Bassmaster Elite Series pro Stephen Browning is known as one of the best with a crankbait rod in his hands. He has a simple approach to winter time cranking and typically relies on three baits to cover all of his bases when the water dips into the 50s, 40s and below.
Winter Cranking Thoughts
Some may be hesitant to throw a crankbait and cover water when the water gets cold, but Browning says that can be one of the best times of the year to generate reaction strikes.
“Years ago, everyone put down the crankbaits once the water got below 50-degrees, but we have learned bass will still chase a moving bait in cold water,” he says. “I’m not afraid to use one even if the water temperature is less than 40-degrees. I think some people are missing out on the opportunity to fish a crankbait in cold water.”
Even with colder water temps, Browning still most often targets water less than 10-feet deep with a crankbait.
“There is always a decent, and sometimes really good, shallow crankbait bite throughout the winter,” he says. The three crankbaits he relies on most are the LIVETARGET Hunt For Center Crawfish Crank, Yearling Baitball Crankbait, and Threadfin Shad Crankbait.
This bait has a unique hunting action as it moves side to side and then regains center on the retrieve. (Hunt-For-Center Crawfish Vid Below)
“It is really pretty aggressive and erratic and does a great job imitating crawfish,” says Browning. Because of this, he will fish it around areas that congregate crawfish (and bass) like transition areas.
“I like to look for any transition. It could be pea gravel to chunk rock, or chunk rock to boulders,” he says. “The great thing about this is you can see these areas on the bank and do not have to have high-end electronics. It is highly visual, just look at the bank and present the bait.”
Browning fishes it on a 7'2" medium-action St. Croix Legend Glass crankbait rod with a 6.4:1 Lew’s BB1 spooled with 10-pound Gamma fluorocarbon line. “
I use the 6.4:1; because I am not trying to slow down my retrieve or trying to get it to get very deep,” he says. “It is more bumping into cover and keeping it moving. It is mostly a steady retrieve until you hit something and then I will often kill it when it deflects off of a rock and let it sit. A lot of times that is when they will hit it.”
One thing he will adjust is his line size if he wants it to run shallower.
“Going up to 14 or 16-pound line will keep it up in the zone and I have seen it where the water will get a little dirtier and the fish start to move up higher in the water column.”
This crankbait matches a ball of yearling baitfish and Browning will fish the 6- to 7-feet diving version almost the exact same way as he does with the Hunt for Center Crawfish crankbait.
“The biggest thing for me with this bait is water clarity,” he says. “I will use it over the Hunt for Center when the water is really clear. Everything else from his rod, reel, line and retrieve stays the same.
This bite-sized crankbait comes in two sizes, 2 and 3-inches and perfectly matches the size, shape, and profile of a threadfin shad. Since it is a small offering, Browning likes to fish it with spinning gear to get longer casts.
Fishing it is pretty straightforward according to the Arkansas pro.
“It mimics shad and has a really tight wobble, so I like to make fan casts to flats in the backs of creeks and isolated pieces of cover where bass can ambush shad,” he said. “If you can find those single logs, stumps and brushpiles and just tick the top of it with this crankbait, you can catch those resident fish that stay on that isolated cover year-round.”
One of the biggest variables to success with this bait is making long casts and covering water. Browning fishes it on a 7’ medium St. Croix Avid Inshore rod because it has the same moderate action of most baitcast crankbait rods.
He will use a Lew’s Tournament Pro spinning reel spooled with 10- to 15-pound Gamma braid with a 6-pound Gamma fluorocarbon leader.
“It is not as much of a target-specific bait where you need to make precise casts, so spinning gear is the best so you can make the long casts and get the bait down and cover water,” he adds.
When the water temperature dips, don’t be afraid to pull out your crankbaits. Stephen Browning and other crankbait fanatics have learned that it is almost never too cold to crank.