FLAT SIDE CRANKBAITS
article by KENNY COVINGTON
Here in our part of the country, January is an odd month for consistent weather. If you get a week of stable warm weather you would almost swear the fish were ready for their annual spring migration to the shallows to begin spawning. Then, the very next week, it can turn so cold you have to almost talk yourself into walking outside to take the trash out. Such is the month of January but that doesn’t mean the bass won’t bite.
One January morning several years ago, I received a phone call from my team partner, Lee King. “Hey man, I think I am about to head to the lake, you want to go?” Looking at the ice still hanging off my roof, I politely told him no thank you but for him to call me if he did any good. Not expecting my phone to ring any time soon, I returned my focus to the ballgame I was watching. It wasn’t more than a couple of hours later when I got a picture message from him that was a three-pound bass laying on the deck of his boat with a small shallow crankbait swallowed to the back of his throat. My initial thought was Lee had stumbled on the one stupid fish that was out looking for a meal and the fish was probably starving, so Lee just happened to catch it.
Later, as I was grilling him about his frigid trip, Lee told me the water temperature was in the high 30’s and he’d caught that fish off a windy, rocky bank in about four feet of water. The depth in which he caught the fish didn’t surprise me, however, his choice of lure did. He was using a Bandit Flat Maxx, a flat sided crankbait that runs about six feet deep. A crankbait? In 40-degree water? Where would he get such an idea?
Lee told me about watching an episode of In-Fisherman, and they were fishing a lake that was a week removed from being covered in ice and they were catching huge smallmouth bass in shallow frigid water on a Shad Rap. “I figured if Al Linder could catch them under those conditions, why not try to do the same thing here?” I had to admit he had a point and since that time, fishing a flat sided crankbait for cold water bass has become a staple in our tournament arsenal.
The first thing you may ask yourself, why a flat-sided crankbait? Well, the reasons are many, but I have a few theories of my own. One, I don’t think fish see many of. Two, they look very natural and do not put of any negative vibes to the fish as most of them are subtle moving, non-rattling or softer sounding baits. When it is cold, they don’t require a lot of “fishing”, you simply throw them out and wind them back in with a slow steady retrieve. But, most importantly, they catch fish, in both numbers and size.
When I was researching my own tackle for this article, I found several versions of flat sided crankbaits, in all shapes, sizes and colors in my tackle boxes. As a refresher, I also analyzed where and why I used these lures. The smaller handmade balsa versions work better in clearer water lakes like Caney and Claiborne. The larger, louder versions such as the Bandit Flat Maxx work well in more stained bodies of water such as Darbonne and the Ouachita River.
The Shad Rap, a proven fish catcher regardless of the time of year, has been the standard cold-water crankbait since its inception. How good of a fish catcher is a Shad Rap? When the Shad Rap was first introduced, it was difficult to find and even harder to purchase, so tackle shops would allow anglers to rent a lure for a day. That’s hard to comprehend but it happened a lot, especially on lakes with on the water tackle shops with these lures in stock but not wanting to sell them to the public.
Another lure from Rapala, the OG Slim 6, designed by professional angler Ott Defoe and the Berkley Frittside 5 designed by crankbait guru David Fritts have also become favorites. Both have proven deadly for fall and winter fishing and while I can’t say I prefer one over the other for specific scenarios, I believe the Frittside catches more numbers while the OG Slim 6 catches a better-quality fish. Another flat sided style of crankbait a lot of anglers forget about this time of year is the Rat L Trap. No matter if it is the original Rat L Trap or the Strike King Red Eyed Shad, these lures are versatile fish catchers. You can burn them, use a yo-yo or a stop and go retrieve or simply slow roll them like you would a spinnerbait. One of the biggest wintertime stringers I have ever caught was on a ½ ounce chrome/blue Rat L Trap, fished on a lake with ice still in abundance on the shoreline. The fish were relating to the outside edge of a grass flat and just ticking the grass with the lure was the key. The strikes were not jarring but simply a sense of having a leaf caught on your bait, but the size of the bass caught were staggering.
Speaking of grass, if your favorite body of water has an abundance of it or even just areas of sparse amounts, this is a great place to look for bass this time of year, regardless of how cold the water is. This is where the Trap style lures shine. If the grass is dead or dying, the fish will still use these areas, not because of the added heat as most would believe but more because a bass food chain feeds heavy off the decaying, dying grass. Shad, minnows, and crayfish all use these areas, making it much easier for a larger bass to grab an easy meal.
Since we are already touching on the subject, let’s discuss some other types of places these lures can be effective this time of year. One of my favorite areas to look for are rip-rap banks or seawalls. I also like harder bottoms, no matter if it is rock, old shell beds, or sand. These types of areas, even in the cold of winter, have proven effective for holding catchable fish. I have always believed larger fish pull shallower much earlier than most people realize, and harder bottoms seem to draw big fish like magnets.
Most of the focus for this article has been the flat side’s effectiveness in cold water but I have also had good luck using one other seasons of the year. I won an event this past fall using the Frittside 5 and have won events in the heat of the summer using a Norman Thin N. I have found the Thin N to be an excellent substitute for a spinnerbait especially when used in heavily stained or muddy water. By now you may be thinking, what about colors? Well, I keep things simple. I use shad patterns in the summer and fall and I like crawfish or red patterns in the spring. My favorite off the wall color is Firetiger. For whatever reason it works well on cloudy, rainy days and surprisingly, is a good choice for clear water.
When it comes to fishing flat sided crankbaits, I use a 6’8 or a 7’0 glass rod, depending on how precise my casting needs to be and a 6.3:1 reel. Most of the time my choice is 12 lb. line. I will go to 15 if the cover is heavier or if I am fishing around a lot of wood. When it comes to retrieve speed on the flat sides, a slower moderate retrieve seems to work best.
Well, it looks as though we have run out of time and space again for another month. I sincerely hope we have shared with you some information that will help you put a few more fish in your boat on your next fishing trip. No matter if you are in the woods or on the water this winter, please take extra caution and if you happen to be fishing, catch one for me! See you next month!