Waking Up Bass

a how-to technique to target big bass in crystal clear waters

The calm surface of crystal clear waters under bright sunny conditions can be intimidating to some anglers as some of the harshest conditions for catching shallow water smallmouth bass.

Sure, you could head to deeper water haunts like shoals, reefs, and island points. You could break out the light action gear and drop-shot yourself some bass.

Or you could head back to those same shallows and fish for some potentially larger smallmouth bass that are roaming the shallows like ninja ghosts, hardly ever detected by the human eye.

These bigger bass can be tricky to catch and they can frustrate even the most experienced bass angler.

angler with big smallmouth bass

Do you break out the same tactics and gear as you would in the deeper haunts, hoping you can fool these big bass with finesse tactics?

How about changing it up 180 degrees and employing a power-finesse presentation that these bass find very hard to ignore while cruising the ultra-clear, shallow water?

Waking fat-bodied crankbaits on the surface is one of the deadliest presentations for catching spooky shallow water bass known to mankind.

And who really uses it?

We do!

This technique is not only deadly in crystal clear water conditions, but everywhere and anywhere smallmouth bass exist.

Cast the crankbait a fair distance from the boat. Once it lands, let it sit and do nothing else. Then, move the bait by slowly reeling in any slack line so the small crankbait begins a slight dive below the surface, then stop it dead. Don't do anything else; let the bait slowly rise to the surface and “pop up.”

This is when you will usually see a “toilet flush,” or the brown head of a bass come up and slowly inhale your crankbait, similar to the way they eat surface flies or baitfish.

Sounds too easy, doesn't it?

And it is a very simple technique that has produced some of our best summertime catches of bigger smallmouth bass when all else fails.

My choice of equipment includes a 7-foot, medium-action spinning rod by St. Croix Rods, a small spinning reel with a smooth drag system (these bigger bass are going to scream line from your reel as soon as they are hooked), 8-pound Gamma monofilament line tied directly to the split ring of the crankbait and our choice of bait is either a Strike King Square Bill series one, series four-S, or the Pro Model crankbait KVD 1.5 shallow runner that dives to depths of 2 to 5 feet maximum and has that wide wobble design that is perfect for waking crankbaits on the surface.

st croix rod

My favourite colors for waking?

With so many colors available, it can be confusing to anglers trying to choose the one that is best for them and the lakes or rivers they fish.

gamma line

I say choose a colour that gives you confidence and fish it with authority.

Meaning, don't just make a few casts and tie on another colour bait because you didn't get a bite right away. This technique takes patience and concentration.

These larger, roaming shallow-water bass got big for a reason. They are not easily fooled and the angler that is persistent and stays the course will reap the highest rewards in both numbers and size of bass fooled by waking crankbaits on the surface.

crankbait bluegill

#651 Neon Bluegill

Some of my “confidence colors” include #651 neon bluegill, #680 yellow perch, and the #663 natural bream all made by Strike King and available in a variety of crankbait designs that are deadly for waking the surface for bass.

crankbait natural beam

#663 Natural Beam
crankbait yellow perch

#680 Yellow Perch

When do you set the hook on these bites?

Most times, these bigger bass will inhale your bait as if they think it is an easy meal resembling a small perch or injured bluegill on its last breath, easy prey for the bass and they use very little effort to swim up to the bait and just eat it!

When you’re fishing with this technique in crystal clear water conditions as we do a lot, I would suggest you invest in a good pair of polarized eyewear that both saves your eyes from harmful UV rays bouncing off the surface of the water and help you see the fish before they strike your crankbait by watching your bait on the surface very carefully as many of these shallow dwelling bass will be seen before they strike.

A lot of times all you will see is a large, ghost-like shadow appear out of nowhere, suspended just below your crankbait, and then bang, it inhales the bait and it is game on.

Add the waking crankbait presentation to your bag of tricks this year and I am sure you will be surprised at how many big old bass have been roaming the shallows right before your very eyes without you even knowing it, until now.

Good luck and please practice selective harvest with the bigger bass.

About Karl Kalonka

It's possible Karl's love for fishing began as early as the age of five. His parents took the kids on weekend trips across Ontario fishing for panfish, catfish, and bass. "I started with a bobber and worm from the time I was five years old," says Karl. These days, he has the enviable task of doing what he loves for a living, travelling across Ontario fishing, filming and producing two outdoor series, Extreme Angler and Crappie Angler TV.

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