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John Crews of MISSILE Baits Explains Making Soft Plastic Baits

There are a lot of them out there these days, but what actually goes into making soft plastic baits? 

We sat down to chat about this with John Crews, Bassmaster Elite Series angler and owner of MISSILE Baits. 

When your livelihood comes from being just a little better than the competition, attention to detail is key. For Crews, that means two things: edging out the competition on the water and in bait design.

“Everything has kind of spawned off of what I need on tour,” Crews said. “I’ll get out there and think ‘these are good baits but I wish I had one that would do this.’

Making Soft Plastic Baits: To the ‘Drawing Board’

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After he identifies a need, Crews takes it to the drawing board — literally. 

“I draw the ideas for the bait out on graph paper like it’s a homework assignment. Then I send that drawing to the mold maker. They put it in 3D CAD software and make a single-shot, prototype mold.”

The prototype mold is then shipped to the manufacturer who hand shoots a dozen or so baits for Crews to test. Crews puts his desired modifications down on paper and sends his ideas back to the mold maker.

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I’ll give them very, very precise measurements and adjustments to make. For example, let’s change this dimension to 6 mm instead of 4 mm. And then they’ll make those adjustments and we’ll go a couple rounds on the prototypes until they get it just like I want it.

Making Soft Plastic Baits: Where the Real Design Work Begins

Once Crews is satisfied with the final dimensions and design of the bait, he gives the mold maker the green light to create a production mold that typically costs between $5,000 and $10,000. Once the production mold is completed, it is sent to the manufacturer. That’s where the real design work begins.

I tell them the exact consistency I want. The salt content, exactly what color and size flake I want, whether I want a single- or two-color laminate, a two color swirl, a three color laminate, etc.

He even gives them instructions on packaging specifications so they keep their desired shape and create a good presentation for the consumer.

This level of attention to detail on the manufacturing side probably makes Crews a better angler on the water and helps him in tournaments, too.

He said that is definitely the case. But even more so, that attention to detail allows him to pass on his expertise to other anglers without them even knowing it. 

“I’ve said this from day one on the bait design side of things: If I figure out what makes a bait function and get a bite better or have a better hookup ratio, the customer doesn’t need to know why, they just need to know it works.”

Making Soft Plastic Baits: Taking Out the Guess-Work

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By designing his own soft plastic bait, Crews basically takes the guess-work out for consumers. 

“That way they can just put a hook in the bait, throw it out, get bit and set the hook. If it hooks up good they’ll say ‘Yep, it works. I like it.’ I like to figure out all the little details on the back side and then they can just get to go out and enjoy it.”

Crews prides himself in that attention to detail and giving anglers better tools for the task at hand. It’s a never ending process.

And he’s probably sketching some idea down as we speak.

Crankbait Storage | Tactics To Save You Time & Money

So I’m pretty OCD about crankbait storage — to some degree. 

At least I have a tendency to get OCD about it from time to time. I’ll go through it all, organize it very meticulously, then inevitably let that tapestry unravel over time until my gear is in total chaos again. Then I’ll go through and reorganize it all again. 

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During one of these such episodes a few years ago, I developed a pretty good system for keeping my crankbaits orderly, dry, and readily accessible. 

If you’ve ever bought two baits with treble hooks you know how fast they become intertwined. It’s almost like they want to get so twisted up it would take a bomb diffusing specialist to untangle them. So I was sick and tired of trying to pull a crankbait from the pile and shake it for five minutes in hopes that the others would fall away. 

The other main issue with crankbait storage: they rust very easily with just the slightest amount of moisture. Leaving a box full of baits in your rod locker after a heavy rain can be a costly mistake. Finding $200 dollars worth of lures rusted to the point you have to change all the hooks and break out the sandpaper is very annoying.

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Crankbait Storage: What I Do In Three Easy Steps

Plano Waterproof Boxes 

You need a box with a seal to keep the moisture out. That is critical. These boxes cost a little more but they will save you a lot of money in the long run. This box in particular has a durable latch system versus some of the other brands that break easily or don’t form a strong seal. 

Treble Hook Safety Caps

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Taking these off and putting them back on each time can be a little annoying. But man oh man, the ease of shoving your hand down in a box of baits and rooting around til you find the right one is well worth it. No more untangling baits. No more rushing to get a tetanus shot because you jammed a rusty hook 3/4ths of an inch into your flesh. These things make life so much better. 

Zerust Tabs

Even though you’re storing these baits in a waterproof box, a little moisture is bound to get in. Say you open the box in light rain and reach in for a bait. Even if a drop or two of water enters the box, you’re in trouble. As good as these boxes are at keeping water out, they’re just as good at keeping water in. But these Zerust Tabs are actually rust inhibitors that will pull the moisture away from the baits. So I always throw a couple of these in with anything I put in a waterproof box.

So that’s the basic setup. Just put the safety caps on the hooks, toss the baits in the box with a couple of the Zerust Tabs and you’re good to go.

Flambeau actually makes waterproof boxes now with the Zerust material already incorporated into the box. The idea is solid, but I haven’t tried those personally yet to be able to offer any feedback on the latches and seal. 

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I should also mention the Bass Mafia Cranking Coffin. I use this box for my larger, deep diving crankbaits from a 5XD to an 8XD. It’s a little pricy at $54.99 but again, a worthwhile investment if you have the $300 worth of crankbaits to fill it up.

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Kevin VanDam’s Favorite Crankbait is Also the Most Overlooked Crankbait

There are thousands of different options when trying to purchase a crankbait.

There’s likely hundreds of thousands of variations when you factor in colors and sizes. So needless to say, it’s impossible for any of us to try them all. Even certain companies now have too many baits to sample top to bottom. 

But we have to be careful not to overlook the obvious. 

Take Strike King for instance. They offer a crankbait for every water depth, clarity and temperature. Baits that set the precedent in their demographic like the 10XD, 6XD, 5XD and 1.5.

But there has to be a sleeper in there somewhere right? 

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KVD’s Sleeper Crankbait

That’s the question we posed for cranking phenom Kevin VanDam and his answer didn’t disappoint. 

“A 3XD is one of those baits that does get overlooked a lot,” VanDam said. “For the tiny profile it has, it runs extremely deep.”

With a profile about the size of the famed KVD 1.5, this bait’s max depth shouldn’t be able to exceed 7 or 8-feet. But thanks to the XD (extra deep) lip design, it surpasses expectation and can be easily overlooked for certain depth ranges. 

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“It’s very easy for me to hit the bottom with that bait in 12-feet, even with baitcasting gear and 10-pound fluorocarbon.”

Because of its ability to reach deeper depths with a smaller profile, the 3XD has been a cleanup bait for VanDam for years. And it’s one he turns to quickly on fisheries where the bite is tough in the fall and winter. 

VanDam is also often tasked with a unique challenge: Taking people who don’t fish and trying to help them catch fish.

“I’ve had so many trips for sponsor outings in the fall, on Table Rock lake for instance, where it can be a really tough bite. The fish are so scattered, if they’re throwing a dropshot or a Ned rig or something like that, they wouldn’t get many bites at all. And it’s boring too,” he said. 

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“So for a beginner, I can take a 3XD, put it on a spinning rod with 8-pound fluorocarbon or even 10-pound braid and an 8-pound fluorocarbon leader and they can cast it a mile. It throws well for its size and that thing literally gets down 12-feet deep very easily in that situation. It generates a ton of strikes and it has a tighter action which makes it a really good cold water bait.”

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Why is This Crankbait so Overlooked? 

Well for starters, Strike King makes dozens of styles of crankbaits. Arguably more than any other single company. And the popularity of a few of those baits overshadows the rest. 

“It’s a dynamite bait.”

“Most people just go straight to the 5XD. The 5XD and the 6XD are the benchmark in their categories. But the 3XD flat catches them. For real tough conditions, when I need a bait that will run extremely deep for its profile, that 3XD is hard to beat. It’s a sleeper for me for sure.”

Soft Plastic Bait Storage | Finding A Method To The Madness

So we’ve talked recently about terminal tackle storage and storing hard baits.

But what about soft plastics? 

Well I’ve done a few different things over the years. I’ve tried putting a bunch of baits in their original packaging into big ziplock bags. I’ve tried making one big bulk bag of baits by dumping several packs into a gallon ziplock bag. I’ve tried deep well tackle boxes and other plastic containers. 

And I honestly like a little bit of it all. My preferred method, though, is to leave the baits in their original packaging and then put those in plastic bins.

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Soft Plastic Bait Storage: 3 Reasons to Keep Baits in Their Package 

  1. It seems to help preserve the baits a little longer. 
  2. For baits that come in a harder shell type packaging, it keeps them true to form better than if they were just dumped in a big pile. 
  3. It’s easier when fishing to take a pack out and keep it in my pocket for the day.

Soft Plastic Bait Storage: Don’t Break The Bank

My soft plastic storage was in need of a facelift recently. I looked around online and found some fancy options, even a $40 box for soft plastics. Now I’ll splurge on storage in a few areas where rust and corrosion are big issues, though I’ve never known a soft plastic bait to rust… and I’d need a dozen or so of these boxes to accommodate all of my soft plastics.

So I had to get a little thrifty.

I took the measurements of a pack of MISSILE Baits D-Bombs and poked around on Amazon. I found a 10 pack of stackable plastic bins with decent looking latches for $30. Score. I ordered those and I have been pretty pleased so far. 

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I’ve had some bins similar to these in the past but the lids just kind of snapped on and didn’t have latches. So they would inevitably pop off at random times in the boat or when I’d go to pick them up. Also, their walls had a slight angle to them so the packs didn’t really fit very well.

However, these new boxes are perfect for a lot of the standard packaged baits. And I really like that they’re lightweight, since the added weight of a lot of soft plastics in the boat is already problem enough. 

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They also hold my frogs perfectly in their original packaging. Side note: the frogs still in their packs actually create little compartments for me to drop some of the ones I’ve already used into. 

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Soft Plastic Bait Storage: Labels, Labels, Labels

When it comes to labeling the boxes so I know what’s where, I like to take clear tape and put down a base layer on the lid. Then I’ll take a sharpie and write on that tape so that if I ever want to change it I can just peel that tape off. And to keep the writing from smearing or wearing off over time, I put a second layer of tape over the first layer with the writing on it. 

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What’s nice about keeping my baits stored this way is that it’s very easy to minimize what I take in the boat on each outing. 

For instance, when it’s January in central Alabama, I know I won’t be needing my popping frog or walking frog boxes and I can just pull those out of the boat and stick them on the shelf. And when it is time to frog, I won’t spend an hour looking for them only finding a few here and there. 

This organization scheme is really beneficial when it comes to knowing what I have and where it is. I can quickly check my inventory to know what I need to order. 

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And for the money, you can’t beat it. Give it a try if you’re in need of a soft plastic bait storage solution.

Terminal Tackle Storage on a Budget with Shaye Baker

Organizing tackle and dealing with terminal tackle storage is about as much fun as fishing, especially in the wintertime. 

And it’s really the only thing close to fishing some of my northern brethren can do this time of year — short of sitting on a bucket over a hole in the ice

There are more companies designing products for tackle storage now than ever before. Back in the day you just had the Plano tackle box. And though I later found out the boxes were named after the town they were built in, for the longest time I thought it was just a play on words — plain old tackle box. 

But ‘plain’ hardly describes their products or 90% of the others out there these days. 

There are boxes with LED lights and no-slip material in them to keep baits in place like Lure Lock. There are boxes with rust inhibitors built into the dividers like those offered by Flambeau. And there are even some tough enough to drive a truck over, as you can see in the ads for Bass Mafia.

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Terminal Tackle Storage: Penny Pinching Pointers

If you’ve got the money, there’s something awesome out there now to store just about anything in. But if you’re living life on a budget, there are a few little tricks.

First, take a stroll down the Tupperware isle at Walmart or the toolbox isle at Home Depot. You’ll find lots of great options there at half the price, especially when looking for something to hold packs of soft plastics that don’t need to be in water tight boxes. And there are discount stores like Harbor Freight and Mike’s Merchandise that will have containers like this even cheaper. 

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When it comes to terminal tackle, there are some pretty cool boxes built for nuts and bolts that will actually accommodate hooks and weights too. I bought a Flambeau box that I like a lot for terminal tackle but since then I found what is basically the same box in yellow at Harbor Freight for $3 less. 

Terminal Tackle Storage: Here’s What I Did

The main cavity of the box holds several smaller trays that can be organized anyway you like and can be taken in and out individually. So, if you’re having a hard time fishing out a particular weight from one of the trays, you can just pluck that one out and dump it on the deck. To take that a step further, I actually found some little plastic boxes from Harbor Freight that fit three to a tray.

With these little containers, I can have 3 different sized dropshot weights in one tray, but still keep them separate. To make the containers easier to extract from the tray, I simply stuck a piece of tape to the backs of the containers and then doubled them over to create a pull tab.

The little containers are clear, but if you want to know exactly what’s in them without pulling them out, simply take a Sharpie and label each box. 

The box won’t accommodate the packaging that most hooks come in, but I didn’t just want to dump the hooks into a tray and have a jumbled up mess. So I took some little blocks of foam and buried the hook points in them so that anytime I need a hook, I can just pull one from the block. 

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Terminal Tackle Storage: Now It’s Your Turn

You can put a system like this together for about $10 and have hundreds of dollars worth of terminal tackle neat and organized the next time you go looking for something. I only keep a couple days supply in this box, but the way I have it laid out, I can do a quick inventory and restock from my larger stash at any time. 

This has been a very efficient system for me so far, so give it a try if you’re in need of a little better terminal tackle storage system yourself.

5 Cold Water Cranking Questions with Kevin VanDam

Featured Image Credit: Alan McGuckin of Major League Fishing

Wondering how the pros use their crankbaits when the water gets cold? Well, I was curious too, so I caught up with Kevin VanDam to ask him. Here’s my top 5 questions and what he told me.

How deep do you fish a crankbait in cold, muddy water with current? 

“When the water gets muddy, fish go shallow. That’s what I look for. You can throw up in 2-feet of water and they’re there. Especially when they’re running a lot of water. It’s not like the water is warmer out deeper or anything like that.”

“I’ve caught them super shallow at times in river situations when it’s cold. They get right up against the bank to get out of the current. But I have caught fish 10-feet deep too. It’s all about finding that spot where they can setup close to current but not be in the current, where there’s going to be food coming by them and they can ambush it as it’s rolling by. It’s more about the structural element than it is anything else in that situation.”

Do you pay attention to how the hooks are oriented when you change hooks on a crankbait? 

“With fussy baits like the Lucky Shad you want to make sure the hooks are laying up against the bait without the split ring twisted. The bait should lay in the V of two of the hooks with the third hook of the treble pointed down.”

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Do you use slower gear ratio reels? 

“For me, personally, I would over fish the bait if I threw it on a 6.5:1 or something like that. A reel in the 5:1 range is ideal for me. It just helps force me to slow down a bit. I like something that takes in about 24-inches per turn when you crank it. And I’ve always used a reel with a larger spool for cranking just to get the extra distance on the cast.”

What type of rod do you prefer? 

“I throw a composite rod for cranking. I’ve used straight fiberglass before and I’ve tried graphite. Graphite rods are not very forgiving when it comes to cold water fish, especially when landing them. So it’s very important to me to have that perfect balance between the two.” 

“The way composite rods load and unload, you can actually throw them a lot farther. And their softer action allows the bait to deflect off cover better. When the bait hits the cover, the rod doesn’t immediately snap back like a granite rod does. So you’re not getting hung up as much and the fish gets the bait deeper.”

“Having a rod that’s comfortable to throw is also important, especially in freezing conditions. And you certainly don’t want micro guides or anything like that because they’re going to freeze up fast.”

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When do you use the bigger 4.0 and 8.0 squarebills? 

“The big baits are basically when you’re looking for a big profile offering, typically in places that have a lot of big fish or in warmer water scenarios. Places where the bass target gizzard shad and big bluegills, that’s when I use the big 8.0 and the 4.0.”

“Early in the fall is the time when a big squarebill is good. If you think about it, the foliage is at its biggest in the fall. It’s had all season to grow. But I don’t use bigger baits a lot in the winter time.”

How to Rig a Worm | 3 Weird Ways to Rig a Worm with Shaye Baker

A couple years ago when MISSLE Baits introduced The 48 worm, they decided to put together a video series called 48 Ways to Rig a Worm.

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So, naturally when you’re trying to come up with 48 different ways to rig a worm, you’re going to be splitting hairs at times and you’re going to have to get pretty creative. 

I sent in a few contributions and thought it would be worth sharing since they were kinda weird. But I caught fish on all three so I must have done something right. Here they are, listed in order of effectiveness. 

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How to Rig a Worm: The Double Shot

I remember watching Scott Canterbury fish this rig at the Forrest Wood Cup several years ago. I’m not sure what he called it or what it’s called by others, but double shot sounds pretty descriptive. 

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This one is fairly simple to rig. 

Just go about rigging a dropshot but instead of putting a weight at the end of your tagline, tie on a shaky head and add another worm. 

You’ll want to leave a little longer leader than normal so that you have enough line to tie your shaky head on. And you can leave a much longer leader if you’d like. That’ll let you fish the bottom as well as 3 or 4 feet up into the cover if you’d like. 

What was really interesting about this rig was that I actually caught more of my fish on the shaky head than I did the dropshot worm. Now I’ve only fished this rig one day, and it may have just been the day. But for whatever reason most of my bites came on the lower bait.

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How to Rig a Worm: The Free Rig

The free rig is actually a pretty neat little deal to fish around vegetation.

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You simply take a bell sinker and run your line through it. Then, you tie on your preferred hook for whatever soft plastic you plan to rig up. 

Once you’ve added the hook and soft plastic, you’ll see that the weight can move freely up and down the line. So it works kind of like a Carolina rig, but it weighs less. And there’s no leader, so the weight can come all the way to the nose of the bait, then slide back up the line and let the bait float and wash around at times. 

How to Rig a Worm: The X Rig

I spawned the X rig out of necessity when trying to come up with 48 different rigs. I simply tied on a Whacky Jig Head, took two of The 48 worms and put o-rings on them and then put them both on the hook whacky style to form an X. 

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I’ll admit, I don’t know the advantage to this rig, if any at all. 

And it is quite a mouthful of soft plastic. Which concerned me in regards to the hookset should a fish try to eat it. But I quickly put one in the boat with this little rig and then moved on to another. 

Give These a Try!

So there you have it, three weird ways to rig a worm. 

If you get bored with the same ole same ole, give one of these a go. I caught fish using all three. It might be worth the experimentation. Let me know if you find success with any of them!

Using the Right Crankbait Treble Hooks | Kevin VanDam Breaks It Down

Featured Image Credit: William Redmond | Mustad

Not one individual on this earth has spent more time with a crankbait in his hand than Kevin VanDam. 

He’s helped design some of the most effective crankbaits of all time and shaped and molded the technique of crankbait fishing in countless other ways.

One such innovation is his signature Mustad Triple Grip Treble Hooks

“I change the hooks to those Mustad Triple Grips on just about everything,” VanDam said. “Topwater baits and all. I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter if it’s cold, hot, spotted bass, smallmouth, 10-pound largemouth or whatever, there is no situation where there’s a better hook.”

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Crankbait Treble Hooks: Years In Development

KVD spent years testing and tinkering with different crankbait treble hooks in the development process.

He found that lighter wire, round bend hooks would often flex under pressure, absorbing some of the force of the hookset. That would also prevent the hook point from making a quick and clean entry into the fish. 

“Those Mustad Triple Grips don’t flex. I can fish them on heavy line, smallmouth and spots don’t tear them up and I know my strike-to-land ratio is going to be the best it possibly can with that design,” he said.

The importance of choosing the right treble hook is something that VanDam has stressed for years.

Having won literally millions of dollars using these hooks, it’s safe to say he knows what he’s talking about. Image Credit: William Redmond | Mustad

 I’ve seen the knockoffs and they’re just not the same. Mustad’s Ultra Point is so durable if you’re grinding the gravel and zebra mussels. Those points don’t roll and they don’t bend over. They hold up better to rough cover than any other hook.

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Crankbait Treble Hooks: Does Size Matter?

Yes.

These hooks are shorter than those offered by other brands but maintain the same hook size relative to the gap of the hook. This allows VanDam to upsize his hooks when possible without the hooks hanging on one another or hanging on passing cover. 

“They’re more compact but with a bigger bite because they’re extra, extra short. Even on small baits I can put on what is an oversized treble for that bait and really up my strike-to-land ratio.”

Since the hooks are made from a heavier wire, they weigh a little more than most other hooks. This added weight actually works to a crankbaits advantage. 

But you have to be careful. 

“Certain baits, balance-wise, you’ve got to be careful about putting too big of a hook on,” he said. “But for most crankbaits, especially the wide wobbling ones like the Series 4 and 1.5, the added weight of those hooks enhances the action of the bait.”

VanDam doesn’t want the bait to come straight back to the boat while he’s reeling it in. Instead he wants the bait to behave erratically, to ‘hunt’.

“I can see the difference of how those baits act with those hooks on there with my own eyes. I want the bait to search and hunt and not be perfect. That’s what’s in nature and what the bass are looking for.”

Replacing the light-wire, round-bend treble hooks that come standard on most crankbaits may not seem like that big of a deal to you. But for the man that has spent his whole life perfecting his cranking system, it’s imperative. 

So take the time to try this tip on for size and see if you can tell the difference.

Shop Mustad Triple Grip Treble Hooks

Fall Bass Fishing | Shaye’s Fall Favorites – Lipless Crankbait

The fall is almost here. Cool days and cold nights are right around the corner and with that a reawakening of the shallow waters that have been boiling here in the south these last few months. As the water temperatures drop, the shad will rise to the surface and make their way back into the creeks and pockets all along our southern waterways. One of the best fall bass fishing baits for targeting fish around all this bait… the lipless crankbait. 

For me personally, a ¼-ounce lipless crankbait is pretty hard to beat when the shad flood the shallows. Both the gold standard Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap and the new age workhorse, the Stike King Red Eye Shad, have put hundreds of pounds of bass in mine and my dad’s boat this time of year. One of the fisheries we use these baits the most is Wheeler Lake on the Tennessee River. 

Each year since 1974, our bass club, the Kowaliga Bassmasters, has made the pilgrimage to Wheeler in October for our first taste of fall. That’s probably the lake where I first threw a Rat-L-Trap and certainly the one where I’ve thrown one the most in the fall. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of shad flood the shallows there each year followed by swarms of aggressive bass feeling good from the cooling waters and looking to bulk up for the winter ahead. 

There are variations of the lipless crankbait and techniques with it that I have learned work the best in the fall through fishing Wheeler over the years, a lot of which will translate to other fisheries across the southern states and beyond. Let’s dive into some of those now.

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Lipless Crankbait: Yo-Yoing

When the shad first start to move back into the creeks and pockets, I’ll often encounter them on bluff walls or in the middle of pockets where the water is still 10 to 15-feet deep. Yo-Yoing a lipless crankbait works really well in these situations. 

Basically you just want to cast your bait out past the ball of shad and let it sink down below them. Then rip the bait up into the ball of shad and let it sink again. This mimics a struggling shad and is exactly what the bass sitting beneath the ball of bait are looking for. 

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I’ll typically use a 1/2-ounce lipless crankbait here. You can use a 1/4-ounce but it’s rarely necessary. 

Lipless Crankbait: Busting Shallow Bait

As the bass push the bait shallower and shallower, they start to bust them or school on them. That’s when you just want to throw your lipless crankbait past where they’re busting and bring the bait through with a nice steady retrieve. Typically this is happening on a hump, flat or in the back of a pocket so the water is only 1 to 3 feet deep. Because of this, you’ll often need to hold your rod tip up while you reel your bait in and you want to be able to pause the bait or jerk it to give it more action. 

However, if you’re doing this across a flat with a pretty good drop on the side, definitely pause your retrieve or ‘kill the bait’ as you reach the deeper water and you’ll often draw a strike there.

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Lipless Crankbait: 1/4-Ounce vs 1/2-Ounce

Depending on how shallow you are fishing, a 1/4-ounce lipless crankbait can be much easier to work and more effective than a 1/2-ounce. In addition, there are times when fish will just react better to one or the other so it’s a good idea to have both rigged up. 

Sometimes in the fall, matching the hatch is important, so you want to use a 1/4-ounce of 1/2-ounce based on the size of the bait present. 

However I’ve also experienced the opposite where there is so much bait present that using a bait that differs slightly in size from the surrounding forage is more effective. Don’t be afraid to try different things if you’re not getting bit. Likewise with color, though typically you want to match the hatch there. 

Lipless Crankbait: Lipless with a Blade

Bill Lewis made a 1/4-ounce Rat-L-Trap with a willow leaf blade where the back hook would typically be and I’ve had a lot of luck with this bait in the fall. It’s not really a bait I fish at all the rest of the year, but when there’s an overabundance of shad I have found that the added flash of the little willow leaf seems to stand out in the crowd well enough to draw a few more strikes. 

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I believe this bait may have been discontinued but is easy to duplicate by simply replacing the back treble with a swivel and small willow leaf blade. 

Lipless Crankbait Gear

For fishing a lipless crankbait, I prefer a Vursa 7’0” medium heavy paired Lew’s LFS Speed Spool in 7.5:1 and 15-pound fluorocarbon. I might step down to 12-pound test when Yo-Yoing the bait if the fish are a little deeper, but 15-pound is definitely what I go with 95% of the time.

Small Body Cranking for Big Early Season Bass

One of my favorite times of year is during the cold of winter, doing some small body cranking.  This technique is something that I’ve developed a lot of confidence in, so here are some of my tips you can use to go catch some bass this winter on a small body crankbait!

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What is a Small Body Cranking?

Small body cranking, for me, is different than finesse cranking – I still get to use a baitcasting setup, 10-pound test line, and cover a lot of water to catch big bass. Small body cranking just means that I downsize my crankbait gear and baits to allow me to catch more finicky winter bass.  

The baits that I consider small-body crankbaits are:

 

Small Body Cranking: Active Bass VS. Resident Bass

There are two main groups of fish that I can target with a crankbait – transitional or active bass, and resident bass.

Bass in transition are moving through the areas that I’m fishing to either get to deeper or shallower water. Because these fish are in transition and using energy to move, they tend to be more active or aggressive and more willing to eat. The trouble with these fish are that they don’t tend to be very grouped up, so it’s hard to pattern exactly where they will be.

Resident bass stay in a certain area almost all year long.

These are fish that I can count on to be in small areas over and over again, year after year.  With transitional bass, I tend to catch most by just running down the bank, targeting high percentage areas; resident fish position on very key spots that I stop at every time I head to the lake during the winter months. These resident fish tend to be more consistent. I know on certain days that I can run to specific areas and typically put a fish or two in the boat.

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Small Body Cranking: Where To Fish

As soon as the water temperatures hit about 60 degrees, as we start the fall to winter transition, I pick up a small body crankbait and will throw it throughout the winter until we get back into the spring when water temperatures begin warming again.

I most often target main lake areas because a lot of the bigger bass have pulled out of the creeks towards the main lakes deeper water. One of my favorite targets on the main lake are changes in bottom composition – I use my eyes as well as electronics to find spots where the bottom transitions from chunk rock to gravel or gravel to mud, or even small changes such as big gravel patches to pea-gravel.

The key here, more than anything, is that there is a change in the makeup of the bottom that gives the fish a staging point as they transition to a new area of the lake.

I also like to fish main-lake points. Main lake points are more obvious targets, but I’ve caught a lot of big fish on main lake points because these areas hold a lot of fish all year long. The key to fishing main lake points is to cover water around the point until you figure out what part of the point that fish are positioned on – sometimes they’ll be closer to the main lake and deeper water, but other times you’ll have fish pulled up on top of the point in the shallowest water possible sunning themselves or pushing baitfish.

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Small Body Cranking: My Gear

Now that we’ve talked about locating the fish, let’s talk about the gear that I use to put them in the boat.

When throwing a small body crankbait, my setup stays the same, but I rotate through a variety of baits. I rely on a G-Rod Game Changer Crankbait rod – 7’0 Medium, Moderate action. This is a composite rod, which is important for cranking – it’s a composite of Toray Carbon Fiber and Graphene for sensitivity and some fiberglass to give the rod a parabolic bend and softer backbone to keep fish pinned when they just barely get hooked or slap at the bait.

The reel that I use is a Lew’s Custom Pro in a 6.8:1 gear ratio. I prefer this reel because it has a smaller, lighter spool which helps me cast these light baits more easily. By having a lighter, smaller spool, I have more control over the bait because it takes less effort to set the spool in motion. It also handles my 10-pound P-Line CXX more effectively than most larger spool reels.

Small Body Cranking: The Baits

I rotate through a variety of baits depending on the water clarity and types of lakes that I fish. In Tennessee, we have your traditional Tennessee River style lakes – more shallow and colored water, but we also have deep, river-run reservoirs that have ultra-clear water – so I adjust my bait selection depending on where I’m fishing.

On our clearer, cleaner, and deeper bodies of water – more Ozark style of lakes – including Norris Lake, I choose to go with the Storm Wiggle Wart and Spro Rk Crawler baits. These baits tend to work best for me on these Ozark style lakes because they have a very unique, wide-wobbling action. That may seem to be an odd choice in cleaner water, but this wobbling action triggers strikes and can draw in fish from farther distances. My favorite colors in the Wiggle Wart and Spro Rk Crawler are the more traditional or translucent colors – choices with olive green or light brown backs with small spots of orange or brown on the bellies. With the water being cleaner, the fish don’t need as bright of colors to key in on, so these natural colors seem to work best.

In clear water, I also mix in a Strike King KVD Flat-Side 1.5. I don’t fish this bait a ton, but is a killer during high pressure situations. This bait is my go-to during post frontal situations in clear water because it doesn’t have a rattle and with the flat sides, it has a tighter wobble which can be the difference between catching fish, and struggling all day.  For this bait, I stick to more shad/baitfish colors – predominantly white colors with a little bit of blue or chartreuse are my favorite. On Norris Lake in particular, I like baits that have a bit of iridescent blue like the Strike King Blue Gizzard Shad color.

I change my baits up though on the Tennessee River system style of lakes – including Cherokee and Douglas – but this advice will work on most muddier and dingier bodies of water. On these lakes I prefer to use a Bandit 200 or 300 (200 dives to ~ 10ft and 300 dives to 12ft) and a Strike King 3XD. My color choices for these baits are a bit more bold – using methylate (bright orange/red) or chartreuse colors to create more of a silhouette in the water. When these fish are up shallow, feeding on crawfish this time of year, the bright red/oranges are my favorite baits to throw, but as we get closer to springtime and some bluegill begin to push shallower, I’ll go to the chartreuse colors.

Now that you’ve heard about what I do to put winter time and early season bass in the boat, I hope you can use some of this information and techniques to go with confidence and catch a bunch of fish on your home lake using a small body crankbait!

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