There is perhaps no lure more versatile than a crankbait. This style of lure will catch fish of all species in all seasons, whether you're casting or trolling.
What is a crankbait lure?
Crankbait lures are shaped and decorated to look like small baitfish. Their bodies are usually hard-moulded plastic or resin, although some of the old-style wooden-bodied crankbaits (balsa or a hardwood such as beech) can still be found.
As their name might suggest, crankbait lures are intended primarily for use with a baitcasting outfit, although larger versions can also be used effectively as trolling lures. They're attractive items, often appealing to anglers through their aesthetic appearance. Plenty of anglers report improved strike rates with crankbait lures.
Any fish that routinely eats smaller fish can be targeted with crankbaits. A lure with a plastic lip that causes a bait to dive underwater can be classified as a crankbait. The depth ranges vary from just below the surface down to 20 feet or even deeper.
One-Piece or Jointed?
Whilst a one-piece lure would appear to be the more robust, this is not always the case. Many jointed crankbait lures provide a strong, engineered connection between the two parts of a jointed lure. The thinking behind a jointed lure is to provide an enhanced, tail-wriggling action that mimics the motion of a frantic baitfish. While anglers have mixed opinions on which is better, you can't really go wrong with either option.
Squarebills and Shallow Divers
Late fall and early spring when bass roam the shallows are ideal times to throw a square bill crankbait. The short bill crankbait can be slowly cranked through shallow brush when the water is still cold in the early spring. It can also be retrieved at high speeds to tick the tops of submerged weed beds or deflect off of stumps and logs in warm water. The deflecting lure imitates the same flash produced by a baitfish when it bumps into a log and rolls on its side.
Square bills are a great change-up lure for a spinnerbait when weather conditions change. Blade baits are great for throwing in the shallows on cloudy, windy days, but the square bill becomes the better choice on sunny days, especially when fishing shallow murky water.
Cranking square bills on 20- to 25-pound line is a necessity since you will be constantly banging the lure into cover which could nick the line and create a weak spot. The heavy line also prevents the crankbait from diving too deep and bogging down in the weeds when fishing over the top of submerged vegetation.
When the water temperature reaches the upper 40- to low 50-degree range in the spring, medium-diving crankbaits start to shine. Early prespawn bass can be taken on these crankbaits along the deepest part of a bluff and as the water continues to warm the other end of the bluff connecting to a flat becomes the best spot to crank. Medium divers hit their prime when prespawn bass move to chunk rock shorelines or transition areas where the banks change from big rocks to pea gravel. The fish tend to be on the last one or two deeper banks in the major creeks.
Medium-diving crankbaits work well in water that is shallower than 10 feet, even when they dive deeper than the water’s depth. A crankbait that dives 10 feet, for example, will be excellent in shallower water, as it will dig into the bottom and cause a disturbance. Like shallow-diving crankbaits, a deflection also triggers strikes, and a short pause after a deflection often results in a strike.
A deep crankbait works well for fishing off shore structures like rock piles, creek channels, and ledges. It takes more effort to get these crankbaits down deep and to make them stay there. Like the shallower styles, bottom contact is important, and any deflection or change in the retrieve will trigger a bite.
Key targets for deep cranking include ledges, humps, bluff-ends and channel-swing points. As the water warms, bass will move closer to the bottom. Check your electronics to find any sweet spot (logs, brush piles, shell beds, big boulders, etc.) on the structure and try to run your crankbait into it. Deflecting your crankbait off the sweet spot will trigger more strikes.
Making a long cast past your target will enable the crankbait to dive deep enough to hit the sweet spot in the middle of your retrieve. Since line diameter affects a crankbait’s diving capability, use thinner line such as 10- to 12-pound test to enable your plugs to reach depths of 20 to 25 feet.