaits like the RC and BDS series become less effective. When the water temps start plunging into the lower 60s, I’ll switch to more flat sided baits with more wiggle than wobble and keep on catching them. The Lucky Craft SKT series is what I rely on most of the time. These baits come in regular and mini sizes so you can match the hatch, plus the MR medium runner fishes effectively in the 2’ to 4’ zone and the DR deep runner covers the 5’ to 8’ range. The tight wiggle of this bait and lack of rattles appeals to less aggressive fish in cooler water, while the flared out square bill careens off snags and triggers strikes. With bass keying on shad, try the Chartreuse Shad color in stained water, while clearer or chrome schemes like American Shad and Ghost Chartreuse Shad work better in clear water.

Until the water gets into the 50s, I like to fish my crankbaits fast, with an erratic stop-and-go retrieve. Better yet, make your crankbait collide and deflect off of as many stumps, rocks, and/or dock posts as you can during each retrieve. When fishing grass, rip your bait free of the weeds with a sharp snap of your rod just as the lure starts to foul and you’ll generate a lot of strikes.

I like to fish my shallow and medium cranks on fiberglass rods with an easy casting, low stretch line. I use the Dobyns Champion 704CB Glass and 705CB Glass rod models, with the 7’ medium 704 working for the lighter cranks and the medium heavy power 705 for the bigger baits. While a graphite butt section keeps these rods lighter and more sensitive than normal cranking sticks, the full fiberglass upper of the rod allows bass to take hooks deeply and then keeps them on during the fight. Lake Fork’s FluoroHybrid Pro is a hybrid line that combines the sensitivity, low stretch, and abrasion resistance of fluorocarbon with the easy casting and strength of mono. This unique blend allows for long casts and plenty of feel and power to snap baits out of hydrilla before they foul up. 10 to 14 lb test lets baits get deep and also gives lures more action (especially smaller baits like the SKT Minis), while 17 and 20 lb test keep cranks up over the grass and pull big fish out of the wood without sacrificing action on wide wobbling baits like the RC 1.5 and BDS 3.

“Seasons greetings” to all of you crankbait fans because fall truly is “the most wonderful time of the year” for shallow cranking.
Good Fishing,

Fishing Tip by  Lake Fork Pro Tom Redington


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