Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Going Deep: Crankbaits

Part One: Cranking Cover with the Jackall MC/60
By Jason Sealock

Reading FLW Outdoors Magazines on a regular basis, you’ve probably noticed numerous articles on crankbaits – choosing the right ones, where and when to fish them, what the differences are between different properties and more. For some great crankbait tips go back and check out our March 2009 issue, May 2009 issue and our July 2009 issue.

One particular subject of interest to us personally that we’ve not covered much has been cranking shallow cover. We ran a piece on shallow cranking in general a couple years ago, but we’ve been doing quite a bit of shallow cranking this year on stump flats, around laydowns and other various shallow cover with great success and we’ve familiarized ourselves with a few new baits since then.

I have several favorites when it comes to shallow cranking. A Bomber Flat A, a Lucky Craft RC 1.5, and a Rapala DT6 are staples in my tackle box, and I throw them often when I’m fishing shallow. I’ve found certain banks, areas and even lakes where the fish just seem to bite one better than the other, so none of them are indispensable.

But one new lure I’ve found a new appreciation for this year is a Jackall MC/60. I’ve thrown both the SR (shallow runner) and MR (medium runner) a lot this year, and I was able to pull David Swendseid, Product Specialist Manager at Jackall – someone who thoroughly understands the science behind bait design, aside at ICAST and in several interviews since then, and he broke down this particular bait.

The Basics of Design

Crankbaits are tools. They can plow deep grass beds or rattle the bark off shallow logs. They can be burned, slow rolled, ripped and waked. They range in size from a thumbnail up to the size of your hand. And color offerings between all the manufacturers run the spectrum. What separates one tool from another is functionality.

The MC/60 was designed to be an all-terrain crankbait by lure-design mastermind, Seiji Kato. “The desire in building this crankbait was three fold,” Swendseid said. “First, Kato had to create a crankbait with actions similar to a perfectly balanced wood crankbait. But next, it had to have displacement characteristics able to push a significant amount of water. And last, it had to be capable of instantly regaining trajectory after colliding with an object.”

If you know anything about design theory, making a “vehicle” with a perfectly balanced action that can collide into something and then return to that perfect balance the instant it collides is not an easy task. Put that difficulty underwater, and now the designers have to contend with hydrodynamics compounded by an already erratic action.

“Many crankbaits inherit a problem known as ‘sliding’ or ‘jogging’ when colliding with cover,” Swendseid said. “The impact hinders the bait’s swim motion, fouling the lures tracking and oftentimes causes it to roll over axis with no return.”

So what’s that mean in laymen’s terms? Anyone who has fished crankbaits around shallow wood has seen it. The bait hits something. It kicks over on it’s side, and scoots along sideways, even rolling over and coming to the surface before getting the train back on the rails so to speak. The reason is most crankbaits are made to swim straight in open water. Bumping the bottom is something we as anglers do because we’ve all heard that the erratic action is what triggers fish into biting.

But it’s not just erratic action that triggers fish into feeding and that thought process drove the design of MC/60.

The MC/60 has a certain and specific circumference in the first third of the head region. Internally, there is an incorporated ballast system that rests directly on the lower floor of the bait’s keel. When the bait impacts an object, the force changes its trajectory along the object. However, when it is in the free space beyond the object, the weighted keel forces the bait back down and tracking true. The missing “meat” in the tail also allows for better hydrodynamics and less drag against the form and improved obstacle resistance.”

Simply put the bait rolls with the “hard knocks.”

Hyper Swimming -vs. Erratic Action

Crankbaits are as different as species of fish. They can have different designs, materials, shapes and sizes. To gain performance in a crankbait, however many factors come into play. Ballasts, surface planes, wall thicknesses and bill shapes all factor heavily into how the crankbait will track, balance, vibrate and swim. Sometimes the design creates an erratic action. Sometimes the way anglers fish a crankbait creates erratic action. Most anglers have been taught that the erratic action or change in action triggers strikes. Swendseid believes otherwise.

“Erratic action may not be the most effective movement of a crankbait,” Swendseid said. “It is one quality that may attract fish to bite, but it’s certainly not the only one. If a bass discovers a school of crappie or shad or singles out a tiny red ear or a rainbow trout, those prey swim linearly although in a hyper state. It is not erratic action, but rather quick intense movement in which bass key.”

Swendseid calls the ideal replication of this action in a crankbait Psycho-motor Agitation. Evolved predators can easily detect nervous micro-movements in prey. Because the flicker rate is so much faster in a bass’s eye than in a human eye, they see frames of movement in a much more still life captures where we see everything as a blur of movement. So a crankbait that has a rapid tight vibration will attract fish without the erratic action. Add an excellent wobble and vibration along with an uncanny ability to re-align tracking after collision, and the combination resulted in the Jackall MC/60.

Real-world applications

The editors have been throwing the MC/60 for several months now, and as you can see from some of the photos and signs of wear, the baits have been producing. From fish on stump flats, to bass around rock piles, to bass on points and humps and especially around rip rap, the bait has produced. The key is definitely in having a tight subtle wiggle around cover. It just feels like the bait comes over and around cover with a steady track and the bass really responded to our presentations.

Our favorite episode happened just this past weekend. We located some fish schooling on the surface in one of the bays on Kentucky Lake. We went over immediately and started catching the fish on poppers, walking topwaters and even a soft jerkbait. But we were seeing ten times as many fish as we were catching both on the surface on our graph. I picked up the Jackall MC/60 MR which runs maybe 7 feet. The bottom was 11 feet where we were and dropped off into 20 feet. What I noticed, however, is all the bass were streaking up into clouds of bait on the depth finder. I figured if I could run it by the bass just over their heads it might produce.

That proved to be a dramatic understatement when we boated our 50th fish. Three of us fishing, we literally argued over who got the one pair of pliers next. It was a race to get your bait back out there because we had three MC/60s going at once, and we caught them nearly every cast. While we did cull through a lot of short fish, we managed some nice 3- and 4-pound bass.

We experimented with other crankbaits but this one crankbait in this one depth was the ticket to consistent catches on that spot on that day. That’s not to say another crankbait wouldn’t work in another situation similar to that on another day. That’s the point to be made about crankbaits. They are tools. No one tool does every job and no one tool works everyday.

Just like tools, crankbaits are made very differently. Some tools work better than others. Some don’t work at all. And some work in places where there really hasn’t been a tool designed yet for that very specific task. It’s all about having the toolbox full of the “right tools” so that when the situation presents itself, we’re prepared.

Monday, September 28, 2009

I'm Loving ... the Yellow Magic Popper

By Sean Ostruszka

Having recently cleaned off the lure shelf in my office, I thought it might be about time I start a new series of blogs -- one that hopefully will keep my office a little cleaner. So I give you the "I'm Loving the ..." series. Basically, if there's a lure, reel, rod, etc that is really helping me leave the lake with my hands smelling fishy, I'm calling it out here.

Which brings me to my first contestant: the Yellow Magic Popper. After the 2009 Forrest Wood Cup, I was tracking down lures the top finishers used so we could showcase them in the magazine. One of those anglers was Folgers pro Scott Suggs of Bryant, Ark. And one of those lures he was using was the Yellow Magic Popper.

Having heard some good rumblings about this little topwater, I asked him what made it so special. His response was simple: the "BLOOP!" He wasn't lying. That little lure creates the deepest and loudest "bloop" I've heard. I've watched how bass react to it, and they don't know what to do. It freaks them out for a second before they crush it. Suggs also told me his trick of increasing the size of the belly hook to make it even louder. It's incredible. You can hear the noise from the very start of the cast, and better yet, it doesn't take much of a rod twitch to make the lure mouth off. The noisy action does hurt the lure's walking ability, even when using a loop knot, but it still walks a little. However, around cover it's lights out. The lure comes with a long, feathered trailer hook that, when combined with one or two pops next to a piece of cover, bass love. I've had bass hit the lure so violently they shot themselves completely out of the water. And that's just fun!

Slam the hooks!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

College Fishing

By Curt Niedermier

For the past few weeks I have been working on a feature story about the top colleges for bass anglers. Through a survey, hours on the phone and quite a bit more research on top of that, I have developed a list of the top 25 colleges in the country where a bass angler will feel right at home.

For the results, you’ll have to wait until the January/February 2010 issue of FLW Outdoors Magazine comes out, and when it does I hope you’ll take the time to send us your thoughts on schools that should have made the list, those that shouldn’t have and any other comments you may want to share. After all, college rankings are as much about debate and bragging rights as anything.

Right now, I want to share a few things I have learned while putting all this together. First off, it is a great time to be a college angler. Most clubs fish anywhere from three to six club qualifiers each semester, as well as traveling to invitational events held by nearby schools and the major national events. From those I have talked to, there is so much interest that clubs that are only a year or two old have doubled, tripled or increased their membership even more in the last year to the point that there aren’t enough boaters to carry along co-anglers. I’ll get to that point in a second.

Much of the increase in interest is thanks to National Guard FLW College Fishing. No, I am not trying to toot the horn of FLW Outdoors. Rather, the format that FLW and the National Guard have put together is simply the best and most convenient for college anglers due to the two biggest hindrances club members face, as relayed to me in their interviews: lack of boats and lack of money. College anglers have neither. Sure, there are schools out there with a dozen anglers with boats, including some impressive rigs owned by anglers who also fish BFL and local team tournament series, but many are simple johnboats or older bass boast, which are perfect for fishing locally but not the best for national tournaments.

Thanks to National Guard FLW College Fishing, no one needs to own a boat. Anglers don’t even need a wad of cash. FLW provides a travel allowance and puts student competitors in Stren Series pros' boats for tournaments. Many northern schools were especially thrilled with the system. There hadn’t been many opportunities to compete on the national collegiate level for them in the past because of the distance of travel and boat requirements. With divisions closer to home and boats provided, some of that pain has been alleviated.

Another thing I learned is that many of these college anglers are highly skilled, and all are highly motivated. As mentioned, some club anglers across the country are both collegiate competitors and BFL competitors. Most who fit that mold grew up around tournament fishing, and they have fished events with their parents in the past. For those who grew up simply loving the outdoors and fishing, that’s where the motivation comes in. They raise money, volunteer for charities and beat the banks of any water near campus, just happy to be wetting a line.

For those of us in the fishing industry, especially those of us closely linked to bass tournaments, their enthusiasm is reassuring. Enthusiasm is contagious, and college fishing is growing, which means in the next 10 years there will be a wave of recent college graduates hooked on fishing who now have time and money to put back into fishing.

So, if for some reason the economy and current state of bass fishing has you down, go visit a college campus, talk to college anglers or take in a National Guard FLW College Fishing weigh-in, because the future is looking good.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Pond Perfect

By Sean Ostruszka

If you’re like me, you didn’t make your first cast from a $50,000 bass boat on a trophy lake. No, if you’re like me, you made your first cast standing on the bank of some dinky pond while trying not to hook any trees behind you. Ahh, memories.

For the vast majority of my life I lived on a pond. So, invariably, most of my firsts in fishing have come from the tiny waters. I caught my first fish from a pond, I tested my first lures in a pond and I even lost my first rod in a pond (luckily I was able to snag it and get it back, with the fish still on the line no less. That will teach carp to try and steal my stuff).

So while I’ve since graduated to fishing from nice boats and better waters, there is still a part of me that loves fishing a pond. Don’t get me wrong, if I had my choice I’m taking the boat and the big lake over fishing a pond 99 times out of 100. But after work, when I just want to get away and not have to put too much effort into my fishing, a pond works perfectly. Better yet, I’ve caught some pretty big fish from ponds no bigger than public pools.

That brings me to my point: I realized the other day when heading to a new pond that there are roughly six lures that I take with me any time I go to a pond. I take hundreds when I head to a lake. Yet if I bring the same six lures to any pond I’m beyond confident I’ll catch fish. Obviously pond fish are generally easier to catch, but it’s still pretty amazing how most ponds can be effectively attacked with just six lures that easily fit in a small container that I can put in my pocket.

The first is a small, shallow crankbait, my favorite being a Mann’s Baby 1-Minus. It covers water and runs shallow enough to avoid snags or weeds. Better yet, it’s just the right size that any bass can eat it. This choice can be substituted for a small spinnerbait if the pond is overly weedy, not that most ponds are scummy or anything …

No. 2 on the list is a small, mid-depth crankbait. A Rapala DT6 or Norman Deep Baby N can get down deep enough to effectively fish most ponds. However, be aware that it’s much harder to free a snagged crankbait from shore than in a boat. I usually bring two of these.

The third choice is a topwater, and no, not just because they’re fun. OK, so it mainly is. A small popper or a tiny hollow frog is a blast with pond fish. Better yet, the majority of my bigger pond bass have come on topwaters.

Numero cuatro is a soft-plastic jerkbait. I’m pretty sure I caught every bass inhabiting a particular pond one evening on a 3-inch Bass Assassin Freshwater Shad Assassin. Then I did it again the next night. Now that’s just fun.

For the thumb, I have to bring a small jerkbait. No matter the pond, I know I can take a perch-colored 3 1/2-inch Rapala Original Floater there and catch fish. Try twitching it and letting it rise back up to the surface, then twitching it again. Bass love this around cover.

And finally, when all else fails I break out the Reaction Innovations Smallie Beaver. Hopped or dragged, it's awesome. And like the rest of the lures on this list, it's just the right size to help me get that fish smell on my hands.

Feel free to comment below if you’ve got a favorite pond lure that you feel needs to be called out. I’d love to hear what other anglers are using on their local ponds.

Slam the hooks!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Down to One

By Jason Sealock

Fishing is about mindsets, and mental fortitude often exceeds equipment in terms of importance. One of the biggest “psych-outs” in fishing occurs when an angler runs out of a lure that the fish are readily annihilating at that moment. Get the fish going, catching one after the other, and then it happens. Frantically reach into the tackle bag, flip open the tackle box full of plastics, and it’s not there. You start pulling out bags and bags of plastics. None left. This can’t be happening. The one thing the bass would eat, and there aren’t any more of them.

You make the switch to another lure but you’re second guessing yourself the whole time and your confidence starts to waiver. That leads to fishing faster, running spots and an overall anxiousness that derails your focus.

That happened to me this year, and the day on the water was a nightmare. I later realized that was because my jig fishing had become so simplified, that missing one component left me empty handed. The whole system boiled down to one football jig and one simple trailer – a 3-inch Berkley PowerBait Chigger Craw. I’m quite certain, worms not withstanding, that I could live with just that trailer. Now don’t get me wrong; I still love a Zoom Super Chunk Jr. on my finesse jigs in cold water or a Yum Craw Papi threaded on my flipping jigs on occasion when I need to mix and match a skirt and trailer better. But if I can only have one bag in my pocket, nine times out of ten it’s going to be a pack of green pumpkin 3-inch PowerBait Chigger Craws.

The reason is simple. After hundreds, more likely into the thousands, of bass caught on this trailer, I don’t see the point in changing a good thing. As some anglers can relate, I’ve fostered paranoia in thinking about a jig without that trailer. Now, if I’m not getting bit on the jig with a different trailer, the first thing I switch is the trailer. It does not matter what color jig or what color the water is. The first thing I do is revert back to my confidence trailer.

Big bass were eating the PowerBait Chigger Craw so good in the spring, I was catching 20 to 40 bass on a ragged nub of a trailer – no claws or tentacles, just the tattered mass threaded up the hook shank. By the time it finally fell off it was impossible to lace a hook through it.

I’ve tried various jigs and trailers over the years, but I’ve never caught so many fish on any one trailer as I’ve now caught on the PowerBait Chigger Craw. So now I’ve spent the year stock piling my supply. When the bite is really on at Kentucky Lake, it’s nothing to go through 6 to 10 packs of trailers between me and my partner. That’s a lot of PowerBait Chigger Craws when you’re jig fishing. I wish I had a mold of one so I could melt all this PowerBait back down and mold it again!

Now, some guys like the PowerBait Chigger Chunks and other guys like the 4-inch PowerBait Crazy Legs Chigger Craw, but I’ve settled on the 3-inch PowerBait Chigger Craw for several reasons. It’s not too bulky on a lighter jig. I can spider cut my skirts and thread the trailer up the shank of my jig hook and have a real small profile. I can bite (or cut because PowerBait doesn’t taste as good as garlic) the end off a trailer and run the hook through the middle like a chunk and give it a longer profile. When the fish bite one of the paddle arms off, I will unthread it, turn it so that one paddle is more like a keel on my jig and use just the one until another fish pulls that one off.

Sometimes when I’m casting big worms or other plastics, I’ll swap them out for the PowerBait Chigger Craw and pick up another keeper on a spot where they had been biting bigger plastics. It’s been a limit getter for me on occasion.

It can be a great punch bait for flipping heavy cover because of it’s small profile. I’ve caught countless bass out of the buck brush on them.

So you can say I’m officially a PowerBait Chigger Craw convert. My affliction is so bad now, that I feel naked when I can’t recall exactly where I have a pack of them. It’s that same feeling you have when you slam your locked car door shut, and you can’t feel your keys in your pocket.

So the question is why that bait. I know the PowerBait has something to do with it. I know the shape has something to do with it. And I know the action has something to do with it. But honestly it’s my personality more than anything. After using literally thousands of soft baits over the years, the choices got dizzying. So a few years ago, I started to simplify my choices – partly for my own sanity and partly because we fish in so many other people’s boats that packing a 40-gallon tub of soft baits wasn’t practical.

In fact, I’ve simplified the art of tackle storage, but I’ll save that for another blog this month. But basically now I have two boxes called boat boxes. One has the worms, trailers, and creatures I use most on my home waters in the colors I’ve proven work over the years. And one of those compartments is always completely full of PowerBait Chigger Craws.

I caught my personal best largemouth this year on a homemade football jig and PowerBait Chigger Craw. So maybe that’s why I’m stuck on just one trailer for now. The point being that we all get indecisive when we aren’t catching fish. Part of fighting through that is picking up something you have proven works and just plowing through those fishless periods.

It doesn’t mean we should quit experimenting with other soft baits and presentations. But I’ll continue to experiment with PowerBait Chigger Craws as well because they fit my fishing style and produce in a lot of situations. Perhaps I have yet to unlock their true potential, but I also know I won’t get psyched out with just that one trailer like I can with 50 trailers.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

On Hooking ... Not Fish!

By Curt Niedermier

For the most part, square-bill crankbaits are snag-free. They bounce and clang off stumps and laydowns and continue right through on their path, assuming I give them a little guidance if they get into thick cover. But my last time on the water, it seemed I was finding all kinds of intersting bottom content, most of which I wish wasn't there, with square-bill crankbait.

I hauled in a 3-ounce bank sinker with about 15 yards of thick braided line, I'm guessing somewhere around 100-pound test. I also hooked what I think was a sandbag made of thick plastic material somewhat like a tarp. That one was fun because I ended up shoulder-deep in the water trying not to hook myself or break off a $15 lure to get it back.

A few weeks ago I was fishing a ledge that was about 10 feet deep on top in the middle of Kentucky Lake. I was dragging a junebug 10-inch worm, which is essentially a purple worm. With it, I snagged a 10-inch purple worm and a few feet of line. The worm sat in my boat for a few days, and after it dried out, it became clear it was most definitely a junebug worm. Apparently I had not found a secret lure or area.

Once at Pickwick, I reeled in a pair of boxer shorts. Seriously. As if I couldn't get enough ribbing from my fishing partners for catching the fewest fish, I had to find a pair of boxers. They were, not surprisingly, in the water beneath a rope swing. My guess is an unlucky rope swinger didn't have his shorts tied on very well.

My favorite experience with hooking strange underwater objects was while riding along with Castrol pro David Dudley during practice for the 2007 Forrest Wood Cup at Lake Ouachita. Dudley was cranking with a Norman Lures DD22 he had used to win about $200,000 throughout his career. He had hung it a couple of times but managed to get it back easily. He told me that day that if he won the tournament -- he had a school of fish pegged that would bite the crankbait every time in a spot he dubbed the "million-dollar hole" -- he was going to retire the lure for good. Of course, he had to make it through the tournament without losing it. About midway through the day, he stuck something solid. His lure knocker failed to get it lose, and all forms of wiggling, jiggling and snapping of the rod did little to knock it free. Finally, Dudley shed his shirt and jumped overboard.

It turns out David Dudley is either a fantastic swimmer with a track-star set of lungs, or he was really attached to that crankbait. He stayed underwater forever, following the line down to the bottom in about 16 feet of water. When he finally emerged, all I saw was a potato sack, rocks, Dudley's face and that crankbait, hooked smack in the middle of the sack. His nephew, who was with him at the time, grabbed an armful of his uncle and another armful of potato sack while I scrambled for the camera -- don't worry, the pro was in no real danger.

Afterward, I found out this was the third time Dudley had been forced to dive to the bottom for his favorite crankbait during practice for that one tournament. At cabelas.com, a DD22 sells for $4.99. Dudley has earned more than $2.4 million in his FLW Outdoors career. He could have afforded another one (or used one of the many others he had in the boat), but some crankbaits are special. And as long as there are random things in the bottom of lakes across the country to snag, it's likely Dudley will be bringing along the swim trunks while on tour.

By the way, one of the photos I took ran in the November-December 2007 Bass Edition of FLW Outdoors Magazine in the Fishing Exposed department.


By Sean Ostruszka

Some lakes produce giant bass. Others, giant walleyes. And still others pump out jaw-dropping muskies. But not many produce all three. And there may not be another lake on the planet that does it like MilleLacsLake in Minnesota. For the third time in my life, my dad and I ventured north to Viking land to fish the mini ocean. And for the third time in my life, I left with pictures of giants.

Walmart FLW Walleye Tour Presented by Berkley pro Paul Meleen had invited me to come fish with him for the chance to “catch a 6-pound smallie and a 50-inch muskie in the same trip." Would you believe it, we came very close. And that's despite Mother Nature toying with us. Instead of giving us the traditional 90-degree dog days of August, we woke up to 43 degrees the second morning. You read that correctly, 43 frigid degrees! Oh, and 30 mph winds on top of that. Thanks nature ...

Dressed in more layers than we thought would be necessary, we started off for muskies, but quickly changed to chasing smallies. Mille Lacs' reefs and shallow flats are loaded with plump smallmouths that can't resist a snap-jigged Zoom Fluke on a 1/8-ounce jighead. However, the wind made casting an issue. Mille Lacs is around 20 miles long and 15 miles wide. So when the wind gusts, like it was during our trip, the lake's surface turns into a mountain range. Obviously, boat control gets tough in those conditions. No joke, my body was still going up and down days after our trip.

However, Meleen decided that instead of fighting the waves, he'd let them help us. Setting the boat up in front of the reef or flat, Meleen positioned the boat parallel to the waves and let them drift the boat over the structure, controlling the boat with bursts from the trolling motor. When the drift was over, he then pointed the boat into the waves and, holding the rods in our hands in order to snap the jigs, we trolled back to the front of the structure.

It was simple fishing, and it was incredibly effective. All told, we put roughly 20 smallies in the boat in a couple of hours. Better yet, my dad and I each caught our personal bests as we both caught fish more than 5 pounds.

Part one of Meleen's goal was almost accomplished. Now we just needed part two: the 50-incher.

After the waves got too strong and we decided to make a run across the lake to protected waters, a run that could basically turns bones into bruised calcium, we went about fishing a shallow reef we had tried earlier in the day for smallmouths. Problem was, just like earlier that day, the smallies weren't home.

So as we rounded the back tip and prepared to make a move to another spot, I picked up my muskie rod, which had one of my homemade topwater lures on it, and started making casts toward the reef. One cast. Two cast. Three cast. BAM! Forty-eight inches of muskie drilled the lure, and after an all-too-eventful net job, Paul's goal was complete, at least in my book.

The scary thing is, this is what the lake can produce during a down year and bad conditions. I can’t wait to hit it again when it’s running on all cylinders.