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.

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