By Jonathan LePera
Special to BassFan
When it comes to shallow-water cranking, John Crews is considered among the best in the business.
He cut his teeth fishing Buggs Island, the James and Potomac rivers along with Lake Gaston – all great year-round shallow cranking fisheries. Early on, it helped pay the bills. Today, few are more deadly on the Bassmaster Elite Series with a shallow-running plug tied on.
Water with 6 inches to 2 feet of visibility containing an abundance of hard cover is prime cranking territory, Crews says. Rocks, hard bottom, docks, laydowns, points, rip rap or even do-nothing banks provide the necessary ambush points for bass looking to feed. Any time wind creates current, or in rivers systems controlled by tides, like the Potomac or California Delta, shallow cranking is always an option.
Shallow cranking doesn’t become a player until water temps hit 40 degrees but 50 degrees is optimum. Crews always cranks with a 6.4:1 gear ratio reel, but will vary the retrieve even within the same cast starting with a medium type retrieve, then speed it up, stop it and return to a steady medium retrieve.
Rattles or No Rattles
The line of crankbaits that Crews designed for SPRO do not have internal rattles. Some of the Little John deep divers have tungsten balls that deliver more of a thumping sound than a rattle sound
“The one overriding factor that makes a bass bite a shallow crankbait is the vibration,” he said. “I don’t think it’s near as important to have a rattle or not. I don’t think fish seek out a bait because it has rattles. On the contrary, there are times when a rattle will spook fish, especially highly pressured fish.”
Crews has multiple vibration options rigged up every day.
“I’ve seen it change from day to day or year to year on the same body of water,” he said. “You have to be willing to adapt.”
The Little John series of crankbaits from SPRO are effective when fishing shallow water.
The original SPRO Little John has a real pivoting action that excels during the pre-spawn period, in highly pressured waters, and when fish are feeding aggressively up shallow.
Sunny and calm conditions call for more subtle vibrations like the Little John or the Little John MD. Stronger winds or heavily stained water require a heavier thump like that provided by the SPRO Fat John.
When it comes to color selection, pre-spawn calls for spring craw or delta craw patterns while the post -pawn coincides with the shad spawn so natural colors like cell mate and chrome olive are good options.
Crews noted that many anglers understand how casting angles play a major factor when cranking deep, but don’t always apply similar logic when shallow.
“I’ve been in situations where if I go up a bank in one direction, I can get bit, but if I turn around and come back, I can’t get bit,” he said.
He points to factors like sun position, the way the bank lays, and other factors we don’t even know which is why hitting targets from multiple anglers is beneficial.
Crews believes if anglers took better care of their rods, their line would last longer. When cranking stained water, dirt will accumulate on the guides that the line passes threw on every cast.
“If you clean them off then your line will last – I’d say 30 percent longer than it normally would,” Crews said. He’ll also use the lightest line he can get away with to maximize the action of his bait.
Crews has a sound philosophy on his Gamakatsu treble hook choices. When in doubt or cranking cold water, the round bend design gets the nod because the hook point is pointed out and penetrates the tougher flesh and cartilage. Conversely, if the water is warm, the mouth of a bass is softer and easier to tear, so the EWG design has better holding power. He avoids upsizing hooks for fear of ruining the action of his bait.
Sometimes he’ll color the fiberglass bills of the crankbaits to accessorize them by either darkening them or using a red or an orange tint to give the fish a focal point, especially when water clarity is an issue.
> Fat John: Cashion Rods medium-heavy John Crews Signature Square-bill casting rod, unnamed 6.4:1 casting reel, 14-pound Sunline Super FC Sniper fluorocarbon line.
> Little John MD: 7’ medium-heavy Cashion Rods crankbait rod, same reel, same line (8 to 12 pound).