When Pete Ponds found bass stacked in the mouth of a creek on Lake Eufala in Alabama, the only thing between him and his first B.A.S.S. tour victory was triggering their predatory feeding instincts.
He found it in one of his favorite weapons, a Bandit Flat Maxx crankbait.
"But it took me a while to figure out how they wanted it," said Ponds, of Madison, who led the 2004 tournament wire-to-wire for a five-pound victory. "What worked was to cast and then retrieve it as fast as I could until the lure struck the bottom.
"Then I gave it a big snatch. Then I'd pause it and that's when they'd hammer it. I got their attention by hitting the bottom, and with the snatch I made it look like a stunned shad. Then with the pause, I created the opportunity to strike a wounded baitfish."
For three days, the pattern worked. Even after the most active fish in the school had been caught, Ponds kept coaxing others to bite.
"Thing was, my partners in the back of the boat each day were throwing the same lures in the same area and not getting bit near as much," he said. "It was all in the retrieve. That reel, snatch and pause was the key."
Making a lure come alive is the key to crankbait success, Ponds believes.
"You've got to do something, give it some kind of action, that will trigger a bass' feeding mechanism," he said. "I don't think there's ever a situation where you just cast a crankbait out and simply reel it back.
"Why would you do that? All you're doing is making it look like any other baitfish in the water. Bass are predators, so they will feed on the easiest, or weakest, food source. What I try to do is make a crankbait get a bass' attention by banging it into something and then making it react to that contact the way a wounded baitfish would."
Ponds lets the fish tell him what lure pattern and action they want.
"When you start catching fish and they have the crankbait deep in their mouths, I mean deep, then you know you've found the key," he said. "If you're getting bites but are missing fish, or if you do hook up with only the tail hook in the lip or outside the mouth, then you know you're close.
"Then it's likely you need to try a different color. When you hit the right combination of color and action, you'll be catching them deep in the mouth."
For novice anglers just building a crankbait supply, Ponds suggests five primary color patterns for Mississippi: parrot/orange; pearl/black back; chartreuse/black back; spring crawfish (orange and black); and pearl/ blue back. Those varieties cover the two primary baitfish: shad and bream.
Ponds chooses a lure size and shape that closely resembles the main food source on a given lake or day.
"Then I create an action for the lure to make it stand out from the millions of baitfish," he said. Another factor in lure selection is the type of cover he's fishing.
"A short-billed bait like a Flat Maxx has great action but won't come through thick cover as good as a bait that has a larger bill in proportion to its body size," he said. "You can take a bait like a Bandit 200 (shallow), 300 (midrange) or the 250 Ledge (deep) and throw it in the middle of a brushpile and it'll bang its way through."
Pete Ponds' recommended tackle for crankbaits:
Line: Fluorocarbon for sensitivity, never over 12-lb. test (bigger line retards diving ability).
Rod: 61/2-foot, medium action for small, shallow baits; 7-foot medium heavy for big, deep-diving baits. ... always a fast tip.
Reel: Smooth action baitcast.
Hooks: Rarely alter factory hooks, which are designed into a lure's action and balance.