Delta Cranksters Reveal All

Traps, Tigers and Bombers, Oh My!

The editors at WesternBass.Com recently asked several regularly fishing Delta anglers their thoughts about crankbait fishing. What baits were preferred and under what conditions did they throw them most often.

Our contributors are Dewayne Bonham, Andy Cuccia, Dave Doubledee and Andy Giannini.

Rattle Traps, Speed Traps and a Fat Free Shad

On the Delta my favorite time to fish crank baits is fall through late winter. As the fish begin to school up and feed for winter they become aggressive keying in on shad. Shad are abundant this time of year and vulnerable due to the affect the dropping water temperature has on their metabolism. Shad also contain a lot of fatty oils which aid bass in fattening up for winter. For late fall I fish Rattle Traps in shad colors concentrating on ambush points. This may be a tule point with a current break or a weed line with an irregularity. I am looking for bass fast food joints, places where the bass set up to actively feed. As I locate these spots I will try them at various tide stages to determine the optimal tide stage. On most spots this will be within about 1 hour before or after a tide change. My retrieve speed varies with the water temperature trend. As a general rule if the water temperature is rising I will start fast, if dropping I will start slow. I let the bass tell me which retrieve they want. I use heavy line (15-20# test) and make contact with weeds or other cover to trigger bites.

Once the water temp drops below 48 degrees I slow way down on my retrieve speed and cover a lot of water. This time of the year I fish areas low current with white Lure Jensen Speed Traps. I crank them as slow as possible cranking just fast enough to make the bait wobble. To get depth with the slow retrieve I go to lighter 10# test this time of year. Making contact with cover/structure does not seem to be as important. I add weight to the bait by wrapping the front treble with lead wire then coating the wire with 2 part epoxy to keep the lead in place. This will slow the rise rate when the lure is paused. When I need more depth I go with a suspending Excalibur Fat Free Shad in white/green. The most common adjustments I make are going to chartreuse during very poor light/water color conditions and using a Delta Craw Speed Trap if we have a unseasonably warm day with sun on rip/rap and a rising tide.

As we get into late winter and the water temp begins to rise I will concentrate on the remaining weedy areas. Much of the weed growth dies off during most winters leaving isolated areas there is deeper water and healthy green weed growth. Bass will congregate in these areas although getting them to bite can be a challenge. I still use the same crank baits, but will use the Fat Free Shad more than the Speed Trap. A paused suspending crank bait will sometimes trigger the big females as they start their pre-spawn feeding so I use a stop and go retrieve more this time of the year. As the water temp gets back over 50 degrees I will start throwing craw colors more frequently.

Dewayne Bonham

Timber Tigers All The Way

The Timber Tiger DC-8 is my primary Delta crankbait. At first I was extremely skeptical about what appeared to be a Speed Trap knockoff with some funky looking fins. I had told my friend Mark Hoffeditz that I would not have anything to do with knockoffs. The original designer knows what he is going after, and everyone else just comes along with something less.

"I am a Speed Trap guy."

"You don't understand, the same guy made both of them. And its HEAVIER."

That was it, and Mark knew he had my interest. It fit right in with my heavy bait for cast control, power fishing approach.

I learned right out of the gate, better fish hit them over Speed Traps. They became my Speed Trap cull lure at first. As confidence and experience grew the STs stayed in the box and Tigers became "it".

The first thing you notice is how much cast control you have, and how much farther you can cast, or control the water in front of you. As the paint schemes are simular, I have had guys throwing STs against me and ask, "What kind of reels are you running? You are REALLY hunking that Speed Trap!" (They didn't realize my bait was twice as heavy as it was a Tiger.)

Casting is important, but the beauty of the thing begins upon retrieve. It can cover the water you want with far more snag resistance than any other bait out there right now. And while it was concieved for brush and stumps, it does very well in rock revetment, tules, and even submergent grasses. (The trick with grasses is not unlike a fallen tree. Retrieve with the grain and not against it. Line up so you are casting upstream into the current, and those neat little fins will protect the hooks as the bait cycles and comes on through.) Rocks require a touchdown on them, and then rod tip adjustment up or down as the bait comes closer. Tick the tops of them if you can.

The bait is very durable, and capable of cycling extremely fast. (A cycle is one complete, complex, rotation around its fixed ballast weight.) An important thing to remember is that Speed Traps and Timber Tigers cycle very fast compared to other baits out there. They are the willow blades to everone elses Colorado. That is why the vibration at your rod tip isn't "THUD-THUD" it just seems like blur. To fish them in real winter conditions a guy might slow down to where he can feel it beat side to side.

A typical bank is never consistant all the down. The depth or cover changes from rock to docks, grass to tules, and the occasional tree. This little bait is my Jack of all trades all the way down the bank. It just four wheel drives through the toughest obstacles.

Bite frequency is a big issue. Many other baits are entirely reliant on a contact and a deflection to generate a strike. The same lure, free swimming, fish do not hit nearly as often. Timber Tigers combine free swimming hits, with deflection hits, and increased snag resistance over any other current offering. It really lets me fish without worry, so the mind can be in the fishing and not getting negative because I am hung up. Cranking is a great way to evaluate what the bite is, and what depths the biters are coming from, even though you may opt to change to some other way of catching them.

On the Delta I always start with a DC-8 in 201 (Crystal Craw) and go from there. After thinking it was an ugly duckling, it is now after spending hours behind it, in my opinion sexiest, must functional crankbait ever made.

Andy Giannini

Cooch N Crankin

For me crankbaits are best suited for the early fall through wintertime. Fast moving reaction baits fished along chunky rock banks, draw many strikes from bass as they are up and feeding heavily preparing for, and building their winter body fat mass. As we move closer to winter time, bigger, fatter and deeper diving cranks, fished much slower, tend to produce very well, especially on our foothill lakes out here in the west.

As with all my fishing, I try to keep my color choices simple. There are a wide variety of patterns available to bass fisherman today, and having too many choices in the boat can cause confusion, doubt and lead to many wasted casts trying to find the right color. Presentation, location and confidence are the key for me when using a crank bait. It's a reaction lure, and feel I can trigger strikes with the three colors that are common through out my box. Most often, I prefer to use a Texas Red Craw pattern. This is my confidence color pattern, especially around rocks when the bass are up there rooting craws. Yet in clear cold conditions, a solid white or bone crank is my choice. Many lakes and bodies of water through out the state maintain a good population of shad like bait fish, this bait matches the food source most of the time. Last is my foul weather crank color pattern, the chartreuse with dark black or blue back and a small splotch of orange underbelly. When the weather is nasty, and the water is rockin and rollin, I don't hesitate to start chucking this color. And very last, is a variety of chrome colors with either a blue or black back.

I recognize four types of crank baits, that I use during this period of time. The rock digging, structure banging types with a narrow plastic bill. Of these types, the 7A Bomber is my first choice. It digs and bangs with the best of em, and is a staple for us Delta River fisherman. The small wide lipped cranks are great for fishing the grass beds or through and around pockets of grass. Both the Timber Tiger and a Luhr Jensen Speed Trap fit the bill here. These baits entice those fish that are suspending and hangin in the vegetation. During the winter, I'll opt for a lipless crank. This is the only time I'll use the chrome colors mentioned above. This bait to is very effective around vegetation when the water temps have dropped below 60 degrees. Both the Bill Lewis Rattle Trap and the Mann's BB Shad fill up my lipless box. And last, the big, fat bodied, heavy wobbling deep divers. These are cranks that will run 10-16 feet with a big spoon like bill. My favorite is a Bagley's DB III in chartreuse with a black back. I've had some of the most phenomenal days crankin in December through February on our lakes with this bait. My deep box is filled out with a variety of Deep Norman and Poe Plugs.

As far as terminal tackle, all my cranking is done on a fiberglass rod. I have three, one is an E-glass, the other two are S-glass rods. All three are custom build using Lamiglass blanks. Two of them are 6'6" 4 power and one of the S-glass rods is a 7' 5 power for the big cranks. For effective crankin, ya gotta have a rod that has a whole bunch of give in the tip. Yet, when teamed up with 16# Sugoi Fluorocarbon line, this set up has enough backbone and strength to load up the rod fast and burry those trebles with out much of a hook set. More often than not when I git bit, it's a sharp jerk and reel em to the boat. Replacing your factory hooks is another must with most crankbaits. These baits are massed produced, and in an effort to reduce cost, most manufacturers are not using super quality treble hooks. I also religiously use a snap, whether the bait comes with an 'O' ring tie or not. This not only allows for easy changing of baits, but it allows the bait to run more freely, generating a little better action versus tying your line directly to the bait. As for knots, a barrel cinch knot does the trick for me.

The key with crankin, as with any other technique, is to keep that bait in the strike zone, listen to the fish and develop confidence in what, when and where your tossing it. Some refer to this as the 'dummy bait, anybody can toss it. For me, I call it a 'money bait', it has put a lot of quality fish in my well on tournament days when nothing else did. Look over your BASSMaster magazines of years past, look at the tournament results and notes, crankin simply puts fish in the boat. You'd be a 'dummy', not to have one tied on at all times!


Unconventional Cranking

If you've read my bio, you've already seen that I have 3 confidence techniques: Topwater, Flipping, & Cranking.

Looking at the plaques on my wall, I can't recall any of my top finishes that didn't come about because of one or more of these tactics. And my 2 biggest tounament sacks ,both just shy of 26#, were caught cranking.

Like most, I always thought cranking was just "chunkin-n-windin", a technique that anybody could master if they could cast, but one that I really didn't use or have confidence in.

I didn't get bit that often on crankbaits, and I've lost alot of the fish that did bite. Then one fateful day, I drew a young pro by the name of Robert Lee during a WON Bass event on Lake Shasta .

At one point during the day, Robert asked me to throw a crankbait. My response

"I don't throw crankbaits, I don't have any confidence in them".

What a bonehead! Robert Lee wants me to throw a crank and I tell him no! Robert took me to school that day, no surprise, & fueled a drive in me to learn how to fish these things. I went through a big learning curve when I really started throwing cranks, & still learn new things all the time. For starters, I had the wrong gear. Too heavy action of rods, reels without smooth drags, factory hooks ,yes they will work, but good hooks are cheap, and heavier line than needed (for 90% of where you'll throw them).

My crankbait tackle now consists of the following:
Bass Pro Shops 7' Med. action Crankin Stick
Shimano Curado reels McCoy "Mean Green" line from 6-17#(depending on where & what I'm throwing)

The baits I throw & have confidence in:
For deeper water & maximum deflection in shallower water, I like the Norman Deep Lil N, & DD 14 or DD 22
For mid range rocks & weedlines, standard Delta fare, the Bomber 6A & 7A are hard to beat most of the time, also throw in the old standard Storm Wiggle Wart, for when the fish want a wide wobbling / slow presentation.

The best I save for last. A bait has come along in the last few years, that has changed the way I crank. This bait was designed by (crankbait guru) Tom Seward, who also brought us the Speed Trap. For shallow cranking, where the grass is just below the surface, pick up a DC2. The tide comes up, & the grass is a bit deeper? Change out to a DC3 or DC4 You want to dredge the bottom at Clearlake for the post spawners that are hanging below the docks? Tie on a DC6 or DC8. You want to crank a ledge or rockpile? Maybe a DC13 or DC16 is the ticket.

For colors, keep it simple. Out of the 50(ok 100) or so cranks I have in my boat and boxes, 90% are a craw variation(red, brown, orange) Throw in some shad patterns for spring & fall time, & a few Chartreuse, Pearl, or other bright colors, for when the fish want something different, or the water is really stained.

Ok, so now you know my gear, the baits I throw, & the colors I like. Sounds like anybody elses crankbait arsenal right? So what do I do that is "unconventional"?

Remeber my story about Robert Lee? Robert was throwing a DD 14, in 5' of water or less. That bait will dive around 10' on 15# line! He was getting maximum contact & deflection, when others were throwing baits that would just touch the bottom & not get hung up. He was also getting that bait down there faster, & getting more productive time out of each cast.

Sure everyone knows you need to be hitting something to get the most out of the bait, but how many will throw that deep bait in skinny water? Guys wonder why I come down a rock bank that they just covered with a Speed Trap, & pick up fish when they didn't.

It took having a kid in the back of my boat, throwing the same bait(1/4 oz Speed Trap) as me, & kicking my butt with it, to drive it home. The only difference was that he was throwing his on 8# line & I was using 15# . A point I've proven several times since in the back of others boats as well. If you're going to crank the same rock banks as everyone else, give them a different look.

The easiest way is to put on a deeper bait, or use lighter line. 10# line and a Bomber 7A, a Deep Lil N, or Timber Tiger DC8 has put alot of Delta fish in the boat for me.

This will also allow you to slow your retrieve, & add some longer pauses but still get the bait back down in a hurry. Yes you will hang up, & lose a few baits, but if you're getting bit when others aren't, it makes up for it.

Structure cranking:

This is something that I've just started doing more of in the last couple of years. I doubt that I do it much different than anybody else, except that I don't see alot of guys doing it, & I generally throw light lines(as low as 6#) when doing it.

This is where the Norman DD series cranks & the deeper Timber Tigers come into play.

My basis is to mark a rockpile or ledge, & work it with a bait that makes contact at the deepest point(hopefully), & work it up & over, paralell, & from the top down. For a while I didn't have a graph on my boat, & this is how I pinpointed these structures that I knew approximately where they were, & I was catching fish while doing it!

If I have a hump or rockpile or that comes out of 20' up to 5' below the surface, I'm going to throw a DD 14 on 8# line, & work it all around & over it(generally the active fish will be in the top _ of the structure). There isn't much cover on most of these, so the light line & a smooth drag will let you get these fish in.

If there is cover but I need the depth, I wll go to a bit heavier line & deeper bait. Likewise if I need to get deeper, I'll throw the deeper bait & or lighter line. Deeper + Cover is the only situation that I will throw my cranks on braid. I just don't feel a need for it any other time. I was cranking some good fish on Clearlake last year with a DD14 on 6# line!

Cover cranking:

Like I said earlier, I save the best for last. Cover being defined(to me) as weed beds, wood, & tules. This is where I get bites on cranks that others don't, & the Timber Tigers come into play. The reason I get these bites, is because very few guys will throw a crank into the spots I do, they're generally reserved for blades(spinner baits), flipping, or worming.

Excerpt from my bio: Favorite Quick Tip: You have to get bit in order to lose them. ie. Put your bait where they are, & worry about getting them out after you hook them.

Note: When cranking cover, I use 17# McCoy line, & Mustad Triple Grip or Gamakatsu EWG hooks(they seem to hang up less)


With the exception of a rattletrap, 90% of the guys won't throw a crankbait into the weedbeds. I'm not talking about the edges like you find on the main Delta channels, but the thick expansive beds. Most crankbaits draw the weeds like a magnate, & you'll spend more time clearing them than fishing.

Find the beds that come up to just below(1-2') the surface, & you've got a spot that you can crank with a Timber Tiger DC2, 3, or 4. These baits will gather weeds, but not nearly as much as any other bait I've thrown. The technique is simple, "chunk-n-wind". Throw the bait that ticks the tops, & digs in occasionaly.

Then pause when it does dig in. Most of the time the Timber Tiger will back up, & you can continue the retrieve. When it does hang, rip the bait free like you would with a rattletrap. Most of the time this is when you will get bit(the pause or the rip). Look for edges & lanes in these weedbeds, like where the weeds drop off to a foot or so deeper than the surrounding areas. The weeds will follow the bottom contour, & sometimes just a small hole or lane will hold several fish.

Wood & Tules:

I know, "you can't throw a crankbait into there!", or "you're just asking to get hung up!" I've heard it before, & they're right, you are going to hang up sometimes. You're also going to sometimes hang up your jig, your blade, your worm, or anything else you throw in there...... Why not throw them something they aren't used to seeing? I drew a noted pro a few years ago, who said "why don't you throw your blade down this bank"

So I picked up my blade, & saw him grab his. I put mine down, & asked "are you going to blade too?"

He was, so I picked up my DC4 Timber Tiger, & heard both of those quotes above. He was alot less skeptical when I put one in the well on the 2nd cast, & followed it with 2 more. The "brush deflectors" on a Timber Tiger allow it to come through stuff that eats other cranks, & the Triple Grip Or EWG hooks make them more snag resistant. If you've got an opening that you can throw a blade in, you can get a crank in there too, & most of these fish aren't used to seeing them.

Just like in the weeds, in the wood you can pause the Timber Tiger, & it will back out of a limb that it has dug under. Sure you'll hang up in there, but you'll get bit in there too! Go in after them, & your crankbait scores will soar.

So what do I do with a crank that's unconventional? I guess nothing now.

Dave Doubledee