HARDCORE Crankbaits: How-To with Dustin Wilks

I’m a shallow water, visual angler at heart, but often the most and biggest fish are offshore, particularly in Summer. One tip I can give you for offshore fishing is to start is locate of creek and river channels and concentrate on areas of bends or intersections. Electronics are good these days and many spots are easy to find on GPS and a quick idle will let you know if fish are there. If you are new to the game, you don’t have to be in the middle of the lake either, many times the best spots are on the upper ends of lakes and creeks that have the most current.

Since Hardcore has introduced their extensive crankbait series (Crank 60 MR and Crank 2+, 3+ and 4+, and New Bullet Crank), I’ve really found off-shore fishing much easier and enjoyable. Each bait has a patented weight transfer system making them cast much farther and easier with no tumbling or spinning. Casting distance is crucial to deep cranking too, allowing the bait to achieve maximum depth longer, and cover more water. Often when off shore bass are feeding, it is actually done up on the flats adjacent to the actual drop of, so these long casts are so important to locate feeding fish.

The feel and pull of these cranks is not like pulling in a bucket as many older designs. They have thinner, narrower bills and a slimmer profile helping them to be easy lures to crank, even to deeper water. The finishes are unbelievably tough and check every box on the colors I need. I’ve got a couple of MR 60’s that I’ve caught over a hundred fish each on and the paint barely shows it.

I’ll quickly go through each bait with when and where I try them. Knowing a whole line of baits has really helped my cranking, I know exactly what bait to reach for for any set of conditions. When you are out fishing crank baits in the summer bottom contact is what triggers bites, so you want that bait to be hitting the bottom the vast majority of the time, keep that in mind as I discuss below to apply to your fishing.
MR Crank 60

This is a little workhorse. It dives about 6-7 feet on 14lb Fluorocarbon, a little deeper on lighter line. This is the smallest bodied bait in the line and I use it year round on shallow areas of creek channel ledges. It has become an overall confidence bait for me even just going down the bank. I’ve gotten into several schools of fish while fishing with other people using different baits, and all my buddies now have tackle boxes full of these baits if that says anything. Don’t look for anyone to mention this bait, because once discovered, fishermen have a tendency to stay quiet. It comes through cover good, but most importantly this little thing casts a mile. With any smaller lures, casting becomes an issue, but not with this one.
Crank 2+

Irreplaceable is the one word that comes to mind on this one. The 2+ means 2 meters and deeper, so about 6.5 feet. I find it is perfect if you want a bigger bodied bait with a nice body roll to hit water between 2 and 6 feet deep. This one fishes to me like an old balsa round wooden plug, except everyone of these runs perfect, casts like a bullet, and hits a deeper range. The bigger profile of this is really good if you are in a lake know for bigger fish or simple want to catch more bigger than average size fish. I use this bait in the same areas that I do the Crank 60, but when I want a bigger profile or the water is slightly shallower I often have both tied on, this one does a bit better in shallower water of 2-3 feet, but reaches 6.
Crank 3+

8 feet. What is so special about 8 feet? It is actually a hard to find a crankbait that fishes that zone well without going into really deep divers. This bait is designed to hit 10-11, but on 14lb Yo-Zuri T-7 fluorocarbon around stump filled channels it is hitting 9, making it tick the bottom just perfect in this range. The special thing about it — it’s really easy to crank, so it is fun to fish. The action is somewhat tight and fast which is great for burning by inactive fish getting action bites. Once you feel this bait on your rod, you will be addicted like me and find it much easier to cover this depth range fast. With this bait I’m typically sitting in 12-15 feet of water to a ledge or flat spot 7-9 feet.
Crank 4+

12 feet of easy cranking. Burning this bait around all kinds of structure around 10 to 11 feet is a killer. This is bait is much the same as the 3+ buts gets an extra 3 feet deep, on a standard cast. The body size on this bait is smaller and slimmer than most crank baits in this category, catching fish of all sizes quickly. We all know that deep crank baits tend to get pretty big, but this one fills a nice size void and catches big ones too. I’ve caught bass up to 9 lbs on this bait. I’ve had crazy days with this plug catching them schooled up on structure even catching them two fish on the same bait at the same time on multiple times to top that off. If you reduce line size to 10 or 12 and long line this bait, it will hit depths of 20 feet plus. Long lining is a special technique that allows you bait to reach much deeper depths than intended on a standard casts.
Bullet Crank

This is the grandaddy. This thing will hit 22 to 25 on a standard cast. Unlike the others in the series, this one will pull and requires a big long rod and high line capacity reel to fish it correctly. If you want big fish in that depth range on a standard cast this is your specialized bait. Have a bunch of these ready if you fish Tennessee river impoundments and lakes like Douglas in Tennessee and many others all over the country that are known for big fish that live really deep. I actually like this bait in the winter as well. When we first got prototypes it was the deal for deep cold water bass cranked slowly under bait. Typically this bait is for the summer though, you want to fish it really fast to trigger schools of fish. This is a bait you will want to know the fish are there before you cast, since it will give you a workout.

“Sometimes, you just have to go fishing”- by Bassmaster Elite Series angler Clent Davis

Clent Davis, a native to Alabama and one of the original grassroots anglers to the college fishing program, found himself doing a lot of soul searching leading into the 2018 season. Coming off a couple rough patch years and redirecting his focus to the FLW Tour, he simply “had to just go fishing again.” Fast-forward to August 12th, 2018; Clent’s career took a 360° turn when he posted the biggest come back in FLW history to become the 2018 Forrest Wood Cup Champion. Joined by his wife, daughter, and mom on stage in Hot Springs, Arkansas; Clent looked like a little kid again on the playground without a worry in the world. Fast-forward to February 2019, Clent has accepted a new opportunity with the Bassmaster Elite Series and his accomplishments are still piling up.

“Coming back to the Elite Series was definitely a decision that was hard to make. With the support of my family, friends, and sponsors I felt like I was making a conscious decision,” says Clent. “The first tournament in Florida kept my reputation in Florida the same ‘terrible’ but coming to Lake Lanier I knew I could put together a great opportunity.”

In practice he found himself struggling again to establish a pattern to go with. Not having a definitive game plan in place, he put 20 rods on the deck and went junk fishing.

“I knew I could catch some fish off docks, and I had some areas I felt confident in. But I couldn’t tell you how I was going to do it or where I was going to finish.”

Lake Lanier is a renowned spotted bass fishery, probably on the bucket list of many anglers out there as it should be. Multiple top level tournaments and championships have been held on the lake over the years. It is also where some of the best drop shotting anglers and spotted bass anglers cut their teeth learning everything they did. However, putting a mixture of all the new swimbait and finesse techniques that are popular today; it is almost like taking a knife to a gun fight. But no one out there is going to back down from the challenge, especially Clent Davis.

“Even with all the rods on my deck, I weighed in most of my fish on the Hardcore Flat Minnow 110 and then using a finesse technique. Without a doubt the best technique I had going for me was throwing the jerkbait around docks. I really didn’t think it was going to pan out however, because the weather did not cooperate the way I had hoped.”
photocredit: Bassmaster.com

The element that played the most into Clent’s favor is consistency. The first day many of the anglers really caught them, but day 2 and into the weekend things changed. Clent was able to stay consistent and put together strong enough weight to post his first Top-10 finish of the 2019 season on the Bassmaster Elite Series. He spent most of his time covering as many docks as he could throughout most of the four days in the tournament throwing the jerkbait. His set up included:
-7’1’’ Phenix Feather ML rod
-6.4:1 Shimano Curado K reel
-12lb Yo-Zuri TopKnot Mainline 100% Fluorocarbon
-Hardcore Flat Minnow 110 (Ghost Pro Blue)

“It feels really good to keep the ball rolling that I got on at the Cup. I spent a lot of time in the off season with my family and in the deer woods. That gave me a break and allowed me to be comfortable going into 2019. I am happy to have gotten my first top-10 early on in the season. Hopefully this will propel me into the remainder and lead me straight into the Bassmaster Classic.”

Yo-Zuri prostaff Todd Woods takes the “W” at WON Lake Havasu Open!!!!!

It was by far 3 of the best winter days of fishing for me at Arizona’s Lake Havasu. My practice started out pretty rough. My first day was spent in the river around the I-40 Bridge looking for smallmouth bass in the current. After a full day of practice I had only 4 bites; 2 largemouth and 2 smallmouth throwing a HARDCORE Twitch’ N Glide to locate fish. The fish will follow the swimbait and I would mark a waypoint on my Lowrance HDS unit.
The second day of practice consisted of the Lower part of the river with zero bites and a school of 6 largemouth I found hanging around a letdown tree in 4 foot of water. The 3rd day of practice was spent in the main lake. I was targeting Rock, Grass and bait. But after a week of cold temps below freezing and dropping water temps of 47 degrees the bait was very difficult to locate. I managed 6 fish on a small Swimbait and a HARDCORE CRANK 4+ in Baby Bluegill pattern.
The air temps started to get warmer and day 4 the water temp was 50 degrees. I had a feeling that the bass would start moving shallower. So I started looking for Mud Hens (Black Birds with white beets). The birds feed on grass and if the cove had more than five bits in it I know there was bass and grass close by. I was using a HARDCORE VIBE 70S Baby Bluegill color, working it slowly ripping it through the sparse grass. At around noon on the final day of practice I decided to fish one of the popular Marinas on the main Lake. It too had Mud Hens there so I knew there was grass. Around the 5 casts in the marina on the VIBE I caught a 5 pounder that absolutely choked the VIBE. I had to cut the hooks from the inside of the gills to keep from severely injuring the fish. A couple cast later I caught a 2 pounder on the same bait. I immediately left the marina and continued my practice.

Moving further south down the lake I found a few fish on the 4+ Crank in the main lake on the edge of some grass in 10 foot of water. That day I had a total of 5 fish. The next day was somewhat of a day off. I was able to fish till noon but never got a bite or a follow from a bass.

I have over 30 years of fishing Lake Havasu and I knew it was going to be a tough 3 days of fishing. My best estimation was winning weight 46 pounds. Not much “dock talk” other than tough fishing. My roommate was averaging 2 bites a day.

The tournament was shared weight. The day before the first day I drew a guy from Arizona and he was eager to know what to tie on. I gave him a 1/2 ounce bladed jig. I elected to start day 1 in the marina. After about an hour I started catching fish. I was throwing the Vibe between the boat docks ripping the bait through the grass. I caught 4 fish from 2-4 lbs. My co-angler then caught a 7.75 Largemouth to boost our weight. A few cast later he caught a 5 pounder. We ended up catching 12 fish with the largest 5 weighing in at 23.70, leading the tournament by over 5 pounds.
Day 2 I decided to give the marina the day off hoping to manage my fish to make it 3 days. I fished the main lake and southern area with small swimbaits and crankbaits. I caught 2 fish early on the 5 inch Basstrix Swimbait in Hitch color on a 1/2 ounce Bladerunner Spintrix head. I later caught fish number 3 running south on a HARDCORE 4+ Baby Bluegill Crankbait. With a 4:15 weigh-in and only 3 fish with an hour left of fishing I was wondering if I had made the right decision to not fish the marina. At 3:15 I pulled into one of my favorite pre-spawn coves and began to throw my swimbait around some submerged habitat. My co-angler noticed a Grebe diving and coming up with a threadfin shad on the surface. I worked my way to the area where the grebe was feeding on shad and also had several coots in the area feeding on grass. I made a cast a caught a 4 pound+ largemouth. A few cast later I caught a 2 and 1/2 pounder to fill out limit for 17 pounds.

The third and final day was spent entirely on the above mentioned marina. I started the morning with a 4 pounder and never looked back from there. I caught a bass on every other row of docks. I caught 8 fish on the bladed jig and ended up with over 21 pounds. It was the second largest bag of day 3 and I won by over 5 pounds.
The key to my success was locating bait, grass and fishing the baits slowly ripping them through the grass. I was using 14 lb Yo-Zuri Top-Knot 100% Fluorocarbon. Saving those fish the second day was also a key to victory.

Staying warm and anticipating the upcoming Tournament Season!!!

Thanksgiving Dinner around my house is always a very busy time of year. The food, the family, football, hunting season, decorating, and then there is the day-to-day chores to keep up with. This is also a great time of the year for me to start thinking about the upcoming fishing season and keeping my body and mind in tune to being a competitor and chasing my dreams. While most anglers are breaking in their new boat for the upcoming year or just trying to escape cabin fever, there is still a good chance to catch a nice bucket mouth.
During the winter I usually try to keep things simple throwing jigs, swimbaits, and of course hard baits. There are usually three baits I always keep tied on the deck of my boat and match the colors according to water color and visibility outside. In clear water and sunnier days outside I prefer more translucent colors. On darker days and dirtier water I like more solid colors and always follow a shad pattern. The exception is sometimes I prefer crawfish colors depending on the structure I am targeting.

The Hardcore Flat Minnow, Yo-Zuri 3DB Shad, and 3DS Mid-Crank are my most trusted arsenal this time of year. I always try to fish areas that have a rock bottom or have close relating rip-rap around them; throw in some brush to the mix and you have pot of gold sitting in front of you. Generally the water temperatures are anywhere between 48-53 degrees here in the state of Alabama. When temperatures are this cold largemouth are usually not very aggressive but they have to eat to stay warm. My favorite bait is the 3DS Mid-Crank in a shad or crawfish pattern, I’ll always have the fish tell me what they want. This is a great bait when targeting fish in 4-8 feet of water. I generally throw this bait on 10lb Yo-Zuri TopKnot mainline fluorocarbon and use just a slow steady retrieve to the boat. The key here it to have the bait bumping the bottom since the fish usually are not high in the water column. On slick sunny days I have caught some of my biggest winter time bags on the 3DB shad. I love throwing this little bait because I can use light spinning tackle and catch everything from 12 inchers all the way to 6 pounders. Make sure your using a long fast action spinning rod with a high quality spinning reel that has a good drag system. For this technique I will use a 15lb Yo-Zuri SuperBraid with a 8lb Yo-Zuri TopKnot Mainline Fluorocarbon leader. The Hardcore Flat minnow is just tried and true bait any time the water is cold. It always catches a few more fish for me throughout the day because it resembles a dying bait fish and will be an easier meal for the fish.
When trying to locate good areas of the lake to fish try to keep in mind where the warmest water will be. Generally the areas with darker water color or middle sections of the lake with the deepest water are a safe bet. You will almost always find my boat up a river where the water is dirtier and warmer or fishing down the bank of rip rap in the middle sections of the lake where there is deep water relating.

Always trust in Yo-Zuri and happy fishing!!!