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How to Fish a Crankbait

Shawn Chapin by Shawn Chapin Updated on February 22, 2021. In

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When exploring the world of crankbait fishing, an angler new to the crankbait world may become a little overwhelmed due to the vast styles and variants, all of which serve specific roles that include depth and action. Fishing crankbaits can be challenging to new anglers in particular. This post will explore this lure niche and give you some insight and tips on how to fish a crankbait, and help you catch more fish while out on the water.

Crankbait Diving Lip Length

If you go to your local tackle shop and browse the crankbait section, you will notice that the diving lip on the front of the lure will come with various lengths, widths, angles, and types in relation to the lure body itself.

These crankbait lip designs or lack thereof are made up of crankbaits designed in shallow diving, medium depth, and deep-diving roles, or some may be lipless crankbait designs. this difference in design is to allow for optimum performance in specific depth ranges, and covering all depth ranges you could intend to fish in almost all cases.

These differences all account for action and diving depths.

More extended lips that have steeper angles meaning an increase in diving depth.

These diving crankbaits allow you to fish your crankbait at a known depth and is incredibly beneficial, especially when fishing areas like rock piles, brush piles, or humps and points that are at a known depth below the surface. Knowing the depth and the capabilities of your crankbait will allow you to get the lure within feet of the bottom or just above weed growth, or in some instances enabling you to contact the cover or bottom.

Knowing the diving depth of your diving crankbaits is also beneficial when fishing suspended fish like walleye. When finding a school of fish suspended in the middle of the basin on a sonar unit, you can pick the proper diving crankbait to cast or troll at the exact depth of the fish or just above them.

Shorter lips with less aggressive angles are used on crankbaits that are shallow diving, and made for the purpose of fishing shallow water areas, and are great for working over weed beds, docks, or other shallow areas.

Shallow running crankbaits are also great for twitching on very precise spots or locations, like around a stump, clumps of weeds, docks, or other specific and precise locations where fish are likely to hold. Twitching a shallow crankbait means imparting as little forward momentum as possible, and making the lure snap side to side in place to trigger a reluctant fish to strike.

 

Crankbait Diving Lip Width

The width of a diving lip is what gives the lure the desired action, with wider lips giving a much larger side-to-side wobble, albeit slower, while narrow lips give a “tighter” action and have much faster-swimming action and erratic appearance.

I’m some cases, diving lips are round, and in other cases, they are square. This also affects the action, and various shapes will do different things in the water. In recent years you can encounter very interesting lip shapes like on the Rapala scatter rap. This lip, in particular, causes the bait to scatter from side to side erratically, this action is known as “walking” and mimicks a fleeing baitfish and has proven to be very effective in the right conditions.

Lipless Crankbaits

Lipless crankbaits are also known as “rattle baits” or “rattle traps.” These are very versatile lures and can be employed and fished in a variety of ways. The tie-on point of a lipless crankbait is on the back of the lure instead of the lip “because it doesn’t have one,” or the nose itself.

lipless crankbaits are generally sinking baits and unlike diving crankbaits can be worked at any depth, although in shallow fishing applications it may be challenging as you must have a fast retrieve speed to keep in out of weeds or branches.

The versatile aspect of lipless crankbaits is the depth range. You can count the lure down to a given depth and retrieve it, allowing you to fish deep areas or cover.

you can also vertically jig lipless crankbaits, and this aspect has made it incredibly popular for ice fisherman and ice fishing for fish like walleye and pike. It’s also used by these same anglers on open water, vertically jigging for fish on bars, reefs, humps, or in suspended water.

 

Getting the Most out of your Crankbaits

Now that we have a basic rundown on the design of crankbaits let’s talk about some tips and tricks you can use to help trigger fishing into eating it. There are tons of manipulations you can impart on a crankbait to make it do certain things.

 

Erratic Action

When fishing a crankbait, you can use various pauses, taps, twitches, and rips to make it appear erratic. These lure manipulations will help your crankbait stand out when fishing around pods of baitfish that the target fish are feeding on.

An excellent way to employ these methods is to cast out to the structure you are fishing and simply start with a straight retrieve. Once you are halfway back on your retrieve, simply stop cranking and pause for a few seconds and accompany this with a few twitches. In many cases, this is when a fish will strike.

Another fish triggering tactic is to impart a sudden burst of speed by cranking your reel incredibly fast for a few cranks and then throttling it back to a moderate retrieve speed.

There are a plethora of ways you can combine these methods, and there aren’t any hard rules on how to do it. This comes down to experimentation and experience on the water. Mixing up your retrieve method on a regular basis throughout a day of fishing will show you what works and what doesn’t on any given day.

 

Cover Collision

For me, as a musky angler, this tactic is key when it comes to triggering a musky to eat. But it also works for any species that will eat a crankbait, allowing you to catch fish, even in tough conditions.

When fishing weed lines, humps, brush, timber, stumps, rock piles, or any place where there is cover, making contact with that cover may be at times the only effective way to trigger a fish into biting.

We call the strikes that occur by employing this method “reaction strikes.” A reaction strike is when a fish strikes the bait out of pure instinctive triggering, and this occurs when a fish isn’t actually in an active feeding mood, but rather simply because we put a bait in front of its face and disturbed its environment so quickly that the fish didn’t have time to think about it.

 

Weed Fishing

Some anglers hate when they pull vegetation off of their lures on a regular basis, so if your one of those, you

A. haven’t experienced the power of bumping a crankbait off of cover like branches or weed.

B. don’t like working for fish when conditions are tough.

There are methods in which you can work crankbaits through the weed beds while keeping the hook fouling to a minimum. On shallow weed beds or deeper submerged vegetation, you can employ two tactics to help reduce fouling, the snap method or the dive and rise method.

 

Snap Method

With the “snap method,” if you feel vegetation has fouled the hooks of your crankbait and decided to hitch a ride and ruin your action and presentation, you simply give the line some slack and give it a chance to rise up in the water column if it can.

Once you have given it a little slack, you snap your rod tip quickly, and with some decent force, in many cases, this will break the vegetation from the hooks and allow you to carry on with the retrieve, rinse and repeat this process as needed. It’s important to note that this is also a massive fish triggering tactic as well, and I will do this “snap” when fishing weed cover regularly even if my bait isn’t fouled up, and the amount of fishing I have caught immediately after the snap is anyone’s guess, but its a significant number.

It should also be noted that this tactic is much more efficient when done using large crankbaits.

 

 

Dive and Rise Method

This is a great method to employ when picking apart weed beds and fishing timber using highly buoyant crankbaits. When you first cast out your crankbait, straight retrieve it in a normal manner.

The second you feel your crankbait contact something stop your retrieve immediately. This is done similar to the snap method but without the snap.

Once your crankbait contacts the cover, simply give the line slack and let it rise. Once you feel it’s above the cover, or you can actually see the lure with your own eyes, repeat the process all the way back to the boat or shoreline.

It’s important to note that for this tactic, you need to use shallow or incredibly buoyant crankbaits that rise quickly. Using suspending and sinking crankbaits will not work and will only lead to snags or retrieving a big ball of weeds.

the Dive and rise method is capable of being used in shallow water to medium diving crankbait depths. although in shallower water which is only a few feet or less, it’s not very practical. I typically use this method in depths of anywhere from 6 to 15 feet, making the tactic suitable to medium diving crankbaits.

 

 

Seasonal Conditions

Crankbaits can be fished at any time during the year, but your methods of fishing the lure will change throughout the course of the year.

 

Spring and Summer

when spring approaches the common rule of thumb is to increase your retrieval speed as the water temperatures increase. As water temperatures increase, the activity of cold-blooded fish also increases, this translates to an increasingly fast metabolism, causing fish to have a higher level of feeding activity.

during this time you should also extend your fishing areas, starting shallow early in the spring and as the water temperatures climb moving to deeper structure and spots. Weed growth also increases as the season progresses and develops in deeper water as well, allowing you to used the weed fishing tactics described above.

 

 

Fall

Fall can be the best time to fish crankbaits. Baitfish become increasingly active leading into fall when the temperatures start to drop and the days grow short. As anglers, this gives us an opportunity to fish crankbaits more often.

In many cases, fishing at this time is done at mid to deep depths and retrieval speeds can vary from a moderate to slow retrieve, it’s also a great idea to implement pauses during the fall fishing season for some species like musky, pike, and walleye. Bass can be caught using pause methods, but you may find that a standard straight retrieve will work just fine.

 

 

Winter

If you live in an area that doesn’t have a foot of solid ice covering the lakes you fish, crankbaits can be fished in the winter to great effect. During this time of the year, a slow straight retrieve works best, this is again due to the water temperature and how this relates to cold-blooded animals, in this case, fish slow down significantly both in overall activity and feeding behavior.

If you do have ice covering your lakes, you can still use crankbaits! As mentioned earlier, lipless crankbaits like Rapala Rip Raps and other brands can be vertically jigged through the ice at any depth. This can be a deadly tactic for pike, walleye, and even bass.

The rattles in these lipless crankbaits can attract fish under the ice from long distances, think of it as ringing the dinner bell.

Conclusion

Fishing, in general, has no solid or hard rules, and conditions or fish behavior can change quickly due to a variety of factors. This is why it’s imperative for us as anglers to experiment frequently and keep a mental note or log of what works and what doesn’t on any given day or weather conditions, and this is certainly true of crankbait fishing.

The methods mentioned in this article will help trigger a fish to eat, some are easy while some will require some practice and fine-tuning, but learning and perfecting these types of fishing niches is what sets great anglers apart from the pack and will surely help you catch more fish.

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