While practicing for a tournament with his son, Tad Richards knew he had to find a lure to keep the boy preoccupied. So the 1998 Red Man All-American qualifier from Glendale, Mo., tied a small crankbait on his son Jordan’s line. “My little boy just wanted to catch fish, so I had him throwing a small lure,” says Richards. “He was catching fish of all sizes, which kept him interested in fishing with me.”
When the tiny crankbait started producing keepers for the youngster, Richards thought about using the lure himself. “It was good for small keepers, and since I wasn’t catching any, I thought it would be good for getting a limit first,” Richards recalls. “The next thing I knew he pulls out a fish about 3 1/2 pounds.” Richards had seen enough, so he asked his son if he could have the bait back and then proceeded to catch a limit on the little lure.
Since then Richards has experimented with his favorite tiny crankbait, a 1/5-ounce Bomber 4F Fat “A” model, in a variety of conditions to unlock the secret of this fish-catching phenom. “At first it was just catching fish anywhere,” Richards says. “Then I started catching fish in high pressure areas. When I threw the lure in those areas, I guess its action was so natural it didn’t scare the fish away.”
During one Red Man tournament he shared his secret with another angler who already knew about the effectiveness of miniature crankbaits. The fellow competitor said his home lake constantly received a tremendous amount of fishing pressure and then proceeded to show Richards his tacklebox full of 1/16th-ounce Bomber 3F Fat “A” crankbaits, the smallest version of the Fat “A” line. “I really knew I was on to something then,” says Richards.
The versatility of these tiny crankbaits allows Richards to catch bass in a variety conditions from various waterways. The lure’s wide depth range lets Richards run the lure along mud flats less than a foot deep without the lure turning sideways or getting stuck on the bottom. It also runs down to 6 feet deep to bang into the rocks where bass hold in the spring.
Tiny crankbait tactics produce bass for Richards from spring to fall. “I have one tied on year round now,” he admits. In the spring, he selects a crawfish-color model (dark red and orange belly) that he runs along chunk rock banks. Richards prefers a fire tiger hue any time he has to work the crankbait in stained to muddy water.
A Silver Shad crankbait works best in clear water during the summer or fall when bass are chasing shad along the surface or suspended next to cover. One of his favorite summertime patterns is running the shad-imitating lure into ladders on boat docks. “When the fish are suspended under the edges of the docks, the lure swims just deep enough to get under the foam and bounce into the ladders,” Richards says. If he’s fishing stained reservoirs, such as Oklahoma’s Grand Lake O’ The Cherokees or Missouri’s Truman Lake in the summer, he opts for the Fire Tiger 4F model that he runs less than a foot deep on the mud flats and then lets it dive deeper to bang into any isolated submerged logs in the same area.
The tiny crankbait technique also produces on rivers, where Richards targets wing dams and riprap. The lure was especially effective for tricking Mississippi River smallmouth bass during the 1998 Red Man All-American at LaCrosse, Wisc. “I caught 18 keepers the first day of the tournament on it,” claims Richards.
During a fall tournament at Table Rock Lake, the Missouri angler discovered the small crankbait catches bass on clear-water highland lakes as well. Concentrating on schools of shad, Richards caught bass using two techniques in the backs of pockets and coves.
“When all the shad came up, there would always be groups hovering right around the trunks of trees in 20 feet of water,” says Richards. He would trigger strikes from bass suspended under the bait-fish by running his crankbait to a depth of 4 or 5 feet and then banging it into the pole timber.
If he found bass busting the surface in open water, Richards relied on the silver flash and small size of his crankbait to “match the hatch” of the bait-fish. “In that clear water, I discovered that the bait, with its flash, looked just like the shad when something darts into a school and the shad give off a flicker and shine.”
By flicking his rod tip during the retrieve, Richards noticed he could imitate the flash of the bait-fish without spooking the school. “That crankbait is such a small and subtle bait, you can reel it right through the school of shad, and instead of the bait-fish going nuts and splitting up, they will just separate 8 – 10 inches, leaving a pathway through them. I can watch bass come shooting straight up from below and nail the bait right in the middle of the ball of shad.”
Water conditions dictate the type of retrieve Richards uses for his tiny crankbaits. When the water is murky and cool in the spring, he relies on a slow to medium retrieve. “A lot of times if the bite is tough at all, I’ll bring the lure out to a 4 or 5-foot depth and just give it a break in retrieve. This crankbait is the most buoyant bait I’ve ever fished, so if I break the retrieve the lure backs up into the fish’s face. With that Fire Tiger color, the muddier the water is, the better fish seem to attack it.”
His scuba diving experience provides Richards with some theories on why bass prefer this presentation in dirty water. “When I’m scuba diving in muddy water (zero visibility) I’ll have a stump or a log come up right in my face,” he says. “If I swim up on that and see it in that close visual zone, I’ve got to instantly react. I think the same thing happens with the lure. It creates more of a reaction strike because the bass are following the vibration from the rattles in the lure, and as soon as you break that retrieve, it sticks in their face and they either have to turn away or eat it. And they almost always eat it.”
A steady retrieve with an occasional twitch of the rod tip works best for Richards in clear-water situations “As I’m reeling, I like to twitch the rod tip which makes the lure run in a little more erratic pattern.”
On windy days, Richards casts his tiny crankbaits on a 7-foot rod with a light-action tip. In calm weather, he opts for throwing the small lure on a 6 1/2-foot rod. Richards cranks his miniature plugs on 10-14 pound test monofilament.
The lure’s small size also works to Richards’ advantage when fighting bass. “Once the fish are hooked it’s such a light weight bait that they can’t shake it off like they do a Rat-L-Trap or some other heavier crankbait,” Richards claims. “The fish can shake its head all it wants but it doesn’t come off.”
Since the lure is equipped with small hooks, Richards modifies his crankbait to improve its hook-setting and holding power. The Red Man angler replaces the original trebles with larger hooks, attaching a number 4 Gamakatsu treble on the back split ring and a number 6 Gamakatsu on the front. “The hooks are as big as the bait, but they don’t tangle and it swims right,” he says.
Despite its small size, the mini-crankbait Richards uses appeals to big bass. “I’ve caught tons of 6-and 7-pounders on it,” says Richards. “I have consistently caught stringers of 3 1/2-to 5-pounders on it, which for such a tiny bait is amazing.” While practicing on Kentucky Lake for a Red Man Regional, Richards landed four bass weighing more than 28 pounds on the tiny lure. Then during the tournament, he caught seven keepers on seven straight casts with his mini-crankbait.
While tiny crankbaits take fish in any conditions, the lures perform best in pressure situations. “Nobody throws that little tiny bait,” says Richards. “I’ve followed eight boats down one bank before and caught fish after fish.”
During a spring tournament at Lake of the Ozarks, Richards shared his secret bait with fellow Red Man All-American qualifier Lou Treat. “I caught a limit both days on that little bitty Bomber 4F,” says Treat, who cranked the lure on 8-pound test line. “The crawdads were really small then and the bass seemed to be keying on that, so I needed to be throwing a real small bait. Plus, the lake had a lot of fishing pressure, and anytime you get a lot of fishing pressure you have to use something small.” The tiny crankbait paid off for Treat as he took home a check by catching five bass weighing 17.55 pounds.
In another tournament, Richards recalls he had caught 11 keepers throughout the day when a buddy pulled up to his boat. Since his friend was fishing in a different tournament and had an empty live-well, Richards gave him one of his trusty little baits and his buddy proceeded to catch a limit of five bass in the next 45 minutes despite fishing an area saturated with other competitors.
“Using the lure is a confidence thing,” says Richards. “Even the guys who know me are afraid to throw it because it is so tiny that they don’t see its potential.” Anyone who has fished with Richards and seen the way bass crave his tiny crankbaits has become an instant convert.