Of all the bass lures out there, crankbaits have the most variations that can directly effect your fishing success. Like every lure, when selecting the best crankbait for a particular day of bass fishing, you have to consider size and color.
What makes crankbait selection more involved than other lures is you also have to consider the shape of the lip, rattle or no rattle, a wide or narrow wobble, floating, suspending, or sinking, and most importantly: the diving depth. Crankbaits dive down in the water column as they are retrieved. The depth at which they dive is based on the speed of retrieval, the size of the lip, and where the line attaches to the lure.
A crankbait is a hard bait with a rounded body, usually designed to imitate the profile and movement of baitfish. They have a lip (sometimes called a bill) on the face of the lure that makes it dive rapidly, and simultaneously wiggle from side to side. This portrays the visual appearance of a swimming baitfish and creates a disturbance in the water that bass can feel in their lateral line from a distance.
They are usually fished considerably faster than most bass lures, allowing you to cover a lot of water in a short amount of time. This is a significant advantage for tournament anglers, and for anyone else who only have a limited time to fish. They are used in all seasons but certain models and retrieve speeds work better for certain conditions.
There are also lipless crankbaits, which we won’t get in to on this page. They also have a wobbling action but it’s not created by a lip and it’s a much tighter wobble.
Theres so much that goes in to picking the best crankbait for bass fishing, but if your just looking for the best all around crankbait that will perform in most cranking situations then check out the Strike King Square Bill. If you want to narrow down the best style crankbait for your conditions some more then keep reading.
Types of Crankbaits
There are thousands of different crankbaits out there. The basic shape and design of all crankbaits is pretty much the same from model to model; they have a rounded body with a pair of treble hooks attached to them. The most significant difference between them is the size of the lip and where the line attaches to the lure. Those are the two factors that determine how deep the bait will dive.
When selecting a crankbait the main thing you need to determine is what depth your targeting. Crankbaits can be broken down in to three categories: shallow divers, medium divers, and deep divers. We’ll start with shallow runners then dive a little deeper.
Shallow Diving Crankbaits
Shallow divers perform best in one to four feet of water. The lips on these models are very small, creating little resistance against the water when retrieved and keeping it running fairly shallow while still making it wobble. Notice the line attaches to the nose of the bait, this also makes it run shallower.
These style baits are ideal for working shorelines that have gradual slopes. They are very effective when targeting boat docks, fallen trees and other cover that is typically found in shallow water.
You can keep them running shallower or deeper by holding the rod tip higher or lower as you reel them in. You can also adjust the running depth with the retrieve speed, the faster you reel the deeper they dive. If you work them really slow you can get them to stay just below the surface like a wakebait. This is a great technique when bass are active and hitting topwater.
Medium Diving Crankbaits
On medium divers the lip is a little bigger, creating more resistance against the water. The line also attaches directly to the lip. This combination of traits makes these style baits dive deeper, usually down to between five and ten feet. This depth is ideal for targeting deeper structure like rocks, sunken timber, or the tops of grass beds.
Medium divers are best used at drop offs between shorelines and the deeper parts of the lake. They are great on bright and sunny days when bass go a little deeper to escape the sun.
One technique that works great with medium diving crankbaits is fishing them in shallow water that has a sandy bottom. The bait reaches the bottom quickly upon retrieval, where it will dive and dig in to the sand. This creates a natural looking disturbance on the bottom that does a great job of getting a basses attention.
Deep Diving Crankbaits
Deep diving crankbaits are very effective during the heat of summer, when bass head for the depths to find cooler water. They are a little more advanced than fishing the more shallow running models though.
With these baits your targeting deep structure, so you will likely need the help of a fish finder to know what your casting at. You’ll also need a rod with more backbone to get these baits to dive to these depths.
To get them to dive this aggressively you need to launch long casts to give the bait more running room to get down deep. You want to overshoot the cover or structure your targeting when you cast. This is so the bait dives down to the depth of the target by the time it gets there longitudinally during the retrieve. Its also important to keep your rod tip low, this helps the lure dive deeper faster.
Crankbaits are considered power fishing lures, meaning you fish them aggressively and can cover a lot of water quickly with them. This makes them very popular in bass tournaments when time is of the essence. You can roll up on a form of cover and effectively bombard it with ten casts from different angles much faster than you could with other lures.
Since crankbaits resemble shad and minnows, the best time to fish these lures is when bass are actively feeding on them. You can often see these balls of baitfish disturbing the surface of the water as bass attack them. Running a crankbait through these feeding frenzies will get a lot of bites. It’s important to do your best to match the colors of those baitfish though.
How To Fish A Crankbait
Most often crankbaits are simply reeled in a straight retrieve, at a a speed that gets the bait to wobble. This retrieve will certainly get bites and should be the first one that you try, but if your not getting bites don’t assume they simply aren’t going after crankbaits that day. Trying different retrieve methods can help trigger a strike when the bass don’t seem to be reacting to the repetitive motion of a straight retrieve.
If you find yourself not getting bites with a straight retrieve, try jerking your rod periodically during the retrieve. This can trigger what is called a reaction bite. It’s when a bass reacts to a sudden movement by attacking it. Sometimes an adjustment this simple can make a huge difference in success.
Another tactic is the stop and go method, where you reel for a few seconds to make it dive, then stop and let it float. After a short pause, the process is repeated. Oftentimes, the bass will strike while the lure is floating back up. You can also just pull your rod tip sideways for a few feet, then let it surface while you reel in the slack.
However you do it, letting it rest on the surface for a few seconds before cranking it in again can also trigger a strike. This imitates the action of a dying baitfish. For suspending and sinking models, it’s the same procedure, only the suspending lure will stay at the same depth, and the sinking one will climb towards the surface, then sink when you stop.
It’s also important to determine how wide you want the lure to wobble. The best way to decide is based on water temperature. In colder waters like in early spring and fall, a tighter wobble works best. During the summer months a wide and erratic wobble will trigger more strikes. Wider wobblers are also better in murkier water because they are easier for bass to see.
While not completely weedless, both the lip, and the head-down swimming action of the lure does a good job of clearing the way for the hooks, so they don’t get snagged as much as you might think. In fact, one of the best things you can do with a crankbait is crash it in to objects like rocks and timber. Many times its action like this that will get you the most bites.
Selecting The Best Crankbait
If you plan to take crankbait fishing seriously you can’t own just one and think your going to cover the whole lake. There is no single crankbait that will do it all but the most versatile option is a mid-to-shallow diver like the Strike King Square Bill. These crankbaits will cover three to six feet so you have a good amount of flexibility. You can work them slow in the shallows around docks and other shoreline cover or crank them down deeper to target submerged cover like rocks and timber.
This is very simple and can be determined by answering two questions: how deep is the water your fishing and how deep is the cover your targeting? Any crankbait you buy will specify the range of depth it will dive right on the packaging.
You reach the two extremes of the diving range by raising your rod tip or lowering it during the retrieve. Keeping the rod straight out in front of you, parallel with the waters surface, will run the crankbait in the middle of the two extremes. The depth is simultaneously effected by the speed you retrieve the bait, the faster you reel the deeper it dives.
Getting a crankbait in front of bass is half the battle, but if your not using the right colors they’re not going to bite. Crankbaits come in thousands of colors, and as nice as it is to have a wide selection, it can also make it difficult to decide which to use. When your selecting color you should consider these three factors:
- Water Color: How clear or murky is the water? If you can’t see your bait in a foot of water then that is very murky water. These darker waters require brighter colors like chartreuse. In clearer water, more natural colors should be used.
- The Season: As the seasons change, so too do the characteristics of a body of water. This includes water clarity and water temperature. Different water temps bring about different types of prey. You’ll want to match that prey whether it be crawfish or forage.
- Available Forage: Forage is the local baitfish that bass are feeding on in a body of water. You should be doing everything in your power to match your crankbait color to the color of the forage.
“To be successful, you have to fish with the color the conditions call for. You can’t fish with your favorite color all the time.” – Kevin Vandam
The best crankbait rod is going to be around 7 feet long with medium or medium-heavy power, combined with a soft action tip. A medium or medium-heavy rod will have the power to crank the baits down against the waters resistance. The soft tip allows the lure more freedom of movement and will keep you from ripping the lure out a bass’s mouth during the hook set.
For all forms of crankbait fishing you should be using a baitcasting reel. Preferably a baitcaster with a fast gear ratio, like a 6:1, to give you the option of a fast or slow retrieve without sacrificing cranking power. It’s very rare that you would see anyone besides a beginner using spinning gear to fish a crankbait. Spinning reels just don’t have the torque power to get these baits down the way that a baitcaster does.
You should be spooling a crankbait reel with fluorocarbon line. Flouro sinks so it helps the bait dive deeper. You can control the diving depth by the pound test line that you use. The lighter the line the deeper the bait will be able to dive. Heavier line keeps the lure from diving as deep because theres more resistance on the line through the water. A good “all purpose” pound test line for crankbait fishing is fourteen.