Bass fishing this spring on a lake, river or reservoir with little vegetation and lots of rock and wood? Don’t leave the dock without rods rigged with bright, crayfish-pattern Rapala® DT®-4 crankbaits. And as the water warms, don’t be afraid to burn those babys back to the boat.
“If you’ve got rock and wood, go with a DT-4,” says 2017 Bassmaster Angler of the Year Brandon Palaniuk.
The DT-4 has been Palaniuk’s “number-one bait” since he was nine or 10 years old, he says. He starts catching bass on DT-4’s when early-season water temps are in the 45 to 49-degree range. Water temps in thousands of lakes and rivers in the Midwest, Mountain West and North East will be in that range soon – some already are. As soon as weather, safety and state regulations allow, bass anglers should start fishing DT-4’s.
“It’s one of my favorite ways to catch fish in the spring,” says Palaniuk, an Idaho native.
Tennessee pro Ott DeFoe favors DT-4’s for early-season bass as well. And as the water warms, he fishes them faster.
“It will surprise people how fast I will fish a DT when water temps get to be 54, 55, 56,” says DeFoe, Bassmaster’s 2011 Rookie of the Year. “It’s more about creating a reaction strike. Those bass are ready to feed – they’re hungry. So if you bring something by them at Mach 1, you’re more likely to get a fish to totally eat the bait than just to nip at it.”
“DT” stands for “dives to.” Built of balsa wood, Rapala’s signature material, a DT-4 will get down to its maximum depth of four feet sooner than – and thus stay in the strike zone longer than – any other shallow-running crankbait on the market. The way its balsa body wobbles while swimming and digging its bill into the bottom make it the perfect tool for triggering bites from shallow, early-season bass on waterbodies with little to no vegetation.
“When the water’s cold, balsa’s gonna whoop your butt about anywhere you go,” says Alabama pro Gerald Swindle, noting in his own, inimitable way that anglers fishing balsa baits like the DT-4 in cold water will almost always out-catch those who aren’t.
“That’s just how it is,” says Swindle, a two-time Bassmaster Angler of the Year. “It’s just got the right wiggle.”
Swimming with a side-to-side action only balsa baits can achieve, DT-4’s can also back out of shallow cover better than copycats, floating up and minimizing snags.
“DT’s are sort of a combo of a Shad Rap and a traditional wider-wobble crankbait,” says New Jersey pro Michael Iaconelli, the only angler to have won a Bassmaster Classic, Bassmaster Angler of the Year and B.A.S.S. Nation Championship.
To get reaction bites from shallow, early-season bass in cold water, Iaconelli will pause a DT-4 often on the retrieve, snap it, rip it, speed it up and slow it down.
DeFoe catches early-season bass on DT-4’s around rocky, channel-swing banks with stained to muddy water, especially those areas with contour and bottom-content changes.
“Anywhere that rock comes out off the bank a little ways and makes a point, or makes a turn, or there’s some rock on the edge of a drop, those are going to be the places that I’m really focused on cranking,” he explains. “Natural stuff as well as rip rap.”
Boat position and retrieve angle is key to getting the most bites. Instead of casting from deeper to shallow water with a retrieve mostly perpendicular to the shore, move up into the three- to four-foot depth and cast and retrieve your DT-4 parallel to the shore.
“You want to keep your bait in the zone where you can keep contact with the bottom for as much of the cast as you can,” Swindle explains.
Like DeFoe, Swindle throws DT-4’s around rocky, channel-swing banks in stained to muddy water. Such areas with laydowns and brush are even better, he says – especially if the water’s rising to submerge new cover.
“That’s one of the most secure bites you’ll have,” Swindle says. “With all that new cover, a lot of fish go to the bank. And in stained water, they’re not quick to leave.”
When early-season fishing in 45- to 49-degree water on rocky lakes with little vegetation, one of Palaniuk’s go-to DT-4 tactics is targeting transition areas on sloping banks. He looks for 45- to 60-degree-angle banks with rock or wood – “something that those fish have to hold onto that’s holding a little more heat,” he explains.
Away from the bank, you can catch pre-spawn bass with DT-4’s on shallow sections of secondary points and “little hard places” on main points, Swindles advises.
“They use those places as transitions into – and then out from – spawning areas,” Swindle says. “You can catch ‘em on a lot of that stuff like that. It’s not just running the bank.”
Whether you prefer cranking the bank or scouring off-shore shallow spots, off-color water is key to success.
“Really clear water can really slow down a cranking bite,” Swindle explains. “You don’t have enough colored water to do it.”
DeFoe agrees. “I’m looking for three feet of visibility or less for cranking,” he says.
In stained to muddy water, red, orange and chartreuse craw-pattern DT-4’s generally out-produce brownish and greenish patterns.
“I like brighter, more bold colors in dirtier water usually,” Palaniuk says. “If I get into moderately stained water, a lot of times I’ll go with just a straight red craw. If it’s really muddy, I’ll usually go to one of the chartreuse colors. That’s just going to be a little bit brighter and help those fish find the bait better.”