Pre-Winter Bass Love Crank Plugs

Tournament bass anglers have long known that there are three potential ways to a limit of bass:

Search for and locate schools of fish. Determine a pattern that will predictably produce bass from a similar structure, cover features or water conditions throughout the lake or river.

Cover as much water as possible, with as many casts as can be made, and take the resultant percentage catches.

In any of the above situations, the intent is to catch bass as rapidly as possible, for either a bare limit or to cull for the larger fish. The common denominator is ‘time’. The majority of us, being weekend fishermen, have a similar constraint hbogo com activate. Limited fishing time is precious and we want to maximize it to the fullest.

The ability to search for and rapidly locate bass is directly dependent on how much water we can cover in a given time. Although it is important to fish thoroughly, we must also do it rapidly and efficiently. Whether looking for that school, trying to develop a pattern, or just humping along for strays, we must make as many casts as possible in our allotted time. Every cast, if made deliberately towards a deliberate structure/cover feature, is a potential bass.

Now, ask yourself this question – “What lure allows me to make the largest number of potentially productive casts in a given period?” If you didn’t respond with the answer ‘crankbait’, go back and review the bidding again. I spent four good fishing hours timing two boat partners to prove this response and the following were the resultant average times per cast for selected lures.

  • Jig and Pig- one minute 35 seconds.
  • Plastic worm- one minute 25 seconds.
  • Spinnerbait- 35 seconds.
  • Crank plugs (various)- 27 seconds.

The figures present a rather obvious conclusion: a dedicated angler using crank plugs makes three times as many casts as the guy with the bottom-bumping lures. Further, he makes more casts than the spinnerbait fisherman. Plus, since the spinnerbait is generally a shallow cover lure and the other types are confined to the bottom, the crank plug group covers the water more thoroughly.

If you now feel as though this writer is trying to convince you that crank plugs are the ‘greatest’, you certainly are paying attention well. I use a plastic worm about as much as the next guy. But, since the theme of this article is on Fall Bassin’, I thought it necessary to take a bit of drastic action and try to change the mindset most of us take on during the Summer months, that of the slow, bottom lures.

I have a bit of trouble making the change, too. But, hear me – In the Fall, bass move towards the shallows to feed heavily in preparation for the winter and to give their body’s maximum capability to prepare for the spawn. Shallow bass, particularly during the fall period, are continually active and in a positive feeding mood. Consequently, they will readily strike most any lure properly presented to them. To take maximum advantage of this situation, we want to be able to quickly located and, then, catch and release as many fish as possible. The crankbait is ‘where it’s at’ in the fall.

When we say that the bass will move shallow in the fall, recognize that ‘shallow’ is a relative term. The fish will move with the baitfish towards the cover areas, normally a good bit shallower than the summer holding and feeding structures. Some of the basses may concentrate in the four and five feet zones, while others will be in ten or twelve feet of water. Few will be deeper during this period of fishy gourmet delights.

Fall is a time that surface activity of feeding school bass reaches a fever pitch. The wise angler knows to partake of the catches from the breaking schools, but he also knows that, when the breakers go down, he must determine where they are holding in wait for the next group of baitfish to pass within range. He knows that he will take ten basses from the holding location for everyone which he catches off the top. Yes, enjoy casting into the surfacing fish, but learn to continue fishing effectively after they have sounded.

If the breaking bass is in very shallow water, say six feet or less, they are almost certainly moving with the baitfish. They may be following a break-line, or simply following and herding the baitfish into a tight group before attacking again. When the water in the vicinity of the breaking bass is deeper than that, you can bet that the bass is holding on some structure or cover feature and coming up as the baitfish pass by. Either way, our response must be tailored by the depth we anticipate the fish to be.

If we are not lucky enough to find surface feeding taking place, we will have to search for the bass, recognizing that the majority should be no deeper than 15 feet, and probably shallower.

Now, we are ready to move to crankbait applications. First, let’s all recognize that hard-bodied crank plugs can be categorized into six very distinct groupings, based on the depths at which they operate. The first five categories have diving lips which generally determine their operating ranges. The sixth is the free-running, vibrating type plug (examples: Cordell Spot, Lewis Rat-L-Trap).

  • Surface/sub-surface, 0-2 feet.
  • Shallow, 3-5 feet.
  • Medium depth, 6-9 feet.
  • Deep, 10-14 feet.
  • Ultra-deep, 15 feet and below.
  • Controlled depth (depth and speed determined by the angler).

Second, we must understand the crankbait selection methodology. Lures are inanimate objects made of wood, metal, plastic or combinations thereof. They are incapable of doing anything on their own, much less catching fish. In reality, lures are tools with which to do a job and each site was designed for a specific purpose.

Virtually every aspect of their use is dependent upon the angler’s actions, the first being proper selection. Suppose we were building a dog house for old Rover. Having assembled the lumber and the nails, we go to the toolbox and get a screwdriver. We are going to have a problem because we have come up with the wrong tool.

The same situation would exist if we were about to fish a deep rock pile and reached into our fishing ‘toolbox’ and came out with a shallow-running Rapala. The Rapala is a fine lure, but it is the wrong one for deep fishing. Our selection procedure was flawed and our chances of catching bass out of those deepwater rocks are virtually nil. Likewise, a Magnum Hellbender would not exactly be suited for a shallow weed flat.

There are five rules for proper lure selection, listed below in priority order:


This is an absolute requirement. It is the over-riding consideration above all others. The lure MUST reach the fish, or we stand little chance of success. When we reach into that tackle box, we should see our lures already separated into the various depth categories previously mentioned.


Depending on the location of the bass, the seasonal conditions and their state of activity, the ability of the angler to generate a strike response is often dependent upon the lure speed. It varies and the angler must determine the appropriate retrieve. Since the retrieve speed usually affects the actual depth at which the lure runs, it must be considered during lure selection.


Once depth and speed have been considered, the lure should be matched to the size of the forage, if known. Other than that, size is a seasonal issue. For example, in colder weather, always go to smaller lures.


Quality lures have good hooks, will hold together and generally run truer. But, brand names do not catch fish. Just pick well-made equipment and you’ll be fine.


This is the least of our lure selection worries. Crank plugs are ‘impulse lures’ and cause an instinctive reaction from a bass. Whether we should choose a color which resembles the available food supply, or some strange looking oddity that might stir the bass’s curiosity, is debatable. Suffice to say, the ‘best’ color is the one that the angler has confidence in and will keep in the water.

Every bass angler should have the following rule printed in big red letters on the lid of his tackle box: “THOU SHALT SELECT BY DEPTH.” Fall bass is very predictable in their patterns and responses to passing cold fronts. This predictability stems from the fact that this time of year, they throw caution to the wind and feed with abandon. The most common locations to find them are those concerning current flow.

These will be structures or cover near feeder creeks, submerged river channels, or areas of induced current caused by the prevailing winds. The most productive depths have always been between eight and 12 feet. However, if there is a cover, such as stumps or grass, in shallower water, a portion of the bass will normally take up positions there. If that cover is along the edge of a good drop-off, their presence is almost assured.

The reactions of bass to a cold front are not nearly as strong in the fall as they are in the spring. Consequently, cold front cases of ‘lock-jaw’ are not too serious and do not last very long. During the early stages of the spawning ritual, cold is the worst enemy of the delicate water and body temperatures necessary to ensure the development and survival of the bass eggs.

In the fall, cooling of the waters does not have this impact and, therefore, the fish will tolerate a change in favor of continued feeding. However, since the usual strong winds which accompany cold fronts will cause a great amount of turbulence in the shallow areas, bass in those zones can be expected to vacate them for a period.

The shallower the bass

The more active he can be expected to be. Accordingly, we start our search in the shallowest cover areas near the influence of the current flow. If there is an indication of surface feeding, we would select a surface/sub-surface crank plug, such as a Rapala or Bang-O-Lure, and strive for the enjoyment of topwater action.

If the bass seems reluctant to take one of these lures twitched enticingly on top, try ‘ripping’ it. This involves long, rapid sweeps of the rod tip, with the lure traveling in five or six-foot bursts. The strikes usually come as the lure stops and begins to float back towards the surface. ‘Ripping’ is probably the most deadly way to fish one of these crankbaits.

Shallow zone crankbaits 

Our top producers during the fall? We can expect a large percentage of the bass to be dispersed in shallow zone covers, such as weeds and stump beds, particularly those which are near a major drop-off or channel edge. While selecting a lure that runs the proper depth is, as we have previously stated, the primary requirement, retrieve speed also plays a very real part in the effectiveness of this category of lures.

A slow, erratic retrieve is normally the better producer with any shallow plug. The angler will want to try twitching the lure every few seconds during the retrieve or employing a ‘stop-and-go’ technique until he finds what is most successful. Lipped crankbaits, such as the Bagley Killer B II and Norman’s Little N, can be excellent choices. And, the controlled depth, vibrating plugs shine in the shallows, as depth and speed control can be very precise. In fact, for fall bass on shallow cover areas, the controlled depth lure is our first choice.

For bass holding on the edge of the drops and structure in the medium depth range, good lure choices would be the Rebel Deep Wee R (a modern classic), the 2-inch Fat-Free Shad, and Bagley’s Divin’ B I or II. Since fish at this depth are basically structure-oriented, we can expect them to be loosely schooled and to respond to a lure more competitively than their shallow brethren. The presence of another bass will cause the nearly instant reaction to a lure presented in their midst.

The goal here is to generate a quick, instinctive strike and not allow the fish the opportunity to really ‘examine’ the bait. Accordingly, a rather rapid retrieve, combining with the competition factor, will usually bring the best results. The only exception is if the bass is positioned on the structure due to the recent passage of a cold front. In this case, a slower, bottom-bumping retrieve may be in order for this site footlocker homeview. If the proper depth lure was chosen to start with, the proper speed should be fairly easy to determine.

One would hope that, during the active fall period, deep zone lures would not be necessary. They are more difficult to use, tiring to the angler and hard to control. However, following strong late-Fall cold fronts or in very clear water conditions, the bass may be deep and these type baits are required.

Experience has shown that deep fall bass will be rather inactive and a slow retrieve is mandatory. If the mentioned weather or water conditions exist, look first for the bass to be suspended between 12 and 15 feet just off a major break-line, such as the channel drop. At this depth, the 3-inch fat-Free Shad is tough to beat.

In summation, keep the following facts in mind regarding fall bass:

  • They will be much shallower than in the summer.
  • Their activity level will be high and relatively constant, and they will be in a feeding posture the majority of the time.
  • Preferred feeding locations will be shallow cover areas near drop-offs and will be about areas of current flow, even if minor.
  • Once located, they will readily take a lure; and, crankbaits will help us locate them quickly.


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