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!
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.
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.
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!