Gerald Almy: Crankbaits ideal for fishing in shallows

Gerald Almy

When bass, pike and walleye venture into thigh-deep water, many anglers turn to topwater plugs. While these can be effective and are exciting to use, sometimes skinny-water fish just won’t surface feed.

That’s the time to turn to shallow-diving crankbaits. There’s something about the wobbling action of these baits shimmying through thin water that drives gamefish mad. They work exceptionally well in the Shenandoah River and nearby ponds and lakes.
Originally crankbaits were thought of as medium or deep-water lures. Companies soon realized, however, that shorter-lipped versions that had the same bulk, wiggle and fat-minnow shape of the originals could be hot producers for thin-water fishing. Some of these lures dive just 12 inches, others as much as two or three feet deep.
The Mann’s One-Minus was the first foot-or-less diving crankbait ever offered. Most other offerings in this category probe a bit deeper. Both types of lures are perfect for any time from spring through fall when fish are in the shallows and feeding heavily on minnows, shad and crayfish.

Both wood and plastic models can be effective. Plastics cast farther, but wood has more buoyancy and lands softly if fish are in a skittish, wary mood. Keep a selection of both types on hand and choose one or the other according to the fishing situation you face.

For turbid water, use plastics. For clear lakes and ponds and the Shenandoah River, go with wood versions. As for color, either match the local forage or stick with proven standards such as silver and black, silver and blue, chartreuse, shad, or firetiger.

The best retrieve with these baits is steady at a moderate to fast speed. You want to goad fish into making instinctive strikes as the bait wobbles frantically past them.

If this doesn’t produce, sometimes a slow, plodding retrieve will. Another alternative is to work the crankbait as a surface lure. Cast out and twitch it on top so it quivers seductively. If that doesn’t draw a strike, try jerking the rod so it dives a foot or two, then floats up like a wounded minnow. This is especially good when you come to a log or rock and a steady retrieve past it fails to draw a strike.

Since they are most effective at moderate and fast retrieves, these are great searching lures to turn to when you think fish are shallow but they’re scattered and you need to locate them. Work flats, points, grass bed edges and any visible cover such as stumps, rocks, docks, sunken logs or bridge pilings.

Because they dive so little, you can work these lures right over structure with few hangups. When stumps or logs are particularly shallow, try knocking the plugs into them, then pausing to let the lure back off and float free. The noise and disturbance of the crankbait smacking into the wood often draws jarring strikes from angry bass, pike, walleyes, and pickerel.

No, don’t abandon your moderate and deep-diving crankbaits. But when fish are shallow, as they often are in spring and early summer, give shallow-diving versions a try. You won’t regret it when a feisty pickerel or heavy bass nails your lure and starts wallowing raucously in the thin water. It may not be quite as exciting as topwater fishing, but it definitely rates a close second place.

Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.