Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Crankbait Fishing 101 Bass Fishing instruction from a Table Rock Lake Pro   

Crankbait 101

There are few lures as versatile as crankbaits; the ability to cover large areas in a short amount of time in a variety of depths make crankbaits an indispensable tool to search for and catch fish. Shallow running squarebills to deep diving plugs a good selection of crankbaits is crucial to angler success throughout a fishing season.

Crankbait Types:

Crankbaits come in thousands of shapes and styles, different body types impart different action, changing the lip size or angle changes the depth the lure runs and rattles or no rattles can affect its ability to attract fish. The following are general categories to break down the basic types of crankbaits and their applications.

Shallow Divers: Short square lips are the hallmark of shallow running crankbaits, often called squarebills, these baits are designed to be used from the surface to approximately five feet deep. Generally they will have a wide body, a short square bill pointed down at a sharp angle and two treble hooks. The wide body imparts a wide wobble action as the bait is retrieved, the lip serves two functions; it makes the bait dive to the desired depth and aids in deflecting the bait off cover protecting it from hang ups. Usually fished in shallow water around heavy cover shallow running crankbaits are designed to be thrown around fallen trees, stumps and shallow rock piles. The lure deflects off of the cover enticing bass to strike an injured bait fish or crawdad. An example of a shallow runner would be a Lucky Craft RC 1.5, wide body, short, steep angled lip and a rattle to attract fish. Water clarity should dictate color selection of shallow crankbaits, most shallow water coves with cover tend to be stained or extremely dirty so bright colors like chartreuse or white are most popular. Primarily target baits, shallow divers excel when thrown multiple times to isolated pieces of shallow cover. Within the category of shallow running crankbaits are wake baits. For years anglers on Bull Shoals Lake on the Missouri / Arkansas border would modify shallow running lures to stay on or just below the surface producing a wide wake when retrieved. Commonly called “The Egg”, these baits were the fore runner of the modern wake bait. These baits will entice strikes everywhere from the shallow flats to open water when fish are schooling, primarily a dawn or dusk bait wake baits have become an important part of most tournament anglers’ arsenals.

Medium Divers: Longer bills at a shallower angle on a variety of body styles are typical of medium running crankbaits. Designed to be used in depths from five to twelve feet, medium divers excel when bouncing off of wood and rock cover. A prime example of a medium diving crankbait is a Storm Wiggle Wart, the wide body produces a wide fish attracting wobble, the medium length bill at a slight angle force the bait to the desired depth and the smaller treble hooks provide superior snag resistance with great hook up potential. Much like a shallow diver color selection of medium running crankbaits should be dictated by water clarity. Stained or dirty water requires brighter colors such as chartreuse or orange while in clear water more natural hues should be selected. Forage is another concern on medium runners; while with shallow baits the primary forage is shad or bait fish, crawfish become a more important part of the food chain in the medium depth zone. Medium diver fishing locations are varied but some of the most important areas are around steeper banks and ledges with scattered wood or rock cover. Prime locations are drop offs or ledges near spawning or feeding areas of gravel or sand, medium divers excel at catching fish holding close to but not in shallow areas. A selection of wide and tight wobbling medium running crankbaits in baitfish and crawfish hues are an important part of every angler’s tackle box.

Deep Divers: Long billed, big bodied crankbaits are a mainstay of most summertime anglers. Designed to reach depths of 20’+, these baits are employed to reach the deepest humps, rock piles and ledges in a lake or reservoir. Characterized by a long bill, oversized body and large hooks, deep divers are an outstanding lure to search out deep structure for schools of summer bass. With both wide and narrow bodies, each deep diver has its own unique wobble and fish catching allure. Pradco’s Fat Free Shad is a prime example of a deep diver, the 3.5” body mated to a 3” long diving lip will reach depths of 15’ – 20’ on a long cast, the slender body design provides a tight wobble and mimics a fleeing bait fish. Most anglers prefer shad or bait fish designs on deep diving crankbaits matching the majority of forage in these deeper haunts. Again, water clarity is key to color selection, stained and dirty water calls for brighter hues such as chartreuse or red, while clear water calls for natural patterns resembling the primary forage. Deep structure are top locations for deep crankbait fishing; off shore humps, points with deep roll offs or drops, ledges and deep brush are all areas where deep divers shine. In the heat of summer bass will school in these deeper water areas and become susceptible to a deep diver worked through their hideout. When a fish is caught it is important to work the area over with multiple casts as several fish will be in the same location. During the summer it is important for anglers to own a good selection of deep divers to insure success.

Lipless Baits: Originated by Bill Lewis’ Rat – L – Trap in the 70’s, lipless crankbaits have been around for over 30 years and have accounted for thousands of fish catches. Flat sided, diamond or shad shaped baits, usually with rattles and smaller hooks these crankbaits are fish catching machines when bass are on shallow flat banks or schooling on bait fish. Lipless baits are designed to be worked quickly over shallow cover, the loud rattle and vibration will call fish in from a distance and the exposed treble hooks result in solid hook ups. While great on shallow barren flats lipless baits are just as at home when worked above weed beds and flooded brush, their narrow design imparts a tight wiggle similar to a fleeing bait fish and draw reaction strikes from even wary bass. Recently higher end versions of these baits have become available with a slightly different shape, a more snag free design and quality paint jobs these lures have become a favorite professional anglers on national tours. Regardless of skill level lipless crankbaits are a favorite of anglers in all regions and should be a part of every fisherman’s tackle box.

Locations and Seasons:

Shallow Runners: As the name implies shallow running crankbaits are designed for use in shallow water or when fish are in the upper portion of the water column. Flats, flat points and shallow coves or pockets with isolated pieces of wood or rock cover are ideal locations for shallow crankbaits. Primarily a summer or early fall bait shallow crankbaits excel when fish are holding on isolated cover less than four feet deep. Shallow baits also work well around boat docks when fish are suspended under walkways and swim platforms, casts made parallel to the dock will often produce fish hiding directly under the dock.

Medium Divers: These baits are in there prime when water temperatures are in the mid 40’s to low 60’s, both spring and summer warm ups and cool downs are top times of the year. Steep banks and ledges holding fish waiting to spawn or to move to the shallows to feed are superior locations. Long, uninterrupted stretches of bank that can be paralleled are usually best, as the lure can be worked an appropriate depth for a longer period of time.

Deep Divers: Summer time is ideal for deep diving crankbaits, bass will school on ledges, drop offs and humps and can be lured into biting deep diving crankbaits worked through these locations. Long casts are critical, as the maximum depth will only be achieved in the middle of the cast; baits should be cast well beyond the target strike zone, reel quickly to reach the maximum depth as fast as possible then worked through the target area.

Lipless Baits: While a very versatile bait, lipless crankbaits are best on shallow flats in the warmer months. Isolated wood, rock or weeds are prime cover and should be worked quickly with the bait coming close to the cover. During the summer a lipless crankbait should be at the ready at all times if schooling fish are a possibility.


Tackle for crankbait fishing is fairly consistent across all types and depths of baits with the exception of line size. A medium heavy action rod between seven and eight feet long with a fast tip and a high speed reel will suffice for all applications. Line is the critical difference from one technique to the other; for shallow or lipless crankbaits heavy fluorocarbon line in 15 pound test or higher is needed to deal with the heavy cover, while medium and deeper divers should be fished with 8 to 12 pound fluorocarbon to reach maximum depth potential. Fluorocarbon is the line of choice over monofilament as it sinks to aid in reaching the maximum depth and it has little stretch so even the softest bite can be felt.

A good selection of crankbaits is essential to be a well prepared angler. From the surface to 20’ deep there is a crankbait for almost every depth and cover situation. By having a variety of baits on hand whenever you are on the water you can be prepared to search for, find and catch more fish.

Check Table Rock Lures for great deals on crank baits and custom paint jobs on your cranks!


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