Many fishermen turn to topwater lures when bass and other gamefish are feeding in shallow water. It’s certainly exciting to see a bigmouth or smallmouth slam into a chugger wobbling across the surface of a calm lake or the Shenandoah River. But sometimes fish will hang out in thin water but still be reluctant to strike lures on the surface.
That’s the time to break out the shallow-diving crankbait. When these wobbling baits shimmy through skinny water, there’s something about the action that drives gamefish crazy. Slamming strikes are commonplace. Originally crankbaits were considered medium or deep-water offerings. The big lips pulled the lures down 6-12 feet. But soon companies began offering shorter-lipped versions that had the same bulk and shimmying action but dove only 12-36 inches.
The Mann’s One-Minus was the first “one foot-or-less” diving crankbait ever created. Most shallow crankbaits dive a bit deeper than this, but all target fish in 2-5 feet of water or less.
These lures can be productive throughout spring, summer and fall. The only time I wouldn’t tie one on is during winter, when fish are usually hanging out in deeper water.
Both plastic and wood models can be effective. Wood models are more buoyant and land more softly if the fish are in a wary mood. The plastic versions cast farther and fool plenty of fish when they’re in an aggressive feeding mode. The best bet is to keep both versions in your tacklebox and experiment each day on the water with different models and sizes as well as various colors.
For dingy or muddy water, plastic versions seem to work best. For crystal clear lakes and ponds and the Shenandoah River or other nearby smallmouth waters, go with wood versions. Top colors include silver with a blue or black back, chartreuse and hot orange, or shad colors.
Try various retrieves, but the most productive one is usually a steady moderate to fast reeling motion. You want to goad fish into making instinctive strikes as the bait wobbles enticingly past them.
When the fast retrieve doesn’t produce, slow it down. You can even work these as surface lures by just barely cranking them back extra slowly. This makes them create a v-wake on the surface. Also try subtle twitches as you ease it back. If this doesn’t tempt your quarry, try jerking the rod more forcefully so the lure dives a foot or two, then floats up like a wounded shad.
One of the best places to try the slower twitching or jerking retrieves is around a pile of rocks or wood structure such as submerged brush or a log. Let the lure float up right next to the cover and a slamming strike could be your reward.
These are terrific lures for comb-casting when you think fish are scattered and have to try to locate them by covering lots of water. Work points, grass beds, flats, drop-offs, stumps, docks, and bridge pilings. Up until late June these lures could produce all day long. After that, they’re generally best reserved for early morning and late evening.
An exception would be during the dog days of summer when you see shad or gamefish breaking water on the surface. Reeling a shallow-diving plug through the surface commotion is an excellent tactic at these times.
Another advantage of these lures when fishing in shallows near cover is that you can run them right over top of the structure without getting hung up. You can even try knocking the plugs into the stumps or logs you come upon. Then pause and let the lure back off so it doesn’t hook into the wood. The noise and disturbance of the crankbait smacking into the wood often draws strikes from riled up bass, pike, walleyes, and pickerel, and occasionally jumbo crappies.
No, don’t abandon your deep-diving crankbaits. But when fish are in thin water, as they often are now, tie on a shallow-diving crankbait and give it a try. You won’t regret it when a pot-bellied bass slams into your lure and starts tail-walking across the surface.
That’s a thrill most anglers never get tired of.