HARRISBURG –– As sure as the rivers will recede and the waters will clear, bass anglers will soon be cranking up another summer of action with one of the most popular baits ever invented for smallmouth and largemouth fishing.
High, muddy water is still making many of the productive bass rivers unfishable following the heavy rain and resulting floods of late June. Once those conditions improve and become more typical of early July, even the most cautious and cranky bass will be lured into striking by the anglers tossing crankbaits.
No matter if they wiggle or wobble, dive or dart, weave or bob, crankbaits are perhaps the bass angler’s most enjoyable lure to own. That they catch fish is a given, but if ever there was a lure that truly does catch fishermen with their glitz and design, it is the crankbait.
Recently, professional fishing guide Rod Bates of the Carlisle-based Koinonia Guide Service spent an unseasonably hot spring evening on the Susquehanna River field testing some old favorites and new entries available in the crankbait arsenal. A pro-staff member at the Bass Pro Shops store in Harrisburg, he was especially interested in the performance of the company’s new Extreme Performance Series (XPS) Lazer Eye Shallow Crank.
Fishing north of the Fort Hunter Park boat launch, even in mid-June reaching many of the prime smallmouth locations on the river required the use of his shallow-running jet boat. By mid-summer, the water level is usually so low that reaching some of these locations requires the use of inflatable boats, canoes or wading.
Under these conditions, anglers usually have success targeting bass at the tail of rapids, as these sections of fast-moving water produce oxygen, or in deep pools, which provide cover. Depth, however, is relative on the Susquehanna, making shallow-running crankbaits the right choice for the same reason they work so well when fished in deep water over submerged weed beds.
"In recent years, the major manufacturers have met the need of anglers who require shallow-running crankbaits because of the locations they fish," Bates said. "These companies have spent a lot of money on research and development in the designing of these baits, which perform just as well as the larger lures."
"When these baits are designed, everything from color combinations to hook size to shape is considered. For that reason, other than replacing hooks, there is absolutely no need to tune or make changes to these baits."
Technically, solid and jointed minnow imitations can be, and often are, described as crankbaits. Most bass anglers, however, would no sooner lump together these stickbaits, which are usually fitted with three treble hooks, with their short, plug-shaped “crankin’’ lures, which usually have a pair of treble hooks, than they would their tube jigs with worm hooks.
Plug-shape crankbaits are designed to resemble crayfish — the equivalent of filet mignon for hungry bass –– and baitfish. While the profiles of these lures are similar, their girth can range from that of a sleek torpedo to that of a miniature blimp ready to burst at the seams.
Shape and thickness, along with the retrieve, determine the action of a crankbait, but the length and angle of the bill –– and, to a lesser degree, line weight –– controls the depth. For a time, it seemed every lure manufacturer was obsessed with producing crankbaits designed to run deep, deeper and deepest.
Such lures are effective in deep lakes and open areas on big rivers, like the St. Lawrence and Potomac, but are useless in rivers like the Susquehanna and Schuylkill. Like their big brothers, however, shallow-running crankbaits are most effective when cast beyond the target area, allowing them to achieve maximum depth on the retrieve.
For that reason, shallow-running crankbaits, with their short, blunt bills, have become popular with tournament and recreational bass anglers. And, just as soon as conditions allow, they will be out crankin’ on the Susquehanna.
For more information about bass fishing on the Susquehanna River, contact guide Rod Bates at (717) 805-7082 or [email protected].
©The REPUBLICAN & Herald 2006