With the right rods, reels and line, your prospects for cold-water bass success start to heat up quickly.
When it’s cold and you need to cover some water in search of active bass, crankbaits are an ideal way to effectively hit small targets and trigger heart-warming “reaction” strikes. Realize that a crankbait reaction strike from a largemouth in cold water isn’t exactly the hard, shoulder-jarring “thump” you get in the post-spawn period, but it’s hard to complain about strike quality when you’re battling good-sized bass on an otherwise bone-chilling day.
… slowing down your presentation to give the bass a few extra seconds to swim out and grab your lure will make a big difference. Frequent pauses around key cover areas will also increase strikes, as baitfish will often twitch and pause when the water is cold.
Colder water reduces the movements of every cold-blooded creature living in it. If you have ever tried to tie a palomar knot when it’s 40 degrees (or less), you know the feeling of reduced dexterity. You will want to tap into this mindset when cold cranking. To put it another way, fish can be the ultimate conservers of energy in cold water. It’s all about moving as little as possible to retain the most nutrients. The fishes’ metabolism slows down as well, reducing the need to feed as often. Of course, slowing down your presentation to give the bass a few extra seconds to swim out and grab your lure will make a big difference. Frequent pauses around key cover areas will also increase strikes, as baitfish will often twitch and pause when the water is cold.
USE THE RIGHT REEL
Slowing down is a huge key to cold-cranking success. There are a few helpful tools to help you effectively slow down your presentation, but it all begins with a lower-gear-ratio reel. Such a reel will not only offer you more cranking power, it will also physically assist you in achieving a consistently slower retrieve. Bass fishermen often experiment with certain “cadences” and “rhythms” to determine what types of retrieves the fish favor from one day—even one moment—to the next. And when it comes to fishing consistently slowly, using a low-speed reel helps immensely. I make sure to keep a few round-style baitcasters with ratios as low as 4:3:1 handy in the late fall and winter, when I know I’ll be cold-cranking. As a side benefit, once you start catching fish using a low-speed retrieve, it’s much easier to make the mental adjustment to slow down with most any reel.
Use small-diameter, 8- to 10-pound fluorocarbon to maximize lure depth and action.
THE BENEFITS OF LIGHT LINE
Your fishing line can be another aid to achieving a slow presentation. A small-diameter fluorocarbon line will not only help keep your crankbait down at a slower speed, fluorocarbon is more dense than braid or monofilament, and will actually sink. I often use 8- to 10-pound fluorocarbon when cold cranking, and the smaller diameter also helps to give my crankbaits better action. This is especially important when using “tighter-wobble” crankbaits.
SOFT RODS RULE
A soft-action rod is critical for hooking and landing the soft-biting bass that are often associated with cold cranking. Most of my cold cranking is done with a 7-foot, medium-action glass composite rod. I like the slower reaction of the glass composite, which prevents me from reacting too quickly to a strike. More often than not, faster, stiffer rods will pull your lure away from soft-biting lips, preventing a good solid hookset. In addition, I also keep a medium-light action rod handy for lighter, smaller crankbaits, such as Rapala Shad Raps.
The author prefers tight-wobble cranks in clear water; suspending models shine as water temps plummet.
MATCH CRANKS TO THE WATER
Tight-wobble and flat-sided crankbaits are traditional cold-water standbys, but really, most any crankbait can work well in cold water if you can slow it down. Most of the time, I choose my crankbait actions based more on water clarity than water temperature. I like a tighter-wobble crankbait in clear-water lakes, and any time where water quality is relatively high. Crankbaits that are slower rising, or able to suspend, will be more and more effective as the water gets colder, similar to jerkbaits.
Some of the cold-water crankbaits I rely on consistently include the Rapala Shad Rap, Storm Wiggle Wart, Jackall Jaco, Jackall D Cherry, and Lucky Craft Big Daddy Strike. Most of these baits have the ability to dive up to 8 feet on 8-pound fluorocarbon line.
A WORD ABOUT HOOKS
Can your crankbait hooks help you realize more cold-cranking success? My answer would be “yes.” I prefer to fish round-bend treble hooks in the colder months, as opposed to extra-wide-gap trebles (EWGs). I think my hookups are better with standard round bends, even though they are somewhat easier for a fish to shake out of its mouth. In the colder months, jumping becomes less of a problem, but hook penetration becomes more difficult. The reason why lies in a fish’s mouth—it becomes harder in the colder water.
A SHALLOW WATER GAME
Even on the coldest of days, when the goal is a cold-cranking presentation, I’ll be looking for areas in water from 2 to 10 feet deep; I’ll reserve more vertical presentations for deeper fish. For productive cranking I like areas of good cover such as rocks, vegetation, and stumps that are near deep-water areas and creek channels. If it is a sunny day, I concentrate on looking for areas that will be holding warmer water—possibly near the backs of major creeks, or main lake pockets. Main lake rip rap areas can also be excellent places for cold cranking.
Wondering if cold cranking is a smart technique for your local lake? Good populations of crawfish and bluegill are good indicators. Bright colors like red, yellow, and orange usually stack up better for cold cranks because they mimic these desirable prey species. Keep in mind that maintaining good bottom contact is one of the best ways of triggering a cold-cranking reaction bite; be sure to check your hooks regularly for sharpness so you don’t miss any light-striking whoppers!