Mid- to late February in the South is when it all starts happening again
Bass pro Fred Roumbanis from Russellville, Arkansas usually gets the winter off. Fred’s tournament season starts anew in mid- to late February – an excellent time to throw the Ima Shaker flat-sided crankbait tight to the bank.
Bank Transitions to look for
The most excellent banks to look for so early in the spring are 45 degree banks, and look for some type of transitional rock – whether its pea gravel seguing to chunk rock (Fred’s favorite mix) or a transition from sand to rock. Sometimes you can spot these types of compositional changes on the bank above the waterline. They’re just simple changes in the terrain’s geographical features that extend under the water and can be fished close to the bank. Find those kinds of transitions on a 45 degree bank in the early spring, and you know you’re going to catch fish there.
Roumbanis treats boat docks, laydowns or anything else that otherwise interrupts and breaks up the uniform bank terrain as types of transitional zones that bass favor too.
Roumbanis mostly uses the Ima Shaker during the cold half of the year which is October through March. True, you can catch fish with it year round, but the two transitional times (from fall to winter and again from winter to spring) are the peak periods to throw this bait. You have at most a four to six week window of opportunity during each peak period when it’s a similar water temperature range (from about 55 down to 45 degrees) whether it’s transitioning from fall to winter or from winter to spring when this bait works best – and February in the South is one of the best months for the Shaker. In other parts of the country, fish it during the spring warming trend once winter ends. It’s a great bait from then on through the spawn.
It’s a 2 to 4 foot diver, but you can catch fish with it under deeper boat docks or along laydowns that stick out into deeper water.
A Fine Design
The design of the Shaker is similar to other flat-sided crankbaits that are handmade balsa lures which are all good baits with the problem being that the only way to be really able to fish those, you need to put them on a spinning rod with lighter line than usual. Even then, balsa baits are hard to cast. You lose a lot in terms of the distance you’re able to cast and the accuracy.
The Ima Shaker is injection-molded, hollow-chambered hard plastic. Versus other flat-sided crankbaits, the Shaker is incredibly easy to cast using medium heavy baitcasting gear. The Shaker has a weight transfer system inside. There’s a dense metal ball inside which transfers to the back of the bait when you cast it. It makes it easy to cast in the wind, and that’s hard to do with a lot of the other flat-sided cranks, especially the balsa ones.
Rod, Reel, Line
Fred usually fishes the Shaker on 10 to 12 lb. fluorocarbon. The ideal rod here is his signature iRod IRG763CC-MH “Fred’s Crank Launch Jr.” It’s a 7’6” 3-power medium heavy rod that Fred designed for mid-size crankbaits and it works great with the Ima Shaker. He favors the Ardent Apex Grand 6.5:1 reel model which is an extremelylightweight high strength aluminum frame reel model.
Speaking of reeling, you don’t want to just cast and reel in the Shaker on a straight retrieve. Speeding it up, hesitations and changeups will cause the Shaker to flare off to one side or the other. That’s what triggers fish to strike it. You want to make this bait flare off using some kind of deflection (cover contact) or change of pace when reeling.
A Lipped Lipless Crankbait
With many other crankbaits that have a wide-faced body, they have a real thumping action whereas the Shaker has a real tight, tight vibration, so it excels in colder water. It’s similar to a lipless crankbait in shape, profile and vibration except that you can reel the Shaker much slower and when you give it erratic action, it flares off and floats up because it’s a floating bait. So the Shaker’s different from a lipless crank in that sense (because lipless are sinking baits) but you’re still getting a similar tight vibration as a lipless crankbait albeit with a totally different and opposite action like a dying or struggling shad floating toward the surface. Because shad are not native to freshwater lakes, evolution hasn’t prepared these introduced baitfish to cope with sudden cold snaps that incapacitate or kill shad in cold months. The way you need to make the Ima Shaker flare off is a pretty good imitation of a shad suffering from “winter kill” and fluttering upwards. The tight vibration of the Shaker attracts bass and then the struggling antics, slow-floating hesitation and flare-outs you give it compel bass to strike.
When you reel a Shaker very slowly, it’s going to stay in that 2 to 4 foot strike zone. It’s going to flare off to the side every now and then when you pause or change up with any little shift or variation in reeling or rod position which adds an unpredictable, unpatterned extra action that really looks like a wounded or struggling baitfish. The difference is you can’t really slow-roll a lipless crankbait and keep it that high in the water column because lipless sink. The Shaker still has that similar action but because it floats, it is the total opposite or inverse of what a lipless does.
The broad shape of the lip (almost twice as wide as the body) and the lip material (extremely thin, flexible circuit board) helps keep it out of snags. When you bump into cover, if you suddenly snap your line taut or sharply flick your rod tip, the Shaker tends to bounce back and gets a really good deflection, so it’s a real easy bait to release from cover, and the bill flexion helps a lot with that. It flexes just enough so your bait can spring back without snagging – and that also triggers a lot of bites, so it’s a neat deal.
Zappu Wicked Ball
There are also other little secret things which Roumbanis likes to do. He’ll take the Zappu Wicked Ball which is a weighted ball (comes in several sizes) that you screw onto a treble hook of a crankbait.Depending on the weight size and placement, every so often it can cause a crankbait action to falter or kick or act odd – inciting strikes when it produces that odd action.
For the Shaker, Fred uses the smallest size. If you take that and you put it on the back hook of the bait, it will hunt without hitting anything at all. It will really get the Shaker to flare off to the sides – and that triggers a lot more bites. Then again, if you want to get the Shaker to suspend like a jerkbait, you screw the Wicked Ball on the front treble instead. So you can play around with the Wicked Ball although Roumbanis usually puts it on the back hook to make it hunt off to the side when the water temperature is more toward the 55 degree mark. When the water’s down closer to 45 degrees as in February, he puts it on the front hook to make it suspend more when paused.
This time of year, Fred also uses Gamakatsu short-shank EWGs in size #4 on the Shaker. Cold water bass often simply lip, nip or semi-slash at suspended hardbaits, and Gamakatsu EWGs help grab onto a few extra fish versus round bend trebles. For this to work though, they can’t be dulled; you have to replace them when they become dull after every few fish or trips, whichever comes first.
Crawfish patterns are really strong in early spring. So red Hot Crawfish is a must-have. Chartreuse Shad is also a favorite. Black Chartreuse is a third must-have. Between those three, you can cover many different situations. Roumbanis also counts the color Plemmons among his favorites. Matte Bluegill doubles as a green crawfish with orange belly color that’s very effective in early spring while the more natural-looking Alabama Shad finish matches cold-shocked shad.