Crankbaits areamong the most popular artificial lures, especially for bass and walleyes. Thebest thing about them is that you don’t have to be an expert to fish themproperly: You just cast them out and wind them back in. As they mimic swimmingprey, such as minnows or crayfish, their frantic, fish-attracting action doesall the work. No wonder crankbaits are so popular with pro anglers and weekendfishermen alike.
MATERIALS:Crankbaits are made of either hard plastic or a buoyant wood such as balsa orcedar. Most versions have a clear plastic or metal lip (or bill) that causesthe bait to dive to varying depths when retrieved.
LIMITING FACTORS:The length and shape of the bill determine how deep the lure will dive and howwell it will deflect off hard objects such as logs or the bottom. The diameterof the line also governs the depth to which the lure will dive. Lines that arethinner slice through the water more easily and allow a diving crankbait toreach its maximum depth potential.
SHAPES AND SIZES:Some crankbaits have either very short, stubby lips or none at all; these areintended for shallow-water use. The shape of the crankbait’s body helps todetermine its retrieve action. Thin crankbaits with flat sides have a tightwobble, while crankbaits with more rounded bodies have a wide wobble.
ADDEDATTRACTIONS: Interior rattles, activated when the lure wobbles, further enhancethe bait’s attraction in dingy water or during low-light conditions. Somecrankbaits are jointed for additional action.
TAKE IT EASY:”Never try to horse in a big fish that you’ve hooked on a crankbait!”says Kentucky bass pro Mark Menendez. “When I get a strike while cranking,I reel down tight on the fish rather than jerk back with a hard hookset. Then Itry to play the fish out on a long line, rather than work it quickly to theboat.” Such measures help prevent lightly hooked fish from getting off.
“If I see theline cutting upward, I know the fish is about to jump, so I’ll quickly stickthe rod tip in the water to try to keep the bass from going airborne andshaking out the hooks,” Menendez adds. “Once the fish begins to tireand I can work it closer, I try to see how it’s hooked. If it’s got the luredeep in its gullet and is hooked solid, I know I’ll be able to swing it aboardwithout it coming unhooked. If it’s only lightly hooked or too big to swingaboard, I’ll lie on my back, pull the fish to me with the rod to where I cancradle it in my hand and lift it aboard.”
ADD A MENU ITEM:”When crappies are so finicky they won’t take a small jig or even liveminnows, you can often get them to strike one of the so-called creaturecrankbaits in an ultralight size,” says Tennessee crappie guide GarryMason. “I’ve found that these types of crankbaits work best when the wateris stained or dingy due to heavy rains or high winds. Try a hot color likechartreuse, and be sure to bump the lure off submerged wood cover.”
GIVE ‘EM ADIFFERENT LOOK: “In early spring, when bass first move into shallow, weedycoves to spawn, a big jointed California crankbait might produce the biggestbass you’ve ever caught,” notes Arizona pro Ish Monroe. “Make a longcast down the shoreline, then hold the rod high and reel just fast enough sothe soft-plastic tail splashes along on the surface. Basically, you’re fishingit more like a topwater bait than a diver. It’s an awesome sight when aten-pounder smacks it.”
KNOCK ON WOOD:”Just because a crankbait has two sets of treble hooks doesn’t mean youcan’t fish it around cover,” says Tennessee bass guide Jim Duckworth.”That diving lip is designed to deflect the bait off hard objects likelogs, stumps and rocks, which is when eighty percent of strikes will occur.When the bait veers off cover, bass evidently perceive it to be a frightenedbaitfish.”
Always keep anextendable lure retriever or plug knocker on board when you’re fishingcrankbaits to retrieve the lures when they snag.
WORK RATTLERS INBIG WATER: “A lipless crankbait is a great tournament lure because it letsyou comb big, flat pieces of structure relatively quickly,” says NorthCarolina bass pro Marty Stone. “I fish a rattler on a seven-footmedium-action rod with braided line. I like this combination because it allowsme to monitor the action of the lure constantly; if I feel it go dead, I giveit a couple of sharp rips to shed the grass or weed that it’s probably pickedup, or to set the hook instantly in a bass that’s inhaled it.”
THINK SHALLOW:”It’s a huge mistake to think all bass are staying in deep water duringearly spring and winter,” says Alabama pro Gerald Swindle. “There willalways be plenty of bass up shallow when the water is cold, as long as there’ssome wood cover to hold them and there’s something for them to eat. Amedium-diving crankbait with squared-off bill is my first choice in coolerweather for a quick limit.”
SLOW DOWN, SPEEDUP: “Don’t just crank, crank, crank like a dad-blamed robot; use somecreativity in your retrieve,” urges Bill Dance. “If you’re not gettingstrikes with a medium, constant retrieve, try speeding up or slowing down. I’veseen countless instances where bass wanted a slow retrieve in the morning, thenpreferred a stop-and-go retrieve or a faster retrieve in theafternoon.”
CRANKBAIT CRIB SHEET
APPLICATION: For bass 10 to 20 feet deep on offshorereservoir structure. Water clear to stained, 70-90 degrees
BEST COLORS: Shad, chartreuse, citrus shad, firetiger, red, bone white
INSIDE TIP: Bounce the lure off isolated wood or rockcover on the retrieve.
These are favored for probing deep structures such aspoints, humps, channel drop-offs and standing timber lining creek channels. Theelongated lip causes the lure to dive to about 20 feet and helps it deflect offobstacles.
Large deep-divers weighing ½ to ¾ ounces can be castlong distances, allowing them to reach their maximum depth potential. Deepdivers are most effective from post-spawn through the fall in lakes with largeconcentrations of baitfish.
APPLICATION: For bass around scattered wood or rockcover. Water stained to murky, 48-75 degrees
BEST COLORS: Shad, fire tiger, crayfish
INSIDE TIP: Use a square-lipped bait and deflect itoff shallow cover such as blowdowns or the trunks of standing timber.
Currently a hot ticket among pro tournament bassfishermen, these crankbaits have shorter bills than deep divers and will run 3to 8 feet deep when retrieved at standard speed. They’re used to probe shallowcover, especially stumps and laydown logs along shorelines, flats, river barsand points with a low trajectory.
They’re more effective than deep divers in coldwater–use them in pre-spawn, then again in late fall and, conditionspermitting, winter.
APPLICATION: Excellent for bass along shorelines andshallow flats with moderately thick wood cover. Water stained to muddy, 50-75degrees
BEST COLORS: Shad, fire tiger
INSIDE TIP: Shallow runners are the best bet alongshorelines in early spring; these are also great pre-spawn lures for cruisingbass.
When bass are near the bank in spring, either feedingor heading for bedding areas, shallow runners might produce more strikes thanspinnerbaits or topwater lures.
Shallow crankbaits run from only about 6 inches to afoot beneath the surface on retrieve, thanks to a short, stubby lip and anextended belly area that adds to their buoyancy. Their ability to crawl overlaydown logs without hanging up has earned them the nickname”four-wheel-drive crankbaits.”
APPLICATION: For walleyes, pike or muskies in rockylakes and rivers. Water clear to stained, 40-66 degrees
BEST COLORS: Perch, bone white, shad
INSIDE TIP: On retrieve, these lures tend to headstraight down, which makes them a good pick when bass are holding right againstdeep banks.
Metal-billed baits are among the earliest crankbaitstyles; today they’re more popular with walleye and muskie anglers than withbass fishermen. Many are capable of depths exceeding 20 feet, even deeper whentrolled on a long line.
The shiny metal bill suggests the flash of a baitfish,reflecting some light even in the deepest, murkiest water. It also creates anattractive clicking sound when the lure is retrieved against a rock or gravelbottom.
APPLICATION: For bass in shallow wood or rock cover inimpoundments where shad are the primary forage. Water stained to murky, 50-70degrees
BEST COLORS: Bone white, shad, citrus shad,chartreuse, fire tiger
INSIDE TIP: Retrieve with short rips through brushycover.
Similar to traditional medium runners and deep-divers,flat-sided divers are considerably thinner and have flat sides that produce atighter wiggle. They’re usually made of wood and are a good choice for probingbrushy wood cover in 3 to 5 feet of water.
Why this style of crankbait often works better thanmodels with rounder body shapes is a matter of conjecture. Flat-sided diversare similar in vibration to lipless crankbaits, except without the rattles.
APPLICATION: Ideal for bass on shallow flats andpoints with scattered wood in spring (water murky, 45-65 degrees), tops ofsubmerged grass beds in summer (water clear, 75-90 degrees)
BEST COLORS: Silver, gold, red
INSIDE TIP: Rip a lipless crankbait through sparsegrass in late spring or early summer to trigger reaction strikes from bigbass.
These are the noise and vibration champs. Designed forprobing shallow flats and the tops of thick weed beds, a lipless crankbait hasa thin body, flat sides, pointed nose, no lip, a top-mounted line-tie and metalshot inside the body that produce a steady rattle on retrieve. They’re a greatchoice where or when bass can’t home in on a lure visually. They also can befished vertically as drop baits for schooling bass in summer.
APPLICATION: For bass in deep structure in reservoirs,especially during cold fronts. Water clear to stained, 55-90 degrees
BEST COLORS: Shad, chartreuse, citrus shad, bonewhite
INSIDE TIP: Use a stop-and-go retrieve for sluggishpre-spawn bass or fish that are suspended in cold water or near summerthermoclines.
Most diving crankbaits rise slowly on a slack line;suspending crankbaits are weighted to be neutrally buoyant; that is, theyneither sink nor float up when the retrieve is stopped. Reel them down to thedesired depth, then stop reeling and they’ll stay at that depth. Neutrallybuoyant crankbaits are most effective during the prespawn period, when bass aresuspending in deep water adjacent to their shallow spawning grounds.
APPLICATION: Works best for big largemouths, stripedbass and muskies around shallow weed or wood cover. Water clear to stained,55-65 degrees
BEST COLORS: Rainbow trout, red, fire tiger
INSIDE TIP: Retrieve slowly so that the soft-plastictail flaps on the surface. Be sure that the larger treble hooks are honed toneedle-sharpness.
Relatively huge jointed plugs with soft-plastic tailshave gained a cult following in the West, where they’ve racked up largemouthcatches exceeding 20 pounds.
Most are carved from wood, painted to look likerainbow trout (a favorite forage of giant California bass) and have slantedheads that send them just under the surface on a steady retrieve. Theirherky-jerky swimming action triggers vicious strikes from muskies, pike andlandlocked stripers.
APPLICATION: For walleyes or bass on flats, points,humps and deep submerged grass beds. Clear to stained water, 45-80 degrees
BEST COLORS: Perch, shad, gold, fire tiger
INSIDE TIP: Walleye cranks are good for bass in highlypressured lakes because they present a different “look” from standardbass crankbaits.
These long-billed lures usually have elongated bodiesto resemble the pelagic baitfish such as ciscoes, alewives and perch thatwalleyes generally feed upon. Walleye anglers primarily troll these crankbaits,but their slender, wind-resistant bodies allow them to be cast long distances,too.
They’re effective down to 15 to 20 feet. Thoughtechnically considered lipless crankbaits, classic bass/walleye favorites suchas the Flatfish and the Lazy Ike can be included in this family.
APPLICATION: For bass (especially smallmouths) instreams, ponds and lake margins. Clear water, 50-70 degrees
BEST COLORS: Crayfish, shad, natural
INSIDE TIP: Try twitching floaters such asgrasshoppers and frogs on top during the summer, when bass are hunting forsurface prey.
These are lightweight crankbaits designed to closelyresemble natural game-fish forage, including crayfish, minnows, frogs and eventadpoles and hellgrammites. They dive 1 to 3 feet under the surface and exhibita frantic wobbling action on retrieve.
Typically, creature crankbaits are fished onultralight spinning gear in streams, ponds and the margins of natural lakes andreservoirs for largemouth and smallmouth bass as well as bluegills andcrappies.
Six Hot Colors You Need
Crankbaits come in hundreds of colors. You don’t needevery one, but here are some specialized patterns to try.
Fire Tiger A jazzed-up chartreuse. Great around shallow cover for bass, walleyes, northernpike and muskies.
Crayfish Often features brown or dark green for the base color, with cream belly. Afavorite for spring bass.
Rainbow Trout Mimics the colors of a favorite forage in lakes and rivers where bass share thewater with trout.
Silver or Gold Suggestive of shad, these are the most popular colors. Best in clear water onsunny days.
Bone White A good basic baitfish pattern for slightly stained to murky water underovercast skies.
Perch A nice color for bass, walleyes, pike and muskies. A yellow perch imposter, butsuggests other sunfish as well.
Perfect Crankbait Tackle
Rods Most bass and walleye experts prefer a long (6½- to 7½-foot), soft-actionbait-casting rod for crankbaiting that’s rated L (light), ML (medium light) orM (medium). “When choosing the right rod for crankbaits, it’s all aboutshock absorption,” says Ohio bass pro Frank Scalish.
“For some reason, bass will often head-butt orsideswipe a crankbait, leading to many foulhooked fish. You’d lose a hugepercentage of such fish if you were using a stiff-action rod–they’d just tearoff. Also, the potbellied design of many of the larger deep-diving models makesit easy for a bass to throw the lure when it jumps and shakes its head. Again,a soft-action rod provides shock absorption that helps guard against biggerfish coming unbuttoned.”
Line Low-diameter monofilament lines rated 10- to 14-pound-test are ideal forcranking. Some anglers prefer fluorocarbon line because it sinks faster thanmonofilament.
However, bass pros commonly fish lipless vibratingcrankbaits on braided line so they can better feel grass and light strikes.
Reels The jury is still out on the most effective reel to use. One school of thoughtholds that a fast-retrieve reel (at least 6:1) is best for fishing crankbaitsbecause it moves the lure faster as you reel at a normal speed, therebycovering the strike zone more quickly.
Other anglers favor a slowspeed reel (5:1) because itdiscourages fishing the bait too fast, a distinct possibility in cold water orwhenever bass aren’t inclined to chase down a lure.