An easy choice: hard baits

Anglers who chase walleyes and bass have a lot of lure choices as the water starts to warm up every year, but history shows this is a great time to concentrate on hard baits.

Whether you go with plastic or wood, crankbaits and stickbaits account for a lot of fish in April here in Northeast Ohio. Anglers crank and twitch them to limit catches of walleyes and largemouth bass — and where they are a factor, the smallmouth love them, too.

Long a staple in anglers’ tackle boxes, crankbaits have transcended the tendency of fishermen categorizing certain lures as for walleyes or bass. It’s not uncommon to see “bass” baits in walleye arsenals, and vice versa.

Stickbaits, also known as jerkbaits, also have crossed into the multispecies category, and have avid followers among those who cast for bass, walleyes and even saltwater fishes.

One of my early experiences with hard baits started in the 1960s when my family took weeklong vacations in northern Michigan. Dad and I prowled the local tackle shop and discovered it to be well stocked with stickbaits.

Rapala was among the first to develop the modern U.S. market for slim-body minnow baits. The Finish company’s gold and silver foil-covered balsa baits produced a lot of walleye and northern pike fillets for our family’s fish fries.

We also were tempted by the plastic versions produced by Rebel. They were great for trolling, and performed well even on weighted lines.

I still have a couple of the original Rapala balsa lures in my jerkbait box. They are deadline on largemouths in the shallows as the water starts to get into the 50s each spring. Their light weight gives them a distinctive darting action that provides a different option compared with a 21st century stickbait.

When the fish are a little deeper but still inclined to want a lure that prolongs its enticing dance in the strike zone, the new models produced by Smithwick, Luckycraft, Strike King, Bomber, Spro and others are great choices. While I primarily throw them for bass in the spring, I have caught many walleyes at Mosquito Creek Reservoir right in among the largemouths.

Jerkbaits are great around the rocky areas for spring’s first shallow-water residents. They are popular choices with walleye anglers on the dams, causeways and rip-rap areas, especially after dark. Keep them handy, too, late in the year, as they can be productive in November and December on the big walleye that move shallow along the Lake Erie shore to feed heavily before winter.

Crankbaits occupy a different niche than jerkbaits. As the name implies, crankbaits work best as the angler cranks them down to operating depth and through the strike zone. Like jerkbaits, they crank up a lot of walleyes, a ton of bass, and just about every other fish that eats other fish.

In the spring, balsa and cedar-body cranks are great choices. Lures like the Shad Rap have a tighter wiggle that seems to work a little bit better than the wider wobble of plastic plugs. No doubt, a Shad Rap will be on at least one of my rods for this weekend’s action.

As the water warms, I move to the traditional styles like the Bomber Model A, Storm Wiggle Wart and Bill Norman Little N.

Hard-body baits such as cranks and jerks are great for hunting the fish. They enable anglers to cover water with a lure that resembles what the target species want to eat.

That’s exactly what is necessary as we start the season looking for the most productive water to get the year started properly.

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