Early Season Classic Crankin'

Early Season Classic Crankin': River & Reservoir Bass Tactics

Bagley Baits Pro and Classic Contender, Drew Benton, will be practicing what he preaches.

BEMIDJI, Minn. (March 21, 2023) – Anglers who’ve spent time bass fishing on river systems late-winter through early-spring know that pre-spawn river bass can be a tough nut to crack.


But with experience fishing nearly 100 Bassmaster events—including six appearances now at the Classic, Elite Series Rookie of the Year in 2016, seven Top 10 Elite finishes, and an Elite win under his belt—Bagley Baits Pro Drew Benton has learned through countless hours on the casting deck just how to ply cold, early-season waters for tournament-quality bass.

Advice To Early-Season Bass Anglers on Reservoir/River Systems

“It’s all about what stage the fish are in during early-season,” says Benton. “That will tell you if they’re more main lake or in the mouths of the creeks or back in the pockets.”


Benton says when the water reaches the mid-50s bass will be in the last of the deep water before they travel to their spawning areas.


“That’s the number #1 thing that’s moving fish right now—it’s not bait—it’s water temperature,” adds Benton.


Benton says that when bass are staging you need to locate those travel routes, channel swings up onto flats or the last bit of deep water before they move into the backs of coves and pockets. That’s the highway where they’ll come and go.


“You need to stay on those highways,” advises Benton.

Weather Forecast for the 2023 Bassmaster Classic: Built For Crankin’

“I start pre-fishing on Friday, March 17th. The Classic is unique in that we start pre-fishing a week from the first day of the tournament. It’s supposed to rain all day Friday, followed by two days with lows in the 20s and highs in the 40s, and then it’s supposed to warm up a little bit during the tournament,” says Benton.


Benton adds: “It’s going to go from what’s considered really cold in Tennessee to afternoons 60s during the tournament, with mornings in the low 40s. The fish are in the pre-spawn mode so they’re moving to the bank and getting set up for perfect crankbait bite which is what I’m hoping is going to happen. It might not happen right away in practice but by the time the tournament comes around they should be biting on shallow-running cranks—power-fishing up shallow.”


So, what does Benton consider shallow?

“Shallow on the Tennessee River is anything from 1- to 6-feet. The deepest the bass live on the main river is around 12 feet. Tellico is more clear and they’ll live deeper there. It’s really two bodies of water. I’m going to focus my efforts on the 6 feet and shallower range on the main river,” shares Benton.

Sunny B (Cooked Crawdad)

Benton’s 2023 Bassmaster Classic Crankbait Choices

“My number #1 choice is the Bagley Sunny B—it’s a smaller-profile crankbait with more flattish sides and it has a really tight action. It’s the perfect finesse crankbait for cold-water situations. Anytime I’m in 6 foot or less I’ll be throwing it,” notes Benton.


“I throw the Sunny B on 10- or 12-pound fluorocarbon to get it down. If I’m shallower than that, I like to fish the Bagley Flat Balsa B2 which dives in the 4-foot range but has a bigger profile. Flat-sided crankbaits in Tennessee for pre-spawn fish can be key. This is an event molded for fishing those two baits.”


As the water warms, Benton says he’ll switch to wider-wobbling cranks like the Bagley Balsa B and the Pro Sunny B.


“Those two baits cover a lot of water, have more action, and hunt really well. They bring in fish from farther away. They’re also better in dirtier water like in the backs of coves and pockets where the fish are actually staging to spawn.”

Flat Balsa B2 (Blue Chartreuse Shad)

Classic Crankbait Color Choices: Crawfish & Shad

“The only two patterns I’ll be throwing on the Tennessee River this time of year are crawfish and shad. I don’t mess with bluegill colors until after the spawn. I like Bagley’s Cooked Crawdad, Crusty Crawdad, and their Hot Claw Crawdad for clear waters,” advises Benton.


“For shad patterns, I’ve got three go-to’s. In clear water, I like Faded Schoolbus or Root Beer—and in muddy water I fish Blue Chartreuse Shad—you’re still imitating a shad but it’s brighter. With those Bagley patterns I can mimic any of the baitfish in the system.”

Pro Sunny B (Cooked Crawdad)

Crankin’ Rod, Reel, & Line Set-Up

“For the Sunny B and Flat B1, I’m throwing a 7-foot medium-light power cranking rod with 12- or even 10-pound fluorocarbon to get the baits down. I like a 6.8:1 reel for the smaller cranks and keep in mind to wind slow. That’s a finesse game,” offers Benton.


“When fishing the wider-wobbling Bagley Pro Sunny B and Balsa B, I throw a 7-foot medium- to medium-heavy power rod, step up to 15-pound fluoro and use a 7.5:1 or 8.0:1 gear ratio reel for covering water fast.”

This kit features 3 shad shaped profiles in 3 different colors hand picked by Bagley pros for success in spring conditions. From the Classic to a weeknight bass club tournament you will be setup for success.

About the Bagley Family

“I work a lot with Charlie Peterson, Mike Anselmo, and Sam Larsen at Bagley Baits. They’re great people to work with and we all get along great. Their baits are top notch and cover every situation I face on tour. It’s been a really good experience,” says Benton.


Charlie Peterson, Northland Fishing Tackle and Bagley’s pro staff coordinator, is thrilled Benton’s continued performance and wishes him the best at the upcoming 2023 Bassmaster Classic on the Tennessee River.


“Years on the Bassmaster and MLF tours have proven Benton is a top-notch angler to promote the Bagley Baits brand. We’re rooting for him at the Bassmaster Classic and what that brings. Our cranks will definitely get some play as these fish transition,” comments Peterson.

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