Crankbaits aren’t just a good bait to have in your tacklebox, they’re a necessity – especially if you do any bass fishing. The crankbait is one of the top-producing lures for any game fish species that feeds on smaller baitfish.

In addition to bass fishing, crankbaits are ideal for catching a variety of game fish. They also make a good fish-finding tool. Crankbaits can be retrieved quicker than other baits, whereby allowing an angler to quickly test the waters until a productive fishing spot is found.

  • What is a crankbait?
  • Anatomy of a crankbait
  • Types of crankbaits
  • When to use crankbait
  • How to fish a crankbait
  • Line recommendations and tips

What is a crankbait?

A crankbait is an artificial fishing lure that mimics a baitfish (e.g. minnows, shiners, shad, crawfish, pinfish, etc.) It is designed to trigger a game fish’s natural prey instinct and elicit a strike response. Crankbaits are useful for targeting both feeding and lethargic fish.

Anatomy of a crankbait

The body of a crankbait is designed to imitate the body shape of a specific bait fish. The body shape also determines the lure’s action. A rounded or wide body produces a wide wobble. A thin body, with flat sides, produces a tighter wobble. In a addition to the body, a crankbait includes a lip/bill, tail, tail hook and another hook on its underside nearer the head. Crankbait hooks are almost always treblehooks.

crankbait anatomy

Note: The lipless variety of crankbaits do not have a bill/lip.

Types of crankbaits

There are two general types of crankbaits: lipped and lipless. Lipped crankbaits are the most popular type of crankbait. When anglers speak of “regular” crankbaits, they’re typically referring to lipped crankbaits.

Lipless crankbaits are thin, flat-sided lures similar to lipped crankbaits except they don’t have a bill/lip. They contain metal balls, bb’s or a “knocker” that produce a rattle sound as the lure is retreived through the water. Lipless crankbaits are a versatile lure that can be used with a variety of fishing techniques.

Lipped crankbaits have a bill made of plastic, carbon fiber, metal or circuit board. The bill serves several important functions. It helps produce lifelike “wiggle” motion as the lure is retreived. It deflect off underwater objects to avoid snags and hang-ups. Finally, the bill controls dive depth.

As a rule of thumb, crankbaits with longer, wider bills that are straight/parallel to the body dive deeper. Crankbaits with a shorter, narrower bill angled downward run shallower. The more surface area a bill has, the more water the lip will catch, whereby driving the lure downward. Wider billed crankbaits also tend to have a wider wobble action than narrow billed crankbaits.

crankbait bill and lip styles

All crankbaits are fitted with a weight in their belly. The weight enables the crankbait to swim upright and exhibit a natural action as it moves through the water. The weight also serves to produce a rattle sound. The looser the weight, the greater the rattle. The rattle sound is designed to attract a fish’s attention.

A variety of crankbaits, known as “silent” crankbaits, do not have a rattle and do not produce sound. These are ideal for fishing very shallow water, when water clarity is high, or fishing pressure is high.

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Crankbaits are composed of a wood, plastic or composite. Historically, wood has been the material of choice for crankbait bodies. Wood crankbaits produce an ideal action and bouyancy. Wood bodies are usually constructed of Jelutong, Balsa, Pine, Cedar or Basswood, with Jelutong, Pine and Cedar the preferred materials.

Bouyancy of a crankbait will determine if the lure will float, sink, or suspend in the water column without rising or sinking. A lure with bouyancy greater than 1, will suspend. The following are the bouyancy rating for wooden crankbait materials.

Note: Bouyancy for wood crankbait lures can be modified by adding weights to increase overall lure weight.

Most crankbaits are sold with a bouyancy rating stamped on the package, indicating whether the lure is Floating, Sinking, or Supspending crankbait. Bouyancy impacts fishing technique for crankbaits.

Floating crankbaits, as their name suggests, float on the surface of the water. They are the most bouyant variety of crankbaits. Many floating crankbaits will begin to dive under the water when retrieved due to the angle of their lip. As soon as the retreive stops, the crankbait will again float to the surface.

Floating crankbaits are ideal for fishing water with a lot of structure such as weeds, sticks, and timber. When the crankbait comes in contact with something that may result in a snag or hang-up, pause and allow the crankbait to float back to the surface before resuming your retrieve.

A floating crankbait is useful for targeting fish toward the top of the water column or in the shallows.

Sinking crankbaits are are the least bouyant variety of crankbaits. They will drop through the water column when not being retreived. Sinking crankbaits are ideal for targeting fish in the mid to lower water column.

Sinking crankbaits are the ideal lure for targeting specific depths. A sinking crankbait will typically drop 1 foot per second. So, if you locate fish exactly 30 feet below your boat, allow your crankbait to sink for 30 seconds and you should get your lure within striking distance of a hungry fish.

Suspending crankbaits stay put. They’ll float on the surface or maintain a consistent depth in the water column. When retreived the suspending crankbait will dive at a certain rate depending on the shape of the lip. As soon as the retreive is halted, it will remain at that depth until the retreive is continued.

Suspending crankbaits are ideal for targeting fish that remain at a specific depth. They are commonly used for fishing smallmouth bass and walleye. These lures are also ideal for fishing waters below 60 degrees.

Most commercial crankbait lures are made of plastic or composite. Plastic is more durable than wood, more water-resistant, and easy to mold and finish. Plastic crankbaits also tend to be more uniform in shape and action, with fewer irregularities than crankbaits made of wood. Plastic crankbaits also produce more sound than wooden crankbaits.

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Composite crankbaits incorporate many of the benefits of both wood and plastic. They are 100% waterproof, they float, they’re strong and they typically produce a good action when fished.

Crankbaits come in different weights and sizes. The size and weight of a crankbait will influence diving depth. You’ll want to select the right size of crankbait for your target fishing depth.

Note: Crankbait size and weight requirements will increase at every depth when current is present in the water column.

Different size crankbaits are used to target differen size game fish. The following are recommended crankbait lengths for the most common game fish species.

When to use crankbait

Crankbaits can be used to target a number of cold water fish species including trout and salmon, as well as warm water fish such as bass, walleye, pike, perch and panfish.

While traditionally a freshwater lure, crankbaits can also be used for saltwater casting and trolling. A growing number of manufacturers are producing crankbaits designed specifically for saltwater fishing. As with freshwater crankbaits, the saltwater variety of crankbaits are designed to imitate the appearance and behavior of saltwater baitfish.

Many freshwater crankbaits will also work in saltwater environments. (When using a freshwater crankbait for saltwater fishing, it’s wise to upgrade the hook, as well as the split rings to higher quality, corrosion resistant material.)

Crankbaits can be used in a variety of conditions and environments. Crankbaits can be used year round during the springs, summer, fall and winter. As a rule of thumb, use shallow running crankbaits during the warmer summer months when fish are closer to the surface and deeper diving crankbaits during cooler fall and winter months as fish retreat to deeper water.

Lipless crankbaits can be fished through submerged vegetation and structure, or arounds the edges and over the top of grass. The action created by the occassional snag and release of a crankbait from vegetation creates an action that drive bass crazy. Lipless crankbaits are ideal for cooler water during early spring and late fall when fish are more lethargic and looking for less erratic motion. Lipped crankbaits work well during wamer months, surface fishing, or when more control of depth and action are required.

Sometimes it’s best to try both a lipped and lipless crankbait and let the fish decide which lure they prefer.

How to fish a crankbait

Anglers often go out of their way to stay out of the weeds and away from underwater structure to avoid a snag and potentially lose a prize lure. However, the key to fishing a crankbait is for it to periodically come in contact with structure. The action that a crankbait produces as it “bounces” off the bottom, comes in contact with rocks, or is jerked out of a snag is what attracts bass and catches fish. You may loose a lure or two, but you’ll catch more fish – and have more fun.

As previously discussed, there are two types of crankbaits: lipped and lipless. Each exhibits different action when retrieved. Using the correct retreival technique will help produce the action that will prompt a bite and improve catch rate.

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Lipless Retreival Techniques

Unlike lipped crankbaits, lipless crankbaits don’t have a diving lip to control diving depth and counteract bouyancy. Consequently, they’re typically weighted and can be fished at any depth within the water column. Because they don’t have a bill, lipless crankbaits also exhibit a unique action as they’re retreived. On a straight retreive, the amount of wobble or vibration a lipless crankbait produces will be proportionate to the speed of retreival. A faster retreival will produce more “wobble” action. A slower retreival less.

While a straight retrieve is the most common approach to fishing a lipless crankbait, there really isn’t a bad technique for fishing this lure. Another common technique for fishing a lipless is the Yo-Yo. For this technique allow the crankbait to sink to the desired depth in water column while hold the the rod tip low. Once the target depth is reached, lift the rod tip up a few feet. Then lower the rod tip allowing the crankbait to sink again. Reel in any slack left in the line and repeat the process. The Yo-Yo technique is ideal for targeting bass in water where there isn’t a lot of structure to create snags.

Lipped Retreival Techniques

There are several ways to work a lipped crankbait. The three most popular techniques include Burn it, Jerk, Stop & Goe, and the Yo-Yo.

General guidelines for fishing a crankbait

The following are general guidelines for fising both lipless and lipped crankbaits.

  • Match crankbait color and design to the natural prey species found in the area.
  • In colder water use crankbaits that produce a tighter wiggle. This includes narrow crankbaits with round bills.
  • In warmer water use crankbaits that produce a wider, more erratic action. This includes crankbaits with wider profiles and square or coffin lips.
  • Use brighter colored crankbaits in murky water.
  • Use natural colors in clear water.
  • Increase lure weight as current increases.
  • A slower rate of fall of bait through the water column is crucial to getting a bite in cold water.
  • A faster rate of fall of bait through the water is preferred in warmer water.

Line recommendations and tips

Selecting the correct line type, size and diameter is key to positioning a crankbait at the correct depth improving catch rate. The following are line recommendations for depth control of crankbaits.

  • Monofilament and braided lines float and decrease dive depth. Fluorocarbon lines sink and increase dive depth.
  • To get a deep diver crankbait to not dive as deep, use a 20lb monofilament line instead of a 10lb fluorocarbon line.
  • To get a medium diver crankbait to dive deeper, use a smaller diameter line (e.g. 10lb fluoro)
  • Monofilament line is ideal for shallow crankbaits, especially around weeds and structure, as it produces less snags.
  • Braided line is not ideal for fishing crankbaits as it has the least amount of stretch and may dislodge hooks from the fish’s mouth.
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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>