Virginia Bassmaster Elite Series pro John Crews likes to crank shallow water. Spring, summer, fall, or winter, it doesn't matter, because he feels there are situations all year long that are conducive to casting a shallow-diving crankbait and reeling in a bass.
Having fished all his life, he's tried hundreds of different crankbaits, and you'll find more than a few one-of-a-kind homemade lures in his box.
"The guys who do the homemades can play with bill angles and weight and the buoyancy of the wood and other things," Crews said. "They can tinker with each one until they get it just right. The dive angle, the wobble and everything is perfect.
"The only problem with a lot of them is that you can't cast them very well, or very far, or in wind. And they're sometimes not very durable."
So he teamed up with Spro to create a "production homemade" crankbait. They named it after him, and called it the Little John.
A Year in the Works
"It took us a year to get this right," Crews said of the Little John. "The size, weight, balance, dive angle, vibration and all that had to work like a homemade. And then we added the internal weight-transfer system."
That system has a big, soft tungsten ball that moves to the back of the bait on the cast, but rolls forward to balance the lure once the retrieve is started. And it's quiet.
"It has just enough side-to-side movement to stay loose, but it doesn't rattle," he noted. "I wanted a quiet bait – since (a rattle's) not what makes fish hit that type crankbait anyway, and they get accustomed to rattles on highly pressured lakes. I think they'll hit a quiet one over and over, since they don't have any sound memory associated with it."
If they don't hit shallow cranks because of the rattle, then what is it about the baits that triggers the strikes?
"It's a reaction bait," he said. "I think they're more attracted to the sound of it hitting the cover – the wood or rock. Also, the vibration draws them. The Little John has a pretty hard vibration. It's not like a wobble or a thump, but it'll vibrate the rodtip."
There's another thing you'll notice right away that's similar to many homemade crankbaits – the circuit-board diving lip. "The bill does two things for you," Crews noted. "First, it's indestructible. You can hammer it off docks, rocks, bridges, the side of the boat, whatever, and it won't chip off or crack off like conventional square lips."
The lip isn't square, or a coffin-lip, or a rounded diving lip. "This shape makes the lure a good complement to fat, wobbling square-bill baits," he noted. "The rounded corners make it very snag-resistant.
"Another thing I wanted when we designed it was for it to back straight up when I stopped reeling and I give it some slack," he added. "It comes through brush pretty well, but you just have to be aware of what your bait is coming through. You need to feel everything as you're cranking it in."
Crews' favorite Little John color might be blood craw (shown).
When cranking cover, he said you can usually feel the obstruction on the line before you hit it with the crankbait. That's when you slow down your retrieve so you don't crash full-throttle into the brush.
Another distinction he noted: "Even if you do (stop it and give it slack), many crankbaits will helicopter up and spin around on a slack line, and back the hooks right into the snag. The Little John goes straight back away from the snag."
General Shallow Cranking Notes
"Shallow crankin' in general is mostly around hard cover – wood, rocks, and scratching a hard bottom," Crews said. "I also will catch them around docks and treetops and things where they're not on the bottom.
"If you have stained water with visibility a foot or less, and hard cover, any time of year is a good time for shallow cranking. It will work in any season.
"In winter and early spring, rocky channel banks are the most productive," he added. "And there should be deep water close by. It's best in the middle to late in the day.
"Then in summer when it's hot and nasty, if you fish a river or lake with a river, run up to where there's current and stained water. At places like Kerr Reservoir you can do that. It's a great alternative to fishing deep ledges that time of year."
> BassFan's Terry Brown recently wrote of review of the Little John based on his tests. To read it, click here.
> Although Crews fishes shallow cranks like the Little John around hard cover most of the time, "It also works ripping it out of the grass," he noted. "But I haven't gotten into that situation much since I've got them. I had some prototypes this spring that were pretty good, and I got the final versions early this summer. I caught some fish at High Rock Lake at the (Bassmaster) Major on them."
> He has a hard time picking his favorite colors for the Little John, since he got to design about half of them himself. "Spro had that clear/chartreuse color, which I like in water that's clear to a light stain," he said. "I also like the "old firetiger" matte finish that we did. It's sort of like the old Bomber, and great for stained and tannic water. My favorite might be the blood craw – a transluscent deep red. I think it'll be hot all over the South next spring."
> The bill material on the Little John comes as an opaque dull-white color. "You can take red Dip-N-Dye and paint the bill with a Q-Tip and when it dries it'll be the same as that blood craw color," he noted. "These bills will take color real well. You can leave it white or color it just about any way you want to."
> For more info about Spro and its pro-designed products, click here.