In fishing, there are numerous lures to cast to entice largemouth and smallmouth bass. Many of their names end in “bait.” There are swim baits, spinnerbaits, chatter baits, jerkbaits, buzzbaits, etc.
One of the most common lures you’ll hear about is a crankbait. The name is derived from the presentation — cast the lure out and crank it back in (if only it was that simple). The lure’s best quality is that it allows you to cover great expanses of the water.
As with the many varieties of lures, a novice angler can find choosing a crankbait to be quite a dilemma: flat side vs. fat side, round lip vs. square bill. Then, there is the full spectrum of colors.
Crankbaits are made from either plastic or wood. Cedar and balsa are the most common woods used. Wooden lures are more buoyant than plastic ones. They will float up faster through the water column when you stop retrieving the lure. Most crankbaits are designed to resemble fish — a shad, a perch or a bluegill. A few are made to mimic crawfish.
Some crankbaits are stout-bodied while others are thin. Typically, the wider the lure’s body the wider the wobble the lure will have. A few other factors also play into the lure’s motion.
Notice, too, that a crankbait has a clear plastic protrusion sticking out from its face. This is referred to as the lure’s lip or bill. The longer the lip extends from the face of the lure, the deeper it will dive. The angle at which the lip protrudes also determines the lure’s action. A bill that comes straight ahead will have a tighter wiggle. A bill that angles downward from the front of the bait will produce a wider wobble.
In colder water, bass respond better to a tighter wiggle than a wide, water displacing action. There are not many things in nature that move vigorously through cold water. In warmer water, the wider body baits are more appropriate. Also consider wide bodies in heavily stained water. The wide wobble can be detected from longer distances, which is important when visibility is limited.
Along with different lengths and angles, the lip of a crankbait will be either round, square or coffin shaped. Each has its particular use, yet they can be productive in several different scenarios.
The most common of the three is the round-bill crankbait. It has multiple purposes, but shines when retrieved through open water with sporadic cover.
A coffin-bill crankbait usually has a slender body. These two design qualities afford the lure a tight wiggle. The corners of the lip make the lure bump off of cover at strange angles, and can provoke reaction strikes from lethargic bass.
The square-bill bait is often cast to sunken wood along banks, and around piers. The lip is positioned downward, helping guard the front treble hook from becoming snagged. Like the coffin bill, it deflects at odd angles. Most square-bill baits are designed to work at depths down to five feet. There are wide body and skinny body square-bills so choose accordingly.
Crankbaits on tackle shop pegboards range from natural looking to absurd in color. Some hues are designed to catch fishermen more than bass, but having several colors on hand is a must.
Survey the tackle boxes at any bass tournament and you will find that chartreuse/black back is the most popular color scheme. Brown crawfish and fire tiger patterns are good choices for spring. They will also work well in dingy water.
I find that natural hues work best in summer. Shad, perch and bluegill color schemes closely match the forage that bass feed on in our brackish waters. These are the staple color patterns that will keep your tackle box selection simple.
Tactics and Tips
Merely casting and winding in a crankbait is not the best presentation. Some angler intervention is required. You’ll need to make contact with underwater objects to get the best results. Yes, there is a snag factor, but you have to present your lure where a bass lives.
Bump a stump, knock a rock or tick the top of underwater vegetation. When glancing off of a submerged rock or limb, stop your retrieve momentarily to allow the lure to flow up. When ticking the grass, quickly twitch the rod tip. These actions often make bass react to the lure.
Check your line often when fishing with crankbaits. Line is easily chaffed when fishing around rock and wood cover. I choose 10-pound test line for most of my cranking. Many manufacturers use this weight of line as their standard for achieving the depth a lure is estimated to dive.
When casting square-bills into shoreline wood, I opt for stronger 14-pound test. No matter what the line is, I’ll always run my fingernail down the line after a dozen casts to check for nicks. I retie if the line shows any sign of degradation.
You will sometimes find that a crankbait will not track true. It will run off to one side or the other. This is known as a crankbait that is out of tune. Should you have a mistuned lure, use needle nose pliers to lightly bend the line tie to the center of the bait. This should make it track directly back to you. The lip of a tuned crankbait will be positioned in front of the front hook and help reduce the snag factor.
It’s hard to summarize crankbaits in just one article. Entire books have been written about fishing this type of lure. However, this basic knowledge should give you a start to choose the crankbait that best fits your fishing situations.