David Fritts and Ott Defoe: Crankbait Tactics From Bass Fishing’s Biggest Pros

By Josh Boyd

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In 1920, a patent was awarded for the first crankbait, which was marketed by the Creek Chub Bait Company out of Garrett, Indiana. This initial diving bait was constructed of wood and featured a metal lip, as well as a pair of treble hooks. The “Wiggler” as it came to be known, also featured two individual line ties, with one atop the lure’s head and the other on its lip. The action presented by this primitive crankbait was dictated by which of these two ties were used.

Since 1920, crankbaits have exploded in popularity, and so have the number of tactics and strategies based around their use. From bumping cover to burning up open water, the varying schools of thought pertaining to crankbait retrieval are nearly as diverse as the anglers who employ them.

Few anglers are as versed in all matters of crankbait use as David Fritts and Ott Defoe, both of whom are known for their mastery of the technique as a whole. Luckily for those who wish to build upon their own crankbait savvy, both Fritts and Defoe are quick to share the bulk of what they know with any inquiring anglers.

David Fritts

To say that David Fritts is a crankbait guy at heart, would likely be the understatement of the year. Fritts was a driving force behind a period of resurgence in crankbait popularity that took place in the 1980s and 90s. Tournament after tournament, Fritts found himself toward the top of the leaderboard, riding a wave of success that was bolstered by his prolific crankbait use. Fritts would continue to ride this wave straight to the top, winning the 1993 Bassmaster Classic on Logan Martin Lake, while employing his signature tactic.

Fritts’ appreciation for the crankbait can be traced back to his days as a youngster, fishing whenever time permitted. “When I was a kid, at a church outing when I was twelve years old, I knew I could throw a crankbait and just wind it back. Sooner or later I was going to catch one. It just seemed easy.” said Fritts.

This same simplicity continues to appeal to Fritts today, as he utilizes his crankbait strategy to consistently put bass in the boat. Above all else, he feels that the presence of structure in a given area dictates exactly which tactic he employs.

“Knowing what my bait is doing, and knowing what cover feels like allows me to crawl my bait over it,” says Fritts. “I pause my bait, and slow it down to crawl it over cover.” he continues. On the other hand, Fritts takes a different approach if he does not come into contact with any form of structure or cover upon retrieving his lure. “If I don’t hit anything, or if a fish doesn’t hit my bait, I do nothing but throw it and wind it,” he says.

When fall takes hold, and water temperatures begin to fall, Fritts targets in on drawing reactionary strikes from otherwise lethargic bass. “In the wintertime, especially when water temperatures get below 50 degrees, you want to wind it fast enough to make it lively,” says Fritts. “What I do is throw it out, and I’ll wind it up to get it down to where I need the bait to be, then sweep my rod and wind my slack. That way I can keep my bait moving fast, but yet it’s stopping every 6-8 feet,” he continues.

Fritts is also quick to emphasize the reason behind this particular type of retrieve, and how bass perceive what they see. “It’s like a dying shad. A dying shad will swim a little, then he’ll stop. He might even float up a little, then swim some more and stop,” says Fritts.

Ott Defoe

Ott Defoe is another angler who has found immense success on bass fishing’s biggest stage, while extensively fishing a crankbait. Defoe’s crankbait expertise shined brightly at the 2019 Bassmaster Classic, where he employed this signature tactic on his way to being crowned the 49th Classic Champion. However, this is far from Defoe’s only success while running a diving bait, as he has amassed many high placing finishes in FLW, B.A.S.S., and MLF series events throughout his illustrious career.

Defoe relies heavily on his crankbaits to draw a reaction bite out of fish that show little interest in other baits and presentations. Defoe feels that much of his ability to do so lies in the speed in which he typically retrieves his plugs.

“I think it would surprise people just how fast I reel a crankbait in most scenarios, especially when water temperatures are above 50 degrees. Burning a crankbait really, really fast can absolutely trigger bites that you otherwise would not get, or from fish that are hard to catch,” Defoe said.

Defoe also feels that a crankbait is the perfect tool for drawing bites from uncooperative bass when anglers are faced with tough, post-front fishing conditions. “I’m much more likely to try to get a reaction bite going, if at all possible. I would rather burn a crankbait up trying to draw a reaction than I would drag a Carolina Rig around hoping for a bite. That is just my style of fishing,” said Defoe.

Additionally, Defoe has some words of wisdom for those looking to increase their strike to catch ratio when fishing with a crankbait. “It is important to make sure that you always keep the best hooks on your crankbaits, and to keep them as fresh as you can. That is something that I always keep on the boat, and change out on a regular basis.”

Next Level Crankbait Success

With 100 years of bass fishing history in its past, the Crankbait is just as effective today, as it was upon first being patented in 1920. Like David Fritts and Ott Defoe, with a little know-how, and ample determination, you too can find notable success when employing the use of a crankbait within your bass fishing repertoire.

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