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Are You Asking the Right Questions?
by Capt. Steve Chaconas, BoatUS ANGLER ProStaff
Ask a simple question, or what you think is a simple question, to a pro angler and get ready for the questions they fire back at you! Seeking a small-bodied crankbait that could dive 15 feet, a call to FLW Ranger/Mercury Frosted Flakes pro Dave Lefebre was answered with many more questions asked of me. The biggest question was “Why?” Why am I trying to get a small-bodied crankbait that deep? Why not something else? Why exactly does it have to be a small body? Why not a bigger deep-diver like the Rapala DT 14 or DT 16? What time of year? What kind of action are you looking for and why? What type of forage are you trying to imitate? The questions kept coming. Enough with the questions Dave, I get it! I asked the “wrong” question!
Questioning his own questions, or fishing with an open-mind has allowed him to earn nearly $2 million as a touring pro! Lefebre points out that most crankbaits being sold and used are in the 6-foot depth or shallower. Probing deeper depths becomes a challenge as casts have to be longer and target areas must be more specific. Marker buoys, on the cover or where the boat needs to be or triangulating to mark an exact target are required. Crankbaits are built to dive, reach their target depth and then return to the surface, allowing the bait to remain in the target depth for a relatively short period of time. Casts must be made past the target to be retrieved to the target…cover of some sort or a specific spot at the maximum depth. Smaller bodied crankbaits might not be the best choice even in the crankbait category. Larger bodied cranks are built to get deep and stay there longer. In the diminished light, larger profiles will show up better without looking that big and could be the answer. “Try to convince yourself that your first thought (or question) may not be the best thing (or answer) to do…and instead maybe focus on the positives of changing your mind (or asking yourself, you guessed it…more questions).”
Lefebre reflected on his career, noting a few instances where he felt he should use, or the fish demanded, a crankbait with a small body at deeper depths. Modifying his baits, like the DT 10, with weights and using 6-8 pound Suffix Deep Crankin’ line will get close to 15ft. There's also a Rapala ultra light crank designed for crappie that can be weighted more easily. Lefebre points out Rapala baits are depth precise, reaching or exceeding depths assigned. Sometimes a Carolina Rig will drag baits down and have been effective. But the downside of working, feeling and then landing fish outweighs this adaptation. In the final FLW Tour event in 2006 at Smith Lake, “During practice I Carolina Rigged a smaller crankbait and thought it would be the deal…when the tournament rolled around it didn’t work. I ended up using a jig.” That decision gave him just enough points to barely edge out David Dudley and Luke Clausen for Angler of the Year.
Lefebre’s line of questioning pays off with other lures that will achieve the desired depth and could be more efficient in landing fish as an added bonus. Remember the original question? Why does it have to be a small crankbait in 15 feet of water? Lefebre suggests that instead of wasting time trying to figure out how to make a 10-foot diving bait reach 15 feet; you should readjust your thoughts. “You might be better off getting the crankbait thing out of your head in this circumstance!” Achieving success with a deep diver is “…easier said than done and most likely is not your best option. If you figure out what you really are trying to accomplish, cranking might not be the best thing to do. That’s why other baits exist!” Lefebre says most of the time another bait will work much better especially when trying to get a small bait to the bottom in 15 feet, feeling there’s a minimal chance that your modified (weighted) small-bodied crankbait will outperform other baits. Spinnerbaits, jigs, and chatterbaits are easy choices. But Lefebre has come to rely on something old and something new! The Rapala Countdown Minnow or Rippin’ Rap will run deeper than any crankbait and create perfect prespawn presentations.
The veteran pro has been around the business for decades and is a bridge between the old timers and the young guns. Taking a page out of his teenage tacklebox, Lefebre recalls trips where he used a Classic Rapala Countdown Minnow and this bait would catch just about anything that swims. “The 07 size is close to the size of a small crankbait body. It's compact and, sinking about a foot per second, it will go as deep as you let it.” This bait has been used by anglers for a long time in ponds and streams for trout, but Lefebre says, “It blows my mind how few have tried it in their favorite bass fishing spots. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.” The secret to this bait is to fish it like a Senko, cast and let it fall to the bottom or to grass cover. Once the “senko” mindset is achieved, working this bait is easy. Lift and drop, watching for line movement, a pop or added weight. Ripping off the bottom or out of grass is another trigger. Snap the bait until it’s free from grass and debris, feeling the lure wobble again, and allow to fall. Bites occur on the fall or when the bait begins to move again. This presentation excels in the spring with water in the 30s to low 40s. Lefebre warns this is not a search bait. “Again, it’s like a senko…you have to know the fish are there!” Silver is a good color and the more torn up the bait gets, the better it fools fish. Hook modifications and going to the larger number 9 size allow the pro to fish heavier cover. Dave questions, “Could the Countdown be a better option for your small-bodied 15 foot crankbait endeavor?”
His “new” choice picks up where the Countdown leaves off. The Rippin’ Rap is in his hands when the water is in the upper 40s into the 50s, the Shad Rap time of the year. Lefebre says the legendary lure company, Rapala, has developed several lipless style crankbaits. But he feels they nailed it last year with the introduction of the Rippin’ Rap. It comes in 3 sizes, (5/16, ½ and 7/8) with each size weighing the same as similar baits, but in a more compact package. Smaller sizes allow him to fish tighter areas more weedless and to get a better feel while doing so. The current shape is more shad-like and can imitate a baitfish or craw. He also feels the colors are perfect for every situation. Here Lefebre fishes the bait like a jig, casting past a target and retrieving to it. It allows him to cover water or fish a very specific spot at a precise depth, even in 15 feet! Dragging on the bottom, hopping, or retrieving steadily with the rod tip down, the Rippin’ Rap allows him to fish the depths while also feeling cover, like a small-bodied crankbait.
Both baits are on the deck of Lefebre’s Ranger when targeting prespawn fish. Rather than trying to figure out how to get a small-bodied crankbait down to 15 feet, Lefebre says anglers are asking the wrong question. He insists the question should be, “What is the most effective thing I can do in 15 feet. There are a lot of easier ways to do it.” First, anglers must allow themselves to be convinced that a small-bodied crankbait is perhaps not the best choice. Lefebre says the next step is diagnosing your reasoning for wanting to get a small-bodied crankbait to 15 feet. From there many choices are available. Lefebre’s deep alternatives are the Rapala Countdown Minnow and the Rippin’ Rap. His moral of the “fishing” story...“Sometimes another question is a better answer to your question in the first place.”
Capt. Steve Chaconas
National Bass Guide Service