ROI — return on investment. Now, that’s a phrase we don’t often use in fishing, yet, it’s that’s precisely the logic upon which Bassmaster Elite Series pro Mark Menendez bases his top choice for soft plastic diversity.
Spoiler alert: We’re talking about craw baits.
“As a bass tournament angler, you’re basically a risk assessment manager,” Menendez said. “It’s an investment of my time, it’s an investment of my energy and it’s a financial investment.
“So, I’ve put together an investment plan, so to speak, of one bait that allows me to catch quality, as well as quantity. In the past two years, I’ve managed some really big bass all over the country using the Strike King Rage Craw.”
Menendez said he’s most commonly using this 4½ -inch bait in a traditional presentation, either penetrating cover, skipping under cover or pitching through cover. With a good size and profile for all of his shallow-water needs, Menendez said the bottom line is the undeniable attraction of a crawfish impostor.
“If a bass has a chance to eat a crawfish, a bluegill, or whatever else, he’s going to pick the crawfish nine out of 10 times,” Menendez said.
Explaining the relevance to tournament anglers and casual fishermen, alike, Menendez offers this allusion: “Would you rather eat a hot dog or would you rather eat a piece of steak? I’m a steak kind of guy and that’s what I’m doing; I’m feeding big fish this steak, I’m feeding smaller fish this steak, as well.
“This gives me the opportunity in a day’s time to put this bait in front of small fish — the keepers I need to fill my limit — and then a larger kicker fish later in the afternoon.”
Menendez executes this game plan by targeting laydowns, stumps, docks and any shallow cover likely to hold bass. Rigging is straightforward Texas style — a 5/0 flipping hook, a ¼- to ½-ounce weight, based on depth, and 20-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon.
When it comes to colors, he’s a fan of simplicity. Just three colors will handle the majority of scenarios he encounters.
“I like dark, opaque colors in dirty water; black and blue is one of my favorites,” Menendez said. “The color I’ve had the most success on nationwide is called Falcon Craw. It has a red muddy bottom to it, a dark green top and a little bit of gold flake. This mimics natural crawfish colors in certain water clarities and it also looks like a bluegill.
“For cleaner water presentations, I like green pumpkin with gold and purple. It looks like a bream, as well as a crayfish.”
Good thing about the craw bait is it’s broad distribution. Pick your favorite soft plastic brand and it’s almost certain to include this category. From the V&M Wild Thang Craw to the Bass Assassin Pure Craw, the Berkley Powerbait Chigger Craw, Gambler Craw Daddy, or the Missile Baits Craw Father, there’s something for any preference.
Jacob Wheeler, who won the opening event in February in his Elite Series debut in 2017, also has relied heavily on craws during his career; so much so that he actually helped Gene Larew develop an innovative version of this venerable bait called the Punch Out Craw.
Designed with multiple modification options, this bait features broad claws connected at the tips and lightly linked to a center tail flapper. Separating these pieces, or possibly removing them altogether alters the craw’s action in a manner conducive to a particular presentation.
Similar to the way Menendez fishes his Rage Craw, Wheeler does a lot of shallow cover pitching with his Punch Out Craw on a 4/0 flipping hook and a pegged sinker. His other craw presentations include:
• Punching: Rigged the craw with a 1½- to 2-ounce pegged weight, Wheeler drives the bait through heavy vegetation. Removing the claws facilitates entry by streamlining the package.
• Football head: Rumbling across deep humps and drop-offs is a cold season favorite.
• Flipping jig: Removing the tail flapper frees up the claws for maximum motion when descending through branches.
• Buzzbait: The craw’s added bulk increases casting distance and profile. Wheeler bites a half-inch off the bait’s head for proper hook spacing and removes the tail flapper. The same deal works on a bladed swim jig.
One of the more creative uses for a craw comes from FLW Tour pro T-Roy Broussard, who rigs an un-weighted Rage Craw on a wide-gap hook and briskly retrieves it over matted grass or sparse pads. In a scenario where a plastic worm or a medium-sized swimbait could work, Broussard said he opts for the Rage Craw because it creates a look the fish don’t commonly see.
“It creates more turbulence and no one else fishes the bait like that,” he said. “It’s basically a soft body buzzbait. This gives me a different option for highly-pressured areas or times of the year when crawfish are active.”
Just a straight-up reaction bite, this technique also works around wood or paralleling a shallow bank, but Broussard says he fares best by buzzing the craw across pockets in the grass.
Elsewhere, Elite pro Bobby Lane’s go-to bait for spawning bass is the Craw Fatty he designed for Berkley’s Havoc line. If he’s looking at a bed fish, he’ll pitch a craw right on target; but if cloud cover or vegetation conceals beds, he’ll fan cast likely areas with a Yo-Zuri Rattlin Vibe lipless crankbait in open waters and a swim jig with a Havoc Craw Fatty trailer in vegetation. This may very well yield bites, but rolls and boils indicate nest-guarding bass. Once he finds an active area, or when he locates that isolated cover, Lane picks it apart by flipping/pitching a Texas-rigged Craw Fatty.
Other options include drop-shot craws, Carolina rigging and wobble head jigs. With few exceptions, you’ll be hard pressed to find a scenario in which the multi-faceted crawfish impersonator can’t play some meaningful role.