Most river fisherman are hung up on the tube and jig thing. That’s all they fish and hardly throw crankbaits for smallies, especially on the river. More than likely, 90% of the anglers that head to rivers for bass, especially in the spring and fall, don’t even have a crankbait in their boat. Load your tackle box with some crankbaits and give them a try, you just might put that rubber and hair away for smallies.
Early spring, pre-spawn and post-spawn is the time to land monster smallies on crankbaits. Crankbaits also work well in the early fall, and some anglers fish them all year long with great success. These anglers, termed "Hard Bait Anglers", never use any sort of rubber baits or jigs. They always seem to come up with a crankbait that will produce by matching the color, size and action that the fish are into. Crankbaits with tight wobbles seem to work best on rivers for smallies. Tight wobble crankbaits without rattles in them work well in cold clear water conditions while wide wobble crankbaits with rattles work best in warm stained and cloudy water. Here are some techniques and gear for getting started with crankbaits for bass fishing.
River fishing, like most fishing environments, means you try to mimic the natural forage sources for bass in most situations. Crawfish variteies work best but others including shad and minnow variations are also productive for smallmouth bass. Selection is vast in most outdoor shops, so which crankbaits are the best? Our favorites include the Strike King KVD Square Bill, Storm Wiggle Wart and RC2.
Fairly long rods, 7-7 ½ foot with a medium action and fast tip, are your best bet for fishing crankbaits. Remember the longer the rod, the longer you can cast the bait to cover more water. Both glass and graphite rods work equally well depending on preference. Glass rods are considered slower and will bend somewhere in the middle giving you more play helping to set the hook. Graphite rods are much stiffer and will enable you to feel every wobble of your bait, but you have to be careful not to jerk the bait from the fish when he strikes. Avoid heavy stiff rods for fishing crankbaits and take your time, get the feel and decide which rod suits you best.
Baitcasting reels are a must for using crankbaits for bass fishing. Top of the list are Shimano and Lew’s baitcasting reels. Baitcasting reels with a low gear ratio, 4:1 or 5:1, are ideal for running crankbaits. Higher gear ratios, say 6:1 or 7:1, require you to be more aware of the retrieve, slower is better in most river fishing situations for smallies.
Line pound test is less crucial when fishing rivers because you are usually fishing shallow water, say 2-6 feet. When fishing lakes the size of your line is important because the smaller pound test you use will enable your bait to go deeper. Monofliament fishing line is good in cold water as it doesn't get stiff like flurocarbon, which is more difficult to manage in cold conditions. Stick with 8-12 lb test for good crankbait action.
Take time to add bigger hooks to your crankbaits, especially the belly hook. Hook sets are better, resulting in fewer lost fish when standard hooks are replaced with larger ones. Don't go crazy on hooks size, however, use one to two sizes up from the standard.
Keep paint markers in your tackle bag to add and change colors on crankbaits. These can also be used to mark productive lures with the best action. You also might want to have some sort of lure retriever in your boat. Some of the crankbaits are pretty pricey, and you don’t want to loose even one to a rocky river bottom snag.
Crankbaits can catch fish all year long and are effective in most any situation. These baits come in multiple colors, shapes and sizes. The crankbait is just a versatile bait that catches fish that many river anglers often overlook. Some of you diehard tube and jig anglers should try putting down your rubber and hair, and go out and get yourself a hand full of crankbaits to open up whole other technique for catching river smallies.