How to Use a Crankbait Lure

In our recent article outlining some of the best lures for fishing bass, we selected crankbait lures as a go-to option, ultimately proclaiming them as a type of lure that every angler should have in their tackle box, especially when fishing bass.

In this article, we will discuss some of the features of crankbaits that affect their action, when are ideal situations to use them, and then also some tips that can help you improve the chances of hooking a beautiful bass upon retrieval.

Parts of a Crankbait Lure

Crankbaits don't have too many parts, which helps make them a little easier to understand. However, the different parts that do exist can be altered in many different ways in order to optimize the action as you work the crank upon retrieval, so it's still worth understanding each component in detail. We will point out the parts of a crankbait below and discuss how you can optimize your lure for different settings.

Using Crankbaits at Different Water Depths

There are many factors that will affect which particular crankbait you use on any given day, but we will start with depth, which is arguably the most important factor in terms of narrowing your choice.

Shallow Diving Crankbaits

If you are fishing in really shallow water around 5 feet or less, then you may guess that a shallow diving crankbait is the way to go. But how can you tell from looking at the contents of your tackle box which cranks will dive further than others? While overall size, shape, and weight definitely affects this, the main component to pay attention to is the lip (or "bill").

In this case, a squarebill crank will get the job done nicely. These are quite distinguishable from other cranks because most others have a rounded lip. The squarebill crankbaits usually tend to have a shorter lips as well. These cranks are good for 0-5 feet of water.

You may also notice some crankbaits with a rounded lip that are also categorized as shallow diving cranks. These crankbaits will have the shortest rounded lips. They definitely do fit well in the shallow diving category, but keep in mind that with a rounded bill you will likely get some dive no matter what, at least a bit more than a squarebill. Usually you will see a minimum dive of about 1-2 feet and a maximum depth of about 8-10 feet. This is a nice option to bridge the gap between a squarebill and a medium diving crank. 

Medium Diving Crankbaits

Medium diving crankbaits will have rounded lips that have a length between shallow diving and deep diving crankbaits. This is probably the most difficult crank to know when to select because it can overlap with other cranks. For example, many anglers recommend they be used in 8-12 feet of water, but you can probably stretch that to 5-15 feet of water if you are accustomed to working a crankbait.

Deep Diving Crankbaits

Deep diving crankbaits have the longest bills and are therefore subjected to more downward force from the water (see diagram below for clarification), allowing you to reach the greatest depths with a crankbait.

Deep diving cranks will also tend to be a bit heavier than shallow crankbaits, but the overall structure is still very similar. One drawback to deep diving crankbaits is they may take a little while to get the feel for. Given you will be casting from above the water (obviously), getting a crank to "pull down" towards the bottom can be more challenging than lifting a shallow diving crankbait close to the surface.

Nevertheless, while there are some differences, much of the technique employed is the same between a shallow diving crankbait and a deep diving crankbait, it's just a little bit more difficult to execute. After our section on the features of crankbaits, we will provide some useful tips on how to properly work different-sized crankbaits.

Lipless Crankbaits

You can also find lipless crankbaits, which are just that - crankbaits without the lip component. So then how do lipless crankbaits dive underwater? This is done by changing the shape of the lure and where the line attaches, ultimately modifying the hydrodynamics. In this case, the line attaches to the top of the body of the crankbait which angles the entire body at a greater angle (i.e. nose pointing more downwards), so the downward force from the water is now shifted towards the body the crank.

So what depths are best for lipless crankbaits? The answer is pretty much any depth, but it will depend on what you have available in your tackle box. The general consensus is that lipless crankbaits can dive anywhere between 1-50 feet of water. For deeper water, you will likely want a heavier crankbait, perhaps a weight around 1 oz, combined with a slow retrieval. For shallow water, a lighter crankbait, maybe around 1/4 oz, with a faster retrieval will work best. "Medium" depths can employ a combination of weights and retrieval strategies.

Crankbait Wobble

One of the other important factors when deciding which crankbait to use, and how to use it, is the action it will produce. In the realm of crankbaits, this action is often referred to as "wobble" because it is quite symmetrical side-to-side motion that causes the tail to quickly wobble back and forth.

One of the main factors affecting degree of action, or wobble, is the lip width. Whereas lip length tends to affect diving depth more, lip width tends to affect the wobble. The general rule is that a wider lip will facilitate a wider wobble action and a more narrow lip will be good for a tight wobble.

The action will also be affected by the speed and direction of your retrieval. Basically, the faster the retrieval, the more intense the action. When we say direction, what we really mean is strategy. Deflecting the crankbait off objects like the bottom, stumps, rocks, ledges, or whatever, is one of the fundamental strategies employed to catch fish, especially when they're active. Lipped crankbaits will deflect to a higher degree and have less chance of snagging than a lipless crankbait (both can be used for this, though).

Also, don't be afraid to retrieve the crank through heavy cover like grass and other vegetation. While your chances of losing a lure may increase, so do your chances of hooking a big one. Heavy cover will also provide more life-like action to your crank as you pull it through, as it will snag up and deflect off the vegetation. If you get caught in a snag, don't panic initially. Many anglers who take time and caution to try and work a crank out of a snag find they often have success catching something when the crank becomes free (that is, if it becomes free). So while we definitely understand the hesitation to cast directly over a patch of thick grass, you may end up thanking yourself if you do.

The only other important point in this category is to not give up when using crankbaits, especially if you're just getting used to them. For example, if you cast over heavy cover and feel nothing upon retrieval other than a couple light snags, try casting over it again at a different angle if possible. You don't have too much control of the deflection action, and you definitely don't have control over the fish's viewing angle, so a bait that deflects one way may attract a fish more than another way. Try at least a couple different angles before moving on.

Crankbait Size and Shape

The size or weight of the crankbait is a little more important when using the lipless style, as this will directly affect the diving depth, whereas this is predominantly controlled by the lip in lipped crankbaits. However, crankbait length can be important depending on the species of fish you're going after. Many anglers use cranks for bass fishing, and in this case, it's often recommended to stick with cranks between 2-5 inches in length. Other fish, especially larger ones like pike and musky, may do better with slightly longer crankbaits.

The shape of the crankbait will mainly affect its action or "wobble". A fatter/wider crankbait tends to create more action upon retrieval, and are therefore best suited for situations when fish are extremely active (e.g. pre-spawn bass), when you're casting into an area with schools of fish, when the water is warmer, or anytime when the fish are known to be more active. A narrow crankbait will create a tighter wobble, and while these will still create enough action to assist in getting the fish's attention, the don't move to the same degree as a fatter crankbait. Therefore, narrow crankbaits are better suited for colder waters, immediately post-spawn for bass, or any other time when the fish are generally more lethargic.

Remember that many cranks will have some internal component that will create sound to further attract any fish. This can be as simple as a few BBs inside that shake around and create a rattling noise. So in addition to the lip design and overall shape of the crank being able to garner attention, the noise is another component that can help out as well.

Summary of Crankbait Depth and Action

FACTORS

Shallow Water

Medium-Depth

Deep Water

Warm Water

Fat body

Squarebill

Fat body

Longer lip

Fat body

Longest lip

Pre-Spawn

Fat body

Squarebill

Fat body

Longer lip

Fat body

Longest lip

Schools of Fish

Fat body

Squarebill

Fat body

Longer lip

Fat body

Longest lip

Cold-Water

Narrow body

Squarebill

Narrow body

Longer lip

Narrow body

Longest lip

Post-Spawn

Narrow body

Squarebill

Narrow body

Longer lip

Narrow body

Longest lip

Isolated Fish

Narrow body

Squarebill

Narrow body

Longer lip

Narrow body

Longest lip

How to Properly Work a Crankbait

Now that we have discussed how different features of a crank can affect its action, how can you optimize its action upon retrieval to maximize your chances of catching the big one? Here are a couple tips from some professional anglers to help you get started. After this section, we will return to discussing different components of a crankbait, but these don't have as large of an impact on how you work the crank as do the previously discussed features. 

Consider the following information from one of the best anglers on the planet, Kevin VanDam (KVD). In this video he discusses his KVD 1.5 crankbait, but also touches on many of the points we discussed here in plain language. He also provides some nice tips on how to work your rod to help achieve particular depths.

In this next video, Stacey King, KVD, and Rick Clunn each provide their advice on selecting and working crankbaits. The video itself is a little old, but the information is what counts, and these pros hit on a lot of points. Check out Stacey's advice on pairing the proper rod for the given bait and conditions.

Crankbait Color

Color definitely matters when trying to get the most out of your crankbait, but in our opinion, we would focus on depth (lip length) and action (body shape) before addressing the color. Furthermore, different anglers often have different preferences for color, as the local environment, local species, how they work the crank, time of year, etc, all play into what works for them.

If you're looking for a color scheme that will be more reliable for the waters you tend to fish, then we would go with natural colors, ideally matching any prey species that you may already know are present in the local area. These natural color schemes, shad for example, are known to be a little bit better on clear days when the fish can get a better sense of what the lure looks like.

If you're fishing on a cloudy day, or the water is a bit murkier in general, then you may want to use something with a little more contrast to help get the fish's attention. In this case, "contrast" doesn't always mean "bright". For example, some anglers find a crank with lots of black on it can provide a good amount of contrast against the water without looking too fake. However, to be safe, most will opt for a combination of a solid color and something a bit brighter like a chartreuse.

What Type of Line Should You Use With a Crankbait?

In order to get the most out of your crankbait, it's best to use a line that will help facilitate where you're trying to place the bait. Some anglers get really specific about this, but if you want to keep it simple and still effective, we would suggest focusing on desired depth when making a decision.

If you want to promote your crank reaching the furthest depth possible, we would suggest using fluorocarbon line because it's thinner than other lines at a given strength and it will sink fast than other lines. Even a fluorocarbon leader will help with this if you don't want to be using too much of it, but for the best results it is suggested to use a length that corresponds with your casting distance.

If you are fishing shallow waters and don't have too much of a problem maintaining your desired depth, we would suggest using a monofilament line because it's cheaper, a lot easier to manage, and the thicker diameter allows it to float which in turn promotes buoyancy. It's also nice when retrieving a crank through heavy cover, as less of the line will be prone to snags compared with a sinking fluorocarbon.

For more information about the specific differences between line types, please click here.

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