Virginian John Crews has established a reputation as one of the experts on crankbait fishing. The Bassmaster Elite Series pro has an entire line of crankbaits that have his name on the package, the Spro Little John series of crankbaits. He has spent considerable time designing and using his crankbaits which has allowed him to build a wealth of knowledge on the subject. While he uses them each month of the year, when fishing during the winter time he has refined his approach and gear selection to maximize the baits effectiveness in the colder weather.
John Crews believes that just because it’s cold outside, you should not rule out shallow water. “I’ve caught them on crankbaits in shallow water in water as cold as the low 40’s. It is better if you have water in the high 40’s, but water in the low 50’s is game on,” says Crews. He will vary his approach and will fish slower and focus on the middle to the back of the creeks for cold water cranking.
The Little John Family
With multiple colors and designs on the market, the Little John crankbaits have become a staple in the boxes of serious bass anglers. During the winter, Crews simplifies his bait selection to the original Little John and the Little John MD. “Both of the baits have the same sized body, they just have different types of bills and will dive to different depths. I’ll use the original from one to five feet deep and use the Little John MD for slightly deeper water,” adds Crews. He credits the baits distinct vibration as the reason for its success in colder water. “It’s not really a tight or wide wobble, it’s somewhere in between. It acts like a wooden flat sided crankbait, but casts much further due to the weight transfer system,” mentions Crews.
Like most bass anglers, John Crews changes his colors based on the water clarity. During the colder months when he is faced with clear water, Crews prefers a shad pattern like the color called Cell Mate. If the water is more dingy and muddy he will alternate between two different colors, Green Pumpkin Craw and Spring Craw. “I like the Spring Craw color a lot in the dirty water. It has some yellows and red and looks really good in that type of water,” adds Crews.
Lure Customization and Retrieve
Today’s crankbaits come out of the package ready to go. The days of having to customize lures just to them water-ready have passed, yet there are still ways to alter the action and retrieve of your baits. John Crews does customize his baits, especially in colder water. “One thing I do during the colder months is to switch my baits from Gamakatsu Extra Wide Gap hooks to the round bend style. The mouths of bass are a little more firm in the winter and I know I don’t lose as many fish because of that. In the summer it is completely opposite and I really want the EWG hooks,” acknowledges Crews.
Besides altering the type of hooks, he will also often change the hook on the front hook to a short shank treble. “The short shank hooks have a heavier gauge and they weigh more, so by adding one of those you can make the bait suspend more. That is something that really works well during the colder months because you can let the bait sit in one spot longer,” shares Crews.
While a typical cast and wind retrieve will catch fish any day of the year, there are certain things you can do during the colder months to increase your chances. By adjusting your hook sizes to get a suspending affect to your crankbait, you can fish the bait almost like a jerkbait. “One thing I like to do is fish out on a little deeper brush, say 4-8 feet deep and just reel the bait through the brush. You can stop the bait and let it sit and give it a few slight twitches like you would with a jerkbait, but the important difference is you could never get a jerkbait though brush like that,” states Crews.
Rod, Reel and Line
John Crew’s has specific reasons for using his rod, reel and line, some of them are standard to crankbait users, but he is not afraid to go against the status quo.
His reel selection goes against the idea that a slower gear ratio is best for crankbaits. Crews prefers to use a Pinnacle Optimus LTE reel in a 6.4:1 gear ratio. His reasoning for using a slightly faster ratio is that he can always slow himself down if needed, but there is no way to speed up a slower reel when he needs it most, during the fight with the fish. “I like a little speed, I can make myself slow down if I have to. I want to be able to get the fish to the boat as fast as I can once they are hooked,” shares Crews. The rod of his choice is a 7 foot medium action Pinnacle Perfecta Cranking rod, which he says is ideal for his line of crankbaits.
Fluorocarbon line has taken over the spools of fishing reels across the country, but John Crews believes there is still a place for monofilament, especially during the colder months. “Fluorocarbon is great, but once the air temperatures drop to 40 degrees or below, it starts to get wiry and harder to manage. I’ll use mono during the winter for crankbaits because you can get longer casts with it,” mentions the Virginia pro. He will also go down in size of line during the winter in an effort to get even longer casts, “I’ll use 10lb test for the original Little John and 8lb test for the Little John MD. I think you should always try to stay off the fish and make your casts as long as possible during the colder months,” he says.
According to John Crews, crankbait fishing can truly be a viable pattern throughout the year. During the colder months, it takes a more selective approach in your choice of tackle and gear to be successful. Following his steps to lure customization and seasonal patterns will make you a better winter crankbait fisherman.