The Rites of Spring
March 09, 2022
Any discussion of pre-spawn bass is bound to include the topic of crankbaits. Why? Put simply, of all the baits in the boat, cranks offer distinct advantages over most other lure types, especially in the springtime.
“Bass feed up in the early season before they spawn,” says Addison, Alabama MLF tournament competitor and St. Croix pro, Jesse Wiggins. “As water temps start to rise and baitfish get livelier, bass get used to chasing them.” That makes active presentations like crankbaits a favored springtime option in any angler’s arsenal.
Jesse’s brother, Jordan (aka Jordy) Wiggins, resides just 30-miles east of Jesse’s stomping grounds. The other half of the Wiggins Dynasty, Jordy – a BFL and Toyota Trail angler, St. Croix pro, and 2021 Bassmaster Classic qualifier – agrees with his sibling rival’s assessment on spring bait choice. “I like cranks in the spring because they cover water and fish dingy water better than about anything else,” he says. Given spring conditions often involve rainy days and resulting runoff that creates the cloudy water Jordy refers to, cranks become a critical pre-spawn consideration.
Yet there’s more to spring cranking than ripping down the bank with big-billed wobble baits. The brothers Wiggins have some differing thoughts when it comes to the best approaches and effective details that contribute to a great springtime day in the boat. Much of the method to their madness is dictated by water bodies, clarity as already mentioned, but also cover and structure. They agree, however, that no matter the variables, anytime you’re throwing a crankbait come spring, you’re increasing your odds of contacting active fish.
To be clear, the Wiggins boys don’t just huck hard baits with trebles because it’s an effective tournament tactic; they also do it because it’s fun. True, both anglers’ tournament successes have been heavily crankbait-centric; it’s a technique their dad – tournament angler, Craig Wiggins – taught them in their earliest days of fishing. “I just like actively cranking and feeling what the bait is doing the whole time,” says Jesse. “You feel exactly what that bottom or piece of structure is, and there’s no mistaking when the fish actually eats the bait. It’s a great way to get bit.” Jordy confirms, “If it’s spring, you’ll usually catch my brother Jesse throwing a square-bill whether close to shore or fishing off the bank a ways.”
Jordy continues, “I like to look for rocks and clay. As that water warms up faster, the crawfish are up in that clay especially.” Fishing near the bank then, becomes a matter of looking upslope and identifying likely lakeshore where clay and rock areas extend well underwater. “Bluff and sandy points aren’t as much in play for the lakes I fish,” Jordy adds. “It’s just not as productive as that clay is. The fish are where the forage are.”
Jesse takes a slightly different approach, biding his time away from the bank, at least at first. “I like outside channel swings,” he says. “Fish stop and concentrate here before they move up onto adjacent flats to spawn. If you think about it, it’s just another bank – but this one starts its break in a few feet of water and continues down to the bottom of the channel. I use the chart on my electronics and imagine a wall where that channel is. I fish down that wall on the deep side earlier in the spring, then focus on adjacent flats with stump fields as we get closer and closer to spawn.”
Both brothers feel strongly that there’s less chance to get bit in clean water; “clean” in terms of both turbidity and the amount of cover and structure present. “I need that lure to be banging into something. You simply have to come into contact with cover,” says Jesse. Jordan supports that statement, saying, “It just has to be hitting stumps, hard clay, rocks, laydowns, really anything.”
That contact and deflection off of cover is what makes squarebill crankbaits such an obvious choice in the spring, whether operating out from the bank, or nearly on it. “Squarebills just deflect so well,” says Jesse. “They’re pretty forgiving, and seem to ride through the thick stuff better, which is exactly when I expect to get hit.”
Jordy prefers running up and down the bank until he’s contacting the kinds of cover and structure he’s looking for or targeting main-lake points. “I’ll fish down the bank on that point, or across it, but some days I get more fish setting up on the point with a deeper diving bait,” Jordan says. “I’ll cast in deeper water out from the point, dragging it back up shallower and attacking the cover fish are in from different directions. Sometimes, the only way to extract more than one or two fish from a spot is to hit the same fish from a bunch of different angles.”
Both Wiggins brothers love squarebills during spring, with Jesse favoring a Jackyll Bling 55 for its distinctive deflective properties. “I just think it comes through cover better, and that’s all kinds of cover. Some baits work well in wood, but wedge in rocks, where this one seems to do well in a variety of cover types and has an erratic action that triggers strikes. Jordy throws the kitchen sink at spring fish, favoring a host of baits depending on the water body and depths he’s targeting. For deeper situations, a Rapala DT14, DT10, or Norman Little N gets the nod, where shallower waters call for a Strike King KVD Squarebill 1.5 in the bank-raider situations Jordy likes to target.
Color is a popular topic for any hardbait discussion, and the Wiggins both feel fish are highly selective based on the specific water body and its clarity. Crawfish in any hue is a big spring pattern which both brothers lean on heavily. “Fish definitely show a preference, and when they’re up shallow, it’s a lot of oranges and reds,” Jesse says. “Anything crawfish-looking and I’m throwing it.” But that changes as the water clears up, with Jesse opting for more natural colors at that point. “With clearer water I’m trying to imitate a shad,” says Jesse. “I just don’t go as bright or flashy and tend to stick to more whites and grays.”
Jordan notes a few exceptions, like Guntersville, where red craw patterns are in play even in clear water. “You get fish in grass systems and clear water and think that those bright colors may not work as well, but down there and a few other places they’re still the ticket,” says Jordy. “That tells you how important it is anywhere that bass are eating crawfish.” Whether fishing in heavy cover, or just near the bottom of the bank, both anglers agree that craw-patterned cranks are about as perfect as it gets come spring.
Jordy likes working the bank heavily, covering water as a matter of principle. “I like my trolling motor on 5 or 6, meaning I’m working harder to throw more baits to more water, while reeling faster to cover it,” he says. Older than Jesse by 18 months, Jordan utilizes a few extra weeks’ worth of wisdom to slow down once he does find pods of fish. Jesse likes covering water, too, albeit somewhat more methodically, and usually farther from the bank. “Those channel walls hold fish, and in deeper water you can usually see them well on the electronics. It's just up to me to make the right choices that will get them to bite,” says Jesse.
Rigging Up Rods
With both brothers living so near one another, fishing the same lakes, and growing up fishing quite a bit in the same boat, it should come as no surprise that they rig up nearly the same. Each prefers baitcasting reels in the mid-to-upper speed ranges – somewhere between 6:1:1 and 6:8:1 – mostly on account of the speed required to keep up with a moving boat looking to cover water. Jesse feels he can more easily figure out a cadence with a faster reel, rather than fighting to keep the bait moving while on the hunt. “Sometimes, a small pause or faster pattern of reeling is what they want, and with a quicker retrieve I can still fish it slow, but I also have the option for quick burst,” he says.
The Wiggins boys are carbon copies when it comes to line choice also, opting to wind Seaguar AbrasX fluorocarbon in 12-pound test. Jordan offers, “I run fluoro because of less stretch and more sensitivity like other guys, but I also like how it keeps my baits at the deeper end of the dive chart.” Jesse adds that it’s important to re-tie often. “Because we’re throwing in cover and know to get bit we have to hit something most of the time, I’m a big fan of constantly retying knots. That, and pre-spawn fish get spunky as water temps climb, so you’re always rubbing rocks, stumps, and sticks when fighting fish. It’s a good habit to get into.” Both brothers tie fluorocarbon directly to the split ring of the crankbait. “I’ve gotten so quick at clipping line and retying that I think it’s as fast or faster than a snap,” Jesse says.
Of course, rod choice is important for a technique such as cranking, with Jesse outlining the basics. “All I’m looking for is sensitivity with forgiveness – the sensitivity to be able to feel what the bait is doing and what it’s coming into contact with down there and the forgiveness that’s needed to cushion the strike and keep the hooks in the fish’s mouth during the fight.” A demanding tournament angler like Jesse Wiggins knows what feels right, and in most cases that’s St. Croix’s 6’10” Legend Glass moderate action casting rod in medium-heavy power (LGC610MHM). While he appreciates the 7’2” and 7’4” Legend Glass models in certain situations, he prefers the nimbler 6’10” rod when beating the banks while traveling close and parallel to shore. “I’m casting under limbs and at targets with my rod right up against the bank,” says Jesse. “For back arm casts, and small flips, I can be more efficient and ultimately more productive with that slightly shorter rod.”
Brother Jordan prefers to wield the big stick, opting for the 7’4” (LGC74MHM) Legend Glass casting rod, noting the increased casting distance he can attain when out in the open. He concedes that the 6’10” (LGC610MHM) is about perfect for squarebills and other near-bank baits, while agreeing with Jesse on the power and action aspects of each of the Legend Glass rods. “I just love the extra power when fighting fish to lift them above stumps and laydowns,” says Jordy. “It’s tough to find that perfect balance of strength and sensitivity, feel and forgiveness, and these linear S-glass crankin’ rods deliver like no others.”
Honorable mention goes to the corresponding models in St. Croix’s Mojo Bass Glass series, as both brothers sing their praises. “You need a rod that won’t pull hooks, and all of the St. Croix Legend Glass and Mojo Bass Glass bass rods bow to the fish a bit with a parabolic, moderate action,” says Jordy. “Without that forgiveness you lose opportunities. Fish coming unbuttoned near the boat just can’t happen in a tournament situation, and we lose very few crankbait fish with these glass rods. Even skin-hooked fish we’ve got a good chance of landing with these rods.”
Jesse continues, “Once you use one of these rods – either the top-of-the-line Legend Glass or the more affordable but incredibly capable Mojo Bass Glass rods – you finally understand what a good crankbait rod is. Medium-heavy power to extract fish from cover, and truly moderate actions that don’t let fish throw hooks. Linear S-glass and continuous tapers from IPC construction deliver that ever-important feel that crankbait anglers need, too, while forming glass rods that feel surprisingly light, crisp and balanced in the hand. It’s so important with these smaller squarebills and tight-wobbling baits that you feel exactly what’s going on,” Jesse continues. “Not only to feel cover and strikes, but to make sure the bait is free and clear of debris, too. If that lure hangs on one tiny leaf, it’s not doing its job and that costs you bites that can be critical to winning a tournament. You just don’t get that sensitivity with other duller-feeling glass rods.”
Agree to Disagree
With both anglers putting down roots and spreading canopy over similar areas and disciplines, it might come as a surprise that they differ on certain important stuff. They actually disagree on the number-one presentation in the springtime. While both love crankin’ and say it’s a top-three springtime pattern, Jesse is all in on crankbaits, but Jordy is obsessed with chatterbaits. “If we’re in a boat together come spring, I’m almost always throwing a crank, and he’s probably throwing a chatterbait,” says Jesse. “That makes us fish well together when we do get out, each giving the fish a slightly different look.”
Jordy’s chatterbait fascination is the result of the distinctive lakes he fishes. “If I’m in eelgrass especially, I prefer a chatterbait over anything else,” he says. “Crankbaits can be good if you dial in the depth of dive perfectly, but I have more options to fish chatterbaits at varying depths in these waters, and they fish great in other systems too,” Jordy adds. Even Jesse concedes that chatterbaits and vegetation go together. “I throw them in some of the systems where weeds are the primary cover we’re fishing, for sure,” he says. It’s a keen observation for a technique that often involves letting that bait drop into grass before ripping it out, knowing that a strike can happen at any time.
Jordy says St. Croix makes his ideal chatterbait rod in both the Mojo Bass Glass (MGC72HM) and Legend Glass (LGC72HM) Series, the 7’2” heavy power, moderate action Rip-N-Chatter models. “That thing is a home run for throwing chatterbaits in grass,” says Jordy. “It’s got the heavy power I need to rip bladed jigs through the grass, but when a fish eats – just like with the crankbait models – that rod bows to it. I can put great hooks in fish without pulling them, yet still have the power to force them out of the grass. That’s hard to do in a single rod blank, but St. Croix got it done for me and every other chatterbait angler with these rods.”
For the Wiggins Dynasty, brotherly love often comes in the form of busting big bass on banks, together with crankbaits and chatterbaits, squarebills up against shore, or deeper diving cranks that hit those channel-swing walls. Remember, as springtime water temperatures climb, so does a fish’s ability and willingness to chase. That makes active presentations like crankbaits, chatterbaits and spinnerbaits key weapons in a bass angler’s arsenal. As fish draw nearer and nearer to the spawn, anglers find themselves adjacent to stump flats and spawning shelves, slinging squarebills and the like to hungry pre-spawn bass looking to eat as many crawfish as it takes to fill the tanks.
Specialized equipment is the salve for a technique-specific bite like crankin’, where a rod and its rigging need to master certain specialized tasks. The forgiveness of a moderate action will keep help keep fish hooked and is a good start, provided you can get them to strike. That requires sensitivity, not to feel the strike itself, but to provide the angler with feedback on how the bait is running and what it’s coming in contact with. Without the sensitivity portion of the equation, it’s impossible to feel if your lure is fouled, or more importantly, if you’re even contacting the cover necessary to trigger the bite to begin with.
Pairing a lightweight blank with heavyweight glass performance solves the equation. Strength meets sensitivity; forgiveness is served, but with responsiveness and power. Fast reels, fluorocarbon, and color-specific cranks that feature crawfish anything are the other constants that will help earn success. So, take this information and hit the lake this spring, cover some water and find ‘em.
And don’t forget to call your brother.
About St. Croix Rod
Headquartered in Park Falls, Wisconsin, St. Croix has been proudly producing the “Best Rods on Earth” for nearly 75 years. Combining state-of-the-art manufacturing processes with skilled craftsmanship, St. Croix is the only major producer to still build rods entirely from design through manufacturing. The company remains family-owned and operates duplicate manufacturing facilities in Park Falls and Fresnillo, Mexico. With popular trademarked series such as Legend®, Legend Xtreme®, Avid®, Premier®, Imperial®, Triumph®, Mojo, and BASSX, St. Croix is revered by all types of anglers from around the world.