It’s not often that you get the chance to sit down with an Elite Series pro and pick his brains about his favorite bait, so I jumped at the chance when Pete Ponds offered me that opportunity. Crankbaits are a powerful tool for locating and catching bass and Pete credits them with much of his tournament success, including his win in the 2004 Bassmaster Southern Open at Eufaula.
The 2001 Bassmaster Classic qualifier determines his choice of crankbait based on the type of forage the bass are feeding on. When the bass are feeding on shad or other baitfish, he will use the Bandit Flat Maxx. The flat sides and action of the Flat Maxx make it closely resemble a baitfish.
When the primary forage is crawfish, Ponds will use a full bodied bait such as a Bandit 200, 300 or 700 series. At the Elite Series event at Oneida in 2009, Ponds caught several bass that had scars on their noses indicating that the fish had been digging in the rocks for crawfish. “The bass do this at any lake that we fish”, said Ponds, “but on lakes with rock or hard bottoms, it’s easier to tell that they have been rooting on the bottom for crawfish”. “This is a prime time for a crankbait. When you see this activity, it is important to have the bait dig into the bottom” says Ponds. He does this by selecting baits that will dive deeper than the depth of the water, often using one that dives to 15 feet when the water is only 6 to 10 feet deep. “The digging action looks more like a crawfish trying to run away from the bass” say Ponds, “and that will trigger a strike in a feeding fish”.
His color selection will vary based on the water clarity. In clear waters, he uses baits that have a natural pattern that contain some green. In more stained water, Ponds will use crawfish and perch colors that contain some chartreuse, orange or red.
Ponds credits much of his crankbait success to his choice of equipment. He uses a 6’6” Carrot Stix for his shallow running crankbaits and a 7’10” Carrot Stix for the deeper diving crankbaits. His reel for both applications is an Ardent XS1000 spooled with 10 to 12 pound Vicious fluorocarbon line. He says that “the fluorocarbon line is invisible to the fish and using the lighter line allows me to get the bait to run deeper”.
Grass lines are an excellent time to pick up a crankbait. Ponds will select a bait that runs the same depth as the bottom on the outside of the grass line. He then casts parallel to the grass line until he reaches the cast that doesn’t catch any grass. “That is the cast that you want to repeat.” Ponds will often use braided line while fishing grass lines because the braid will cut through the grass rather than letting it slide down the line and bunching up on the crankbait.
Crankbaits are also Ponds’ bait of choice for fishing ledges. Once he has located a school of fish on a ledge, he says that it’s just a matter of fine tuning which bait, color and presentation. Once you have those factors figured out, you can large numbers of fish out of the school. If the school stops biting the crankbait, he will switch to a Carolina rig. “The Carolina rig will catch the less aggressive fish in the school”.
“I use a ¾ ounce tungsten weight on my Carolina rig almost all of the time.” According to Ponds, using the same weight let the fisherman get used to the feel of the weight coming through the water. “That way, you can feel the slightest difference in the feel of the bait when a fish picks up the bait.” Using a tungsten weight allows him to feel the bottom better, especially on hard bottom lakes or road beds.
“Your hook set is very critical on a Carolina rig with that heavy weight”, Ponds explained. “When the fish bites, start reeling and keep reeling until you feel the fish pulling back. Then use a sweeping motion to set the hook.” This will prevent any slack getting in the line if the fish is swimming toward you. “It is also a perfect way to tell if you really had a bite. If the rod doesn’t load up, you can go back to fishing without having messed up the bait.”
Nothing beats a crankbait for catching large numbers of big bass in a short period of time. But remember, just because the school has quit biting the crankbait, it doesn’t mean that they’re gone or that you’ve caught them all. Pick up the Carolina rig and you can catch some of the less aggressive fish. It’s a perfect One-Two punch and quite often a KNOCKOUT!