(Editor's note: The following is the latest installment in a series of fishing tips presented by The Bass University. Check back each Friday for a new tip.)
If it wasn’t completely evident before then, the 2019 Bassmaster Classic proved that Ott DeFoe is a master of prespawn cranking. He’s developed a system utilizing both lipped and lipless crankbaits that plays upon their individual strengths.
“These are two of the easiest baits to fish,” he said. Nevertheless, in order to maximize their effectiveness, you have to understand their differences.
He typically picks up both when true winter conditions end and the water temperatures ascend into the 44- to 45-degree range. He’ll continue to throw lipped baits all year, but at 60 degrees he generally puts down the lipless baits until the water gets back down to that level in the fall.
So what are the differences? First is how they react on a pause. “When I stop this bait it’s going to go to the bottom,” he said of his lipless lures, whereas a Rapala DT4 or DT6 will rise. Additionally, a lipless bait comes through grass better. Lipped lures tend to catch the grass and have trouble getting free of it.
At the Knoxville Classic, DeFoe used 17-pound fluorocarbon to “worm” his lipless crankbait across the bottom at a slow pace. “I could really fish that bait slower, if that makes any sense, then I could a regular crankbait,” he said. He tried to bump rocks and then skitter away to imitate the fleeing motion of a scared crawfish.
While lipless crankbaits come with a variety of sound-making devices, and DeFoe has caught plenty of fish on lures loaded with BBs or loud knockers, he tends to think less is more, especially for heavily-pressured fish.
“I like a very quiet crankbait,” he said. “I wish we could take a lot of noise out of them.”
One quote that he applies frequently to the change inherent in pre-spawn fishing is that “Yesterday’s history and tomorrow’s a mystery.” Indeed, given the springtime’s volatile winds, water temperatures and overall weather patterns, DeFoe said that you always need to be ready to change. Nevertheless, his general goal is to take advantage of warming trends and to discern likely paths of travel for bass headed shoreward to spawn.
“I always want to be thinking about a migration route,” he said. That could mean creek channels, drains or other natural paths. He’s also mindful of how current impacts fish movement, and said that side-imaging has been a huge help in determining likely “roadways.” Not all equipment has to be expensive, though – all of the fish that he caught during his victory at the Knoxville Classic came on a Bass Pro Shops Cranking Stick that costs less than a hundred dollars. He also keeps his colors simple in all styles of baits. If you have variations that represent shad, crawfish and bluegills/perch, then you’re covered for the majority of situations from coast to coast.
He keeps careful watch of temperature changes at this time of year and is particularly excited to see water temps in the 55- to 57-degree range, at which point most fish will depart their main-lake winter holding areas and start pushing heavily to the banks or into a pocket, near where they’re going to spawn.
If you want to learn some of the other secrets to DeFoe's pre-spawn cranking system, including the gear he uses and his plans for using a drone, check out his full video, available only by subscribing to The Bass University TV.