Living on Kentucky Lake as he does, where crankbaits probably catch more bass than any other lure, it's easy to understand why Yamaha pro Mark Menendez always has dozens of the diving plugs in his boat, even now as water temperatures are getting colder. In fact, early winter is one of his favorite crankbait seasons.
"This time of year on lakes throughout the country, there are really only two major fishing patterns anglers need to look for, and both involve crankbaits," smiles Menendez, a five-time qualifier for the Bass- master Classic®. "A fisherman can follow a major creek channel from its mouth back toward its headwaters looking for shallow water fish in the four to five-foot range; or he can stay in the first third of that tributary and fish out into the main lake looking for bass in 10 to 15-foot depths.
"Crankbaits are effective because different models dive to different depths all the way down to nearly 20 feet, and they allow you to cover the water quickly."
Menendez prefers fishing near the mouths of the tributaries or in the main lake itself, where he concentrates on points or flats adjacent to deep water. Because winter bass seem to want to move vertically rather than horizontally to find their comfort levels or to feed, he works his crankbaits right along the steeper vertical edges, or breaklines of the points and flats.
"I don't stay in deep water and cast up on the point, nor do I move up on the point and cast deep," the Yamaha angler explains. "Instead, I really like to retrieve my lures along the break itself. There will be a lot of bass deeper than the crankbait will dive, but I'm not concerned with those fish. I'm looking for transient bass that haven't moved to deep winter structure, and they'll be along those steep depth changes. Bass move deeper in stages, so it's possible to find them in various depths, depending on the structure itself."
In contrast to other seasons of the year when he looks for cover like brush or stumps where he uses crank- baits, winter fishing isn't always about cover. Instead, it's usually dependent on the presence of baitfish.
"I prefer to fish flats or points that have rocks if I can find them," Menendez notes, "because they really help attract baitfish to an area. The small minnows feed on the algae that grows on the rocks. When I'm idling near the mouth of a tributary or studying main lake points to identify the break into deep water, I also look for baitfish on my depthfinder. Because the forage gathers in huge schools and shows up clearly on the electronics, I can get a very good idea of the depth range they're using, and that in turn, tells me where the bass are likely to be in relation to the break itself."
For example, when Menendez finds baitfish suspended in five feet of water or less, he knows bass will be nearby, nearly always right at the edge of the breakline. When the baitfish are deeper in 10 to 15 feet or so, bass tend to locate further off the side of the break, and when bait is really deep, bass will be on the bottom.
Because the water is colder and bass are less active during the winter, Menendez fishes his crankbaits slower than at other times of year. He still uses eight- pound test fluorocarbon line to give the lures as much action as possible, but he changes from his normal 5:1 ratio reels to slower models with 4.3:1 gearing.
"It may surprise a lot of fishermen to learn just how easy and reliable this crankbait pattern can be during the early winter months," concludes the Yamaha pro. "I've have used it for years on Kentucky Lake and other reservoirs and caught a lot of quality bass doing it."