Today I went to Barnett Reservoir to pull some “new” crankbaits and try out some new rod-and-reel combos. I am planning for our biggest tournament of the year: the Grenada Big Mama Open.

Today’s run with a few new cranks tied onto some super-nice baitcasting combos was to try to determine if these new baits would actually catch a crappie.

I started with the theory that if I show fish something they haven’t seen so far, maybe, just maybe I can trick the big one into biting.

Look, all my Grenada buds have been telling me all summer that the crappie have been eating up crankbaits. But, no one has told me that they’ve caught one as big as they grow, yet.

Perhaps I’ve got just the ticket for the Big Mama.

Cranking Basics 101

I often get asked the most basic things regarding pulling crankbaits. I certainly try to give the best answers I can, and here I’ll attempt to give a lesson on Crappie Cranking 101.

Let’s start with the equipment I recommend.

I use baitcasting reels (leave the spinning reels at the house, friend — to many tangles and loops to deal with) mounted on medium to medium-heavy casting rods. I like rods that have a trigger because they fit my rod holders better, and the trigger acts as a “safety” to prevent the rod and reel from being pulled into the lake when hanging a huge fish or an underwater stump.

I like a 6-foot-6-inch rod. I own several brands, with my favorites being Shimano, Abu Garcia and Berkley. I want my rods to be graphite, functional and have the right action — a fast tip is my favorite — and not cost an arm and a leg. I buy my stuff when it goes on sale. And I could care less whether it’s got some “famous” angler endorsing it. Some fishermen buy gear to impress other fishermen; the only thing I’m interested in impressing is a great big crappie.

This time of the year, when everything is geared toward hunting and hunters, is a great time to score some fishing gear on sale.

I just bought all the “on sale” rod-and-reel combos they had (that was only three) at Academy Sports for $39.99 per combo. Got a great IM-7 graphite, 6-foot-6-inch Pinnacle rod and a nine-bearing Pinnacle Inertia reel (the more bearings, the higher quality and price usually — they start with two bearings and go up — get it?).

Used them today. They work great, have a great action in the rod tip, which shows the wiggle of the crankbait, and they have enough “muscle” to handle large fish. And, they didn’t break my bank when I bought them. Look for some bargains out there — you’ll find them.

Back to the basics.

Let’s “load” that new reel. Most low-profile baitcasting reels have a line capacity of 120 yards of 12-pound monofilament. That’s just kind of the norm. It’s important to know how much line the reel takes so you’ll know how to “load” it. You see, I’m most interested in the last 33 yards of line on that reel — that’s the part I work with. The rest is just filler.

Using the Pinnacle reels I just bought as an example, here’s my recipe for loading the reel. I start with 12-pound monofilament. I could care less what brand or color — this initial filler will never see the water. I turn the handle 60 rounds, keeping tension on the line and making sure I’m spooling it so that no twists are created. 

Next. I tie either orange or yellow 12-pound braid to the mono. Knot doesn’t matter — it’ll never get off the spool. Then I literally step off 33 steps that I believe measure 1 yard per step. So, I now have 33 yards of either yellow or orange braid tied to the base filler of mono.

Finally, I tie another 33 yards of the other color of braid to the second filler line. Tip: If you follow my instructions here — tying 33 yards onto a second color also of 33 yards — you’ll lose no time if you break off that first 33 yards at the knot, and you will do that — trust me. With the first 33 yards gone, you have another 33 yards already loaded and ready to fish. Just grab another lure and keep fishing.

I try to alternate colors, having some reels showing yellow going to the lure and some showing orange. The reason for alternating colors is that the different colors make untangling the eventual mess you’re going to get easier. Tip: When using braided line and you find yourself with a lap-full of tangles, let the stuff dry a little. Dry braided line is easier to work with than wet braided line, and it only takes a few seconds for the stuff to dry.

Some of my tournament buds who long-line jigs and/or crankbaits use line-counter reels. I don’t like line-counter reels for a couple of reasons. One, the good ones cost too much. Two, I don’t trust them — especially when using braided line.

I know exactly how much line I have out when my lures hit the water. I cast as far as I can, and then release the reel until I get to that first knot. That’s 33 yards right. Then I turn the reel handle a couple of turns to keep the knot on the spool (to help prevent the line breaking at the knot — that’s why). And, that’s where I start fishing. 

I shorten the length of the line toward the boat if I feel it necessary to change depth or make a tighter turn. I never fish lures farther back than 33 yards for a couple of reasons. One, ever seen a “big mouth” crappie skiing on the end of your line a hundred feet behind the boat? Now, a “big mouth” crappie is a nice ‘un, folks. That monster’s mouth looks like it’s as big around as a mayonnaise jar, and it’s way back yonder, 100 feet from the boat.

The closer I can hook him to the boat, I figure the less chance I have of losing that fish of the day. Secondly, I don’t think longer line — say 150 feet — causes your lures to swim any deeper. Yes, I’ve read the cranking depth “bible.” Yes, I think whoever wrote the book must be in the bible- and line-selling business.

Look, crankbaits are not machined, precision instruments. Some Bandit 300s swim a little deeper than other Bandit 300s on the same length and diameter line pulled at the same speed. Plus — not claiming to be an engineer here — I believe that, at some point, even the skinniest line begins to act as a drag, causing a lift of your lure. That is, I believe 150 feet of line compared to 100 feet of line might cause your lure to actually swim shallower, not deeper.

Geez, this basic stuff is tougher than I thought. I’ve used more than my allotted number of words already, and all we did was get the rod and reel bought and loaded.

Maybe, next time we can have a lesson on catching ’em as big as they grow.