Tips on Using Crankbaits
Crankbaits can be one of the most productive baits you can fish. I discovered how productive crankbaits can be several years ago. Crankbaits are very versatile and can be used in many situations and under a variety of conditions.
The rig I like to use for crankbaiting is a 7 ft medium action rod, 12 lb. test green low-vis line, and a good quality baitcast reel.
My favorite crankbait rod is a 7 ft., medium action Team All Star rod. The blank is IM10 graphite. When you crankbaiting, you want to use a medium action rod. A heavier action will rip the bait out of the fish’s mouth. The 7 foot rod is great for two reasons. Number one, you get great casting distance with the 7 foot rod. Number two, you get a great hook set with the longer rod. I will talk about hook setting later. If you are fishing in a tight situation, such as around docks, trees, or boat docks, then a 6 foot rod is better. Casting around cover with a shorter rod is easier than with a long rod. But most of the time, you are not fishing in a tight situation with a crankbait, the longer rod is better. The longer the cast, the more water you cover.
The reel I use is an Abu Garcia® Ambassadeur® C3 Classic Round Baitcast with a 5.3:1 gear ratio. I don’t think it is necessary to have a high speed reel. A high gear ratio may cause you to retrieve the lure too fast. Most of the time, a medium speed retrieve will produce the most bass. That is not to say that there are times when burning the lure will produce fish. I believe those times are the exception, not the rule. Also keep in mind that there are times when a slow retrieve is in order, which is difficult to achieve with a high gear ratio reel. The 5.3:1 gear ratio will suit your needs a majority of the time. I have done some modifications to my reel. I have added ceramic bearing, which make a huge difference in casting distance. I have also replaced the worm gear (the part that moves your line back and forth on the spool) with a ball bearing worm gear and ceramic pawl. I also replaced the stock idler gear with a ball bearing idler gear. In addition, I replace the handle with a longer handle.
Most of the time, 12 lb. test line is a good choice for crankbaits. Twelve lb. test is a good trade-off between strength and diving depth. There are two problems with using heavier line. For one, you will sacrifice how deep your bait will dive. Secondly, heavy line makes noise that the bass can hear, which can affect how many fish you catch. There are situations that heavy line is in order. If you are fishing around brush, then moving up to 17 lb test line is appropriate. However, as a rule of thumb, try to stick with 12 lb. test. And always use low-visibility line, such as the green color. There is no reason to use fluorescent high-visibility line when throwing a crankbait.
One more very important piece of equipment for the serious crankbaiter is a lure retriever. This is a heavy lead weight with wire loops that attach to your line and dangling chains. The weight is connected to a heavy retrieve line. You loop the weight onto your fishing line and slide it down to the snagged crankbait. When you knock your lure off the snag, you pull the lure retriever back with the heavy line. You will get about 95% of your snagged baits back with a lure retriever. They cost between $10 to $15 and I have saved over a thousand dollars in lures over the years. That makes it a very good investment.
When to use a Crankbait
The best condition to throw a crankbait is stained water. Crankbaits don’t work very well in extremely muddy water or very clear water. Stained water is defined by the ability to see a white lure from a depth of 2 to 4 feet. If you have more than 5 to 6 feet of visibility, the water is a little too clear for a crankbait. On the other hand, if you have less than one foot of visibility, the water is too muddy. Two to four feet of visibility is ideal for a crankbait.
Light level and wave action also play into the effectiveness of a crankbait. A windy day with some chop on the water is ideal for crankbaits. Flat water with high bright sun is not the best condition for cranking. But you can catch fish under those conditions with a crankbait.
Water temperature is also important. Wait until the water is at least 50 degrees before using a crankbait. If the water is cold, there are much more effective lures than a crankbait.
You can use a crankbait in many of the same situations most people would throw a spinnerbait. One of the main reasons a crankbait is so effective is that most people don’t throw them and bass aren’t used to seeing them. Everyone throws a spinnerbait and the bass see a lot of them. Throw a crankbait and the bass are seeing something they haven’t seen many times before. I also use crankbaits to determine the mood of the bass. If they are not biting a crankbait, I know to use something like a jig or soft plastic with a slower presentation.
In the spring, my favorite colors are crawdad and firetiger. Crawdad can be a good color all year long. After the spawn and early summer, baby bass is very effective. Later in the summer, shad is good. The Bandit Tennessee Shad color is very good. In dirtier water, the chartreuse/blue back color is very effective. In the fall, start using crawdad again. Shad can also be good in the fall, but I have more consistent luck with crawdad.
Crankbait Styles and Models
Flat sided baits produce a tight wobble. Wider baits will produce a wider wobble. In colder water that is 50 to 55 degrees, you want to use a flat sided crankbait, such as the Bomber Flat A or a Fat Free Shad. In cold water, the bass prefer a tight wobble. As the water gets warmer, you want to use wider bait with more wobble. In the summer when the water is very warm, you can use very wide bait, such as a Fat A, that has a lot of wobble.
My favorite crankbaits are the Bandit 100 and 200 series, the Norman Middle N, and the Bomber Flat A, 6A, and Fat A.
How to Fish a Crankbait
To key to success with a crankbait is making sure it bumps off objects or structure. The biggest mistake I see people make is throwing a crankbait into open water. This will not be productive. It must be bouncing off of rock, off of trees, brush, around boat docks, or even just bouncing off the bottom. A crankbait dredging the bottom looks a lot like a crawfish. And a bass loves to eat crawfish!
One of my favorite ways to fish a crankbait is to parallel a rock bank or bluff. The steeper the bank, the closer to the bank I get with my boat. If it is a bluff bank that drops quickly to 7 – 10 feet of water, I will get my boat about a rod length away from the bank and cast parallel to the bank ahead of the boat. Then I will point my rod tip towards the bluff bank and make as much contact as possible with the bank when reeling in my bait. The key is I want my bait to be bouncing off the rock. I cannot emphasize enough that your bait must be bouncing off of objects or it will not be productive.
Rip Rap must have been invented by someone who loves to throw a crankbait. Rip Rap banks are some of the best cranking water around. The same technique can be used on rip rap as you use on a bluff bank, except you can usually position the boat further from the bank. Parallel the bank and cast towards the shore. Again, you want your bait to bounce off the rocks.
Fishing around standing timber can be good with a crankbait too. I have caught bass off of flats that nothing on them except standing timber. I would position my boat, cast far enough past the tree to allow my bait to dive to the correct depth, and retrieve it making sure it bumped the tree. Again, your bait must be bouncing off of the tree or it will not be productive. I will position my boat and try to fish all side of in individual tree or group of trees this way. If you have a tree row, you can almost treat it like a bank. Parallel the tree row with your boat and retrieve your bait down each side of the tree row. Just make sure your bait is bumping the trees.
Fishing around boat docks can be effective with crankbaits as well. Just make sure the retrieve depth of your bait matches the depth of the fish. If the bass are hiding right underneath the dock, then a shallow driving crankbait is in order. Just retrieve the bait right down the side of the dock, much the same way you would a spinnerbait. If the bass are deeper, then there usually needs to be other structure around the dock, such as submerged brush, to make a dock productive. The same rules apply as before. If a dock is over deeper water and the bass are deeper as well, your crankbait must make contact with brush or the bottom. Just retrieving your lure through open water isn’t productive. The only exception to this is when the bass are shallow right underneath the dock and your retrieve a shallow diving crankbait down the side of the dock.
Crankbaits can be very effective around brush. A lot of anglers will throw a spinnerbait in that situation, but I like to use a crankbait. You would think with all the treble hooks, you would constantly be hanging up. But the diving bill and the body of the crankbait make it fairly weedless. I am not afraid to throw a crankbait into a brush pile. But be careful. A big bass may hit it and break your arm!
When I’m reeling in my bait, I like to have my rod tip pointing down towards the water. You get maximum depth that way and you can feel your bait better. If you snagged on something, you can usually just raise your rod tip up and pull your bait over the snag.
One more point. Don’t reel at a constant speed. Vary your retrieve speed as you are reeling in your bait. I like to use a stop and go retrieve where I reel a few turns, stop about a half second, and reel again, while stopping my retrieve every few turns of the reel. The more erratic your lure looks, the more likely a bass will nail it.
The Strike and Setting the Hook
Bass will usually strike a crankbait fairly hard. Don’t set the hook hard like when you are fishing a worm or jig. Simply sweeping your rod when you feel a bass is sufficient for crankbaits. You do need to pay attention to what your lure is doing at all times. One reason is what I have said numerous times before. Your lure needs to be bumping objects. If you don’t feel your bait bumping into rocks, logs, brush, etc., then you need to change what you are doing. Another reason is bass don’t always hit your crankbait hard. Sometimes, they just swim up behind it and suck it in. When you reel in a crankbait, you will feel the throb of the bait wobbling. When a fish swims up and sucks it in, the only thing you feel is the lure quits wobbling, like it hooked a leaf. Big bass are notorious for doing this. If you feel your crankbait stop wobbling, SET THE HOOK! You may just reel in a leaf. But sometimes, you will have a really big bass.
Crankbaits can be very productive and should be part of every angler’s arsenal. When everyone else is throwing a spinnerbait, try a crankbait instead. You will be pleased with the results.
Bass clubs are the backbone of tournament fishing. Joining a bass club is the best way to improve your skills and take your fishing to the next step.
Dennis Mitchell is a member of the Raytown Bass Club [http://www.raytownbassclub.net] and has been tournament fishing for 20 years.