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Finesse the Grass...with Crankbaits

By Russ Bassdozer

Finessing the Grass. This is a tough situation, and it can be tedious fishing - but productive. If you want something a little easier to do, then you can rip cranks off the grass, which doesn't require any finesse at all. But this article is strictly about a more difficult alternative grass-cranking technique, which is called "finessing the grass."

By the way, we're talking about cranking submerged grass beds of thick weeds like hydrilla as opposed to emergent beds of the gloppy stuff, okay? So to do this, you must rely on the sensitivity of a relatively limber-tipped graphite rod and the most sensitive superline you know of, such as 12 lb. test fluorocarbon. The sensitive rod/line allows you to detect when the crankbait STARTS to get caught up in thick grasses like hydrilla. Basically you use the sensitivity in the rod/line to concentrate all your attention on what the vibration of the bait normally feels like as it swims along. Then when you feel ANYTHING at all different, just slow up or even stop the crank. Most likely, that "anything different" you feel is the crank making contact with the stalks. So far what you have done is cast out, run the bait down to the desired level, and come into contact with a thick clump of weedy stuff. This is the easy part so far.

Next, you have a choice of three things you can do to hopefully induce a strike:

1) Wallow it. Just slow up on the retrieve (or pause and let the bait rise a bit), then reel slowly to make that duck-billed crankbait slowly "wallow" through the thick spots so slowly that it can make contact with thick-stalked grass without snagging. This is truly finessing the grass which is difficult to do at best, but can be productive.

2) Let it rise. This works with a highly buoyant bait on active fish. Just stop and let the bait rise, and expect to get bit as the bait starts to rise into the clear zone just above the grass tops. That's it. If no hits within a few seconds, just resume reeling until you feel ANYTHING again, stop it, rise it and repeat over and over again, thereby covering the entire grass bed in this fashion.

3) Work it in place. This works with a suspending bait on inactive fish. You have hopefully made contact with the outer fringes or some taller stalks sticking up from the top of a thick clump. Throw a little slack into your line. Just shake and doodle the neutrally buoyant bait in place right next to the thick clump of grass. You may get some very feeble bites doing this, almost like a bite on a plastic worm. You really want to avoid pulling the bait forward horizontally, because you can get bogged down if you do that. Things will get better or worse at this point. Worse in that you may get deeper into trouble with the weeds with a suspending bait. Better in that you can slowly inch your bait through the clump as slowly and as motionless as possible until it comes into the clear again. Surprisingly, you will still get hits by barely pulling it out ever so slowly not even trying to make it wallow.

If a bass hits and misses, or in many cases with these slow tactics just mouths it and then lets go of the crankbait, what happens next can get very interesting. Just put down the cranking rod, but make sure there's enough slack line so that the boat drift will not pull the crankbait out of its position for a few seconds. Now pick up a second rod and toss a lightly-weighted Carolina or splitshot weedless Fluke or tube back at the location of the bass and the crankbait. No hits? Then put this rod on deck with a little slack to keep it in place, and pick up the cranking rod and resume your original retrieve with it. Once the crank is out of the water, then reel in the soft plastic bait and keep that aside for the next time it happens. With two rods going up and down and two lures in the strike zone, anything can happen and usually does! (Note: Make sure your fishing license permits fishing with two rods).

Lastly, there are the crankbaits themselves. Now when you think of your favorite crankbaits, you usually envision something that's bulky, bulbous, billboard-sided, and more conspicuously painted than many other baits in your tackle box. And you usually create lots of crankbait action - broad sides rolling, bright colors flashing, tail strutting briskly, wiggling back and forth, head bobbing, bottom-gouging, deflecting up and over cover. That's all very good and exciting stuff, but it's not what you need if you want to learn to "finesse the grass" with crankbaits.

Plastics in grass. I generally favor plastic rather than wood crankbaits in grass. Why? With the grass tactics described here, slowly-worked wood plugs typically exhibit more wiggle and roll than plastics. More wiggle and roll will catch more grass. Now, let's not confuse wiggle and roll with vibration. There is a difference between wiggle/roll and vibration. I am a proponent of vibration. I like a crankbait that vibrates in the rod tip...a wiggle cannot be felt in the rod tip. Vibration can also be felt by the fish in its lateral line, often from a further distance...wiggle and roll, on the other hand are more close up, sight-oriented qualities. But in the grass, sight can be blocked. Heck, the bass may be under the grass, so a slow wiggle and roll will not necessarily get them out, but vibration will draw them! Also great for grass is that some plastic crankbaits have ball bearings or other rattle contraption in them. Most wooden plugs do not.

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