Crankbaits have earned the nickname "idiot baits" because they are so easy to fish that any idiot can throw one out, reel it back and catch a bass. And, not to ruffle any feathers across the Magnolia State, but these so-called idiot baits work really well in Mississippi.

My introduction to crankbaits came more than 25 years ago as I was standing on a little rock bar that jutted out next to an incoming stream that flowed into my grandfather's pond. I had an enormous spinning rod and reel that looked like something better suited for surf fishing than bass fishing. To this TG&Y special, I tied the first crankbait I ever bought, a baby bass-colored model 6A Bomber.

I began heaving the medium diving plug into the pond much like a surfcaster would do to try to get his bait past the breakers. It wasn't long before the tip of that rod was straining under the heavy load of a fighting bass. I stood there and caught one bass after another on that crankbait without ever really knowing what I was doing.

And while I was only 12 years old, I wouldn't have classified myself as an idiot at the time. Some people like my dad might have argued the point, but I wasn't an idiot. Ignorant maybe because I didn't know how to fish a crankbait, and therein lies why every bass angler in Mississippi needs to have a few crankbaits in his tackle box.

You don't even have to know how to fish them to catch fish on them. Every stage of a bass angler from a novice to a professional touring bass pro can catch fish on these baits. However, there is more to these idiot baits than meets the eye.

One professional touring pro who relies heavily on crankbaits to compete in the Bassmaster Elite tournaments is Pete Ponds of Madison. Ponds comes from a family that has a long history with crankbaits, and he has what some might consider a sixth sense for knowing when to tie one on.

"I don't know if I would go that far," Ponds responded, "because I can't think of a time when I didn't have at least three of them tied on and lying on the deck of my ... boat during a tournament. I keep three because I want one that will run shallow, one that will run at mid-depths and one that runs deep."

Ponds favors Bandit crankbaits, so he used them as he passed along some expert information that will help any Mississippi angler catch more fish on crankbaits. There are several crankbaits like the Strike King Series 1, Mann's Baby 1-Minus, Norman Fat Boy and Bomber Balsa B, though, that cover the same depth ranges.

Personal preference plays a key role in which crankbait you select, but learning when to throw a shallow-, medium- or deep-diving crankbait will go a long way toward increasing your crankbait catch no matter what model you throw.

"I use the shallow divers like the Bandit Flat Maxx and the 100 Series when I'm searching for fish," Ponds explained. "I'm only looking to pick off the most aggressive fish on this particular bait."

Ponds finds that the best time of year to throw shallow-diving crankbaits is from late summer through fall. This is when bass can most often be found rounding up schools of baitfish before they slash into them.

"The Flat Maxx will actually work any time of year from 48-degree water to 98-degree water," Ponds added. "But I'd have to pick the late summer and fall because this bait mimics a shad so well, and that's the time bass are picking off shad."

Since bass are generally as active as they will be all year long during these months, Ponds fishes the Flat Maxx very aggressively. He believes that by burning this bait through a school of shad he can stir up the shad and make any lurking bass bite out of sheer instinct.

The only difference between fishing the shallow divers during late summer and during fall is where Ponds throws his crankbait. He focuses more on main-lake structure during summer as bass are still hanging out more in open water. When the temperatures start dipping, though, bass follow the shad back into the creeks and pockets, and Ponds naturally follows the bass.

Another super-shallow diving crankbait that Ponds trusts to put bass in his boat is the Bandit Footloose. This bait dives only a few inches under the surface, and it is one of the shallowest-diving crankbaits on the market.

"I use the Footloose almost like I would a topwater," Ponds explained. "It's best on overcast days in spring, especially in pad fields and over shallow grass. The best situation for the Footloose would be over coontail or hydrilla that tops out about a foot below the surface. I use a stop-and-go retrieve with it, and the strikes are just unbelievable."

The one Mississippi lake that came to Ponds' mind as being great for shallow-diving crankbaits was Ross Barnett in Jackson. Ross Barnett is a shallow lake with many features like shallow wood cover and whatever vegetation the Pearl River Waterway District isn't trying to kill. Ponds also said shallow divers work well on the long points in the Tenn-Tom waterway.

Professional guide and tournament angler Roger Stegall agreed with Ponds' assessment, and added that knowing when to throw what crankbait has helped him tremendously over his tournament career.

"You wouldn't drive a nail with a saw or cut wood with a hammer," Stegall quipped. "I throw a lot of Strike King crankbaits, and their Series 1 XS (extra shallow) runs about a foot under the water, and I throw it anywhere I would throw a spinnerbait in spring. Barnett definitely comes to mind for the 1 XS because of the lily pads fields, stumps and shallow water. The Series 1 runs a little bit deeper, and I like it especially when I'm fishing flats with little drops in shallow water."

Medium-diving baits are probably the crankbaits with which most Mississippi anglers are familiar. Baits like the 200-series Bandit, Norman Middle N, 5A and 6A Bombers and Strike King Series 3 and 4 are perfect for fishing a variety of cover and structures, and they work anywhere from a farm pond to a reservoir. In fact, Stegall explained that they're probably the most important crankbaits in his lineup.

"Any level of angler can tie on a Strike King Series 3 or Series 4 and catch fish in Mississippi from the coast to Pickwick," said Stegall. "Both dive 8 to 10 feet, but the Series 3 is a smaller profile body, whereas the 4 has a larger body and a wider wobble. I use both around stumps and logs in 6 to 8 feet of water, and I select the Series 4 over the 3 when bass start feeding on bigger shad starting at the end of May on through June, July and August."

Ponds relies mostly on the Bandit 200 and 300 series medium divers in the summer, too, and he said that medium divers are great at Mississippi lakes like Enid, Grenada and Sardis when the fish start getting a little bit deeper on the rip rap, dams and brushpiles.

"Those two baits are dynamite in the brushpiles," Ponds insisted. "Both are great for fishing through cover because they deflect off the wood real well. A lot of people might cringe when throwing something with that many hooks in the middle of all those limbs, but they come through easier than one might think. And hitting that wood cover is what it takes to get bit."

Ponds explained that fishing a brushpile first with a crankbait before resorting to a jig or soft plastics is the best way to increase your bites per pile. Crankbaits attract the aggressive bass that might be hanging out on the edges or over the top of the pile, so you might catch two or three bass before moving in to soak a jig in the middle for the less-aggressive fish.

Pickwick guide and local tournament angler Todd Witt has another use for the medium-diving crankbaits when he's on his home water in Northeast Mississippi. Witt likes to throw a Strike King Series 3 when the fish are on or near the bank.

"A lot of times, that's going to be the early morning hours during summer here at Pickwick," he said. "Or maybe when bass are first coming off the beds in late spring. I concentrate in depths from 6 to 7 feet, and I try to hit the little stumps fields, chunk rock and brushpiles. And the Series 3 is also great during the fall at Pickwick when bass start moving to the creeks to feed on shad. I target shad more than I do cover that time of year and catch a lot of fish doing it."

When bass move much deeper than 10 feet, all three anglers have to switch to the big boys of the crankbait world. Famous bottom dredgers like the Norman DD22, Mann's 20 Plus and Rapala DT16 rule the roost when bass set up on deep ledges, road beds and underwater humps. Stegall is known as a deep-water structure fisherman, and anglers would do well to imitate his deep-water cranking system.

"I throw the Rapala DT16 when bass get deep," Stegall said. "This bait gets down to about 16 or 20 feet on 10-pound-test line, and it's a big size body of about 3 1/2 or 4 inches. I believe it's important to make any crankbait contact whatever the diving depth, but it's really important for the super deep divers. You want a bait that can get down and kick up a silt trail on bottom and bang off deep stumps."

Witt employs a DD22 on Pickwick during the summer "dog days" when bass are out on the deeper bars that run parallel to the main river channel out in the middle of the lake. These ridges and ledges top off in about 15 feet of water, and the DD22 and 20 Plus are just about the only baits for now that can get down there effectively.

"These giant crankbaits are tough to fish," said Witt, "but they will make you like them if you stick with them. I took a gentleman fishing on Pickwick one day who didn't want anything to do with a deep-diving crankbait. I convinced him to try it, and he had a 4-pound smallie yanking on his line within four casts. I bet he throws them all the time now."

No matter what crankbait you throw or where you throw it, all three anglers say the "idiot" method of fishing a crankbait - chunk and wind - might catch fish, but they all agreed that the best way to increase your crankbait catch is to make your bait look injured.

"The one thing I could say to help anglers catch more fish on crankbaits is to fish them with a variable speed," said Ponds. "Rather than slow and steady all the time, try speeding it up then slowing it down … making it dart one way then the other. A bass is kind of like the cat in your living room. You have to tease it into striking sometimes. I'll guarantee you that a shad being chased by a bass isn't swimming at the same constant speed in the same constant direction."

Stegall agreed.

"Make your crankbait bang into whatever you're fishing," he said. "Bang it into the bottom, rip it into the rocks and slam it into a stump. Make your bait run crazy. That change in motion is what triggers strikes. And if you're fishing deep structure, getting that first fish to bite can be the key that unlocks the mother load.

"If one chicken in the barnyard finds a worm, it won't be long until all the other chickens will be out there cackling away and trying to find their own worm. Bass are the same way. Get one to bite on deep structure, and the rest of the school will sometimes turn on, and that's when you can stroke them on a crankbait whether you're an idiot or not."