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That sinking feeling: lowdown on countdown crankin'.

NINE OUT OF 10 CRANKBAITS EITHER FLOAT OR SUSPEND AT REST AND DIVE WHEN RETRIEVED. NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT, BUT THE ONE OUT OF 10 THAT SINKS BRINGS OVERLOOKED OPTIONS TO THE CRANKBAIT PARTY. SADLY, SUCH "COUNTDOWN" BAITS ARE LARGELY IGNORED BY THE MAJORITY OF WALLEYE FISHERMEN--AND ONLY RARELY USED TO THEIR FULL POTENTIAL.

It might surprise a few Walleye In-Sider readers that sinking-style bodybaits have a deep tradition in some walleye fishing circles, particularly for targeting trophy fish. More than one past Ohio state-record walleye fell to a sinking crank, the legendary Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap; the bait was designed for bass fishing but also triggers savage walleye strikes. And In-Fisherman has long touted the applications of countdown minnowbaits in early-season river situations.

So let's run through the practical differences between floating and sinking crankbaits, then outline a few productive strategies you can use to boat more fish this season.

BUOYANCY BASICS

Most diving crankbaits float at rest; many are also offered in neutrally buoyant suspending versions that neither sink nor float on the pause. Extensive tests during production of my book Precision Casting revealed that suspending models of most crankbaits have dive profiles similar to standard floating versions. In fact the average additional depth for a suspending bait was no more than 6 inches greater than its floating twin. Functionally, then, we can lump floaters and suspenders together when describing the baits' dive mechanics.

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In a nutshell, water resistance pushing against the lip causes the lure to dive. Meanwhile, the buoyancy and mass of the lure, along with friction from the line passing through the water, restricts its running depth. This fundamental relationship allows true floaters to be fished most effectively with a constant retrieve. Both floating and neutrally buoyant suspending baits work well when fished over the tops of rocks, emerging weeds, or other fish-holding cover and structure.

Amazingly, even floating crankbaits with large lips only reach moderate depths on a cast. All floaters resist diving and require most of the total casting distance to overcome the forces of buoyancy and friction. On a typical cast, a floater doesn't reach maximum depth until it reaches the end of the retrieve, fishing the targeted depth zone roughly 25 percent of the time it's in the water.

Let's take the big-lipped 7/8-ounce Storm Lightnin' Shad (#DLS08), for example. Though the bait no longer appears in the Storm catalog, it is nonetheless a great casting option that's still popular among anglers and widely available online. The Lightnin' Shad doesn't reach its maximum running depth of 14.5 feet until it's a full 40 feet into a 70-foot retrieve--and stays there for only about 17 feet. Note: This dive curve uses 14-pound mono (.014-inch diameter), with the rod tip held 2 feet above the surface; with 8-pound test, it reached 17.5 feet, but the distance spent at max depth was similar.

Sinking baits have a completely different dynamic. Because the lure can be counted down to a specific depth before the retrieve is started, it can be presented there for virtually the entire cast. Besides lip size and line diameter, running depth is affected by speed and rod position; slower and lower increase depth.

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Sinking lures can be fished ultraslow to tempt finicky walleyes, or buzzed at high speeds to enhance lure action, sound, and vibration, as well as to decrease running depth. Like suspending baits, slow-sinkers can be paused, twitched, and jerked to spice up presentations and increase strike responses. Another advantage of sinking cranks is that they can be fished deeper than floating lures of the same size. You can also downsize and work the depths with diminutive baits. This is true both when casting and trolling. The latter line of thought is gaining momentum in some tournament circles, but that's another story.

Countdown cranks typically sink at a rate of approximately 1 foot per second, should it be necessary to target suspended fish. However, most sinking baits function best when fished in contact with bottom or weedcover--though naturally there are exceptions.

Sinking crankbaits have traditionally been offered in two common styles: minnowbaits and lipless rattle-baits. The standard, small-lipped minnow category includes the CountDown Rapala and Yo-Zuri's Crystal Minnow, Emperor Minnow, and SW Pin's Minnow. Sinking divers like the Salmo Bullhead and Hornet add another dimension in minnowbaits, achieving greater depths than possible with floating divers of the same size. Finally, hard-bodied swimbaits, including the Jackall Giron--all the rage in the bass market--work for walleyes, too, as do sinking jerkbaits like the Yo-Zuri Sashimi Slider.

Lipless options continue to expand. A few choices include the Berkley Frenzy Rattl'r, Rattlin' Rapala, Koppers LIVETARGET Crawfish (trap), Yo-Zuri Rattl'n Vibe, Salmo Zipper, Cotton Cordell Super Spot, Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap, XCalibur XR50, and the Sebile Flatt Shad. Lipless designs typically feature a tight action, high-frequency rattle, and are heavyweights for their size. Because the bulk yields long casts, such baits are great options for covering water on flats with emerging weeds, and when fishing from shorelines or piers.

PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS

Early-season casting along rock-strewn shorelines, flats littered with boulders, and tributary mouths are a few of the many scenarios where using a countdown bait makes sense.

A sinking minnow like a Rapala CD11 or Yo-Zuri Sinking Crystal Minnow opens up new retrieve options compared to the steady pull of a floating crank. Make a long cast and wait for it to hit bottom. Start the retrieve by skittering it across the structure in a stop-and-go manner. Pause occasionally, and impart extra action by popping the rod tip. It's not unlike hopping and popping a jig, but the huge advantage is that a countdown bait can be worked faster than a leadhead. The crank is also a larger target, more easily spotted in murky water, and its increased water displacement helps attract active fish.

Baits that both sink and dive, like the #6 Salmo Hornet sinking model, are useful for reaching less-aggressive walleyes holding in deeper water. For example, I like to cast along the tapering contour of a point jutting into deep water--either from shore or in a boat positioned over deep water, just off the structure I want to fish.

When casting from the bank, let the bait sink to bottom, then retrieve it back to shallow water. As the lure contacts bottom, raise the rod tip to force the bait to rise in the water column and skim the structure. A slow, steady retrieve often works best in this situation, but a few pauses and twitches can increase your catch rate. When fishing points from a boat, start your retrieve with the rod tip high and lower the rod as the bait pulls into deeper water; this helps keep the bait in contact with bottom.

Throughout the Great Lakes, pitching lipless crankbaits like the Rattlin' Rapala or Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap parallel to the rocky edges of piers and seawalls is a popular way to target walleyes herding shad and other baitfish against these manmade structures. Make a long cast, keep your bail open until the lure hits bottom, then reel it in with a steady retrieve. If it rebounds off rocks, so much the better. Piers are generally targeted at night, but countdown lures can be used 24/7.

Sinkers like the Rapala CD7 and CD5 are solid performers when rivers run clear, weather conditions are stable to warming, and walleyes gather below dams or other barriers. Feeding fish are willing to eat swimming hardbaits instead of just grubbing bottom.

Keep the presentation slow, making long, deep sweeps across the backs of tailout pools. Get the lure deep and barely wobbling. Current breaks, especially where the flow swings back into shore, then breaks with half the water moving back upstream along shore, are also key areas to cast countdown cranks.

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IN SINK

These are just a few of the many sinkbait strategies you can use to boat more fish this season. So, next time you're in position to tie on a floating crankbait, ask yourself if it wouldn't be better to "get that sinking feeling."

GEARING UP FOR GETTING DOWN

A FEW TOOLS OF THE TRADE ARE HANDY FOR GETTING THE MOST FROM COUNTDOWN CRANKBAITS.

Since lengthy casts are a key to success, long rods get the nod. An 8- to 9-foot steelhead-style spinning rod is ideal for long-range tosses. The right line is also critical. Thin diameters boost casting distance; 6- or 8-pound test is ideal in mono, but superbraids in the 8- to 14-pound range are even better for long-distance casting and detecting subtle strikes.

BY MARK ROMANACK, Veteran fishing writer Mark Romanack (precisionangling.com) of Tustin, Michigan, is the author of Precision Trolling Pro Edition, Precision Casting, and host of TV's Fishing 411.
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Title Annotation:KEYING ON CRANKS; crankbaits
Author:Romanack, Mark
Publication:Walleye In-Sider
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2009
Words:1462
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