Crankbaits For Prespawn Bass

Prespawn bass stack up on points, flats and cover, and a crankbait works well to cover water and catch them.

Shaye Baker | March 2, 2023

Tom Frink’s path to pro fishing was non-traditional. Originally from Cedartown, Tom enlisted in the Air Force after 9-11 and served three tours overseas. Near the end of his service, Tom entered and won two co-angler titles in BASS Elite Series tournaments. He then attended Kennesaw State before joining the Auburn fishing team and rooming with the Lee brothers.

Fishing a crankbait during the prespawn is one of the best ways to catch quality bass. Bass are gradually pushing shallower and shallower as the water temps start to creep up. And the creek channels and 45-degree banks that the bass use for highways set up perfectly for fishing a crankbait.

Typically littered with docks, rocks, wood, grass and other cover, these thoroughfares give bass a gradual incline from the deeper water they’ve spent the winter in, as they now move up toward the shallow water where they’ll inevitably spawn. And the bass will often stop off and hunker down by any of this cover they find along the way.

Once you find a stretch like this where you can get bit, you’ll often find a wad of fish in the same area. The bass move up in waves at different times across a fishery, so finding one of these areas can be a little challenging.

The combined challenges of needing to cover water to find fish, and needing to select a bait that can be fished effectively around all sorts of cover, leads anglers to often pick up a crankbait. But just knowing that shallow-diving to medium-diving crankbaits are perfect for the prespawn is only part of the puzzle.

We set out with pro angler Tom Frink, who is a current Alabama resident but originally from Cedartown and a longtime fan of Georgia fishing, to get his take on cranking through the prespawn.

Tom Frink’s Cranking Approach 

Tom offered up tips on hook selection, body style and ideal depth for crankbait fishing, as well as color selection. Let’s start with color.

“It’s tough because sometimes it’s just trial and error,” said Tom. “A lot of times I’ll have on multiple colors of multiple baits tied on, just to see which one is getting bit more.”

Though selecting the right color isn’t an exact science, Tom has found an effective combo of three primary colors that he relies on: chartreuse and black, red and shad.

“If the water has a stain to it, the red shows up well. But they’ll eat it in clear water, too. It’s just a known prespawn color that works. So why go against the grain?”

While Tom’s logic is sound, with the substantiating proof that red baits have caught countless fish in the pre-spawn, Tom does go against the grain on the rare occasion.

“If I’m in a tournament situation where I know everyone is throwing a red, then I’ll throw another color to give them a different look and see if I can get bit. But it’s hard to beat red.”


Tom has found that red works well around all sorts of cover, and at various depths. And it works in a wider spectrum of water clarities than any other crankbait color he’s found.

“On grass lakes like Guntersville and Seminole, it can be cleaner. If it’s clear on those lakes, I’ll still throw it. Even on Lanier, it works sometimes. But typically I’d rather throw red in stain, with at least a little bit of color to the water.”

In addition to grass, red works well for Tom around rock, docks, boat ramps, brush, laydowns and bare clay banks.

“It’s a color you can pretty much tie on in the prespawn and go fish it anywhere. That kind of do-all color. If I only had one color to throw in the pre-spawn, it would probably be red.”

Water Clarity

Moving from clear-to-stained water to stained-to-muddy, Tom transitions to a black-back/chartreuse bait.

“Chartreuse and black are good contrasting colors that show up well in muddy water,” Tom said.

The dark black back and bright chartreuse sides create a flash as the crankbait rocks back and forth while coming through the water. This flash helps bass find the bait in low-visibility situations.

“If the water is dirtier, I’m going to have a red and a chartreuse-and-black tied on and switch them up to see which one I’m getting bit on better. If it’s really dirty, I’ll typically throw that chartreuse and black.”

Tom admits there’s no rhyme or reason sometimes, and that the fish just bite one color better than the other on a given day. But there is still another factor that helps determine his selection between these two—depth.

Tom Frink’s favorite crankbaits for catching prespawn bass on Georgia reservoirs are (top to bottom): the MIBRO Warlock 2.5 in the threadfin-shad color, the MIBRO Fury 1S in chartreuse and black, and the MIBRO Cheator Type-R in the Alabama red craw color.


“Typically I’m throwing the chartreuse and black shallow. I’m probably not throwing it in more than 7 feet of water. I’d say the majority of the time it’s 4 feet or less, like with a squarebill. With it being dirtier, they tend to hang tighter to the cover, too.”

The chartreuse-and-black selection for shallow mud makes sense when you take into consideration that bass tend to push shallow in muddier water. With this decrease in visibility, bass have to rely on their lateral lines to hunt prey.

They can increase their odds in muddy water by putting their bellies close to the bottom and their bodies next to cover, narrowing the strike zone. But bass aren’t just shallow during the prespawn.

“The depth I’ll crank depends on water clarity. One the majority of the more stained lakes, I’m cranking probably 1 to 4 feet deep, somewhere in there. Now if we’re getting into the cleaner lakes, I’ll crank down to 10 feet. It depends on how windy it is, too. If it’s windier, it tends to push the bass up shallower.”

Real World Example: Color Selection On Lake Lanier

So on clear lakes like Lanier, Tom will typically start his cranking out a little deeper and then push shallow when he finds stained water or when presented with windy conditions. His color selection in this situation starts with something in a shad pattern.

“On Lanier, there’s a lot of windblown points and banks. The threadfin-shad-colored crankbaits like the Cheator Type-R or Warloq 2.5 would work.”

Tom’s MIBRO Cheator Type-R dives to around 7 feet, while the Warloq squarebill is ideal for less than 4 feet.

“Or if you go up one of the rivers or one of the creek arms where it’s a little more stained, I’d go to the red color. Or if it’s really stained in the back, try that chartreuse and black.”

Moving from the red and chartreuse/black baits to the shad color, Tom likes it more in cleaner water, or if he’s seeing a lot of shad around.

“The threadfin-shad color is my favorite color in current, too. Not necessarily dirty water current, but if there’s current and the water is cleaner.”

Obviously the cleaner the water, the better the bass will be able to see a bait. So Tom likes to stick with something that’s realistic, and match the hatch.

“Most of the time in that current, they’re eating shad. So that flash the shad color gives off when it’s banging off the rocks, that makes it my favorite clear current color for sure.”

Water Temp

The water temperature always plays a big role in crankbait selection, as well. From tight-wiggling flat-sided baits, to wider-wobbling round-body baits, to the hardest thumping widest-wobbling crankbaits, there’s a lot to choose from.

“Usually once it gets down into the 50s, I’ll have my flat sides in the boat and throw them some. Once it gets below 50, I’ll throw the flat side more than I will any of the other ones.”

Tom prefers the tighter wiggle of a flat-sided crankbait in extremely cold water, as the cold-blooded bass become lethargic and slower to react. This rule holds true most of the time for Tom, with him acknowledging that there are times when the widest-wobbling crankbaits work well, too.

“They can feel the wide-wobbling baits, like they can feel a big Colorado spinnerbait blade. So you either want a really tight vibration or a really wide one. It’s one extreme or the other that seems to work best.”

Cold Effects Two More Things: Hooks And Retrieve Speed

Cold-water cranking works best with thin-wired hooks, and there are multiple factors that support this, according to Tom.

“I’m using light line and lighter crankbait rods, so those lighter wire hooks penetrate better. Plus in that cold water, their mouths are harder. With that lighter tackle, I’m just kind of sweep-setting the hook, and it’s hard to get two hook points of a thicker treble to penetrate. Where if you use that lighter wire hook, it’ll just penetrate better.”

The MIBRO crankbaits that Tom prefers come pre-rigged with thin-wire hooks like this. But on other baits, he’ll swap the thicker hooks out for Ryugi Pierce Trebles in a size 6.

“It’s a medium-heavy wire, but it’s still a thin wire compared to what we’re used to, like what would come on a KVD squarebill.”

In addition to altering Tom’s hook selection, the cold also dictates the speed of his retrieve. Though not to the extent some might think.

“For me, speed of retrieve doesn’t depend as much on water temperature as it does on water clarity. Even if it’s cold water, if it’s cleaner, I’m still moving the bait pretty quick.”

The change comes when Frink fishes in muddy water that’s also cold. In these situations, he will slow his retrieve quite a bit. The breaking point is around 52 degrees for Tom, with him fishing his bait faster at higher temps and slower at lower ones.

“If it’s clear water, I’m still going to crank at a faster pace and try to get it to deflect off something. I think they can see it well, and it’s more about getting it near them and getting them to react to it.”

Targeting bass with a crankbait in the  prespawn is all about trial and error, according to Tom. The fish are constantly on the move as they make their way toward the spawning areas. And the early spring weather offers plentiful showers and a constant fluctuation of air temperatures, causing areas to muddy up and water temps to run rampant.

Taking into consideration all of the variables, Tom recommends staying flexible. First, pick out a few cranks with which you can really break down the 2- to 10-foot range. Then Tom recommends finding a few basic colors that you have confidence in and keeping them all on the deck. Rotate through the different depth divers and colors based on the conditions until you find the fish.

Then it’s often easy pickings from there, especially in March on a Georgia reservoir.

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