Crankbaits in Summer
By Patrick Kirmse
Crankbaits have several advantages over other lures especially when used in the warm waters of summer. You can cover water quickly and crankbaits target larger fish. Once water temperatures reach 75 degrees in the Fox River, crankbaits become the most effective lure. I will use crankbaits 90% of the time, it's not until the water temperature's drop to the sixties that other lures and live a bait start to produce more fish. Even then crankbaits often produce the largest fish from a particular spot. When the water temperatures reach 80 degrees and above this pattern really starts to shine. At high water temperatures fish must be played and released quickly. At high water temperatures smallmouth can die of the exertion of prolonged battles. This is why I recommend the use of medium spinning tackle and 6 lb. Fireline.
This allows the bass to be played and released quickly without exhausting the fish. Six-pound Fireline actually breaks at ten pounds and is very resistant to abrasions that would break monofilament lines of a comparable diameter. Since the crankbait must be bouncing of the bottom and rocks to trigger strikes, abrasion resistance is very important.
During summer most of the smallmouth will be in current or on current edges. The fish often move very shallow, feeding in moving water often one foot deep or less, but the majority of the fish will be caught at the two-foot level. This is probably due to light penetration levels. The current provides oxygen and food. Food this time of the year is primarily minnows and small sunfish. If the area has no baitfish, it won't have any smallmouth. At these high temperatures bass have a high metabolism. The bass will feed up to two times a day. So they will be near their food supply.
Crankbaits must do two things to catch a fish, move fast and bounce off the bottom and obstructions without hanging up. Some crankbaits spin to the surface when reeled fast others are not snag resistant. These are the crankbaits that I have had the most success with: Bomber 1/4 oz. Fat A, Rapala Rattling Fat Rap, Rapala Shad Rap, and the Crawdad. Color is usually not important; pick a color you have confidence in. Snaps (not snap swivels) make it much easier to change lures when using Fireline and do not interfere with the action of the crankbait. Even though Fireline is very abrasion resistant still cut back two feet of line every couple of hours of casting. Sharpen your hooks often, as the rocks will dull your hooks quickly. This is how I work an area I believe is holding fish. It is usually best to cast upstream. Try to cast upstream at least ten feet of where you think the fish are holding. This allows the crankbait to reach the bottom and move fast enough speed to trigger a strike. You can't reel faster than a smallmouth can swim and some days you need to reel very fast to trigger a strike.
Besides speed one other factor is needed to trigger a strike. The crankbait must be bouncing of the bottom. Many of the strikes will come as the crankbait hits a rock or other obstruction. It can be difficult to tell a strike from the lure hitting a rock, when in doubt set the hook. There are some spots and some days when the fish will hit the crankbait when it is retrieved up stream or across stream. It's best to fish a spot from as many angles as possible to see what the fish want. Often a different crankbait fished in the same spot will catch another fish or two.
Once you get a sense of feel for the speed and the lure bouncing off the bottom, I think you will see both the size of the bass and your catch rate increase!