I’m one of those guys who will always carry a crankbait rod when fishing for spotted bay bass or making a trip to the breakwall, but I’ve always left it at home when fishing outside the harbor. I started to suspect that might be a mistake after a trip with Captain Gerry Mahieu. During that trip, Gerry fished the crankbait extensively and fished it in areas I’d never considered conducive to crankbait fishing, like boiler rocks and kelp beds. A couple weeks later, I fished with Captain Jimmy Decker and he too spent the entire trip fishing a crankbait in water that I’d never think of throwing one, in this case above structure that was 60-feet down.
These suspicions were proven true when Mahieu scored a second place finish in an SWBA event with a 21-pound bag of calicos on the crankbait and Decker followed it up with a 19-pound bag in the next event. At that point I pretty much knew that I needed to focus on learning how and where to properly fish the crankbait for calicos.
The first order of business was to invest a tremendous amount of money in buying up every imaginable size and color of crankbait to find the “right” one for calico fishing. As it goes with most of my tackle buying decisions, that ended up being a big waste of time.
Catching fish on a crankbait seems to be more about depth and action than it is about color and size. Regarding depth, you can find crankbaits that run anywhere between zero and fifty-feet of water, but when fishing calicos any bait that runs 12-15-feet deep should get the job done. While each bait has a slightly different swimming action, what they do when you pause your retrieve seems to have the biggest effect since a lot of bites come on the pause. Whichever bait you choose, you’ll want to replace the hooks and split rings with heavy duty hardware. You can find out more about doing that in this article.
If you’re going shopping for crankbaits I suggest checking out the Strike King Series 6 XD, the Norman DD22 or the Bomber Fat Free Shad. All of these baits will meet your depth targets and have proven bass catching action. Regarding colors, I’d suggest getting bright colors, like parrot, for when the water is dirty, dark colors, like crawdad, for when the fish are feeding on crustaceans and light colors, like sexy smelt, for bright days.
My crankbait rod is a Rainshadow GCB 710MH matched with an Abu/Garcia Revo Winch full of 50-pound spectra and a short 40-pound fluorocarbon leader. This fiberglass 7′ 10″ rod is heavy enough to cast the bigger crankbaits, and has enough backbone to pull hard on fish. Graphite rods will work for this application as well, but the stiffer rods tend to cause pulled hooks when fishing the crank, so I’d recommend sticking with a fiberglass rod.
Fishing the crankbait is simple, just throw it anywhere you’d normally fish a swimbait. During a recent SWBA tournament at Santa Cruz Island, Matt Kotch and I threw the crankbait the entire day and managed close to 100 fish, the biggest five of which weighed 27-pounds. In the morning we fished boilers on the islands rocky front side and caught fish while casting the crankbait into areas of turbulence and retrieving it quickly with a long pause every few turns of the handle. Most of our bites came after the bait made bottom contact and floated up during the pause.
Later in the day, the bite changed and the bass would only bite the bait when retrieved parallel to the shoreline. Since we were in 40-50-feet of water the bait wasn’t making any bottom contact but the action was calling the fish up to mid-column to bite. We ended the day fishing a kelp bed at Yellow Banks and all of our bites came when fishing the crankbait in the lanes between the kelp stringers. The nice thing about the crank is that when you snag kelp it usually pulls out very easily and and more than a few of our bites came immediately following the bait being pulled free of the kelp.
I doubt we’ll be able to repeat that tournament winning performance again any time soon, but the crankbait has definitely earned a spot in our arsenal. If you’ve never fished a crankbait for calicos, I recommend heading down to your local tackle shop and picking up a few. You can throw them on your normal bass gear and if you like them, invest in a dedicated crankbait rod and reel.