Winter is an outstanding time to fish crankbaits for bass. Learn about the best cold-water crankbaits and how and where to fish them for the most success.
“We should get bit here,” Jimmy Mason said, barely getting words out of his mouth before leaning into a strike. A few seconds later, my crankbait kicked off a submerged rock and then got slammed. Nothing like calling a spot and backing it with a smallmouth bass double!
Of course, I’ve spent enough time in Mason’s boat to have not been at all surprised. We’d caught a handful of bass along the same row of current-swept rocks, so the crankbait bite was obviously strong, and as a veteran Tennessee River bass guide and tournament pro, Mason can recognize the rips, eddies and structural features and pieces of cover that will hold feeding bass.
Crankbaits play an important part in Mason’s cold-water bass fishing strategy. Select crankbaits allow him cover water and effectively work the zone where bass spend much of their time during winter. Also, a crankbait can effectively imitate crawfish or shad, both important forage during early winter, and can be used to deflect bottom structure, which is essential for triggering strikes.
We talked with Mason about the areas he likes to crank during winter, his crankbait strategies, and the best cold-water crankbaits.
During winter, bass in the lakes where Mason mostly fishes – Guntersville, Wheeler, Wilson and Pickwick – relate heavily to main channels, especially to channel edges. Winter weather systems normally deliver high water, stain, and current throughout the Tennessee River system. The bass tend to stay near the current but out of the main flow, so they aren’t battling current and expending energy.
“They’ll sit in current breaks and let the current carry food to them,” Mason said.
Mason pointed toward bluff banks, rocky structure that’s adjacent to the channel, and channel swings as excellent areas for winter crankbait fishing. He mostly cranks around rocky structure, concentrating on water that is 5 to 10 feet deep.
Mason mostly works with boat positioned fairly close to the bank, either casting parallel or casting at a 45-degree angle, depending on the steepness of the bank. That keeps his crankbait in the strike zone a much higher portion of every presentation and allows him to continue to bump rocks or bottom with his bait.
“The vast majority of the time, I’m making contact as I am cranking,” Mason said. “I don’t like to burn it. I just use a moderate, mostly steady retrieve, staying in contact with the rocks”
Occasionally, when the bait bumps a key piece of cover, Mason will hesitate slightly. His presentations stay mostly steady when the water is cold, though.
Best Cold-Water Crankbaits
The crankbaits that Mason throws the most once the water gets cold are a Bomber Deep Flat A, Norman Middle N, and Bomber 7A, although a few other baits, including a Norman Deep Little N, get the nod for certain situations.
The Bomber Deep Flat A, which is a long-time winter standby for Mason, got even better last year with the introduction of the Bomber Next Generation Deep Flat A, which is equipped with a weight-transfer system to improve castability. The ONLY criticism many anglers have ever had of the original Flat A and Deep Flat A were that they were difficult to cast, especially in the wind, and the new version completely eliminates that problem.
“It has the same amazing action as it always has, but now it casts like a bullet,” Mason said.
As the name suggests, the Deep Flat A has flat sides, creating a narrow profile that makes it look like an easy meal. It also has a very tight action, matching the behavior of winter chilled baitfish and appealing to bass when the water is cold. It dives 4-8 feet, which is ideal for the zone Mason mostly works.
Interestingly, the Middle N and Bomber 7A are quite different from the Deep Flat A in character. Both baits are more rounded and have a wider wobble. Mason likes these for casting between rocks and working close to other cover because the wider swimming action and body shape help them deflect cover much more effectively. That allows him to trigger strikes in tight places and to lose less time which his crankbait snagged.
The Bomber 7A, which dives 8-10 feet, is one of several Bomber Lures available in Next Generation versions with outstanding new colors and at reduced cost.
If Mason wants to crank deeper, often in clearer water and with spotted bass in mind, he’ll turn to a Norman Deep Little N, which dives 9-12 feet and has a moderate wobble.
Because the main channel of the Tennessee River is typically at least somewhat stained during winter, Mason fishes mostly with colors patterns that include plenty of red or chartreuse.
He pointed toward Mad Craw and Muddy Craw as favorites for the winter approach among the Bomber Next Generation crankbaits. Apple Red Crawdad and Chartreuse/Black Scales are top producers from traditional Bomber colors. Chili Bowl and Chartreuse Blue are among Mason’s favorite Middle N colors.
If the water is at the clear end the spectrum, he likes a green-heavy or natural crawfish pattern like Rock Craw and Bones in the Next Generation Bomber colors.
Uncle Frank’s Favorite Structures for Winter Cranking
Frank Scalish is also a huge fan of cold-water cranking, especially during the first part of winter. Learn the specific structural features Uncle Frank looks for when he is cranking this time of year.
Late Winter Special
Later in the winter and moving into early spring, the Norman Speed N and Speed N Jr, become extra important. The Speed N, which was released a couple years ago and features a tight pitch-and-roll action, became an immediate favorite for cold water bass fishing. However, anglers immediately began asking for a smaller version for times when bass were extra fussy, leading to last year’s release of the Speed N Jr.
The Speed N is 2.75 inches long; the Speed N Jr 2.5 inches. Both run 4 to 6 feet deep, with the same tight action and a bill shape that allows them to deflect cover surprisingly well for tight action crankbaits.