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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Bass Fishing Tennessee: Top 5 Lakes to Target for a Weekend Trip

Do you ever get tired of fishing the same old places? I know most anybody who has ever fished has surely gotten a little tired of fishing the same old lakes, with the same old lures, fishing the same tried and true places that continue to produce even after 20 years. Maybe it’s time to explore a new lake when bass fishing Tennessee.

As a die-hard tournament fisherman, there is nothing more exciting and challenging than breaking down a new body water.

If you think that could be for you, look no further than the beautiful state of Tennessee. Tennessee has a diversity of fisheries from the famed waters of the Tennessee River chock-full of grass, docks, and wood to the many highland reservoirs slam full of rock and clay banks. Tennessee offers world-class largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass fishing. Here is a list of the top five lakes in the state of Tennessee that any serious bass fisherman needs to take a trip to this coming season!

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Bass Fishing Tennessee: Lake Chickamauga

Lake Chickamauga is already one of the most popular lakes in the country. It was recently ranked the 2nd best lake in the world by Bassmaster. Chickamauga has a surface area of 36,240 acres of fishable water located on the famed Tennessee River. The lake is very diverse allowing an angler to fish however they want. You can find plentiful vegetation like hydrilla, milfoil, and eelgrass. There is also loads of shallow wood cover, and docks. The lake is very popular for “ledge fisherman” as well, offering endless ledges for anglers to search for that next big bite.

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Chickamauga is absolutely slammed full of fish in the 2-5-pound class fish. Fish over 10-pounds are caught fairly regularly in the past few years. Just recently, a fish weighing 14.20-pounds was caught. Most local tournaments take well over 20-pounds to win. On three different occasions during the 2018 season, it took over 40-pounds to win a one-day local tournament. Whether you’re a tournament fisherman or just a bank fisherman, Lake Chickamauga needs to be at the top of your must-visit list when bass fishing Tennessee.

Bass Fishing Tennessee: Kentucky Lake

Kentucky Lake is arguably the most famous lake on the Tennessee River chain. It is massive, covering 160,309 acres of fishable water. Kentucky Lake is widely known for its vast amounts of ledges and bars.

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At least that’s what I think of when I hear about Kentucky Lake… deep cranking ledges!

It’s a ledge fisherman’s dream. However, Kentucky Lake is also famous for its vast number of shallow bushes and “yellow flowers” in the water during the spring.

Kentucky Lake has been in the news a lot recently due to the invasion of Asian Carp. While the lake has certainly taken a step back from what it once was, it is still alive and well.

A recent FLW Tour event that took place in May of 2018 took 101-pounds and 9-ounces to win over four days. That’s a testament that Kentucky Lake still has giant bass and is still deserving of a spot in the top five fisheries for bass fishing Tennessee.

Bass Fishing Tennessee: Parksville Lake

Parksville Lake is a small lake that flies under the radar of most bass fisherman in the state. It’s a very small body of water hosting only 1,930 acres of fishable water. Located in Benton, Tennessee, it’s formed by the crystal clear waters of the Ocoee River.  

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Parksville Lake is what I would consider a diamond in the rough. It’s arguably Tennessee’s premier spotted bass fishery. The lake is absolutely chock full of spotted bass. The lake was once featured on Kim Stricker’s “Hook N’ Look” TV show. The Tennessee state record spotted bass came from this lake weighing in at 7-pounds even back in March of 2014.

An angler can expect to find the lake full of wood cover along the bank and long sloping points. However, the lake does offer one interesting challenge.

Blueback Herring.

Herring make the fishery unpredictable from day to day. Anglers can expect to find a healthy population of spotted bass chasing these schools along with some healthy largemouth. Jerkbaits, drop shots, shaky heads, and small swimbaits are some of the more productive lures.

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Bass Fishing Tennessee: Dale Hollow Reservoir

Dale Hollow is no secret to any serious bass fisherman. Covering 27,700 acres, the lake is the premier smallmouth fishery in the state of Tennessee.

It’s arguably the best lake in the country for trophy smallmouth. In fact, the three biggest smallmouth ever weighed-in have come from Dale Hollow. The world record was caught here in July of 1955 weighing in at 11-pounds and 15-ounces. The second biggest weighing in at 10-pounds and 8-ounces.

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Any serious bass angler needs to visit this beautiful fishery.

The lake certainly doesn’t get the national attention it once did, but the nostalgia you feel when visiting is something every fisherman needs to experience. If you’re going to be bass fishing Tennessee, this is a must-stop kind of location.

Bass Fishing Tennessee: Center Hill Lake

Much like many lakes in the state of Tennessee, Center Hill is mostly overlooked by many serious anglers visiting the state. However, Center Hill is a premier location for all three major species of Black Bass. The largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass.

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Center Hill gives any angler an equal opportunity for a quality fish of any species.

The lake covers 18,220 acres. The lake would be considered a highland reservoir and is full of rock-based shoreline and ledges. However, the lake also boasts plenty of wood cover as well. Center Hill allows an angler to be diverse and fish how he or she wants given the time of year.

If you’re a serious angler or a not so serious angler, give these five lakes in the beautiful state of Tennessee a try. These lakes all offer other opportunities outside of fishing from hiking to rafting, to camping. Bring the family and enjoy a trip bass fishing Tennessee that you won’t soon forget!

Tennessee Musky Fishing with Guide Steven Paul

The morning was still with no wind to be found. It was one of the first steamy southern mornings of spring on my home waters. When Tennessee musky fishing, paying attention to fine details is key. I maneuvered my boat around the leading edge of a shallow sand flat, quietly working my Buchertail 500 Tinsel X-mas Tree spinner, just teasing the remnants of last year’s decaying weeds.

The surface temperatures were already creeping into the high 60’s; the trees had already bloomed, and were now wearing full foliage. All of the other anglers had moved on to the classic structures, but I was there to pursue a hunch. It was then, she made her move. The Buchertail had suspended mid-flight. From past experience, both success and failures, I knew to set the hook and set it hard. From that moment, I just held on tight for the all too familiar 50-inch class head shake.

Once she was out of the net and in the boat, I realized that this Southern mama hadn’t followed the rules. From her distended belly to the eggs she left behind on my bumper board, it was obvious that she had not gotten the memo: the spawn was over. All pseudo intellectual muskie hunters had claimed this “fact” with authority in the previous weeks, but this ol’ girl was proof positive that nothing is set in stone.

Using Patterns When Tennessee Musky Fishing

Traditional patterning seems to go out the window when dealing with the fish that call these waters home; and in the words of my friend from up North, “Southern Muskies are a tad puzzling.” It’s because of moments like these that I would like to share some of my own experience in decoding what is the Southern Musky.

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Sometimes when searching for a pattern, you must lay out all of the pieces and keep the big picture in sight, it seems like only then can you find the common themes and patterns.

Using this method, I have found that first key to tackling the Southern Musky lies in understanding water temperature.

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Using Water Temperature for Tennessee Musky Fishing

One hard learned lesson is that it doesn’t always matter what your surface readings are, but what lies beneath that hints toward Musky patterns. Early, in the first long days of spring, Southern waters begin to warm quickly. Surface temperature readings of high 60’s and low 70’s are far from unusual in March and April. You may even discover that by May, surface temps have neared 80 degrees.

It is important to remember that a large number of Southern reservoirs are supplied by colder mountain waters which begin their decent in the Appalachian and Smoky Mountain chains. Lakes, such as Fontana in North Carolina and Norris in Tennessee, are known to hold monster muskies and have depths as great as 200 feet. These lakes and others supply many of the downstream Reservoirs with cold flowage year around.

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It is this variable that can make gauging the Southern Muskies “seasonal staging” a slippery slope.

For example, I give you the big girl from April that hadn’t yet spawned despite one of the warmest winters on record and my mid-January topwater trophy. These fish alone required that commonly understood patterns could just be thrown out the window once you cross into Dixieland.

Seasonal Movements are Key When Tennessee Musky Fishing

The seasonal movements and “attitudes” of muskies in Southern waterways can be far removed from your surface readings. One way to tackle this is by using an inexpensive submersible thermometer. This will help you accurately gauge the temperature at various water depths. From here, you can narrow down target depths and understand a little more about the world below the surface.

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I like to measure the temperature in 5-foot increments. This allows me to narrow my search for the “goldilocks” zone, where conditions are the most agreeable for Muskies.

Also, some Southern waterways do not stratify and there is no obvious thermocline present to dictate maximum presentation depths. And though focusing on temperature bands from the high 50’s through low 70’s are obvious targets, sometimes finding that “magical” subsurface layer which gives the musky maximum comfort to hunt can lead to an unforgettable day.

How to Locate Your Target Areas

Another helpful key to our puzzle is dissecting any waterway into manageable target areas. Classic structure and cover is easy to find down South, but it can leave even the most experienced Musky angler frustrated when you keep knocking but nobody’s home. Imagine, you must narrow down a seemingly endless field of weed edge, standing timber, rocks, breaklines, river channels, points, open water, large creek mouths, islands, humps, reefs, marinas, sand flats, fish cribs, and lay downs, which are all subjected to changing river currents.

On top of all of this, you are up against waters that frequently rise and fall with the push of a button. These are just some of the conditions and factors you face on many Southern lakes and reservoirs. And although the endless acres of endlessly changing structure seems daunting, you must remember that when facing a behemoth, you must cut it down to a manageable size.

Whether it is your first trip south or you’re lucky enough to be a native, the key to success on these waterways is dissecting it into manageable sections with varying points of interest. In Southern waters, much like the giant Canadian lakes, you can’t fish it all in one day. I have found that the best approach when choosing how to begin, is finding a section of water that has multiple classic Musky holding areas and dissecting it thoroughly and efficiently using multiple presentations.

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More often than not, anglers find that fish are holding in areas outside of our comfort zone.

This is where it becomes paramount that your build self-confidence when casting to open water and breaklines, forgoing visible cover. Selecting target structure or cover based solely on the season in Southern waterways can also be a fool’s errand, as once again these Southern Muskies are not playing by the rules.

Tactics for Tennessee Musky Fishing Success

I have found that there are several tactics that can help you find success with all of these variables at play. A successful plan of attack can be to work a piece of shallow cover, then immediately follow that with the most nearby dramatic structural change. So instead of steadily trolling along a shoreline or weed edge, focus on working in block grids that include as many fish attracting elements as possible; for instance, fish a weed edge for a period, then the open water behind it, and follow that with the closest breakline, all staying within the same block area.

This is where presentation and lure selection becomes very important. Structure and cover, water temperature, weather, and forage dictate lure selection, but it is up to you to entice triggering qualities, all the while dialing in the rate of retrieve. A huge advantage in these hunting conditions is mastering multiple retrieves with one lure, varying speed and depth, thus getting the most from your lures and eliminating guesswork and missed opportunities.

Selecting the right locations to target can be a daunting task on any body of water, but to insure down south success, you need to come prepared to fish fast and effectively along all types of structure. By following the first key in finding the “goldilocks” zone for maximum activity, now we can add to that dissecting your waterway and being prepared for constantly changing conditions. It seems like a simple solution, be where the active fish are, and find out what turns them on.

Find the Forage to Maximize Tennessee Musky Fishing Success

One of my favorite things to tell friends and guests on my boat is “go big and go home empty handed”. It seems cheesy but it helps drive home another key to the Southern musky puzzle: forage dictates bait size not the date on the calendar.

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This point holds true especially in Southern waterways as the primary Musky forage is threadfin and gizzard shad.

Yes, some shad can grow to 10 to 12 inches in length, but the primary focus should be on the snack-sized forage, 3 to 7 inches. Southern Muskies will at times form ambush packs and rush schools of shad with frenzied attacks; these Muskies are not on the “eat one large meal” diet, so more times than not a four inch crankbait will out perform a 16 ounce hunk of rubber. One of the most important elements of locating any active Musky is understanding its forage base. Knowing this and utilizing your on-board electronics to locate bait movements, is key to finding these Muskies.

Shad have seasonal movements that contradict some of our traditional Musky thinking, but sometimes it’s better to follow the food and not the dogma that has been beat into our heads. Locating and properly presenting around schools of baitfish is sometimes the only way to contact active fish in mid-summer and early fall. Once located, I tend to lean on “matching the hatch” in size, but not color. A quickly retrieved Baby Shallow Raider in Firetiger has all of the moves of a wounded shad but stands out in the sea of silver baitfish.

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Another tactic would be vertically working a Single Blade spinnerbait.

This can grab a lot of attention falling just outside the edge of a roaming school. This tactic of using downsized lure presentations doesn’t apply to only working around bait schools; smaller minnow baits seem to excel in Southern waters year round. Smaller crankbaits, slowly worked around rocks and points can be a deadly presentation. So when tackling the lakes, rivers, and reservoirs of the South, remember that bigger isn’t necessarily always better, in fact, it usually never is.

The puzzle of Musky fishing is not always an easy one to solve, but there is an overarching theme: be where the active fish are and give them what they want. Sometimes, the pieces doesn’t always come together the way we think they should. Southern waters and reservoirs test our traditional notions of Musky behavior and movements, but not in a way that’s truly foreign or mysterious. Muskies, regardless of their longitude, have the same basic needs, sometimes we just need to break out of our comfort zone to find theirs.

To book a trip with Guide, Steven Paul, give him a call or visit his website!



Fishing Intelligence Podcast Ep. 11 | Lake Chickamauga Fishing Report

On this special episode of Fishing Intelligence, we are coming to you with a live stream from a recent content trip I did with Flukemaster, Alex Rudd Fishing, and Scott Beutjer. ANGLR provided us an opportunity to get together on the water at Lake Chickamauga in Tennessee to discuss ANGLR App features, work on educating ourselves about the app, and catching Chickamauga giants!

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We started off the podcast talking about how the fishing had been so far. The bite was not great and we had seen our only action by finding schooling fish and throwing flukes into the baitfish. We would then work the fluke back slowly and if you worked it just right you would be rewarded by seeing a fish blow up on your fluke just below the surface. However, the fish were being weak in their commitment and we all missed a lot of fish collectively. After talking about the bite, we moved to the webapp portion of ANGLR’s software and Gene ran his followers through the trip we had tracked. We started off at the Sale Creek boat ramp and quickly realized the fish were in grass after I missed a fish on a fluke right off the grass and Gene caught one on a chatterbait ripping it through the cover.

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We then moved from pocket to pocket with some success but didn’t have the greatest day on the water. As we were about to get off the water, Gene told me we would hit one more spot where he guaranteed a fish and sure enough it blew up on my fluke and I ended up losing it because I was using a spinning rod. After talking through our day, we fielded some questions about the Bullseye’s price and uses and then Gene discussed how he planned on using the app in the future as a tool to better teach the world how to fish. Overall, it was a great episode and thank you to Gene, Alex, and Scott for joining. Check them out by clicking their names for their channels!

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P.S. The next day after the podcast, while fishing with Gene, I caught my PB largemouth of 5.41 pounds on a fluke! Video of the day to come so stay tuned to the ANGLR YouTube Channel.

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