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Cast, Crank, Catch

Sounds simple. Cast, crank and catch, this is the theory many crankbait anglers utilize. Unfortunately, this sometimes works but there are many more advanced techniques to cranking up bass and other gamefish. Similarly, there are various considerations to the art of crankbaiting. Like other forms of fishing catching fish on cranking type lures can be simple or more complex depending how deep you want to dive into it. (see what I did there?)

Basic Baits

For simple crankbait fishing a standard oval bill bait will dive five to eight feet. Described as a “medium diver” on packaging this lure will generally be worked along shorelines and areas with shallow to a small depth change. The performance can be changed by a few factors; the retrieve speed and cadence of the retrieve will determine depth and will allow the lure to float back toward the surface with a pause on retrieve. Friend Michael Vines describes this tactic, “If the water has turned cold my favorite method is a slow retrieve with a pumping action, as I pump and pause, I let the lure rise on its own.” Another consideration is the line diameter which will also allow a deeper dive or restrict the depth a crankbait can go down. Smaller diameter line like eight-pound test will dig deeper whereas twenty-pound test (a large line diameter) will keep the lure higher in the water column.

Lipless Lures

A great fall or late season lure is the lipless crankbait. The major differences in this and the standard cranks are no plastic lip, the body shape and these baits are normally rattling baits sending out a different frequency and vibration. With a profile very similar to a bait fish (shad) or bluegill there is also a bit more visibility to this type of lure. Another aspect of this type of lure is it will free fall as you stop your retrieve. Some anglers allow the bait to drop and “rip” it off the bottom while others prize the ability of the lipless bait to be similarly “ripped” over and through grassy vegetation creating a reflexive hit from bass buried in the weeds.

It’s Hip to be Square

A bait that has gained great popularity is the square bill crankbait. Where the oval bill and lipless lures can be “hung up” in and on objects the square bill offers a unique characteristic of bouncing off many underwater objects. For me personally I love what I refer to as the “deflection bite” that this bait demonstrates. Upon identifying a potential fish holding target I’ll launch my lure past the object, reel it down and allow it to hit the rock, stump, bridge piling or anything else and am often rewarded with the emergence od a fish to attack what it views as a disoriented or injured food source. Vines again chimes in, “for shallow or mid-range waters I like the Strike King 1.5 or 2.5 baits. I have also been known to tie on an old Wiggle Wart with a hint of orange on it to cast around rock and smallmouth habitat.”

Fish Catching Colors

Almost every catalog will show dozens of crankbait colors. While I have a rainbow of baits, I have “go to” colors that have earned a place in my tackle box year-round. The determining factors are three; sky color, wind velocity (this determines the amount of light penetration entering the water) and most important to me water color. Because most fish feed by sight I go for subtle to “in your face” patterns and shades. The majority of my are Strike King models and my number one choice is the color designated as Oyster or their color #584. Clear sky, minimal wind and clear to slightly stained water this will be tied to my cranking outfit. For cloudy skies, a bit of wind and discolored or stained water I (as do the fish) a crawfish pattern. I reach for #451 Rayburn Red. Anything imitating a crawfish in color, size or motion is bound to be eaten by a bass. This selection is excellent from late spring throughout the summer. For low fish visibility conditions, a proven bass bait is the color #535 chartreuse / black back. While this particular bait looks nothing like any natural food source it flat catch fish.

Tips & Tricks

A few suggestions; most of my crankbaits have had the front hook changed out to a red treble hook from Daiichi. Use a split ring pliers to open the split ring and replace the original hook with the same size. The red is subtle as the bait is moving but gives off a red flash imitating a wounded food source. Bass and other are predatory and react to easy or injured prey. Keep crankbait hooks sharp with a small diamond file. For my crankbait set up I use a Lew’s 7 ½ foot medium action rod coupled with a Lew’s baitcasting reel with a gear retrieve ratio of 5.3:1 or 6.3:1 and spool the reel with 12-pound test monofilament. This combination works to allow the bass to take the bait, sink the hook in and successfully play the fish with the flexibility of the rod action going with the fish. Keep the rod back with steady pressure and you’re golden. Avoid banging the plastic lips against the hard object on your casts and check for small cracks on older lures. The knot that I use 100% of the time is the Palomar knot and I retie after dragging the lure through rough territory or on the third or fourth fish. I favor a landing net for crankbait catches.
Vary your retrieve speed until you find what the fish are reacting to that day. As conditions change make adjustment to colors, areas and develop a pattern. Don’t be afraid to put your bait in gnarly places and carry a back up for your favorites. Crankbaits can be the cure for a slow day and also be fun and productive as any other lure.