Crankbaits work the best when bounced or glanced off something, imitating a feeding or fleeing crawfish or baitfish. Crankbaits are made of plastic and balsa wood. The speed of retrieve, rod length and line diameter will also play a major role in how each category performs. They can be simplified into 4 basic categories.
Deep Diving are usually classified for depths of greater than 10 feet. They can easily be identified by their large bill. When retrieved they will usually have a wide wobble. A good set-up for throwing Deep Divers is a 7’6” to an 8’ medium action rod, 10 to 12 pound test monofilament or copolymer line, and a 5:3 or 6:1 reel. This is good for long casts since you are trying to reach deep structures.
Medium Diving are used in a range of 5 to 10 feet. They will have a smaller bill. You can also subdivide these into round and flat sided crankbaits. Round baits have a wide wobble and flat sides have a tighter wobble when retrieved. A 7’ to 7’6” medium rod, 8 to 12 pound test monofilament or copolymer line, and a 6:3 reel are really effective for these baits, since cast do not have to be as long to achieve the depths desired.
Shallow Diving are used in a range of 1 to 5 feet. They have a smaller bill, normally inverted to push water. These include squarebills and small sub-surface crankbaits. A 7’ to 7’6” medium rod, 8 to 12 pound test monofilament or copolymer line, and a 6:3 reel are really effective for these baits, since cast do not have to be as long to achieve the depths desired.
Finally, the lipless crankbait. It’s a catch all for cranking and can be used similarly to other cranks, or in entirely different scenarios!
One of the most widely known and favored techniques by all anglers for covering water and catching a lot of fish is cranking. There is no wrong time to throw a crankbait and they work all across the country. The effectiveness of these baits is known all around the world and this is by no mistake. The crankbait does an excellent job of representing almost every type of forage that a bass feeds on, and it does a fantastic job of getting non-feeding fish to bite. However, a crankbait is no different than any other bait in that there are ways to better your chances of catching fish.
Gear for Cranking
Getting a fish to eat a crankbait is no easy task and takes some skill to trick a bass into eating it. That not the hardest part though, in order to get those fish to the boat, or your hand, there are a couple things that you need to take into consideration. The first thing is the rod you use. When a bass eats a crankbait, they use the suction power by opening their mouth to pull the crankbait into their mouth.
If you are using too stiff of a rod, it will pull the bait out of the fish’s mouth before it allows that fish to fully get the bait. So, you want a medium action rod with a slow tip that allows that rod to load up on the fish properly. They make some great glass and composite rods that work like a charm, but the graphite rods on the market work just fine too. The line is personal preference, most prefer fluorocarbon because it sinks and allows that bait to get to its deepest point. There are many anglers who still utilize the stretch capabilities of monofilament in order to use a stiffer rod though.
The reel that you put that line on is also personal preference. If you are using an extremely deep crankbait like a 10XD or DT20, then you will want a slower gear ratio like a 5:1:1 to be able to handle that torque. A 6:3:1 is a pretty standard cranking reel for most crankbait applications. The biggest factor when cranking is your hooks, this is the primary link between you and your catch. Most companies put low quality hooks on there to be able to market the bait for a cheaper price. The first thing you should do is change out the hooks to either Owner round bends, or Mustad KVD trebles. Will you still catch fish with stock hooks? Yes, yes you will. But be warned, you will lose more fish than the guy with upgraded hooks.
Shallow diving crankbaits are often known as square bills. They are called this because of the square bill that they have that enables them to dive to a certain depth. This square bill allows these baits to deflect off of cover, laydowns, rocks, and poles extremely well.
This does a couple of things for the angler and the fish. It makes the anglers job easier to cover water efficiently while being able to not get hung up on pieces of cover. When these baits deflect off of the cover they also trigger strikes from fish as it makes those erratic movements around the cover. This can be a deadly technique throughout the entire year and anglers like Kevin VanDam take full advantage of that.
The beauty of square bills is that you can fish them with heavy line because they run so shallow. This heavy line lets you get away with putting these baits into tight spaces with no real concern of nicking the line or breaking off. These baits are the ideal bait for covering water when you first pull up to a new fishery. This is because you can fish them around anything and still trigger strikes. You can fish them over grass beds, around docks, through shallow rock, through timber, etc. The biggest thing, like any other bait, is to vary your retrieve. When cranking it in don’t be afraid to stop it, speed it up quick, etc. Anything than you think might trigger a fish to strike if it was following that bait.
Medium Diving Crankbaits
The most forgotten and overlooked area of the water column in bass fishing today, is that middle 6-10 feet. People either think the fish are up super shallow, or off super deep. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. After those fish start to get pounded on up shallow during the spawn, they will start to slide off the bank just a little bit to where people can’t see them. These fish feel more comfortable in this zone and because it’s so often overlooked, yet, it can be a perfect zone to target.
To use medium divers, you can use the same gear as a squarebill, but downsize the line to allow the bait to reach its optimal depth. By using thinner diameter line, 10 to 14 pound, it enables the bait to have less resistance and get to its maximum depth. This is key to keeping that bait bumping off the bottom in order to elicit a strike. Target areas just off the break lines and out on deeper flats more efficiently with a medium diver! Next time you get out on the water and you can’t seem to buy a bite shallow, try backing off slightly and running that little bit deeper depth and you might be surprised what you find.
Deep Diving Crankbaits
One of the fastest evolving markets in the realm of crankbait fishing, is the deep diving crankbait. Up until recent years, it was nearly impossible to get baits to run that 15 to 25-foot zone. Luckily for us though, the different companies have started to explore ways which allow us to get these baits down that deep. This means we can cover more water in the summer when those fish pull off into those offshore deep-water spots. So, even if you don’t have the best electronics, you can still get in the game.
Just looking at the size of the bills on these baits, you know they mean business.
This means we have to upgrade the gear that we are throwing these baits on in order to get the most out of that bait and to ensure you don’t throw your shoulder out after just a few casts. To throw these bigger baits, you want the same action rod. A softer rod that allows the fish to get the bait, but you want it in an upgraded version. Most companies have cranking rods that run all the way up to nearly 8 foot in length today and this is exactly what they are designed for.
You’ve probably seen these rods in local tackle store or online and laughed at them. These bigger rods allow you to handle the shear size of these baits and be able to cast them a country mile. The farther you can cast a crankbait, the deeper that bait is going to dive. Normally, this isn’t as big of an issue if you’re running that 6 to 12-foot zone, because even if it isn’t getting there you can upgrade the size of your crankbait. That is hard to do when you are throwing the biggest crankbait made today, so long casts are key. You are going to want to use the same size line as previously discussed with the medium diving baits, for the same reasons. If you aren’t hitting the bottom periodically on your casts, then you are missing out and you won’t get nearly as many bites as if you were. Now, that slow gear ratio reel, 5:3:1, comes into play to be able to torque a bait that is going to be pushing as much water as these baits do.
Another overlooked crankbait is the lipless bait. Most people stray away from these baits because they hear the terrible stories of people losing a ton of fish on them. This will happen, if you don’t use the right equipment. The general style of a lipless makes it great to fish around grass, because the hooks are constantly behind the head of the bait which makes it relatively weedless without any modifications.
You’ll still want to change the hooks out to a better style that will get you more fish in the boat. The next big problem people have, is using the wrong rod. You can get away with throwing other crankbaits on too stiff of a rod and you will still land a good portion of the fish that bite, especially if they are really eating the bait. This is not the case with a lipless. You want an extremely soft action rod that will really let those fish get the bait. It will also absorb the shock of those fish jumping or shaking. That soft rod will keep constant pressure on the hook points to help them stay pinned. Lipless crankbaits are a fantastic search tool all throughout the year and can help you cover water quickly and catch a ton of fish.
A lipless bait truly shines in the spring when fish are first moving up, the rattles in these baits do something that drives bass nuts. They also shine around shallow grass, as they get caught you can rip the bait free with a quick snap of the rod tip. This quick popping motion does the same thing that a square bill on rocks does to trigger a bite. One way to fish these baits that people often overlook is casting them and ripping them up off the bottom. This method excels when the water is colder and the fish are more lethargic, or in the summer when the fish are positioned out deep.
Flat Sided Crankbaits
Another bait that excels in colder water is the flat sided crankbait. The soft subtle rocking action mimics the same motion that baitfish and crayfish have in cold water. These baits are a lot lighter than any of the other crankbaits and most often require spinning gear or light baitcasting gear to be able to cast them. Downsizing line is critical to allow the bait to be able to reach the optimal depth, while allowing the bait to have its full action. These baits excel along riprap and areas of spring and fall transition point to catch the fish as they are moving. This bait thrown in a craw color can also do extremely well on rocky banks to give the fish a subtler action.
One of the most widely known baits for triggering lethargic fish into eating is the jerkbait. This bait is widely known as the primary cold-water bait when winter rears her ugly head and the water temps drop off. This is true in that even in cold water it is a great search tool, but the idea that it only works in the winter couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Jerkbaits are a tool all year round for triggering fish into eating.
To get the most out of your bait there are a couple things that you need to consider.
The first thing is the gear that you use. Considering the trebles on these baits, you still need a rod that has a soft action to cushion those hook points and keep them pinned. So, a rod that has a crisp tip, to still get the action out of the bait, followed by a parabolic bend is critical to land the fish that eat the bait. Also, the trebles are exactly like the trebles that come on a crankbait. Companies put cheap hooks on these baits to make the overall baits cheaper in stores. So, swap those hooks when you take it from the package. The reel in this case is not all that important as it is just there to pick up line in between your movements with the rod.
The color choices that you use for these baits is the same as what we had talked about previously, the only thing that has changed is a clear water technique. Fish need to be able to see this bait in order to eat it. On the topic of technique, there is no wrong way to fish a jerkbait, but there are ways that are distinctly better than others. The most important thing to do when fishing a jerkbait, is to jerk it with slack in the line.
You want that bait to have the darting action and if you have you line tight, then it will take away some of the action. This is critical in the winter when you don’t want that bait to move a lot in terms of distance. The other thing to consider is the cadence, and the pauses you have in between moving the bait. In colder water you are going to want longer pauses, while in warmer water you can move the bait much faster. The cadence should never be the same back to back, it’s important to mix it up and give the bait a different action.
One of the newest finesse baits on the market today is the spybait. When fish get finicky and just won’t commit to other baits, this bait will get bites and big ones at that. That being said, it fishes exactly like a swimbait, in the way that you throw it, where you throw it, and what you throw it on. This is a bait that you truly just throw it out and wind it in.
It has a slow rock back and forth that will drive fish insane, coupled with the spinning of the blades to create vibration to draw fish in. You want to make sure you throw it on light line, 6 to 10 pound test, and a slow action rod is critical to landing fish. These small treble hooks make it easy for fish to pop them loose, so you need that pressure on them constantly. When a fish eats it, your hookset should be similar to a dropshot bites in that you simply reel and lean into the fish. I even use the same rod I dropshot with to throw these baits on.
The ideal conditions would be a little bit of chop on the water with some cloud cover, but don’t shy from throwing it in other less than ideal conditions. These baits draw in big fish from deeper water, which leads to my next point. This is a clear water technique; the fish need to be able to see it. This bait excels in allowing fish to track it for long periods of time before they commit to