Our Complete Guide to Fishing Crankbait

How to Fish Crankbait

As any good fisherman knows:

Trying out a wide variety of tactics, techniques, lures, and baits is the best way to find a fishing style that suits you and works well with the type of fish you want to catch.

Crankbaits are one of the most popular lures in use at the moment, so we’re going to be diving into how exactly you can make use of them in this article.

We’re going to give you the complete rundown on crankbaits and guide you on how you can score those big catches by using them.

We’ll explain what different types are available, tell you what gear you should be using, take a look at what time of year is best to go fishing with a crankbait, and much more.

Keep on reading if you want to discover just how effective these lures are and why so many people in the fishing world are now making use of this handy piece of kit.

What Exactly Is a Crankbait?

A crankbait is essentially just a lure with a small flat lip that causes it to dive underwater and stay there while you fish. Some crankbaits don’t have these lips, but you’ll find that the vast majority do. As with a lot of lures, it’s hard to define exactly what separates crankbait from others on the market (to a newcomer at least).

Fishing With Crankbait
Fishing With Crankbait

You’ll find a lot of discussions online about what to call them and whether a jerkbait counts as a crankbait etc. Crankbaits can be thought of as any lure that has a plastic or metal lip on the underside which affects its ability to dive. Think of lures like minnows, wakebaits, ripbaits, divers (AKA floater divers), squarebills, broke-backs, countdowns, slashbaits etc. These are all types of crankbaits. If you’re interesting in jerkbait as well, here is an article I wrote on fishing jerkbait.

What really separates crankbait from the large crowd of baits and lures is the depths that they’re able to go to to help lure in different fish. The depth range of crankbaits vary quite a lot, and we’ll go into the different categories that are available (and what depths they can reach) in the section following this. You’ll find that most crankbaits are best used just below the surface, down to around 20 feet below. But you can find crankbaits that are useful even deeper than that!

Regional names might confuse matters further when it comes to crankbaits as you might know them as something else. There’s a long list of different names that crankbaits can be called. Try not to worry about semantics too much, but here’s just a small selection of different names you might know crankbaits by:

  • Plugs
  • Swimbaits
  • Twitchbaits
  • Stickbait
  • Wobblers

As a general rule of thumb, any fish that routinely eats smaller species of fish can be targeted with crankbaits. That’s pretty much all you need to know about what they can accomplish, and you’ll soon come to see just how effectively they get the job done!

The Different Types of Crankbait

As with all types of baits and lures, there are a wide variety of crankbaits available on the market. The length, size, and overall shape of the lip on these lures is what affects how deep they’re able to sink in the water.

Here are the four main categories that you’re likely to find in your local supplier:

Squarebills and Shallow Divers

Shallow Diving Crankbait

These two categories are the shallowest-diving crankbaits that you can find on the market. They often work best around shallow cover in lakes, streams, and ponds. The ideal places to make use of shallow crankbaits are around areas that contain rocks, docks, submerged pieces of wood, and bodies of water with shallow grass lines.

The key to catching a decent fish when using shallow-diving crankbaits (like squarebills) is to fish them without worrying too much about getting them hung up or caught on anything. While this may seem like a bad tactic for a lure that sometimes comes with two treble hooks attached, they don’t actually get caught up that often if you can manage to reel them in fast enough.

When a shallow-diving crankbait is thrown out and deflects off a hard object or underwater obstruction, this can often be the absolute best time to catch a fish. This kind of action actually causes a huge reaction from the fish as the lure changes direction as if it was another small fish. Don’t worry too much about damaging the crankbait, as the body and lip will absorb the vast majority of the impact.

Medium Divers

The next step up with crankbaits is medium divers, which sink to a lower level than their shallow counterpart. Medium-diving crankbaits work well in bodies of water that are shallower than around 10 feet. Don’t worry too much if you’re fishing somewhere that is quite a bit shallower than this, as medium divers can be a great tool to use (even in shallow water).

When a crankbait dives deeper than the depth of water you’re fishing in, this can often work to your advantage, A crankbait that dives 10 feet (when used in a shallower stream/pond/lake) will actually dig into the bottom of the body and water, knocking up dirt and other assorted detritus, and causing a disturbance.

Much like the deflections that you’ll often find in shallow-diving crankbaits that hit underwater objects, the medium diver causing a disruption on the surface below the water can trigger strikes from fish that are hunting for their next meal. These are great crankbaits to use in near enough any body of water because of how reliable they are at catching fish.

Deep Divers

A deep-diving crankbait is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. They’re able to sink anywhere within the region of 10 to 20 feet (with some even going further than that). If you’re hoping to catch a fish in a fairly deep lake or another body of water, this is the ideal crankbait for you.

Deep Diving Crankbait
Deep Diving Crankbait

This category of crankbait works really well when you’re out at sea or fishing in a large lake. Fishing around offshore structures such as rock piles, creek channels, and ledges is a surefire way to increase your chances of catching something.

There is a slight drawback to deep divers as It takes a little more effort to get them deep down in a body of water and to make them remain there. It’s definitely worth the struggle, though. Similar to the shallower styles we spoke about earlier, bottom contact and deflection is massively important when you’re looking to trigger a bite.


What Gear Do You Need When Using a Crankbait?

Every fisherman knows that new styles of fishing and new accessories mean more cash spent on fishing gear. Thankfully, fishing using a crankbait isn’t too expensive. There are a few essential pieces of kit that you’re going to want to ensure you have, though.

Trying out a crankbait means that you’ll need rods and reels which have been specifically designed for them. Your reel should be able to handle a fairly hefty amount of line – this ensures that you can get a better casting distance. It’s important to be able to cover a wide area with your crankbait.

Here are the best crankbait rods on the market.

You should also aim to have a much slower gear ratio than other styles of fishing. A 5.4:1 (or similar) gear ratio can work really well as it forces anglers to fish the baits much slower than they normally would and it allows for more power to be used during the retrieval process.

The rods that you use when fishing with crankbait should be long enough to allow for the increased casting distance you’re aiming for. This also helps you to get to the maximum diving depth if you’re planning on using a deep diving crankbait. An ideal rod for fishing with crankbait would be longer than seven feet.

Another key point to consider is the rod action, this is massively important as having a rod with a little bit of give in it is the best possible way to allow the bait to dive deep without being held back or impeded by the stiffness of a less flexible type of rod. A well-made medium-heavy rod (with a moderate amount of flexibility/action) will provide you with the perfect balance to cast out a crankbait and keep it in the water.

Another popular option for rods are the fiberglass composite rods which are becoming more common. These allow for excellent casting and cranking and can be a great investment if you think you’re going to stick with crankbait fishing.

Selecting the ideal fishing line is another part of crankbait fishing that is often overlooked when preparing and purchasing gear to take with you. The overall line size and diameter massively affect how deep your crankbaits are able to dive and the amount of action that you’re able to get from them. Always remember, the thinner the diameter of your fishing line, the deeper the crankbait will be able to dive (make sure you purchase a strong fishing line also).

As well as the diameter of your fishing line, the type of line you end up purchasing will also greatly affect the diving depths of the crankbait. A fishing line such as monofilament and braid will tend to float on the surface of the water more, whereas fluorocarbon fishing line will sink quicker and easier.

Purchasing a braided fishing line will mean that your line doesn’t have much give and stretch, so this is a pretty poor choice for crankbait fishing. The lack of flexibility in a braided line will often just pull the hooks right out of the mouth of a caught fish, so avoid it if possible.

In general, monofilament and fluorocarbon fishing lines are your best bet if you’re planning on using crankbaits. Because of its tendency to float more, monofilament is perfect for using with shallow crankbaits. This is especially true when you are fishing around grassy areas because the line won’t snag or get caught as much.

A fluorocarbon fishing line is just a great all-around piece of gear for crankbait fishing. This is because of the sinking properties, which make it the perfect choice for deep-diving crankbaits.

As you can see, there’s a decent amount of research to be done if you’re wanting to take up crankbait fishing. However, we’re not done talking about gear just yet! Something else you need to be aware of is how to modify your hooks and tune your crankbait. This is what we’ll discuss in the next section and it’s something that can greatly improve your fishing game.

Modifying Hooks and Tuning Crankbait

How to Tune Crankbait

Two things you have to be aware of when you’re crankbait fishing is how to modify the hooks you’re using and how to properly tune your crankbait. Don’t worry, though, it’s fairly easy to get the hang of and you’ll be doing both of them without even thinking in no time at all.

Swapping out your treble hooks is hugely important when crankbait fishing as these hooks become dull and worn down over time. Changing out your hook style or size can have a tremendous impact on the overall action and dive of your crankbait.

Usually, each different treble hook style will vary in terms of their thickness and weight. This can help determine whether a bait dives shallower or deeper after it’s been cast. The changes you make to the hook could also actually negatively affect how the crankbait has been designed to function.

With this in mind, it is best for you to always ensure you change out your hooks using a new one that’s still similar in size, style, and – if possible – the same brand. Many newcomers to crankbait fishing swap out their hooks and wonder why the action of the crankbait has changed and why their fishing has seemingly gotten worse.

Another huge priority that you need to understand is ensuring that your crankbait is tuned straight and functioning properly. There is any number of reasons that this could have happened; you might have accidentally purchased a defective lure, it could have obtained damage from a bad cast, or you may have simply just caught so many fish using it that it’s worn out and functions improperly now.

The solution to fixing a malfunctioning or straying crankbait is ridiculously easy and not something you need to stress about. To tune it properly, grab yourself a pair of needle-nose pliers. All you need to do is every-so-slightly slightly adjust the line tie by tuning it to the opposite direction of wherever you wish your crankbait to run. If your crankbait is running to the left and you need to straighten it out, for example, simply turn the line tie to the right using your pliers.

Told you it was easy! With these two new skills out the way, it’s now time to move on to a subject that causes a fair amount of disruption in the fishing community – what season is best for using crankbait. We won’t weigh in too heavily here, but we will say what we think is the best time of the year to use them and how you should be best using them.

What Season Is Best for Using a Crankbait?

Like many other types of lure and bait, crankbait is best used in certain seasons of the year. In this section, we’ll go through how effective taking crankbait with you is during the various seasons and give it a little advice on how to improve your chances of catching a big one (whatever the weather)

Crankbait Fishing in Spring

Shallow-divers are the perfect crankbaits to use during the spring months. This is because many of the larger fish in the area you’re fishing in will begin to enter the more shallow water in preparation for their spawning season.

A nice red crankbait – for example – used in conjunction with a fast retrieve will sink straight to the bottom of the shallow areas in spring and look like a crawfish to the large fish that you’re wanting to catch.

In the vast majority of cases, the warmer that the body of water you’re fishing in is, the faster you’re going to want to crank your reel handle as you retrieve a catch. An even, steady retrieve will work well in all seasons (although Summer you’re usually okay to just go fast), but make sure you definitely make use of them during the springtime.

Crankbait Fishing in Summer

As we mentioned in the last section on spring, the water heating up will considerably affect the behavior of the fish in the area you’re fishing. This is something you’re going to want to consider when fishing using a crankbait in summer.

As the water temperature rises, so does the metabolism of the larger predatory fish in lakes. During summer, you can pretty much crank and retrieve as fast as you want to. It’s also a good idea to fish much deeper than you would in the other, cooler seasons.

In summer, you can make great use of a deep-diving crankbait. These are perfect for use in deep lakes or offshore fishing during the hot summer months.

Crankbait Fishing in Fall

As a general rule of thumb, it’s widely considered that fall is the number one season to use crankbaits in when out fishing. The main reason for this being that it’s usually when the baitfish become much more active than usual. The larger predatory fish begin to hunt them down much more aggressively in fall.

In lakes that contain fish such as shad, your best bet is to make use of a white or shad-pattern crankbait. Use one of these with a fast retrieve to cover wider areas of water and hone in on the larger concentrations of predatory fish throughout the lake.

In general, you can use a wide variety of crankbaits during fall and almost always be guaranteed a decent catch or two. We definitely recommend trying out crankbaits for the first time during the fall, as you’ll soon come to see just how effective they are and how easy they make fishing.

Crankbait Fishing in Winter

During the harsh and cold winter months, using a flat-sided crankbait (a lure that produces a much tighter wobbling action than others) is a surefire way to increase your chances of nabbing that perfect catch.

This is due to crankbaits with wider wobbles not working as effectively when temperatures drop and it seems like nothing you cast is causing a reaction with the local fish. We all know how tough it can be fishing out in the cold, so you’ll want to use this tactic to ensure you still have fun out there.

When you’re fishing in winter, flat-sided crankbaits are the ideal choice for coaxing out fish. When you fish with a flat-sided crankbait and use a slow and steady retrieve, you can significantly improve your chances of bagging the perfect catch.

The Conclusion on Crankbait

As with most fishing accessories, crankbait is only essential if you want to use it. You can certainly get by on other fishing techniques and using less-effective lures. However, part of the fun of fishing is trying out new tactics and experimenting with what works best in your local area.

Crankbaits are some of the most effective and inexpensive lures that you can use when fishing for nearly any species that eats smaller baitfish and crayfish. Crankbaits allow an angler to quickly cover large areas of water in a much smaller amount of time than other types of bait.

In general, you can rest easy that a crankbait will always be appealing to any fish that is in a feeding mood. With a wide range of movements (including deflections and bottom-dragging), crankbaits can even tempt fish that are not hungry – so you have a much better chance of securing a decent catch.

Hopefully, we’ve given you a much more in-depth idea about what crankbaits are how you can best put them to use. By following the advice we’ve offered, you’ll be sure to get the most out of your fishing experience while using crankbaits.


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