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by Jim Porter

Sitting here in front of the word processor, I've been trying to recall how many tournaments I have seen won on a crank plug. It's been a bunch, for sure. I guess the next high winning lure has been the old jig and rind, but it is a fer piece behind. This month let's look into how and where to fish the mass producer of bass.

Back in the early 70's, I lived in central Virginia for a while. At that time, the Old Dominion bassers were fishing primarily with 20 pound line, 5/0 hooks and eight inch worms. On a rare occasions we'd see someone chunkin' a spinner bait or a crank plug, but those guys were few and far between. Buggs Island Lake and Lake Gaston were in their heyday then and if you wanted to use only a plastic worm, it really didn't matter much. Them old basses would eat the end off your rod most every day on most any lure. Gradually, though, the contemporary family of hard-bodied crank plugs began to come on the scene. The one that really kicked off the plug revival was the famous Big "O". It was highly publicized as the ultimate bass catcher and the boys were buying 'em up like mad. Pretty soon all you heard about was how the bass were hitting Big"O's" and nothing else. After a while it became evident to even the most casual observer why--that was the only lure in the water!! Of course that was the lure taking the bass. It was the only one being fished. You'd see guys with egg cartons full of them, handling those things like they were gold or something and afraid one would get broken. I remember it well. I had FOUR egg cartons, myself.

And, they caught their share of bass, too. A few well scarred veterans still adorn the wall of my den. The Big "O" had one major fault, however--it basically ran a certain depth and that was it. Oh, if you used a different size line, it could be made to run a foot or two shallower or deeper. But, generally speaking, four to five feet was its range.

We've learned a lot since those days. Primarily, we've learned that there is only one really significant question one should ask oneself when reaching in the old possum belly for a lure--"What is the depth range I want to fish?" That's it. The Prime Directive. The secret of the Pharaohs. Color, lure size, shape, brand name--they don't mean a thing unless we address the depth question first. And, even then, those other attributes don't really make a lot of difference.

An old bass is a predator. Mother nature gave him a physical built aimed at one major thing—EATING. The rascal is like the old fishy movie star, Jaws. He's made to eat and he'll take on anything that will fit (or come close to fitting) in that big old mouth. I'm sure you've all seen a hooked bass spit up a handful of partially digested shad. Now, you’d think that fish wasn't really hungry!! Heck, his belly was so full he couldn't have possibly eaten that Balsa B, even if it were food. Why did he jump on it than? His instincts tell him to grab whatever comes by and worry about what to do with it later. I've fed bass in a tank I keep and can say, for a fact, that three dozen shiners will more that satisfy the appetite of a pair of two pound largemouths. The interesting thing is what they do after they've eaten all they can. Those two bass will go around and kill all the rest of the shiners in the tank. Then, they hold as many in their mouths as they can, settle to the bottom, and occasionally swallow one as the belly space becomes available. If that ain't being a predator in capital letters, I don't know what is.

Being so aggressive and always on the ready for groceries, Mr. Bass really does you and me a favor. It makes him pretty easy to catch. The only hard part about filling the live well is finding him. Do that and you can pretty well catch him if you present a lure it front of his face. And, now, dear hearts, we have reached the core of our discussion.

We've got to find the bass first, right? In a number of our previous articles, we've given the methods to do that, so we'll assume we reasonably know how to isolate the productive water. The next requirement is to get the lure in front of old Hogjaw's face. Let us suppose that a school of them basses are hanging out on a creek channel break in 15 feet of water and our all-time favorite lure is the old Big "O"! Gonna slay them hawgs, ain't ye, Vern? Not hardly. Not unless you put a three ounce slip sinker in front of it. How about it if old Hermongous is laid up in a stump field in three feet of water? Gonna pull out the old Magnum Hellbender, huh? Of course not, and I don't mean to insult your intelligence by suggesting you might. These extreme examples are just to make a point--that is that the lure needs to be one which will run in the depth range that the bass are holding. This can be refined down to the point of making minor depth adjustments by changing the size of line being used or holding the rod tip higher or lower.

Bass will instinctively strike a moving object. Outside of Winter, the faster that object is traveling, the more likely we are to have him hit it. The predator instinct is that strong. He'll still hit it, even if not on a feed, but we might have to get it closer to him. The critter might not want to get up and go chase it too far, if he is in a fairly dormant state. What we're saying is that a lipped (diving) crank plug is probably the most productive lure a basser can use, IF he selects and uses it correctly.

Disregarding very shallow sub-surface lures, diving crank plugs generally fall within three depth categories:
  1. Shallow - 3 to 6 feet
  2. Mid-range - 7 to 12 feet
  3. Deep - 13 to 16 (below this depth we lose control and feel, unless trolling)
An angler's lure selection should accommodate these ranges fully. With a bit of practice, you will be able to tell the depth range of each of your lures and then be able to recall it for proper lure selection. One way to do this is to use the depth finder and note the depth of the area where the lure strikes bottom. Generally speaking, bass lay on, or very near, the bottom at all times, unless up in the shallow bank areas on an active feed. Crank plug are most productive when they are just clipping the bottom or the structure feature.

Prime reasons to fish a diving crank plug religiously are fourfold:
  1. You have positive depth control.
  2. You can cover a lot of water and catch your fish in a short period of time (essential in tournament fishing!).
  3. You are much more likely to trigger an instinctive strike.
  4. And lastly, but pretty important, we catches lots of fish.
So, if you want to significantly improve you bass fishing success, you simply must learn to properly select and present a diving crank plug.

Remember, a "cranky" fisherman is usually a happy fisherman!!


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