When is the last time you threw a crankbait? It was likely sometime in the past year that you have. Most of the modern day baits are made of plastic with crazy paint jobs. Chances are your favorite crankbait has a long history that was initially a balsa wood bait.
Living in central Indiana the joke is in a tournament we all take turns catching the only 5 fish we have. Why it’s not that bad it is very tough and the fish are heavily pressured with anglers. Balsa is known for its “hunting” action that makes the bait come alive. This action looks very natural and when it’s tough pressured water that can be the difference in a tough day and a great day.
When fishing with balsa square bill it will amaze you how well it comes through the nastiest wood cover. In the summer when the fish really get in the heavy cover a balsa plug coming through the nasty cover can break up the countless jigs and soft plastics dropped by the fishes face. One of the biggest keys when fishing in the deepest cover is to stop reeling and use the rod to “pull” the bait through the cover. Balsa is also very buoyant so it will shoot up through the cover if you stop reeling and not use the rod tip to move it.
One of my absolute favorite uses for balsa is when the water is extremely cold. I use a flat sided bait in place of a jerk bait or other cold water baits. This allows me to cover water, but also feel it gets me the more quality bites throughout the day. These baits will typically run from 5-8 ft depending on cast distance and the line used. I will typically look for a path for the fish to go deep with the option to move shallower. I believe most fish will relate to deeper water most of the late fall and winter and all the way into earlier spring.
Unlike the wide hunting wobble of a square bill, the flat side has a tighter rolling action. Also don’t be afraid to pull the bait with the rod in the same manner you would a square bill. A few great options for these styles of baits are a PH custom skinny p, and as the water slightly warms the PH dollar bill. As a rule of thumb the warmer the water the more wobble or thumping you will want. The skinny P has less thump than the dollar bill. Another great choice is the old school custom W2 or W3 depending on what depth you are trying to reach.
There aren’t as many balsa bait manufacturers as there once was, but there are still some great builders out there. I have been fortunate enough to have been working with Phil Hunt at PH lures. He makes great quality baits with top notch components and beautiful paint jobs. He offers 2 lines which is the PH line and the old School line. The PH line is hand tuned and also has a hand applied clear coat on the baits. The old school line is a great line for beginner users at a lower price point than most manufacturers.
A few other manufacturers include Lazer Lures, Black Label, and Etters. All are small business owners that have a tremendous amount of respect for the craft. Give balsa a try next time you are on the water and you might be surprised at what happens!
Written By- Matt Gibson