BoatUS ANGLER: Bait and Tackle
by Capt. Steve Chaconas, BoatUS ANGLER Pro Staff
With the lure chosen and modified, there are still several decisions to make when it comes to winding a crankbait lure! Rods, lines and reels must work as part of a cranking system.
A good cranking rod will generally have a medium action and fast tip or moderate fast tip. At least the first 30% of the rod should bend parabolically before the rod loads to the backbone section to enable hooksets. In effect, rods must have enough "give" to allow fish to inhale lures and to allow fish to run without pulling out smallish treble hooks. A rod that's too stiff is likely to prevent good hook ups and at the same time put too much pressure on the hooks and line, causing failure in either. For rod materials, there are several choices: Graphite, fiberglass or a composite of the two.
Graphite is the lightest and most sensitive, but at the same time will create tension or resistance under a load. Load the rod and it will spring back to its relaxed state with some force. A flexible graphite rod has more sensitivity even though much of the feeling is absorbed into the "give" of the rod. A graphite rod transmits cover and "fish bites" back to the angler better than other material options. Graphite's stiffer material allows baits to be snapped free from grass.
The former King of cranking rods was good old fiberglass. This rod has give and no pull! Load this rod and the tip will gently swing back to its straight condition. But, it's heavy compared to graphite! The extra give and no pullback allow bass to engulf bigger baits. The problem is they have very little sensitivity. Almost no feel to them at all. This makes it tough to fish deep cover, feeling for subtle bites. Better hookups and angling ability with the softer rod. But, sometimes there's just not quite enough backbone to set the hook on larger treble hooks. Fiberglass rods are also too soft in many cases to snap baits free from grass. Rod makers, like G-Loomis build special graphite cranking series rods designed to overcome typical shortcomings.
Rod builders have been trying to create composite rods, a combination of graphite and fiberglass, for a long time. Composite rods vary greatly between manufacturers but should have the backbone and sensitivity of graphite, with a bit of added weight. Composites run the gamut in styles and designs and really need to be designed by fishermen! The overall benefit is usually a softer rod. One such rod is built by Quantum for Classic Champ and Angler of the Year, Kevin Van Dam. He's created composite specifications for different sized lures. His new signature Series KVD Tour Edition cranking rods are built from composite e-glass and graphite. The graphite keeps the rod light and provides sensitivity, with a strong backbone; the fiberglass provides the give and keeps the rod from resisting the fish. KVD's crankbait series rods are short enough for accuracy at 6'6" and long enough, at 7'10", to launch baits in open water! Rods in between offer different casting distances and accuracy, accommodating various crankbait sizes and styles. He specifically designed a rod for lipless crankbaits and one for mid range as well as the big-lipped deep divers. Quantum composite rods have sensitivity, enough give, and backbone for hooksets and to snap lures out of grass.
But, for any rod, matching it up with line can make the difference on most days and will be the difference on tough days! To compensate for lack of feel in a fiberglass rod, many pros are going to fluorocarbon lines. No or low stretch lines can add sensitivity to fiberglass rods adding hook setting power retaining fiberglass "give". They transmit more feel and allow for better hooksets after fish bite.
If fish are not getting baits deep enough, then it might be time to either switch to a softer rod or line with more stretch. One way to put more "give" into your system is to use monofilament line. Mono has about 30% stretch, which will reduce the "pull back" that otherwise light and sensitive graphite rods create. Mono is a good all around choice for cranking; but, if hooksets are missing, it might be time to beef up to fluorocarbons and even zero-stretch braided lines.
Line offers another characteristic. Thinner diameter lines offer less resistance increasing casting distance, depth of lures and feel. In addition, creating less resistance in the water allows fish to take baits deeper while not detecting "drag" of thicker lines. Hooksets are a bit easier too as less resistance allows line to slice through water hooking up better. Conversely, to keep lures from diving deeper, heavier or thicker line will "float" lures over cover to allow using bigger lures in shallower conditions. Appropriate line can reduce shortcomings. Take note of a successful pro and see what they use- rod and line!
For cranking reels, a slower one is fine, a reel with a 5:1 retrieve or higher. But, sometimes there's a need for speed. Reels into the 6:1 and above might be better. Experienced anglers like reel speed and possess the ability to slow down. An old trick is to under-spool the reel to reduce the amount of line taken up by a turn of the handle. However, long overlooked are the old-school reels that did not have instant anti-reverse. The most famous of these are Lew's reels. Not many around and almost impossible to find parts, these reels are perfect for cranking. With the feel lost in softer rods, it's the reel telling anglers what's going on! Without instant-anti reverse, the reel handle will turn back almost a quarter turn so when there's contact with cover or a fish, this will transmit directly to the reel handle, giving the angler the best feel and ability to set the hook sooner. Today reels incorporate anti-reverse bearings which lock instantly better for hooksets, but not for feeling a crankbait down to 20 feet! There are a few decent older reels like vintage Abu reels; probably the most serviceable as there are still parts floating around.
Known as "idiot baits", where any "idiot" can cast crankbaits and wind back to the boat to catch fish, crankbait fishing is more than just using the right lure. Advanced cranking encompasses a system to account for a variety of depths and speeds while considering the desired result of the rod, reel and line working in unison with the lure. Next time a lure change is considered, take a look at the accessories, after the fact, to make a move that will solve the fishing challenge of the day.