What Is A Crankbait?

A crankbait is a fishing lure usually made out of hard plastic or carved from wood. It is formed to mimic the swimming action of a baitfish, crayfish or other prey.

There are 2 main categories of crankbait.

  • Lipped Or Billed Crankbaits
  • Lipless Crankbaits

Lipped Crankbaits

Lipped Crankbaits are usually just called crankbaits. They have a plastic or metal bill at the front.  The plastic bill is shaped like a scoop. It is usually transparent plastic and looks like the scoop of a spoon.

It’s this bill that causes a crankbait to dive underwater. As you crank your reel the bill creates resistance and drags the bait underwater.

Most crankbaits will float until they’re retrieved. This means that when you cast one out it will float on the surface. Only when you start cranking it will it dive underwater.

There are also suspending crankbaits. These are equipped with weights that give them almost neutral or neutral buoyancy. As you reel in a suspending crankbait, it will dive as expected.

But once you stop the retrieve, instead of floating back up quickly, it will stay in place or float up very slowly.

Some anglers add weights to their crankbaits to get them to suspend.

I have also seen sinking lipped crankbaits, but these are rare.

Crankbait Action

The crankbait wobbles as it moves through the water. This creates the illusion that the crankbait is swimming or propelling itself through the water. This wobbling is a key aspect that predatory fish hone in on and react to.

As you pull the bait through the water, it continues to dive until it reaches a point at which it can’t dive any further. That point is usually dictated by buoyancy and upward resistance.  Upward resistance can be affected by the line you’re using.

For example, braided line floats. This will make it put much more upward resistance on a crankbait. Fluorocarbon line on the other hand sinks. This makes it a much better choice for crankbait fishing. Fluro line will allow a crankbait to reach is maximum depth.

Once a crankbait reaches its max depth, it will travel at the same depth for a short distance. After this, it will start rising to the surface. Finally the crankbait will reach your rod tip.

Shallow Diving Crankbaits

Shallow Diving Crankbait Dives 0 - 1 feet.
H2O Express Wakebait 2.75″ 3/8 oz. Dives 0 to 1 Foot.

The lips on shallow diving crankbaits are usually smaller that what you would find in a deeper runner.  Also, a shallow runner may have more buoyancy.

Wakebaits fall into this category. These are crankbaits that travel just under the surface.

They sometimes create a “V” shaped wake as you reel them in.

These types of crankbaits work great o\in shallow areas. The can also be very useful in rivers.

I’ve had great success using shallow running crankbaits while targeting Smallmouth Bass. Smallmouth love to rise up and swipe at them.

Another potential use for shallow running crankbaits is to attract fish going after bait schools. If you see small minnows jumping on the surface, you’ll most likely see an attack.

Predatory fish love to smash bait schools at the surface.

If you can closely match the pattern of the bait, you might just have a great day on the water. They key is to try and come as close as possible to what the fish are feeding on.


Medium Diving Crankbaits

Medium Diving Crankbaits: Norman Deep Baby N and Live Target Crawfish
Medium Diving Crankbaits: Top: Norman Deep Baby N 2″ 1/4 oz. Dives 6 – 8 feet. Bottom: Live Target Crayfish 2″ 3/8 oz. Dives 6 – 8 feet.

Medium diving crankbaits will usually have a longer bill than a shallow diver

They can range anywhere from  3 – 7 feet. This is not a hard rule.

They will usually have a longer bill than an shallow diver. They may be a bit heavier too. Most mid range to deep divers start out at 3/8th ounce and get heavier.

If you’re targeting staging ledges or drop offs just outside of spawning flats, this may be a good choice.

You should be able to find them in the most popular patterns such as shad and crayfish. If you’re working stained water, chartreuse or gold are also good options.


Deep Diving Crankbaits

Deep Diving Crankbaits Bomber Fat Free Shad, Norman Heavy DD22, Live Target Baitball Series
Deep Diving Crankbaits: Top: Bomber Fat Free Shad 3″, 3/4 oz. Dives 10 -14 Feet. Middle: Norman Heavy DD22 3″, 1 oz. Dives 11 – 17 Feet. Bottom: Live Target Magnum Shad Baitball Series 3″, 1oz. Dives 16 Feet.

Deep diving crankbaits usually have large bills. This helps them dive deeper than other crankbaits. They’re often equipped with ball bearings that help weight them down.

Deep divers can get very large. Some deep diving crankbaits are 6 inches in length. They can also easily weigh over an ounce.

To cast lures of this size, you’ll a need specialized rod that can handle the weight.

The benefits are that bass at depths of 15 – 25 feet don’t see crankbait presentations on a regular basis. This can generate reaction strikes from bass that would be otherwise hard to find.


Lipless Crankbaits

Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap 1/2 ounce.
Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap 1/2 oz. Sinking.

Lipless crankbaits do not have the bill or lip at the front. SInce they do not have a lip to cause them to dive, they are built to sink.  

They are often times weighted down by internal bbs which also act as noise makers. The noise created by the bbs inside the bait is intended to attract predators. It’s for this reason that lipless crankbaits are sometimes called rattlebaits.

Lipless crankbaits are often fished more rapidly and ripped through the water. They have a tighter wobble that is well suited to faster retrieves.

Unlike a lipped crankbait, their attachment point is at the top of the lure instead of at the front.

Crankbait Hardware

Crankbait Bill With Attachment Loop And Split Ring.
Crankbait Bill With Attachment Loop And Split Ring.

A crankbait will have a line tie at the front. This is a small metal loop that is usually on the bill or just above it on the body of the bait.

The metal loop will often have a split ring attached. A split ring is like a tiny key chain ring. It’s a metal circle that can be pried open and attached to the metal loop.

Attaching a split ring to a metal loop on a crankbait would be just like attaching a key ring to a key.

Split rings are added to the attachment point on a crankbait for a reason. Split rings allow the crankbait to run more naturally. This is because of friction.

It the split ring were not there, you’d be cinching the knot onto the attachment loop itself. This would cause friction and prevent the lure from swinging back and forth across its full range.

When a split ring is added, you tie directly onto the split ring. As you retrieve the lure, the wobbling is not inhibited by the knot.

In other words, the split ring allows the crankbait to swing back and forth freely.

Some crankbaits don’t come with split rings at the attachment point. In these cases you can buy after market split rings and fit them to your baits.

Treble Hooks

The crankbait will also be outfitted with at least 2 treble hooks.  There are exceptions to this. I have seen some crankbaits that carry single hooks.  But this is rare.

The treble hooks are mounted on metal loop attachment points . These points are usually at the center and rear of the crankbait.

Rapala Shad Rap With Treble Hook Attachment Point
Rapala Shad Rap With Treble Hook Attachment Point. Treble Hook Removed For Replacement.

Split rings are also used to attach the treble hooks to the attachment points on a crankbait body.

Many anglers replace the stock treble hooks that come with crankbaits.

Split ring pliers are a great tool to have for this purpose.

Crankbait Shapes

Crankbaits can vary in shapes significantly. One of the most common crankbait shapes you’ll find is a small baitfish.

This shape can be very round, or it can be a thinner version. The width of a crankbait will affect how it wobbles.

Crankbaits that are very rounded looking, usually have a wider wobble.

Conversely, crankbaits that have a thinner profile, have a tighter wobble.

The tightness of the wobble is something that anglers like to be able to pick based on the mood they perceive the fish to be in.

Another common crankbait shape is a crayfish. Crankbaits are often molded with tucked in claws, crayfish legs, crayfish shell ridges along the back.

Some crankbaits made to look like bait fish have molded or carved scales and fins.

Crankbait Paint Jobs

Crankbait paint jobs can get quite elaborate. But simple patterns and solid colors usually work just fine.

Typical paint jobs are made to look like shad, bluegills and crayfish. Some of the most popular colors are silvers, golds, chartreuse, reds, green and blues.

Crankbait paint jobs are protected by clearcoat applications that are meant to prevent the paint from being chipped away.

Crankbaits can get harsh treatment as they are bumped off rocks and logs frequently.

Crankbaits are also outfitted with eyes. These are usually stick on eyes that are placed at the front and on both sides of the bait.

Some crankbait eyes are molded on or simply painted. You can buy stick on eyes and place them on your crankbaits for added effect.

Crankbaits are a great way to catch species such as bass walleye and pike. They can be extremely useful for covering water and helping you find where the fish are. Give them a try, you won’t regret it.

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