A Guide to Crankbaits

Wednesday, February 20, 2013 , 0 Comments

Ever since I was a child I have loved crankbaits. Even today I cannot walk into a sporting goods store without walking down the aisles of crankbaits and allowing myself to entertain the idea that perhaps I could possibly use just one more in my boxes at home. But for years I will admit that I didn't properly understand the nuances between different crankbaits, what gear to use, or how to use them as effectively as possible. Years of fishing, the advice from others, and hundreds of days on the water employing these baits has taught me a lot about these incredibly effective lures.

In this article I hope to share with you my experience and advice. Each angler will develop their own style and technique, and other anglers will bring differing nuances to each approach. However, this is meant as a primer for the novice angler and will hopefully get you on your way to developing more productive days on the water. 

Color and Rattles

A brief note on which color pattern, size, and whether to use rattles or not. As a general rule, I tend towards larger brighter crankbaits in murkier waters, and smaller more natural lures in clearer water. As for rattles, I tend to use crankbaits with them except in two scenarios: in areas with heavy angling pressure and early/late in the season I tend to find silent baits more productive. 

Deep Diving Crankbaits

A classic amongst bass anglers. Deep diving crankbaits are designed with a large round lip protruding from the lure. Often they are designed with an aggressive wobbling action. The key to using them effectively is to choose one which will knock against the bottom or at least tick the top of the cover if fishing in an area with a weed or timber bottom. In my tackle box I label all mine with the depth they dive so I never have any question as to which to choose when I am looking at the depth finder. Generally the bait will not reach maximum depth until it is about 1/3 of the way back to the boat.  So plan accordingly in your casts. When retrieving a deep diving crankbait I often use a steady retrieve and rely on the lure bouncing on the bottom to impart motion, at time though I will employ a stop and go action to the bait. Secondly, a common mistake many anglers use when retrieving a bait is they reel it in too quickly. I like to use a slow retrieve on a reel with a low gear ratio. For a rod I prefer a combination graphite/fiberglass composite rod in a medium heavy action, that is 7'10" long. This type of rod really will allow you to attain maximum distance with your cast. For line on big baits I prefer fluorocarbon or braid 20lb strength or greater. Fluorocarbon and braid will help get your bait deep as both have a higher density than water. Some of my favorite deep diving crankbaits are the Strike King Pro Series and those produced by Norman. In my waters the Strike King 6XD in a bluegill pattern is killer on Largemouth and I have my biggest Crappies on the Norman Deep Tiny N in silver/blue. 

Square Bill Crankbaits

Square bill crankbaits may look like deep divers in all but the shape of the lip, but their application is completely different. The lip of a square bill is obviously square instead of rounded and also much shorter than deep diving crankbaits. The bill design allows the bait to deflect off of thick cover. I pattern square bills a lot during early summer and early fall, when fish are often very active and and in shallow water. Often these baits will only dive 1-3' deep. Throw the bait in timber and use a fast retrieve, with a baitcast reel with a very high gear ratio. This aggressive approach will often incite a strike from nearby fish. Hangups will occur but are rare, the square design works quite well at deflecting the bait off structure. Again for this bait I use fluorocarbon or braid, not for its density properties but for their abrasion resistance. Typically I will use a slightly shorter rod, in the range of 6' 1/2" to allow me to retain greater control when casting around obstructions. Two of my favorites are the Lucky Craft LC 3.5 RT and Bass Pro's The Egg. 

Trolling Baits

While trolling baits can be cast, generally they are much more effective trolled behind a boat. Particularly popular with Great Lakes Salmon and Walleye anglers. The key to their effectiveness is trolling them at the correct depth. For this I recommend using a line counter on your reel while trolling and consulting the manufacture in order to inquire the trolling depth of a particular lure at a specified distance from the boat. Another great resource for this information is "Precision Trolling" by Mark Romanack. The speed of the boat will also affect the depth and action of the lure. Some great trolling baits are the Salmo Hornet, Reef Runner, and the perennial Luhr Jensen Kwikfish. 

Lipless Crankbaits

If fish are suspended, there is a good chance I am throwing a lipless crankbait. Particularly during early spring, I throw a lot of lipless crankbaits when targeting Bass, Walleye, Crappie, and White Bass/Wipers. The action is tight and almost all have rattles. Allow them to sink to a desired depth and bring them in with a stop, jerk and go action, the more erratic the better. Lipless crankbaits, as the name implies, have no lip so the depth is determined entirely by the angler, allowing for great flexibility. If I know fish are suspended where I am fishing, I will often count down various depths until I am able to effectively pattern the depth the fish are schooling at. Another great time to fish lipless crankbaits is when fishing water right above a submerged weed bed. Allow the bait to tick the top of the grass, then rip it out, no need to worry about a lip getting clogged with weeds to impede the action. The classic lipless crankbait is of course The Rattletrap but I have also found the Rapala Clack-n-Rap to be effective. In my waters and up north blue/silver seems to be a great color for suspended reservoir fish, whereas bright reds tend to be particularly popular in the southern United States.  


Winter/Early Spring is the time for jerkbaits. Jerkbaits are charcterized by their long slender profiles and often shallow lips. When paused in the water they will suspend. On the retrieve violently jerk the bait, reel in the slack without moving the bait, pause, and repeat. As a general rule of thumb the colder the water is the longer I allow the pauses. For tackle, I prefer monofilament and a spinning reel on a 7' medium graphite rod. Two of my favorites are the Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnow and the Lucky Craft Pointer.