A Total Guide to Bass Fishing Crankbaits
In the world of bass fishing, crankbaits are an absolute staple in most tackle boxes. The number of lure options available to the modern angler can be mind-boggling. When selecting a presentation, the angler must look for versatility and reliability. A lure that can represent many different forage types is highly desirable. As is a lure that can be fished around different structure types at various depths.
With these variables in mind, an excellent choice is the crankbait. A crankbait can be used 365-days a year to trigger bites and, as a significant bonus for the anglers, can also cover plenty of water. Covering water is the ability to fish many depths, structure types, and vegetation/cover in a timely manner. This allows the angler to break down a body of water and find the fish efficiently. This is why the humble crankbait is a go-to lure choice up and down North America.
Now, there are many crankbait styles and options to choose from, which leads to the question ‘which one should I tie on and when?’. Here, we break down crankbaits in detail to help bass anglers make an excellent choice before even casting a line.
What Is a Crankbait?
A crankbait is a lure that, when cranked/reeled, will wobble and swim below the water’s surface; these lures can be fished at virtually any depth, depending on the design. To keep things simple, we will consider two basic crankbait styles: lipped crankbaits (with a bill) and lipless crankbaits (no bills). Within these two styles, there are many different options.
Crankbaits are available in various types, sizes and colors
Let’s Start With Lipped Crankbaits
The lip (bill) is a plastic protrusion on the nose of a crankbait. The size and shape of the lip determine the depth it will dive to and the amount of action, or wiggle, it will produce.
A small or short lip will dive just below the surface (shallow diver = 1-4 feet), a medium lip will go a little deeper (medium diver = 6-12 feet), and a large lip will dig to the depths below (deep diver = 12 feet and beyond). Many deep diving crankbaits can be fished beyond the 20-foot mark, although it is rare to fish waters this deep.
The lip is designed to drag water, create resistance and add wobble, thus forcing the bait to reach the desired depth. The more drag/resistance, the deeper the crankbait will go.
Then we have differently shaped lips: squarebills and round bills. Squarebills are generally shallow divers with a tight wobble. On the other hand, round bills are found on most medium and deep cranks and give a slower side-to-side wobble.
As you go deeper into the rabbit hole of crankbaits, you’ll find many different brands and action types that give anglers the desired depth, action, and color they need to target specific areas and fish.
Then There Are Lipless Crankbaits
The most common styles of lipless crankbaits will sink and can be fished at almost any depth, depending on their sink rate. There are, however, suspending options that will drop to a certain depth and remain neutrally buoyant when stopped or paused. These suspending options don’t sink or float.
Check out our breakdown of every bass fishing lure type for more information.
A lipless crankbait (left) compared to a lipped crankbait (right)
One consideration that must be kept in mind is color choice. Water clarity and prevailing forage are the two most important factors when deciding. If the water is clear, it is best to use translucent/natural colors. In slightly stained water, we can begin to add more bright colors. And in dirty water, we reach for bold or dark solid colors.
Once we’ve determined the clarity, we can focus on prevailing forage. Most lakes have shad and crawdads, making these two selections the most popular. Remember, it is our job as anglers to be observant and pin down the right size and color of crankbait based on the available information for each body of water.
A simple rule
Selecting the appropriate gear
Using the right gear when fishing with crankbaits for bass is very important. In today’s market, there is a rod for every style of crankbait. Be that big, little, deep, shallow, lipped, or lipless crankbaits. But to own them all is just impractical.
The most important feature of a good crankbait rod is length and softness – a short and stout rod just won’t cut it. Crankbaits have treble hooks that can be yanked out if too much pressure is applied. A long, limber rod acts as a shock absorber and has more forgiveness. This will equate to a better hook-up ratio and fewer fish being lost during the fight. When cranking, a little give in the rod and line goes a long way.
Many anglers prefer glass rods, but any rod over 7’ with a softer tip and a little backbone will get the job done. Once you’ve mastered some of the intricacies and become an avid crankbait fisherman, you can pick up the perfect rod for your chosen style.
The Mojo Bass Series Rods from St. Croix are excellent for cranking
Crankbait fishing is a cast and reel (chuck and wind) style of fishing, so choosing a good reel is essential. I don’t think an expensive one is necessary, just a solid and durable option from a reputable brand.
I tend to favor the slower side of the gear ratio spectrum when fishing crankbaits. Usually, a 5 to 1 or 6 to 1 will be a good choice. These reels allow you to maintain a steady retrieve and a comfortable rhythm without fishing the bait too quickly.
When fishing with crankbaits for bass, braid, monofilament, and fluorocarbon all have a time and place.
Pinpointing an exact depth
Line diameter can also affect your results. Simply put, larger diameters create more resistance in the water and keep the bait higher in the water column. In contrast, lower diameter line will cut smoothly through the water, allowing the lure to dive deeper.
If you’re planning to use a deep diving crankbait, check out our article dedicated to deep divers.
One of my favorite crankbaits paired with fluorocarbon line
How to Fish Crankbaits
Yes, when bass fishing, crankbaits can be simply cast out and reeled in with success. However, a few variations on this can tempt a strike. Firstly, try changing your speed on each retrieve; the reel speed will determine the amount of action added to the crankbait. Bass are attracted to high speeds, bursts, and darting, but they will sometimes prefer a slow and steady approach.
Bring any crankbait to life
Varying the speed on a single retrieve can also trigger bites. A fish tracking a slow retrieve that speeds up will feel as if the bait is getting away, leading to them running it down and striking. On the other hand, a fast retrieve that suddenly slows down will cause the fish to run into the lure and bite out of reaction.
Lastly, try incorporating a few perfectly timed pauses. The combination of these techniques will bring any crankbait to life. And, after all, being lifelike is the best way to entice a fish into taking the bait.
Where to Fish Crankbaits
As mentioned previously, crankbaits are possibly the most versatile style of lure available, making them a top choice amongst anglers.
Let’s start by looking at shallow and visible cover. Whether it’s grass, rocks, or docks, a squarebill is a perfect choice here. Fish them tight to the target to really tempt nearby fish. Colliding with or deflecting off the structure/cover will often trigger a strike.
Next, let’s discuss the mid-water column. The fish in this area are not positioned near the bottom or the surface. There are several reasons why fish will congregate in this middle water column, such as temperature, fluctuating water levels, weather patterns, and food sources. A shallow diver will swim above the target depth, while a deep diver will crank below it. Selecting a medium diver in a baitfish pattern would be my advice here. Run it at the baitfish’s holding depth, and hold on.
Take a look at our guide to shallow crankbaits for more information on shallow divers.
Different crankbait types target different parts of the water column
Finally, let’s look at bass fishing crankbaits close to the bottom. A good starting point would be to focus on underwater humps or long points. Here, a deep diver is the right tool for the job. Try to dredge the bottom, making contact often. If you can hit a rock pile or rigid structure, prepare for a bite.
And then there’s the wildcard, a lipless crankbait. These little gems can be fished in all of the above areas — shallow, middle, and deep — in cover and open water. One of the most effective ways to fish a lipless crankbait is to let it hit the bottom, then rip it up and let it fall again. This action has given this technique its name – Yo-Yo-ing.
Popular Crankbait Bass Fishing Techniques/Retrieves:
Chuck and Wind
This is the most basic crankbait retrieve. It involves simply casting and retrieving at a consistent speed.
The desired speed can change from cast to cast. Sometimes slow and steady is best; other times, a moderate crank or fast burn will trigger a strike.
Deep Fishing to Reach the Ground/Deflect
Cranking down and dredging is a favorite among many anglers. Digging the bill into the silt draws an incredible amount of attention to the lure.
In addition, when the bait deflects off a hard piece of cover, it will change its course momentarily, making it irresistible for bass. Most of the bites when fishing this technique will come seconds after a deflection.
3 Top Tips for Fishing Crankbaits
1. Use them to chase big bass
Something not yet mentioned is the fact that crankbaits catch big fish. If you are a tournament angler trying to upgrade a bag or even just a weekend angler searching for a personal best, the crankbait is a great option. As anglers, we are not always searching for a lot of bites, and a crankbait fished persistently has the potential of getting that fish to remember.
2. Be Persistent
Once you’ve located a key structure, piece of cover, or holding area, make repeated casts to it. Sometimes the third or fourth cast to the same spot aggravates the fish and triggers a reaction. Casting to all sides of the target and in every nook and cranny can yield results.
3. Try Different Angles
Pay close attention to the angles of your casts and retrieves. Sometimes a 45-degree angle from the shoreline is best, sometimes parallel is better, and other times an uphill approach is the best way to fire them up. Whether you are fishing from a boat or the shore, be sure to try as many angles as possible.
A fantastic largemouth bass falling to a lipped crankbait
If you haven’t tried your hand at crankbait fishing, you most definitely should. Select a few designs and colors that suit the water you regularly fish. Remember all the subtle details and keep an open mind. Each cast is a question asking for a clue or a piece to the puzzle. Once you start to put something together, roll with it.
These baits become more effective the more you use and learn about them. So, the next time you hit the water, try to crank your way to a productive pattern, and possibly the fish of a lifetime.