A RAT-L-TRAP may be the longstanding power fishing technique for Texas largemouths in February, and a swimbait is the newly stylish way to tempt big ones.
Nevertheless, when Virginia pro John Crews visits the Lone Star State this time of year in search of monsters, one of his favorite tools is a little, lipped crankbait, his namesake SPRO Little John 50.
It weighs a half-ounce and has a weight-transfer system, so you can fling it a mile into toothy Texas winds. It’s a compact 2-½ inch package that doesn’t discriminate against smaller fish. With a circuit board lip, it gets down into the five-foot range quickly, and has a tight wobble, but can still be banged off cover.
“That’s a great time of year for a crankbait,” Crews said. “Whether you’re fishing around hard bottom or over grass, the Little John serves both purposes. At that time of year, I like it in one of several different red colors, like Fire Craw.”
This technique excels any time the water temperature is above 50 degrees. “Anything in the fifties is primo,” he said, “all the way to the upper 50s.
You can still catch them with a chatterbait or a spinnerbait or a lipless crankbait. Yet, for some reason this has a knack for catching bigger fish. A little bit of stain is going to be preferred.
“Nevertheless, the flat sides mean that it doesn’t have the aggressive posture of a rounder or harder-wobbling lure. It has a distinct vibration that’s not overpowering. It doesn’t move a ton of water.”
On a lake like Conroe without much vegetation, Crews looks for “any kind of transition areas leading toward the backs of pockets.” That might include the sides of points or the sides of pockets, and he tends to favor “a little bit steeper banks.”
On the Texas lakes where bass relate heavily to submerged aquatic vegetation, such as Sam Rayburn, Toledo Bend and Amistad, he’s very careful to ensure that his lure hits the salad, but doesn’t get buried in it.
“The key is to pay attention to where it hits the grass and where it does not hit the grass. You’re looking for isolated clumps or points. Boat positioning is a big key. You want to get roughly out in the deepest part of the strike zone and then parallel it to keep your bait in the key zone. Make super-long casts.”
Although grass tends to hold the biggest concentrations of fish, he’ll sometimes use this same technique in the upper ends of the waterways where there’s less of it, focusing on other available cover. At this time of
year it’s not necessarily a means of finding mega-schools of bass, but “wind or current can bunch up three, four or five or them.
Normally you won’t catch them
on the same cast, but in the same general area. If you find a good stretch like that, you can often come back to that stretch two or three times in a day and catch more.”
Because the lure floats back toward the surface very slowly, Crews usually employs a steady retrieve and then pauses the lure after making contact, daring a bass to strike.
In the pre-spawn, Crews prefers a cranking rod with slightly more power than the one he’d probably use later in the year. He relies heavily on a cranking stick that Cashion Rods makes for square bills.
“The cooler water makes their mouths tougher, so you need a little bit more power.” He uses 12-pound test Sunline Crank FC fluorocarbon, a line made specifically for this sort of technique, with just the right amount of stretch.
The Little John comes straight out of the package with sticky-sharp Gamakatsu trebles. At the first sign of dulling, he’ll swap them out for sharp Gamakatsu round bend replacements.
Even with perfect tackle and execution on the hook set, there’s little reason to give the bass any advantage. This is the time of year when they’re often at their heaviest. A fish that looks like a three-pounder might weigh four and a quarter. Once you put the wood to them, take your time. Keeping the rod loaded is the key.”
Email Pete Robbins at [email protected]