Cold Cranking Can Amp Up Your Late Fall, Early Winter Bite
By Chad Hill, U.S. Anglers Choice contributor

 The feeding frenzy that increases the bass’ susceptibility to a variety of shad-imitating presentations as the leaves change color in much of the country is common knowledge to most, if not all of the black bass chasers out there.  However, once most of the leaves have turned golden-brown, fallen to the ground, and the surface temperature of your favorite fishery rivals that of the water in the row of plastic bottles in your refrigerator, most anglers “retire” their crankbaits for the winter in favor of fish-catching favorites including an underspin, a swimbait, a jerk-bait, a blade-bait or a flutter spoon.  As late fall transitions to early winter, a crankbait will still “amp up” the bite on a cold day.  There are a few important factors to consider when opting for this approach to cold water angling.

  As they say in the marketing business, “location, location, location”.  To catch ‘em cold water cranking, an angler must focus on relatively small areas that schools of bass and the baitfish are using.  The majority of the bass and baitfish will be grouped up in fewer key locations during this time of year as opposed to months when they can be found dispersed in more and varying habitat locations.  An angler must maximize the number of his or her presentations in these areas acting as though the rest of the lake is off-limits.  Covering water with bait-in-hand is often fruitless at this time.  Map study and use of electronics are more productive tools for finding prime bass-holding real estate such as long points, deep banks, and rocky shoals.

  Closely tied to the importance of location is the “bite window”.  Even when an angler’s boat is sitting on top of the most prime piece of bass-holding real estate on the lake, the clock might tick for quite a while as he or she waits for the bite to begin.  And, when it begins, it often comes suddenly with extreme urgency.  An hour-and-a-half of chunking-and-winding without a bite will be followed by six bass caught in the next ten casts.  Then, it is over again for an hour or so.  What is my point?  My point is to remain in your best areas for as much of the fishing day as possible so that when a bite window opens the angler is there to capitalize.  To that end, when the first bite comes, take note of the specifics of the presentation so that it can be repeated…..much like ledge-fishing in early summer.  At this time of year, an angler must be supremely confident in the area(s) he or she chooses to fish, because putting bass in the boat is often a waiting game.  When the bite window opens, jump through it!

   The third key factor to successful cranking in water below 45 degrees (my definition of cold-water cranking) is line size.  While I do catch bass in these conditions on co-polymer line as heavy as 12 lb. test, my preference is 6 – 10 lb. test Silver Thread fluorocarbon thrown primarily on spinning tackle.  If conditions dictate that line strength be more than 10 lb. test, I choose a co-polymer line such as Silver Thread AN40.  Why I make the choice not to throw fluorocarbon line above 10 lb. test in cold weather is an article for another day.  Light fluorocarbon allows for long casts, gives the bait maximum depth, is virtually invisible to the bass, and allows the bait to swim in as life-like of a manner as possible.

  The final key factor to successful cranking in the cold is lure selection.  Shad-style crankbaits are a must.  Their tight-wiggling action and natural profile produce in these conditions, often like no other.  As far as more standard body-style crankbaits, I choose the smallest profile that I can fish at my target depth, keeping in mind that maintaining bottom contact at a slower-than-normal retrieve speed is mandatory.  Even in frigid water, bait deflections produce strikes!  The Strike King 3XD and Series 300 Bandit are two brands that I lean on.  Anglers who fish in the south, where the big ones grow, might take exception to my statement about selecting smaller-profile baits, but I promise that in the Land of Lincoln, as well as the pressured waters of nearby states, it makes a difference.

  So, when the surface temperature on your favorite fall fishery reaches that of an Eskimo’s bath water, do not put your crankbait box into hibernation.  There comes a time every fall that more traditional cold-water presentations become the better choice for catching bass, but I would bet that the actual date on the calendar is not quite as early as you traditionally would think.  Until next time, God Bless, good fishing, and tight lines to all.