Cold Water Cranking with Brent Ehrler

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BrentEhrlerColdCrankingRipRapOne of the most often overlooked ways to catch fish in the early spring is by throwing a crankbait. They are very popular around the country in late spring through fall, but they are often a neglected tool when bass begin moving from their winter haunts toward spawning areas.

To me, crankbaits are the perfect tool for targeting two areas that bass use in their winter to spring transition. In most of the country, bass are in between one of two areas this time of year; on secondary points heading into spawning areas, or in the backs of creeks feeding and preparing for the spawn.

I really think about the techniques of catching them as two separate approaches, but seeing that they are interrelated, I’ll discuss both here. There is the deep approach, and the shallow approach, and they are unique to themselves.

To start with, let’s talk about bait selection. I’ll use two types of baits for shallow water, and two types for deep water; both depend on the mood of the fish.

If they are in a colder water scenario, I’ll use the new SKT series designed by my Lucky Craft teammate Skeet Reese; this is not the original SKT Mini, but the new larger version. However, if the water is warmer, then a Fat CB BDS3 is perfect in shallow water, and a Flat CB DR in deeper water.

The difference between the baits is in the action and the sound. The SKT has a really tight wiggle, and no rattles that is tailor made for targeting fish in 48 to 55-degree water. Once the water climbs above that level, the fish get more aggressive and the wider wobble comes into play; that’s when I turn to the BDS or Flat CB series.

For equipment in deeper water, I use a Lucky Craft 7’ medium heavy BDS rod, with a 5.1:1 BrentEhrlerColdCrankingRetrieveretrieve Abu Garcia Revo Winch with 10-pound Sunline FC Sniper fluorocarbon line. For the shallow runners I use a 7’ medium action Lucky Craft Fat Mini Magic rod with a 6.4:1 SKT Revo and 12 to 14-pound test Sniper fluorocarbon.

The reason for the two different rods is a matter of the hookset and casting accuracy. The deeper diving baits are heavier, thus, I can cast them further, which is a good thing, but it adds the dynamic of additional line stretch into the equation. I can make a long cast, drive the bait into the strike zone, and still have enough muscle to firmly plant the hooks in their mouths. One thing that has helped has been changing out the stock hooks for Gamakatsu trebles. They are super sharp and strong, which helps me penetrate easier and land more fish.

The lighter action rods are perfect for placing accurate casts in shallow water. Shallow, square billed type crankbaits are built to crash around cover, and to take advantage of their propensity for coming through snags and obstructions, making accurate casts is a must. With a lighter tip, it is easier to whip these baits around and place them into tight spaces.

I always start with a standard retrieve for each approach. For cranking deep water, I begin with a steady, medium retrieve with the slower gear ratio reel. This insures that the crankbait will run to its proper depth range, and will allow me to feel every wobble it makes.

In shallow water, the fish that are up there are looking to eat something, so I turn the handles of the Revo a little faster, at a medium fast retrieve, because I want the bait to bang around a bit, to hunt in its track, creating a disturbance and cause the bass to react.

BrentEhrlerColdCrankingLandingOne tip I would give is to make sure you stay in tune with what your bait is doing. I found in three separate occasions in the past, at Table Rock Lake, the California Delta and again at Lake Guntersville, that the adrenaline of being in a tournament caused me to reel too quickly. If that happens, slow down, and mentally talk yourself through your retrieve; tell yourself when you contact rock, wood or grass, and you will begin to get in tune with your lure’s action.

Outside of being in tune with the lure, the big thing is to find the stage the bass are in. Start at secondary points in the mouth of a creek, and work your way to the flats in the back of the tributary. This time of the year, they are somewhere in between heading towards spawning areas and setting up in them for pre-spawn.

While so many anglers are looking for finesse tactics to produce their catches this time of year, try turning to crankbaits. They are often overlooked, and I assure you, an awesome way to put quality bass in your livewell.