If you walk into an outdoor store or tackle shop, you will be confronted with thousands, maybe even tens of thousands different baits and lures. The options can be overwhelming to even a seasoned fisherman but absolutely shut down a novice.
Choosing the right type of bait for the task at hand is key. This article will explain specifics on why and when to choose crankbait, and how to choose the right one.
Is Crankbait What I Need?
While it can be completely overwhelming to know what kind of bait to purchase, there are some easy questions that will help narrow down your search.
What Are You Fishing For?
If you are just randomly selecting lures and throwing them in the water, you are trusting what you catch to fate. While different species may attack the same bait (ask any 7-year-old who has caught a sunfish, a crappie, and a channel catfish on the same hook and worm), modern lures and baits are geared for specific species, under specific conditions.
Knowing what type of fish you are fishing will help. Lures, attractants, even hooks, and rigs will usually list what species they are effective for right on the package. If you walk in knowing you want to fish for bass, that will take a lot of the baits and lures off the table immediately.
When Are You Fishing?
This question has multiple facets. First is what time of year you are fishing. Bass will respond differently in different seasons and in different parts of the country.
Spring and fall, largemouth bass will stay fairly close to the topwater, or in shallows along the bank. The easiest way to catch them will be with some variety of topwater lure, that can be run right above them, or with a shallow bottom lure for the fish spawning in the shallows.
While the largemouth are up top in the spring and summer, smallmouth who like to hang out in colder water will migrate up to the middle of the water column. They will still travel down to spawn but can be coaxed to the midwater with energetic enough lures. In this time of year, use a midwater rig of some sort that will travel through the resting schools. During spawn, you may need to switch to a bottom rig or use something energetic enough to attract the smallmouths up to the mid.
The summer and winter are when you see a greater difference between the south and the north on bass behavior. In the summertime bass migrate upward, with largemouths hanging out in warm shallows and on the top layer of water in the water column.
Smallmouths float upward in the water column in the summer, still occupying that middle layer, but without the spawning behaviors you see in the spring. This means you can reliably fish a midwater rig for smallmouths, and they will energetically hunt.
The exception to those rules about the summer is if you are in the deep south. Water is a great insulator, and fish are cold-blooded. This means that the only tool a bass has to warm and cool its body is to change the temperature of the water it is swimming in.
Smaller lakes and ponds in the south don’t have enough water volume to counteract the radiant warmth of the sun. This means that the top water in many bass habitats actually gets too hot for them. This forces the fish down a layer. As the water warms up and the largemouth drop, so do the smallmouth, returning to the bottom.
The really fun part of bass fishing in the south is that bass behaviors change throughout the day. Summertime mornings are usually cool enough that largemouth will hang out near the surface, and the smallmouth have crept up from the bottom.
As the sun peaks, so does the water temperature. This means the water actually gets too hot for the bass to hang out on the surface, and they will drop. As the day wears on and the sun sets, water temps fall, and the bass will climb back up. This means you need to vary your lure type throughout the day if you are fishing a southern pond, since different times of day act like different seasons.
Now that you understand the different dynamics at work, let’s see if crankbait makes sense for you, and which crank bait to use.
What is a Crankbait
Crankbait is a mimic lure, meaning that it is designed to look like a fish swimming when it is in use. Crankbait looks like a short, fat, bait fish. It has a plastic bill on the front of it, designed to scoop water and make the bait dive. The bait itself has some natural buoyancy.
The combination of these traits causes the bait to enter the water fairly high. As it is retrieved, the bill causes the bait to dive to the bottom, then as the line tightens, the lure will climb back to the boat or dock it was cast from.
This action allows you to overcome the limitations of many other baits when deciding on where the fish are going to be. Because the bait starts its arc near the topwater, it is attractive to topwater fish near where the cast lands.
As the crankbait is drawn in, it sinks, carrying it through the mid-layer, down to the bottom, then starts climbing back through those layers. It is retrieved with a consistent reeling, triggering the bass’s chase instinct. Because of this versatility, crank bait can be an effective year-round lure for the average bass fisherman.
Even though there are a million options of crankbait, there are really only a few real decisions to make when choosing.
Color selection is not just an aesthetic choice (although deciding between shades of the same color might be). Bright colors are great for visibility in murky water. At even a few feet of depth, everything changes to shades of blue, so bright yellows, reds, and oranges stay visible much deeper than blues and greens.
Consider lighting quality when selecting colors. If it is gray out, white crankbait will be more visible. If there is sun, metallic finishes will reflect and lure bass toward them.
In clear water, choose colors that are represented in the local bait fish species. Bass will go after what they are used to, since they are more confident it is food. Reds and browns mimic crawfish, which makes them perfect for shallow water fishing with a low diving crankbait.
There are really only two main variations in crankbait bodies. Choose narrow bodies with flat sides for less wiggle. These are great for clear calm water or areas with stressed populations that aren’t biting anymore.
Fat rounded body crankbait will give a lot more wiggle and will disturb the water more, drawing in bass through auditory cues in murky water. This is also helpful if the population is sluggish due to water temperature, and you need to excite them.
That weird bill on the front of a crankbait serves a specific purpose. The bill shapes help the bait to wiggle and mimic a swimming fish, but even more importantly, the bills determine dive depth.
Crankbait dives cover a huge range. You can find crankbaits that will dive a few inches, or other models designed to traverse the water column and find the fish in whichever layer they are hiding in. Unless you are fishing in a manmade pond with a consistent bottom, your well-stocked tackle box will include crankbaits that can dive to multiple depths.
Really, a prepared angler will have a wide variety of crankbait. If you always fish similar areas, you can eliminate many styles that won’t help you. Even if you eliminate those unnecessary models, you will still have many options available. You can narrow this list down further by referring back to the questions we asked at the beginning.
If you only are worried about largemouth bass in the shallows, don't bother with a 12-foot deep diving crank bait. If you are choosing this bait to catch bass chasing a shad spawn, make sure your paint job matches your local species of shad.
Be thoughtful in your selection, but keep in mind that most fishermen have a wide variety of tools available for different scenarios. Don’t buy one crankbait, and expect it to handle every situation.
At the end of the day, crankbait is one tool in your arsenal for bass fishing.
By choosing baits that mimic your local feeders, have the right amount of wiggle for your water, and dive to the depths of your fishing hole, you will have great luck with crankbait!