Finesse crankbaits for bass and walleyes during the hot-bite days of late autumn

The sun might be setting on the open-water season, but don't give up on the long rods just yet.

Colder, seasonable weather has greeted the Upper Midwest in recent days, and I welcome it. Hard-water season isn’t far away!

But boat accesses still haven’t skimmed over with ice, which means open-water opportunities will remain for a few weeks. These last days of open water provide an excellent opportunity for finesse cranking of bass and walleyes.

I personally have had great success with this technique via long spinning rods and small No. 4 Shad Raps. Rig your rod with 8-point-test Fireline on spinning reels for great casting distance. Braids provide increased sensitivity, no stretch, and they’re of course more abrasion-resistant.

Cast your crank – and we’re talking small cranks – out into fish-holding areas, which can vary a lot right now. Rock, rip-rap, and any remaining green weeds are your prime target areas.

Mix up your casts. Generally speaking, if you watch anglers, it’s all cast and retrieve. You need to vary those casting angles. Start on the outside edge of rocks, then go shallower and shallower. Don’t start shallow and go deep as you have a greater risk of spooking fish. (This applies to the whole open-water season, by the way.)

People who attend my seminars sometimes ask why I emphasize different casting angles so strongly. It’s because fish constantly reposition themselves according to food availability, weather, and sunlight.

In a tougher bite, you can have great success with smaller lures, which is why I recommend No. 4-sized lures. In fall, many anglers think “feedbag” so they  automatically go big. Fish biologists, however, are realizing that big fish often consume smaller food sources than we might think.

As for the retrieve, we don’t always have to pound the bottom with crankbaits. That long rod you selected with the soft tip and spinning reel allows you to retrieve slowly, just enough to vibrate. And you should feel that crank vibrating. Go as slow as possible to maintain the shimmy.

So often fish, even the so-called aggressive biters of autumn, will hit light. We expect a harsh, abrupt bite, but it might be a tick that feels like bumping a rock or weed. Bottom line, set the hook. It could be a fish.

And just because your lure is in a fish’s mouth doesn’t mean you’ve hooked it. They can expel lures even after you’ve reeled one in. I’ve seen it myself boatside, so that’s why I constantly remind people: Set the hook.

Finally, always work with different colors. This is a big, big factor. Even slight changes can make a major difference.

Good luck this late autumn. Next blog, we’ll talk ice fishing!

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