“Tommy, when you headed to Sardis for our first tournament this season? Carrying any crankbaits?” asked fishing buddy Tommy Moss of Brandon.

“We’re headed up on Wednesday, and, yes, we’re definitely pulling cranks,” I replied. “Brad and I pulled a ‘Paul Johnson’ the other day at Barnett: We hit the lower lake with some Bandit 300s and wore their butts out — big fish, too.

“We fished half a day and kept 32 big ones — 15- and 16-inchers. We probably had 10 or 12 pull off before we could get them in the back of the boat. I’m afraid that I’ve ruined Brad. When he left the lake, his first stop was Academy Sports looking for more crankbaits.”

Tommy and I were tournament partners a few seasons ago, and the real reason we parted ways was that Tommy didn’t want to pull crankbaits as much as I did.

Look out, friend: Sounds like you might have a similar issue brewing.

Look, I’ve been out of the game for a couple of months this summer, and, frankly, writing this article just before the new tournament season kicks off is challenging.

At this point, my truck has been in the shop for half a month and counting. Dodge can’t figure out how to make the electronic door locks work. The local dealership was kind enough to rent a pickup for me, but the rental doesn’t have a boat hitch. It has become a “Chrysler Smart Case”— whatever that is.

And, anyway, we’ve had what seemed to be an extraordinarily hot July and August. I’m not the only one who checked out this summer: Occasional drive-bys at the Rez’s boat ramps showed them to be practically empty during the week.

But if you’ve read “As Big As They Grow” more than once, you know I love pulling crankbaits for crappie. Who else do you know who has had more than 3,500 crankbaits stolen from him?

That happened to me, along with over 50 rod-and-reel combos and other fishing gear about this time last year. They broke into my storage locker in the middle of the night and cleaned me out.

In replacing these stolen cranks, I’ve discovered some additional brands and styles that I like.

I’m going to walk you through what I see as the good points and selling features for a few of my favorites. I get no personal sponsorship money or free baits or anything from any of the products mentioned. Academy Sports and Bandit Lures are sponsors of the Magnolia Crappie Club, and a couple of my suggestions come from these lines of lures.

Bandit Lures makes a 2-inch crank in a 100, 200 and 300 series. I mention the Bandit line first because it is the most popular with all crankers.

Shoot, I think former Bandit owner Chris Ross of Sardis started the whole cranking-for-crappie idea.

Bandit is now owned by Pradco Lures, but the original Bandit quality and performance is still there.

The 100s swim about 5 to 6 deep. The 200s go as deep as 8 to 10 feet. And the 300s will get as deep as 15 feet or so on light braided line.

The action is great right out of the box, and I rarely have one that fails to track true behind the boat. Tracking true is important when you’re pulling six to eight lures at one time.

My biggest objection is the $6 retail price tag. How I miss that discounted clearance page on the original Bandit website.

Academy Sports has a private-label line I believe is right up there to the Bandit standard. The Model S, Model M and Model D (which stands for shallow, medium and deep, of course) lures in Academy’s H2O line run almost exactly like a Bandit. And, the colors and quality are great.

I’m here to tell you that Academy’s H2O brand is at a completely higher standard than those other less-than-$3 lures. At $2.99 a pop the H2O Models S, M, and D are well worth trying. They catch fish, y’all.

I love Storm’s Wiggle Wart in the 05 size. This bait has a slightly wider body and a much harder thump or wider wiggle than the first two baits discussed here. Great quality right out of the box. No fine tuning needed. They swim down to 12 feet or so.

The challenge with Wiggle Warts is finding them on sale. In the past, I’ve bought several hundred at one time for really low prices from vendors who were closing them out for the season.

I actually had an online retailer initially refuse to sell me more than five of each color at his “end-of-the-season blowout” price. A quick phone call to the guy convinced him that I was serious about buying all his inventory in one transaction.

So far this season, I haven’t been able to find those kinds of deals, and most of my Wiggle Warts were stolen last fall.

The retail price for Wiggle Warts is less than $5 a pop. That’s a little less than Bandit and a little more than the H2O brand. I try to buy mine at less than $3 a pop.

Another favorite of mine is the Model A from Bomber. The 2A runs 3 to 4 feet deep, the 4A around 8 feet deep, the 6A digs to 12 feet and the 7A runs 16 to 17 feet deep.

Yes, they make a 5A, and I own some. But for some reason I have trouble with the 5As and less confidence in their fish-catching abilities. I don’t know why, but of all the baits I’ve mentioned so far, Bomber 5As will track out to the side more than any other, causing an absolute nightmare at the business end of your trolling pattern.

I can still find deals on Bomber baits every now and then on eBay. Don’t buy them individually; contact the seller and offer to buy a bunch at a reduced price.

One of the best deals I ever made was with a sweet lady with a real hillbilly accent from eastern Kentucky. After a couple of emails back and forth, I called her. 

“I’ll buy all the Model A Bombers you have at $2.25 a piece, ma’am,” I informed her

A long silence and then, “Well, will you buy the ones that are upstairs in the storeroom, too?”

“Yes, ma’am,” I answered. “Just call me back with the total.”

I ended up buying more than 600 Bombers from a bait store in eastern Kentucky.

Now that’s what I’m talking about.