I once heard Bassmaster Elite Series Pro Angler Greg Hackney say that he can “…make a fish bite with a crankbait.” He continued by saying “…because a fish is kind of like a dog. No matter how good of a dog he is you can make ’em bite.” Since poking a stick through a fence won’t work for a bass what’s the magic formula to making it bite? The answer may partially lie in the art of presentation via the retrieval. Let’s look at an example to illustrate some points:
It’s a beautiful day. The sun is out, a slight breeze is blowing and it’s lunch time. You settle down to enjoy your meal and suddenly a pestering fly takes on the persona of Tom Cruise in Top Gun. Ole “Maverick” is coming in to buzz your tower and spoil your peace. First it flies right by your noggin causing your head to flinch. Next it hits your fingers holding your beloved BLT sandwich. You flail your hand to try and shoo the quarter inch pain in the posterior away. Next, as a coup de grace, the fly zooms up to your face and hovers a mere inch from your eye. You instinctively grab for the fly with your Cheeto stained free hand.
Your head moving, your hand shooing, and your grab for the pest are all reactionary actions. You don’t think about it, you just do it. This is why a crankbait is considered a “reaction bait”, because the fish isn’t necessarily biting out of hunger. It’s biting because your goading it into an involuntary, non-hunger induced reaction.
So, let’s put yourself in the place of the fly and run through some progressions. You’ve got your favorite Skirmish crankbait tied on and you’re going to give Billy Bad Bass enough incentive where he can’t ignore your masterly hand painted crankbait any longer.
First Progression: The Steady Retrieve
Probably the retrieve most new anglers use. Throw it out and real it back. It can be effective but the fish need to be in a more aggressive, or arguably a hunger driven, mood. Like the fly buzzing by your head in the example above, a crankbait rolling in and steadily rolling on can cause an action but not necessarily the aggressive bite reaction we are looking for.
Second Progression: Bang It Into Something!
This is a big one and where most strikes occur. Make sure your crankbait is either bouncing along the bottom or colliding into something. Like the fly above your hand will move if a fly runs into it. It’s just instinct. If the bass are relating to wood, brush, or rock don’t be afraid to send that Skirmish hunter killer in there and let it deflect off of that cover. Hitting something near the bass causes the crankbait to rapidly change direction and, as a by-product, creates a slight pause in the retrieve. Bass are opportunistic predators and many times nature will dictate that they react by biting.
Third Progression: The Pause
Here’s a nugget I’ve watched some of the best crankbait fisherman I know, or watched pros, do. Let’s say you’re moving down a bank that doesn’t have a lot of cover. Like the fly above that hovers in front of your face we want our crankbait to do the same. You can reel the crankbait down to running depth, and then give it a short pause. Real it a few turns and then pause. Or, like I’ve seen Elite Series crankbait expert Kevin Short do, the pull and pause. Just like it sounds you reel down the crankbait to running depth, pull the bait, pause while reeling back in the slack and then pull again. Rinse and repeat. In this action you try to mimic our hovering fly with the pauses. A bass will have trouble passing up an easy meal that swims up and pauses right in front of it.
While you’re out this season with your Skirmish crankbait tied on try these methods and watch your strike percentages increase. If your friends take notice and ask you what your secret is, just smile and say “fly fishing!”
— Justin Phillips