For decades, bass anglers won countless events on crankbaits because these wobbly, lipped creations mimic baitfish in appearance and action. However, some professional redfish anglers also win tournaments with them.
In April 2014, Jimmy Dooms of Portland, Texas, and Kevin Shaw of Corpus Christi won the Rudy’s Pro Series redfish tournament in Galveston. In two days, they landed 13.61 and 16.16 pounds for a 29.77-pound total.
“A crankbait is one of the best lures for fishing the Galveston Bay area,” Dooms recalled. “For the tournament, we used Norman and Strike King crankbaits. We fished a cut that had rocks along the bank to protect it from erosion. The water was from six feet to 18 feet deep. The redfish were around the rocks and digging in the crannies looking for crabs. We cranked the bait down to the bottom and banged the rocks.”
Just like in fresh water, crankbaits also mimic salty baitfish such as menhaden or mullets. As Dooms and Shaw proved in Galveston Bay, crankbaits work extremely well in deeper situations, particularly around jetties or riprap. They also work effectively over sloping banks or next to drop-offs such as those found in river deltas.
“Catching redfish in salt water is not that much different from fishing for largemouth bass in fresh water,” Dooms advised. “Anything bass pros can do in fresh water, we can do in salt water to catch redfish. Crankbaits resemble baitfish and make a lot of noise. Fish can hear the rattles and when the bait bangs into rocks.”
With multiple dangling treble hooks, crankbaits would seem to snag every rock around. However, these baits can move through cover surprisingly well. When retrieved, the bill slopes downward, shielding the hooks. In addition, the bill deflects off objects. In heavy cover, use floating crankbaits and work them slowly. Walk the bait through cover by moving the lure with the rod, not the reel.
Feel for the lip hitting any objects. When the bill contacts an object, such as a rock, pause the retrieve so that the lure rises over the obstruction. Buoyant crankbaits typically float up and backward out of cover. Sometimes, redfish lurking near the object hear the commotion and can’t resist attacking what looks like a crippled baitfish that smashed into a rock and stunned itself. After a few moments, resume the retrieve.
“Crankbaits are really good when fishing around rocky jetties and when reds are schooling in deep, open water,” explained Shane Dubose, a professional redfish angler from Tomball. “I like to run a crankbait as deep as I can around jetties and riprap. I run it about six to eight inches off the bottom along the rocky edge without hitting the bottom. I bump the rocks and then let the bait wiggle a little to float over the rocks.”
While crankbaits work particularly well in deep water, many anglers look for reds in shallow marsh ponds and grassy flats. When fishing shallow, weedy areas, anglers obviously can’t use crankbaits that dive 15 feet deep. However, wakebaits, really just crankbaits with smaller bills designed to dive only a few inches and create surface commotion, work extremely well in shallow waters. Other crankbaits dive about a foot deep, making them excellent baits for fishing ponds 18- to 24-inches deep.
“Wakebaits are ideal when fishing ponds with grass growing about six inches under the water,” Dubose advised. “When fishing shallow water, the noise that a crankbait makes running just below the surface is more effective than a topwater bait. If the pond is really calm, I don’t like baits that make too loud a noise or too aggressive a wake because that can spook fish. Also, because of the smaller size of a crankbait compared to a topwater bait, the catch rate goes up.”
Crankbaits can’t run through thickly matted vegetation, but anglers can catch redfish effectively by running lures parallel to weed lines. Weedy edges commonly indicate a drop into slightly deeper water. Being ambush predators like largemouth bass, redfish often wait in thick weeds to snatch anything that comes within range.
In clear flats, marine grass often grows up from the bottom, but doesn’t quite reach the surface. Redfish often hold in these grass beds waiting to attack any succulent interlopers. With a shallow-running crankbait, dive almost to the submerged grass tops. Dance the bait over the grass so that the bill barely contacts the vegetation. Occasionally, pause to let the bait momentarily suspend above the grass.
“I like to use crankbaits when the water surface is five or six inches above submerged grass,” Dubose recommended. “Redfish like to burrow down into the grass to ambush bait.
“Use a bait that dives down just far enough to stay above the grass, but not catch the grass. Keep the bait moving so that it just ticks the grass tops. Redfish hear the bait coming to them and get ready to strike.”
In clear flats, anglers can often see “potholes” or bare sandy patches in grass beds. Redfish frequently lurk at the pothole edges to gobble anything that presents a tempting meal. Work baits around the grassy edges or through the center of the opening.
Inevitably, crankbaits sometimes snare weeds. When that happens, resist the temptation to go unhook the lure. That spooks fish. Instead, jerk the lure several times. If the lure remains snagged, crank the rod down and yank hard. If not impossibly hooked, a crankbait might explode from the vegetation, flinging plant debris everywhere.
Once the bait is free, let it suspend over the new hole for a moment. Redfish that hear the commotion might think another spot-tail blasted at a mullet and missed, perhaps stunning it. Jealous creatures, no redfish can resist the opportunity to gobble something another redfish missed.
Since fewer saltwater anglers use crankbaits than jigs, spinners or topwaters, redfish may see few lipped lures in some places. In some brackish marshes, bass anglers may catch more redfish with crankbaits by accident than people intentionally fishing for them. Get cranking to put more spot-tailed marauders in the boat this year.
story by John N. Felsher