Tackle & Technique – Crankbait retrieve

Tackle & Technique – Crankbait retrieve

Sep 20, 2012

Kevin VanDam’s post-grad course in crankbait retrieves

By Mike Pehanich

The Small Waters Fishing cameras were rolling as Kevin VanDam talked strategy and tackle logic and, of course, caught fish during a crankbait search mission on Table Rock Lake this past April. Here’s what KVD had to say about crankbaits and crankbait retrieves.

Kevin VanDam can cover and strain water quickly with crankbaits. Mix up your retrieve to get the most out of these extraordinary tools!

Kevin VanDam loves crankbaits – not with the eager passion of a collector but with the sober respect a surgeon has for the tools of a profession that requires careful judgment and precision handwork.

Crankbaits enable KVD to cover water, and, when I say he “covers water,” I mean he strains depths, bangs bottom, bumps timber, spans casting alleys, and triggers strikes like few if any can!

Believe it or not, some anglers still regard crankbaits as “no-brainer” lures. You know…Cast and crank. Cast and crank. Ooops. What was that? Hey, I’ve got a fish!

If you’re one of them, don’t worry. We won’t tell.

But listen to the thinking that the world’s greatest bass fisherman puts into his crankbait retrieve alone and see if you don’t change your mind!

Exclusive SWF video with Kevin VanDam: “KVD on Crankbait Retrieves”


Crankin’ KVD style

First note that those football-field casts of KVD aren’t for show. VanDam tries to learn as much as he possibly can about the water, the lake bottom, the cover and the fish with each cast. And while many other pros strain shallow, the mid-depth range and deep water in stair-step progression, KVD often probes multiple depth ranges – even shallow to deep — on a single retrieve.

Bumping bottom or deflecting the crankbait off cover often triggers strikes from bass. A stop-and-go retrieve may produce similar results.

For much of our crankbait session, KVD employed a Strike King Series 5 crankbait, often making long casts right to the edge of visible cover near shore and bouncing off bottom from shallow to mid-depth and deeper zones.  Due to the season and conditions, we caught largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass in pre-spawn, spawn and post-spawn phases. The crankbait was the ideal tool. But you can take a similar approach when working sloping points and other types of structure even in the middle of summer.

Here are some of the “takeaways” from this lesson in KVD’s post-graduate course on crankbait fishing:

Speed and bounce speed – Crankbaits trigger a lot of bites when they bounce bottom or deflect off timber, rocks or other objects. KVD tries to determine the retrieve and deflection speed that trigger the most bites. “The crankbait hitting bottom is doing a lot of erratic jumping around that will trigger a lot of bites for you,” says the Kalamazoo, Michigan native. “If I’m hitting bottom, it’s a matter of the speed the fish need that day to trigger them!”

Vary your retrieve – True, he generally cranks more slowly in cold water and faster when it’s warm. But, regardless of season, he will vary his retrieve speed and style, particularly at the beginning of the day as he hunts for a pattern.

The ol’ ‘stop-and-go’ pattern – Crankbaits are notorious for drawing “rebound bites” — that is, hits that come during the angler’s pause to allow the lure to float free after deflection. With that kind of strike, KVD knows exactly what play to call in the huddle. “When one hits like that, I will stop my bait a lot…give it the ‘stop and go’…speed it up quickly, slow it down,” says VanDam. “I’m keeping it along the bottom, but trying to vary the speed.”

Note this Stop-and-Go variation:  You may note in one or more of our SWF videos that Kevin VanDam often sustains his crankbait’s action and progression with a slow sweep of his rod after he has stopped cranking his reel. Other pros add this wrinkle to their retrieves as well. Hear Pete Ponds description of this retrieve in another exclusive SWF video.

KVD employed a Strike King Series 5 crankbait, searching for bass shallow to deep.

Pay attention. Anything might matter! – “Once you get a bite, analyze exactly what you were doing, what was happening, exactly how deep your bait was…” says VanDam. Learn to “feel” what your lure is doing during the retrieve and to “read” transitions from gravel to rock to muck. Recall your boat position when the hit occurred. Try to determine how deep your lure was when the fish hit. “It’s all part of the equation!” says Kevin.

Work as a team – Of course, KVD fishes alone in the “Elites.” But he is quick to advise fishing partners to work as a  “Team” to learn more about the water they are fishing and the fish’s behavior. “You really want to have each guy throwing something different if you have two guys in the boat,” he says. He also underscores that a single bite does not a pattern make! “Experiment a little bit until you find a true difference in how the fish are reacting to different types of lures.”

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