When it comes to fishing crankbaits, there are always a million questions, with just about as many answers. Some of the common questions of what kind, what colors, when and where to use them, are going to be answered in this guide. There will always be new products and new ideas that may or may not work, but hopefully the following guide will give you the answers to most of the questions that are constantly being asked by the beginner to the advanced angler.
“WHAT ARE CRANKBAITS?”
There are as many manufacturers of crankbaits as there are colors. Some of the more popular makers of crankbaits are Luhr Jensen, Mann’s,Bomber, Storm, Berkley, Bill Lewis, Rapala, Lucky Craft and Rebel. There are of course, many more, including hundreds of custom made crankbaits by individuals and smaller companies. Crankbaits are minnow imitating lures, that float and/or suspend in the water column, have different sized lips and body shapes, and some have no lips at all. They come in a variety of sizes, colors, shapes, and weights, all of which are designed for a particular action and depth, to closely simulate a fleeing or injured baitfish or crawfish. First we will start with the floating and suspending variety of fat and slim bodied crankbaits.
The different body shapes that are offered all have distinct advantages over each other at different times of the year, depending mostly on water temperature, and the size of the baitfish available in that particular body of water. There are always exceptions to the rules, but basically the slimmer, flat sided crankbaits, that float, and/orsuspend, are better early and late in the year, when the water temperatures are below 60 degrees. The flat sided crankbaits will mimic a fleeing crawfish early in the year, and the best colors at that time are shades of red or brown. The proper depth is very important, as you want the bait as close to the bottom as possible to simulate a feeding or fleeing crawfish.The lures with the flat sides have a neutral buoyancy, which is very important in making the lure perform like a real crawfish. I like to use a bait that has a bill made to bump against rocks and other cover to achieve this result without getting hung up or breaking. The flat sided crankbaits help me do this.
The Bomber Flat A is also a good choice for this, and catch a lot of pre-spawn bass with this bait, using a slow steady retrieve. In the fall, I use different shad patterns like Pearl, or Chrome, for bass that are suspending this time of year. I use a steady, slow to medium retrieve for this, sometimes bumping into objects, but most of the time a steady retrieve has worked best at this time of year.In a tournament in the fall, I boated a 18 pound stringer, using this method, to win the tournament and take big bass with a 4 pounder.I like to target the shores that are wind blown first, when working these baits, and a lot of the time, in some of the New York and New Jersey Lakes that have clay or tapering gravel banks, I throw these flat sided crankbaits, because I can catch fish in areas where there is little cover and most people don’t fish!
The flat sided crankbaits are more for bass that are holding in water that is about 3-8 feet deep. Most of the flat sided crankbaits don’t work properly any deeper than 7 or 8 feet. Most of the time I don’t fish these flat sides in heavy cover, but there is one that was made by Poe’s, that is called an RC3, that seems to produce well in heavier cover. In open water, I usually use a Shad Rap, made by Rapala, because I found that it produces some good bass in relatively open water.
I use spinning gear most of the time to throw these baits, like the Shad Rap, and I use 8-10 pound test line, with a Shimano reel. I do use a baitcaster in 7 foot, with a medium-action rod, like a Lew’s or G.Loomis, with a Lew’s reel or Shimano geared down lower. I don’t really fool around with these baits as they are mostly made of wood, and they all have their own “personality” anyway. Sometimes I go through 10 or 15 crankbaits before finding 2 or 3 with just the right action. In the colder water I like the Shad Rap and I also like the Bomber Flat A best. When the water temperature is in the 40’s and 50’s I like it to wiggle a little tighter, and these baits achieve this action well. Baitfish are the main forage of bass in cold water, so I always try to match the bait with the prey.
The Flat A seems to look like a Shad or maybe a Bluegill, which is the main forage in a lot of the lakes I fish, and it works well in the lakes that have clearer water. I have used this bait with success over the tops of the Hydrilla beds in some Florida Lakes, as it doesn’t pick up much grass because of the real tight wiggle. I caught several nice bass from Stick Marsh and Walk-In-Water on this bait before. It also produced good in Lake Jackson. I always try to use 8 pound test whenever I can, as it usually allows the crankbaits to achieve their maximum depth, and action. Recently the best flat sided baits here in the northeast have been the Lucky Craft Flat CB and Mini CB, as well as the new Sebile baits. These 2-inch master crank lures by Lucky Craft are essential components in the planning of tournament tactics today. To further increase productivity, you must correctly understand the different applications and effects of the Flat Mini SR, MR and DR baits and learn, through actual gripping sensations, the “sweet spots” of the respective lures.
The unique screw of water flow generated by the flat side ensures the best luring movements, which are akin to those of the original Flat CB. Indeed, the SR, MR and DR are miracle baits that combine an optimal lip shape designed to quickly reach the strike zone, an effective gravity-center shift for maximal castability, and a longer stroke for attracting bass in a wider area. These Lucky Craft baits are some of the better new Flat Side crankbaits available. The other new flat side baits that have really produced since they were introduced are the Sebile Flat-Sided Rattslers. Sébile has only been in business since mid-2006 and the product line is characterized by several unorthodox and exciting bass lures – the three-piece lipless Magic Swimmer swimbait, the swervy Slim Stick and humpy Ghost Walker, the fantastic Flatt Shad series, the unconventional Stick Shad, trumpet-shaped Splasher, unique Onduspoon hard plastic spoon and many other Sébile lures are truly original and unlike any others out there in terms of shape and application. In 2009, Sebile introduced two crankbait series, the fat-bodied Crankster and flat-sided Rattsler. These are not as out-of-the-box and unconventional as many of Sebile’s other lure designs. The Rattslers are not only flat-sided but have ultra thin bodies. As a result, Rattslers are a bit light in comparison to their side profile size, since they are so flat and thin.
The flat sides stir and move a lot of water, creating tons of turbulence as the Rattslers wiggle along. The swimming movement can be called tight and frantic, and there is a lot of side-to-side full body flipping motion. The Rattsler 85 ML and 85 VLL are the two I recommend for average, everyday cranking on decent size bodies of water for decent size fish. I’d say all three Rattsler 65’s are better suited for finesse cranking situations, for small ponds and small streams or where mainly small bass are found. The Rattsler 65’s are suited to clearer water, smaller waters or finesse situations with light tackle. The Rattsler 85’s are more of your mainstream crankbait size, even a little on the big size (keeping in mind they are thin). Of the three Rattsler 85 sizes, I’d say the 85 SL would be the least used model overall since it runs very shallow. The 85 SL dives just 1-2 feet, and that makes it good for fishing over thick grass or jumbled shallow wood, through the crowns of dense brush fields and so forth. Those are great sitations where the 85 SL excels. But day in and day out, the most poplar models will be the Rattsler 85 ML which runs 2-4 feet deep and the Rattsler 85 VLL (runs 10-20 feet) for deep water applications.
“FAT BODIED CRANKBAITS”
I like a lot of the fat bodied crankbaits when working shallow or brushy cover, as I believe they come through it better, and have a wider wobble, which at times is just what the bass want. I use these more in the stained or muddier rivers and lakes, and I also like them for running over the weedbeds when the top of the weeds come to about a foot of the surface.
Mann’s 1-Minus, and Baby 1 Minus and Lucky Craft are my favorites for this style of shallow running crankbait. Again, I always try to match the forage of the lake, at the particular time of year I am fishing.Also, many days when you couldn’t get a bass to come up out of the Hydrilla for a topwater, such as a buzzbait, or a Zara Spook, you could catch a limit by running these baits just under the surface creating a wake over the grass and Hydrilla beds. Bomber makes a bait called the Shallow A, which is also good for this type of cover. Another method I use to replace a spinnerbait is a Cotton Cordell Big O, the one I like best runs about 3 or 4 feet deep. It creates a good wake when I reel it slowly, or if I want to burn it, it will run just under the surface and serve as a search bait, covering a lot of water quickly. I like to throw this bait around the edges of the thick weeds in New Jersey’s Union Lake, and others that are similar to it. It really works well there. If I want to make an even heavier wake than normal, I just go to heavier line for the crankbaits, say 20-25 pound test.The thicker line helps keep the bait running on top. I always like to throw these baits to visible structure such as grass and docks,and most importantly later in the year, SHADE!
In lakes that are really clear, and have little cover, the bass will relate to a shade line. This is also true in Table Rock Lake in certain areas, although Table Rock does have a variety of structure, but little to no vegetation. When I fish the shade line, I usually burn the bait. The most active fish will always be on the shady side of whatever structure there is. I cast beyond the structure, and burn the bait through the shade as close to the structure as possible. If you fish a lot of lakes that receive heavy pressure from water skiers and jet skies, and pleasure boaters, it generally creates a “Mud-line.”
Bass will relate to this very often. It generally is in the upper 3 feet of water, so bass will hold along the mud line so they can see what’s swimming by. I cast parallel to the muddy water and burn the bait back to the boat. I usually use a white or Pearl color for this. I have used this method with success at Lake Hopetcong in the summer months. All these shallow running baits of this type produce bass well in the spring in California and Florida. Many times a crankbait will run deeper or shallower than it is supposed to according to the manufacturer.
The Suspending crankbaits seem to run a little deeper than the floating ones, I suspect because they are a little heavier. The other places to target for bass with crankbaits in rivers, is the creek channels or bends.River bends collect structure such as fallen trees and brush, which in turn, creates a great spot in slower current where the largemouth lay in wait of the prey. Differences in materials should also be considered when selecting the crankbaits to use. For example, plastic lures can be abused a little more than some wood lures, but wooden baits have better flotation and action many times. There are differences in the way they have to manufacture plastic baits and wooden baits, and both have their advantages and disadvantages in each situation. Trial and error, experience, and time, are the best teachers in these matters.
You can read all you want, but there is nothing like time and hands on experience to learn what works best and when. One thing I do with most crankbaits though, is change their hooks. I only use premium hooks on baits such as Gamakatsu, VMC, Daiichi, X-Pouint, or other quality hooks. I replace them after a couple of months or sooner, depending on the use, and the number of fish caught on them.You really need to understand and have good electronics also, to find the right cover, and select the correct depth. Many times anglers are either fishing above or below the fish. It is very important to have and know how to use a wide variety of crankbaits to cover the proper depth. I never stick my rod in the water to make the lure run deeper, as it causes you to loose contact with thebait. If you are after fish that are deeper, it is better to make a longer cast beyond them, and reel the bait to them. The longer the cast, the better, if you are trying to achieve maximum depth, as it takes a while for the lure to go down. When fishing for deeper bass there are better choices than some of the crankbaits I’ve mentioned above.
Many times when searching for deep bass lipless crankbaits are better. Some of the better lipless crankbaits for searching and catching bassin deep water are a 1-ounce Cordell Rattlin Spot, a Rattlin’ Rapala in1/2 ounce, Lucky Craft, the new baits by Sebile or Little George’s. These baits proved to be a life saver one day on Table Rock Lake, when the bass wouldn’t cooperate on the other crankbaits.
Many times in Delaware Lakes and ponds, I have used similar baits in cold water very early in the year with success. These will also work in the deeper, colder areas of the Nanticoke and Sassafras rivers early and late in the year. I usually stick with the Shad patterns for these baits, or solid chrome, although I have at times caught numerous large bass early with a red or orange color.
Sometimes it is just a matter of presentation.
Before changing the lure or color, I always cover the area at various angles at different retrieve speeds. As you can see, there is a lot to know about using the correct crankbait, and I have just touched on the tip of the iceberg. There are other subtle variations in all of the above lures and presentations that can effect how a bait catches bass. After many years of trial and error, I am still learning new ways to catch more and bigger bass on crankbaits. And isn’t that the way it should be? The experimentation, and anticipation of every cast is what keeps it exciting and fun.
Steve vonBrandt 1998 Big Bass World Champ/NAFC Hall Of Fame