Water Warrior Custom Crankbaits

Early Spring Crankbait Fishing Tutorial Part 2

This is Part 2 of our early spring crankbait fishing tutorial with David Maldonado of Water Warrior Fishing. If you haven’t check out Part 1, read it to get started.  We continue with the tutorial and start where we left off with David.

What setup are you using for spring cranking? 

Unfortunately, in the bass game, many of my most beloved products become discontinued at some point or another. I am pursuing a bachelor’s degree and working part time, so I am typically buying setups that do not go over $200-$250 with rod and reel together. Becoming sponsored by my favorite reel company, Piscifun, has also helped me afford more quality cranking setups.

Before they were discontinued, my absolute favorite cranking rod was the Medium Heavy Moderate Action Powell Diesel 705CB Fiberglass Rod which came in at $79.00. For this price it was incredibly hard to beat, and I’ve got 6 of them. I could write another novel on the differences between graphite and fiberglass cranking rods but I will save that for a future blog post on my site as it will be extremely detailed.

In simple terms, for cranking, I prefer a fiberglass rod because of its increased flex and forgiveness on a hookset. I am ALWAYS throwing a moderate action rod. Never use fast action rods for cranking or you run the risk of ripping trebles from the fish’s mouth. Oddly enough you will lose a ton more fish on trebled baits as opposed to straight shank hooks because they have a smaller bend and do not always fully penetrate the mouth or gill plate. Because of this, as mentioned before, it is very important to give the fish as much time as possible in order to inhale the bait and allow the hooks to set fully. Fiberglass achieves this well, especially when paired with monofilament line. When setting the hook, I usually feel the bait stop or pause as if it has hit some soft cover, followed by a slight tug, then I’ll really set into the rod and drive the hooks home.

Water Warrior Fishing Spring Crankbait David MaldonadoFor cranks that dive 1 to 12 feet, I prefer a Medium Power Moderate Action Rod 7’ or longer. This allows for longer casts which are critical when covering water with a crank. The St.Croix Premiere Cranking Rod is good for this application as well as the Dobyns Fury Cranking Rods. If I’m cranking in sparse grass or areas with light vegetation I don’t mind, and actually prefer, a graphite cranking rod because of its high-modulus construction, which offers greater sensitivity, strength, and allows you to rip the crank or lipless out of the vegetation. This is about the only time I find it absolutely necessary to use a graphite cranking setup. Otherwise you’ll become overly occupied with removing grass from the lure after each cast. For all other cover, wood, rock, etc., I’ll stick with fiberglass.

For cranks that dive 12-18ft, I prefer a Medium-Heavy Power Moderate Action Rod, also 7’ or longer. The Medium Heavy Power allows you to remain comfortable when cranking those deeper divers equipped with bigger bills. Bigger bill equals deeper diving capabilities, which can also translate to some serious drag and arm fatigue on the retrieve. With a Medium rod you would be tired of throwing the deeper divers after about an hour. Medium Heavy Power can handle these baits much more efficiently. Remember, the goal is to cover water with as many casts as possible, and you can’t do that without being comfortable in the arms and wrist throughout your day.

As far as reels go, many crankbait aficionados will bash me for this, but I wholeheartedly believe in high speed reels for the majority of all cranking applications. I’m talking 7:1 Gear ratio and up! Here’s why. Simply put, you cannot make up for speed but you can always slow down.

I find that keeping the bait in the strike zone, the depth it was designed to run at, is critical. I get 80% of my bites by bumping the bottom structure, and if my bait is only doing that for a fraction of the retrieve, it’s useless. A high gear ratio reel ensures that you get that bait right into the strike zone and keep it there longer. Plain and simple.

Many crank fishermen will argue this one, and to each his own. I find that a 6:1 gear ratio is painfully slow and fatigues my arm and wrist after a few hours. Rushing the handle on a low gear ratio reel to make up for slackline or to get it into the strike zone is a waste of time and energy when you can simply throw a higher gear ratio.

Additionally, people will argue that the higher the gear ratio the lower the torque/power, which is true. However, unless you are throwing large cranks over 1 oz. in weight or similar sized swimbaits, that extra torque is unnecessary; you’re cranking not flipping/pitching!

For cranks and other trebled baits over an ounce in weight, or for those that create extreme drag, like a Rapala DT16, the lower gear ratio reels with better torque are recommended. For my purposes, the higher speed reels serve me very well.

My recommended reels for cranking are Piscifun exclusive bait casters.

  • The Piscifun Perseus 6.3:1 Moderate Speed
  • The Piscifun Torrent 7:1 High Speed
  • The Piscifun Phantom 7:1 High Speed

If you are unfamiliar with Piscifun, purchase whatever you’re comfortable with, but feel free to follow the guidelines I have set out to make an informed decision.

As far as line goes, as mentioned, I prefer monofilament or even copolymer. I am an avid fan of PLine for my CoPolymers, and CXX is second to none. C21 by PLine is also great stuff for the money.

For monofilament, there is none greater than Berkley Big Game! I found this stuff watching Larry Dahlberg on “Hunt for Big Fish” as a kid, and he knew what the hell he was doing. I’ve thrown the stuff ever since I saw him catch a Goliath Tigerfish with it! It’ll handle a measly 10 pound bass without issue…lol. It is very strong and surprisingly sensitive stuff, for a reasonable price as well.

Water Warrior Big Largemouth BassWhat are your favorite springtime crankbait colors? 

Color, that’s always a debate among anglers. I know some guys who throw whatever the hell they have in the box, and others, like myself, who meticulously pack colors based on the waterway and the situation. I have personally seen fish swim away from one color and come back to smash the heck out of another: they know the difference.

I choose my colors at all times of the year based on the following:

  • Water temps: determined what forage will be most active, and determines fish patterns
  • Season: also determines what forage will be most active, and dictates crawfish shell color
  • Forage: what bait is present “match the hatch”
  • Water Clarity: determines what colors show up best
  • Fish Behavior: what colors are they reacting to lately, and are there any they seem to prefer

In heavy shad populated waters: shad colors! These include a wide range of different colors from silver, grey, black-ish, purple, blue, chartreuse etc. Depending on the waterway, the color of the baitfish will differ, and it is important to learn your water to make your decisions on color. I prefer purple colors in any shad-filled water. In my area, fish love to demolish purple so it works for me!

In waterways with crawfish as the main forage: craw colors! These also range widely. I have developed a new color called, fittingly, “Spring Craw”. I will be releasing it on the site soon and it is an amazing color that I have had lots of success on. It features rust orange, deep red, and black accents. This is closest to the color of actual crawfish this time of year. As the water warms to high 50’s and up, they will begin to turn a rustier brown, at which point I will switch to more natural brown craw patterns.

Color is important, but what is even more important is location and presentation. Make sure to keep bottom contact, bang the lure around, vary your retrieve, remain patient, believe, and you’re going to catch em’.

Are you fishing most of your crankbaits straight out of the package? 

I always fish my cranks right out of the package. If the hooks are inadequate, they get swapped for KVD Triple Grip Trebles, which I find are extremely sharp and effective. If you need to tweak anything on your crank besides the eyelet to allow it to run true, then you probably have a defective crank and should not be throwing it! Grab a Warrior Crank, I’ll take care of you.

The only time I see it necessary to add any extra tweak is occasionally some lead suspend-dots on the belly of my jerk baits and cranks if they do not already suspend. This ensures a better suspending pause which is necessary at times. You can add some scent jelly on the crank as well but it won’t help as much as you’d think because hard baits allow the scent to run-off. Since I paint my own, I never have to worry about tweaking any colors.

April Fishing Water Warrior FishingWhat is the best day you remember of springtime cranking? 

April 25, 2016, the day Water Warrior Fishing began: this was my most memorable day cranking, and I will forever be thankful for that day! We’ve all had those “Aha moments where the light bulb goes off in your head and the rest is history. This was one of those days!

For some reason, I suspect it was the ongoing boredom with finesse, I packed some purple Bandit 300’s in my tackle box and headed to Rocky Gorge Reservoir in Laurel, MD. I had fished the place maybe 2 other times that Spring before this trip. If I can remember correctly the water was nearing 60 degrees, which is an optimal time to utilize these kinds of moving baits. This is usually the time of year and temp where the Largemouth are on the tail end of the Pre-Spawn and ready to lay. Taking advantage of those last few feeders is of utmost importance, as is covering water.

With these facts in mind, I approached the Gorge with my tackle box stocked with an ample amount of those discontinued Bandit 300 Purple cranks, and didn’t look back. This was the first day I had ever recorded myself on the water, and I could NOT have picked a better day to be out there! With the weekend pressure fresh on the fishes’ minds, I did not have high expectations, and I was gladly proven otherwise. Armed with the cranks and what has come to be my all-time favorite cranking setup, Powell Diesel Rod and Daiwa Tatula Type-R, I hit the record button and began the day.

As I worked my way down a chunk rock sloping shoreline, I paralleled the bank and began to employ some tactics I learned many years back with a mentor figure named Ben Dziwulski. We had a memorable day out on Triadelphia Reservoir, another MD reservoir, many years back during an exceptionally cold day in early March. Heading out that early in the season was unheard of for me, but Ben insisted we’d do alright..and HE did! As I sat in the back pouting over the 30mph winds and 45 degree temps, he proceeded to employ this same parallel-the-bank technique with a red craw colored crankbait on a sloping rocky shoreline…and he crushed it. I couldn’t believe that he was reeling in 3 pounders back to back in such tough conditions. I’d imagine there are many older and more experienced anglers who still would have had the same thoughts in the back of his boat that day. But I watched and learned throughout that trip. My reel was useless in that wind having minimal bait caster experience at the time.

But all those years later in the Spring of 2016, I still remembered that day with Ben. Although it was a much earlier time of the year when Ben and I fished, I still couldn’t help but wonder if the fish at the Gorge would cooperate in the same manner as they did back then. The only similar feature was the depth and bottom structure. Shallow rock slopes that tapered off quickly to deeper water: these are typically referred to as “bluff walls”.

So I picked up the cranking setup and began doing exactly what Ben and Kevin VanDam showed me! If I learned one thing from these two anglers, it’s to cover water and keep casting. The crankbait proves itself best when it is presented as many times as possible. Another key feature of successful cranking is offering the lure at as many angles as possible as rapidly as possible. Varying retrieve speed is one thing, but covering water is another. You can go slow on your retrieves and vary the speeds, but you must always be sure to fish a target from multiple angles and cover water.

As I moved down the first shoreline that day, I was happily surprised with a couple of small fish on the Bandit 300. I am used to slow starts, and that day was different. The action started, and It really didn’t stop aside from a few mid-day lulls. After picking up a few non-keepers I continued my way down the shoreline until I came to a large submerged rock-pile. I had marked this structure on my first two trips to the reservoir but hadn’t really fished it until that day. I remember speaking to the GoPro saying, “it’s a very sharp drop, and I’m looking for any fish off of the edge of that”, referring to the rock pile and its physical nature. As I reeled the crankbait in, I bumped the rock repeatedly in the hopes of causing an erratic action. This technique really gets fish fired up to bite!

As I bumped a large chunk of rock, the Bandit 300 got stuck for a second. As the bait remained lodged in between rocks, I spoke to the camera again and said “that’s how you know you’re on structure”…well duh! As we all do, I twitched the rod and employed all those little techniques to try and pry the bait out of its snag. When I finally got the bait out of its coffin, I reeled three times before the rod stopped again, and this time it was a hit. Reeling in that keeper, barely, was the beginning of my respect and admiration for the crankbait. I continued this pattern throughout the remainder of my 8 plus hour day and accumulated a sizeable bag of fish, including a pair of 4’s and a healthy 5 pounder. Looking back on the video, it was my first YouTube upload @waterwarriorfishing. I’d guess I had 15 to 17 pounds with my best 5 fish that day! This was a far cry from my pathetic former 10 to 12 pound personal best bags.

As I made my way down the lake from morning to afternoon, I noted a few key features that helped me land as many fish as I did. In total I had at least 15 fish! The fish were positioned on main lake points and primarily situated on any rock cover. The main structure in this lake is rock, so it makes complete sense that they would be posted in these areas waiting to head back to the creeks to lay their eggs. These were hungry and aggressive fish that took full advantage of that enticing small profile Bandit 300.

As I have come to learn, purple is magic when it comes to crankbaits, no matter where you fish. Rocky Gorge, as I would learn later, holds some very healthy shad populations and I have seen them with a distinct purple tinge as they turn their body. I’d take an educated guess that the purple Bandit was an exact “match of the hatch.” As I explained earlier, this is important! They were smoking it!

All in all, the stars aligned that day: I was able to fish an unfamiliar lake with an unfamiliar technique and gain an incredible amount of confidence in it. For me, it usually only takes one trip with a particular technique to gain confidence in it because after it happens I understand that it has its time and place.

At some point, in some situation, every technique has its niche. April 25, 2016 I learned that the crankbait had its place in my tackle box, forever! I learned that sometimes the fish don’t need a damn piece of plastic to be engaged. I learned that fish appreciate angles. I learned that fish are creatures of habit and will react on the drop of a dime if the lure is presented correctly. I learned that there is always room for growth and that adding new techniques to your arsenal can only make you a stronger fisherman. I learned that going out of your comfort zone is the way to achieve greatness. Most of all, I learned to listen to your gut and try something new. I learned the crankbait that day, and I’ll never put it down again.

This was my most memorable cranking day to date!

You started selling your own custom baits. What baits are you offering currently? 

As far as the bodies go, I’d have to write a novel to include them all and their specifications. To make it easier I’ll list the type of blank baits I am currently offering. They can all be painted in the various color schemes I have developed over the past year. Currently there are 12 body style offerings.

  • Slim Bill and Body; Deep Diver Crankbait
  • Lil Jon type; Flat-Side Shallow Diver
  • 5” Jerkbait (floating)
  • Sinking Lipless Crank (Rat-L-Trap type)
  • Medium Diver (also similar to Bandit 300 but slightly larger) My Favorite!
  • Semi-Square Shallow Diver
  • Single-Jointed Bluegill Slow Sink Glide
  • Square Bill 1.5
  • Square Bill 2.5
  • Topwater Sammy
  • New Deep Diving Crankbaits Large (similar to a 2.5dd)
  • New Moderate Diving Crankbaits Petite (Similar profile to bandit 300)

What do I like about these baits? I like the fact that I have a plethora of blank bodies to choose from at any given time and that I can throw expensive crank/swimbait/lipless etc. bodies for a fraction of the price of retailers. I have not bought a single hard bait in over a year because of this!

I especially enjoy being able to dream up a creative color scheme and deliver it to the world as my own. I routinely catalog and document the colors I have developed along with the process for painting them so that I can duplicate for my customers as needed. I enjoy this art very much. It has given me a very therapeutic and functional outlet for stress and has also allowed me to increase my hard bait arsenal immensely. What’s better than the gratification of catching big fish on something you created?

To purchase, it could not be simpler. Visit waterwarriorfishing.com and navigate to the custom lures page at the top of the screen. Select the blank you want to have painted, select the color you want, and let me do the rest! Easy as can be. Tina, my girlfriend, and I have worked extremely hard on creating this site with no outside help. The two of us have created a wonderful site that I believe is super-user friendly and affords customers the options of a variety of bodies in a variety of viable fish-catching colors. I will only be adding to the color and blanks options through 2018 so get ready!

What else is in store for Water Warrior Fishing in 2018? 

Aside from the custom baits, which have been my focus throughout the year and into this winter, I have also begun to learn Adobe Premiere. Premier in my opinion is an extremely complex and difficult to learn video editing program. I have not uploaded content as often as I should because I am a perfectionist and believe in proper preparation and timing. I do not half-ass my videos and strive to provide viewers with entertainment, education, and instruction.

In 2018 my goal is to become proficient in this program and deliver higher quality visuals! Although I do want to produce amazing videos every time, there just aren’t enough hours in a day to get it all done. In 2018, having a steadier flow of content will be my priority. Focusing on gear, setups, and helping the fishing community become better anglers is also at the top of my list of priorities. I also aim to help my sponsor Piscifun grow as big as they can because I believe they have some of the best quality products at the most affordable prices on the fishing market.

Additionally, I would like to connect with more YouTube anglers who value the sport like I do and who have similar goals. I have noticed that many of the YouTube anglers I see and interact with nowadays seem to concern themselves more with fame/getting noticed than they do on the fishing. This is totally their prerogative and I am in no place to judge how someone operates their channels and brand, but I am dedicated to the fish first. The rest will come as long as I remain persistent, committed, and focused.

Without a mentor in my early life guiding me and giving me every piece of knowledge he had, I would not be where I am today. I aim to deliver this to my viewers and those who support me. I like to think of myself as a young Flukemaster in how I center my content around education and instruction. He isn’t doing too bad, so hopefully one day I can work my way to a similar position!

Networking Goals for the Year

  • Fish with my hero, Mike Iaconelli. I can dream right?
  • Fish with Mike from @1Rod1Reel. He lives 30 minutes from me. I’ve tried to get in touch with no luck. Someone get a hold of him for me…lol.
  • Fish with @YouTubeFishingVids. We have the same educational style, fish the exact same lakes, but he hasn’t responded either. Someone holler at him too…lol
  • Make it to Florida to fish with a couple of Youtubers whom I have been in touch with over the past year. Catching some Florida bass would be cool.
  • Gain more sponsorships.

Fishing Goals for the Year

  • Be on the water as much as possible.
  • Catch a PB on one of my custom lures.
  • Perfect my swimbait utilization and application.
  • Utilize a jig and jerk bait more often.
  • Explore using an Alabama Rig and other soft swimbaits more often.

YouTube/Content/Custom Lures Goals for the Year

  • Steadier stream of content
  • More informative videos like the ones I have already delivered
  • More painting videos
  • Improve painting skills
  • Remain consistent in uploading new blanks and colors to site when available
  • More Blog Posts on waterwarriorfishing.com

Thank you David. Such great information on spring crankbait fishing. Wish you all the best in reaching all of your goals. 

Take a Look at David’s Favorite Crankbait Reels on Amazon:

Read Our 2016 Interview with David Maldonodo: Interview with Maryland’s Water Warrior Fishing