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Shallow-Water Crankin'
written by Don Wirth

A short-billed crankbait fished slowly through the shallows is potent on springtime bass.
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 big bass on shallow crankbait

 In early spring, a shallow crankbait fished around wood cover is dynamite for big bass.

One of the hottest trends in bass fishing has been the use of shallow-running crankbaits. This is curious, considering that the development came on the heels of the depth craze, a bass fishing revolution that saw lure manufacturers competing to create crankbaits capable of diving 20, 25 even 30 feet deep.

Jim Gowing, lure designer for PRADCO, a Fort Smith, Ark. lure manufacturer, feels changing habitat conditions have helped create an ideal environment for shallow crankin'. "Nationwide, many lakes have seen a proliferation of shallow weed growth. On many lakes, vast beds of milfoil, hydrilla, coontail and other fast-growing varieties are literally choking the shallows, often where there was no aquatic vegetation a decade ago," Gowing said. "These so-called 'junk weeds' provide sensational bass cover, and the latest shallow-running crankbaits, like our Excalibur Swim'n Image shad imitator, are perfect for probing that narrow band of water between the surface and the vegetation. These baits aren't weedless, but they're well-suited to working water on the top and outer edges of thick vegetation."

Bass pro Rick Clunn feels weekend anglers will catch more bass in highly pressured waters by switching from their usual bank-probing artificials to shallow crankbaits. "Over time bass become conditioned not to strike lures they see over and over again," he pointed out. "This fact was made apparent to me during practice for a recent tournament. I was fishing down a bank behind several other local anglers, all of whom were using spinnerbaits and not getting strikes. I used a shallow-diving crankbait in the same water they had just fished, and caught several big bass. I believe the bass in this lake had been conditioned not to bite spinnerbaits, but they jumped all over the crankbait."

"Shallow crankbaits had been largely neglected by lure manufacturers and bass fishermen alike,"  said Tom Seward, designer for Worden's Lures in Granger, Wash. "Until lately, mediocrity reigned in the shallow-lipped-crankbait category -- there were very few good lures available. It's much easier to design a deep-diver than a shallow-diver. Merely shortening the lip won't cut it. Attaining the correct body movement and vibration in a shallow-runner is a real challenge."  

Shallow Crankbait Styles 

  shallow crankbaits

Retrieve short-billed crankbaits slowly over grassbeds and through brush. Lipless baits can be "burned" over submerged grass, stumps and rocks. 

Shallow crankbaits come in two basic styles:

Short-lipped crankbaits   --  Unlike those long-billed deep-divers, these shallow-running lures have a short lip. Many are capable of diving only one to three feet on 10-pound. line. Crankbaits with short diving lips vary widely in shape -- some are cylindrical like a living baitfish (Excalibur Swim'n Image); others short and plump, more toadlike than fishlike (Mann's 1-Minus); still others are thin with flat sides (Storm ThinFin, Poe's RC series). Each style produces its own distinct movements, vibrations and sounds. Many bassers find slender, flat-sided baits work best on sluggish bass in cold water (they're quieter and emit tighter vibrations), while the more rounded varieties, many of which are filled with noisemaking rattles and swim with a wide wobble, tend to produce better in warm water. Because they float at rest, shallow lipped crankbaits can be retrieved at an extremely slow pace over grassbeds and through submerged brush, stumps and rocks to tempt bass that aren't actively feeding. 

Lipless crankbaits   (Lewis Rat-L-Trap, Cordell Spot, etc.) --  These popular lures vary little from one brand to another. They all have flat sides, a hollow interior chamber loaded with shot or rattles to create a loud chattering sound, and no diving lip at all. Most sink at rest; a few models float or suspend. Lipless cranks are designed to be "burned" quickly over submerged grassbeds, stumps and rocks, creating extreme noise and vibrations that trigger strikes from aggressive bass. While most popular in shallow water, lipless cranks, unlike short-lipped lures, can be fished at any depth, even counted down or vertically jigged for deep suspended bass.

Shallow cranks demand the right tackle. Rods should deliver maximum casting distance and plenty of shock absorption. A long rod with a soft tip section will allow you to cast these often-compact lures to the nether-reaches of shallow structure, and also makes it harder for hooked bass to throw them.

High-speed reels are a popular choice for these lures, especially the lipless versions, but heed this warning: as speed increases, winching power decreases.  While a fast-retrieve reel might be fine for fishing shallow crankbaits across a slick river bar for 2-pound schoolies, it's inadequate for pulling an 8-pound largemouth out of a glob of milfoil. A more powerfully geared reel with a standard retrieve ratio is a better all-around choice for shallow crankin'.

Use abrasion-resistant lines testing at least 10 to 12 pounds with shallow runners, and check your line for nicks constantly -- gravel, brush and rocks will chew it up quickly. The new super-strong braided lines are ideal for this application, provided the water is stained (they're more visible than mono lines). Most weekend bassers are shocked to learn that tournament pros routinely fish shallow cranks on 20- and 25-pound line. Besides offering increased abrasion resistance, heavy line makes these baits run even shallower -- nice to know when crankin' cover that almost kisses the surface. 

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