Cranking and jigging for hot winter action

What makes Arey’s approach so attractive is that his target depth rarely, if ever, exceeds 10 feet, and, in fact, the majority of his strikes actually come in just 6 to 8 feet. Even if he’s working a channel swing where his boat may be over much, much deeper water, he’s still casting and concentrating on that shallow depth range.

“That’s why I use jigs and crankbaits,” he explains. “It’s critical to not only retrieve slowly but also to keep your lures on or in close contact with the bottom, and I can do that with jigs and crankbaits. I’m imitating crawfish and shad, which is why the bass are shallow, but the strike zone is small.”

Arey’s crankbait is often a No. 6 Shad Rap, but he also uses Wiggle Warts and others that cover the 5- to ­10-foot range effectively. He uses a variety of orange and red crawfish patterns and ­12-pound P-Line fluorocarbon matched with a Lew’s ­7-foot medium action Custom Pro Rod and a TLCP 6.8:1 reel. The key is his retrieve, which is slow but steady, right along the bottom. The colder the water, the slower his retrieve.

“A crankbait works best on the steeper chunk-rock banks that flatten out because I just crawl the lure around and through the rocks like a crawfish usually moves,” Arey notes. “I don’t do anything special on the retrieve, like changing speeds or jerking my rod, because crawfish in cold water don’t do that. Even with a slow retrieve like I’m using, I can still cover a lot of water, especially when I start in a larger tributary like I usually do.

“What I do like, particularly in clear water, is a little wind that ripples the surface, because it will actually help move bass a little more shallow. I’ll fish dingy water, too, but not muddy water, and under those conditions, wind is not important, since the fish are usually shallow anyway.”

When the transition zone is smoother, such as from smaller gravel to sand or clay, Arey often changes to his jig, a 1/2-ounce Arkie-style casting model. It’s usually brown or green pumpkin, and his trailer (same color) will have claws or pincers but not a lot of action. He’s not getting strikes as the lure falls, nor is he hopping the bait violently on the bottom, so he doesn’t need an aggressive trailer. He just wants something that adds some bulk to the jig and also helps create a slight water movement as he crawls the lure along the bottom.

“My retrieve is really just a slow drag with pauses,” says Arey. “Sometimes, if I’m working across a flat gravel or sandy area, I may barely hop the jig once or twice just to change the vibration pattern, but I want everything to appear as natural as possible. The only time I do change the cadence of my jig is when we have a few days of warmer temperatures and the bass seem a little more active. Then I’ll move it a little faster, but not a lot.”

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