Crankbaiting 101

I would like to take a few minutes to help out fellow bass anglers who are either new to bass fishing, or are just having trouble catching bass on crankbaits. There are several important factors, which must come into play for one to be successful with crankbaits.

The two most important factors when fishing crankbaits are the depth the bass are holding, and their location in relation to structure. You must know the depth in order to choose the proper bait to achieve and maintain the specific depth during the majority of the retrieve. Knowing the location will enable you to make the proper presentation.

With that said, it should be noted that a suspended bass will be very difficult to catch with a crankbait, because in order to be effective, one must “Bounce” a crankbait off of some form of object (I.E. Tick the tops of weeds, bump the stump, dig bottom, etc.)

You must bring the lure either above the bass, or on the same level of the bass, because they cannot see directly below or behind themselves.

When fishing a particular piece of structure or cover, make a long cast past it, and bring it back so that your lure is in the strike zone at the moment it reaches the potential bass ambush point. When it bumps the cover, pause it or give it a sudden burst of speed. This will trigger a strike.

You can fish a crankbait effectively on almost any form of structure: Points, flats, ledges, drop-offs, roadbeds, riprap, sandbars, Etc.

One of my favorite techniques when fishing flats or the backs of creeks is to steadily reel a crankbait along the bottom. Use a crawdad colored bait that runs about a foot deeper than the bottom to churn and stir up the bottom. I have caught some really large bass doing this.

If you have been catching bass on a certain size and color crankbait, and they stop hitting or slow down, try simply changing colors. Trust me, it works. Let the fish tell you what they want. Listen to them. Don’t be afraid to try different sizes, styles, colors and retrieves until you find what the fish want.

Try this sometime. Take 3 lures of the same color, but in three different sizes, and try the following retrieves: 1. Slow and steady, 2. Slow and steady, pausing when bumping cover, 3. Slow and steady, then “rip” the lure when contacting cover. Then try a medium retrieve with each above technique. See which one catches bass.

Color is also a factor, but mainly lies in what you have confidence in and what the primary forage fish/bait is in your area.

Wood vs. plastic. Plastic cranks are pretty much uniform. One cookie cutter pre molded bait wiggles pretty much like the others. I won’t name brands out of courtesy and professionalism, but you know the ones. Wood will not be as uniform as plastic because of the difference in densities in different pieces of wood. No two wooden cranks will have exactly the same action. I prefer wood because it does produce a more erratic action.

Cranking Equipment: This is another area that is important.

Reel: I prefer a slow retrieve reel. A Cranking reel with a 3.3:1- 4.3:1 Gear ratio is absolutely ideal for dragging a big, deep running, hard pulling crankbait through the water. The slower ratio makes it easier on the angler, and presents the bait in a more lifelike manner. It also will not bind up as easy as a fast reel.

Rod: An E-Glass or all Glass rod is an absolute must for a serious crankbaiter. I personally like a graphite composite rod. You need the limber tip and flex in order to help land hooked bass. Many bass are lost due to a rod being too stiff.

Line: A quality line is a must. You want one with minimal stretch in order to achieve a good hook set. You also need the right pound test. Most manufactures recommend 10 lb. test, and their depth ratings are based on it. However, you can expect that for each lb. test you increase, you loose 2 feet of depth. Adversely, if you drop below 8 lb. test, you also begin to loose depth. I use 12# myself.

Use sharp hooks: This can NOT be overemphasized. Sharp hooks catch more fish. I also replace the front treble with Daiichi Bleeding Bait red trebles.

Tuning A Crankbait: Fortunately, most of the premium baits available today usually do not need to be tuned before use. However, if your bait begins to run off to one side, tune it as follows: Hold the bait in your hand facing the bill. If the bait runs to the right, bend the eye SLIGHTLY to the LEFT. If it runs to the left, bend the eye to the RIGHT. Repeat the process until the bait runs true.

Crankbait Types: There are three basic body types.

1. Potbellied: (Mann’s depth series, Bomber Fat A, Bagleys B Series, Bandit, Etc.). My personal favorite style. These lures are built bulky, and produce a wide, hard wobble. As much as 6 inches, based on lure size and retrieve speed. They are designed to resemble bluegill and perch.

2. Flat, or Slim baits: (Excalibur Fat Free Series, Bomber Flat A, Shad Rap, Etc.). These baits are slim, trim, and sleek, and are designed to best imitate shad. They produce a tight, fast wobble/wiggle, and are better when fish are not as aggressive.

3. Lipless Cranks: (Rat-L-Trap, Etc.): These have a very tight wiggle, rattles, and are designed to imitate baitfish in general. They work well anytime the water is above 55 degrees.

Crankbait Depths:

Here are the basic categories of depth for most cranks.
Super Shallow: 0-2feet
Shallow: 2-4 feet
Medium: 4 -6 feet
Deep: 6-10 feet
Extra Deep: 10-18 Feet.

You can generally tell the average running depth of a crankbait by the shape and position of the lip in relation to the body. For example, a bait with a short narrow bill at a hard angle down from the body will tell you it is a super shallow or shallow runner. A moderate angle down from the body is a medium/deep runner. A long wide bill straight out from the nose is an extra deep runner.

Types of wooden crankbaits:

Cedar: Not very common. Only Poe’s makes these. It is heavier with almost neutral buoyancy.

Balsa: The most common. A lightweight wood used by Bagley, Rapala, and most makers. It is Extremely Buoyant.

Jelutong: My favorite. Buoyant, Lightweight and Produces a good action. Not as common as Balsa, but more so than cedar. It has the buoyancy of Balsa, and the strength of Cedar.

When Fishing submerged weeds within 3 feet of the surface, try fishing a Lipless crankbait on a fast retrieve reel and heavy line (17-20#). The heavy line will help slow the fall of the lure and keep it out of the weeds, and the reel will burn it back. A Super shallow running crank will also work with this tip.

Good Fishing,
Charles Graves

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