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Crankbait Fishing – Complete Beginners Guide

Crankbaits are one of the most popular choices for bass fishing. One reason they are so popular is because of how much water they can cover in a short amount of time. They are great for finding where fish are holding in unfamiliar waters.

They come in all shapes and sizes and more colors than you can imagine. They are made out of either hard plastic or wood and are designed to mimic a swimming baitfish, crawfish, or other prey.

A unique aspect to crankbaits is their lip or bill on the front of the bait. This lip is designed to get the lure beneath the surface when you reel the bait in. The diving depth of the lure is determined by the size of the bill. The bigger and longer the bill the deeper the bait will dive.

There are also crankbaits without bills known as “lipless crankbaits,” we will go more in depth into their differences below.

Types of Crankbaits

1. Squarebill Crankbaits

Squarebill’s are shallow diving crankbaits. They generally dive between 0 to 5 feet deep. Because of this, they are very popular during the spring and fall, when bass move up to shallow water for spawning or searching for food.

As the name implies squarebill’s have a squared lip. This squared lip is designed to help the bait deflect off wood lay downs and rocks without getting snagged.

The deflection is often what causes fish to strike because it causes an irradiate movement that fish interpret as being spotted and their meal trying to get away.

In-depth Squarebill GuideSquarebill Buyer’s Guide

2. Mid-Depth Crankbaits

Mid-depth diving crankbaits run 6 to 12 feet deep and have a rounded bill. The rounded bill generates a tighter wobble action than squarebills.

The body size of mid-depth crankbait’s come in a wide range, which makes it easy to find the perfect profile to match what you are looking for. These crankbaits can be very effective throughout the year.

Two Strike King 3XD in Delta Red and Chartreuse on a log

3. Deep Diving Crankbaits

Deep diving crankbaits can dive 12+ feet, with some reaching up to 25 feet deep. These are typically larger bodied but there are a few models that aren’t so oversized.

These are perfect for targeting suspended bass during the summer. As the temperature starts to rise, bass typically start schooling deep on offshore humps, rock ledges and points.

The great thing about targeting these bass is when you catch one, you can get the whole school fired up. When that happens, you can often catch one after the other. This is the reason deep diving crankbaits are one of my favorite lures for the warm summer months.

In-depth Deep Diving Crankbait GuideDeep Diving Crankbait Buyer’s Guide

Two Strike King 10XD crankbaits on log

4. Lipless Crankbait

Lipless crankbaits are unlike the other 3 types of crankbaits. As the name suggest, they don’t have a lip that makes them dive. Instead, lipless crankbaits sink and their diving depth is controlled by their weight and your retrieval speed.

This makes them super versatile, they can be fished in 1ft of water or super deep in 70ft of water.

Lipless crankbaits are great for hopping along bottom or fishing in or around grass.

In-depth Lipless Crankbait GuideLipless Crankbait Buyer’s Guide

Two Lucky Craft LV 500 lipless crankbaits on rock

How to Fish a Crankbait

Like other power fishing lures, crankbaits are fished fast to cover a lot of water. Because crankbaits take some time to get to their designed depth you want to be able to cast as far as possible so the bait spends as much time as possible at your desired depth. It is also a good idea to reel faster at first to help get the bait down quickly. When fishing a crankbait keeping your rod tip low can help get a bit of extra depth.

A basic, steady retrieve will catch fish but adding in some slight modifications can increase your productivity. When fishing around cover try slowing or pausing the bait for a second giving inactive bass a chance to strike. In open water you can try a stop and go retrieve. The key to crankbait fishing is locating bass then paying attention to what is causing triggering the strike. Some days it will be a fast steady retrieve others might be a stop and go. If you can manage to find the pattern then you are in for a good day on the water.

Upgrading Crankbait Hooks

The hooks that come stock on most crankbaits are pretty bad and should be replaced. When replacing treble hooks make sure you put them on the correct way. The front treble should be attached so that one hook is facing the front of the bait and the other two can fold up flush with the bait. The back hook should be opposite so that the two hooks are facing the front and the last hook facing the back. This will help prevent snags and increase hookup ratio.

I like to use a red hook as the front hook of my crankbaits. Red hooks won’t get you more bites but it does help where the bass will hit the bait. As bass approach a bait they are looking for a place to strike and having a red hook gives them that last second target. Having the bass hit the front hook will give you a better chance of getting the second hook into them as they fight. Hooking a fish by the back hook leaves the bait out in front of them and makes it much easier for them to throw the bait.

Recommended hardware upgrades: Owner Hyperwire Split Rings (Size 4 and 5), Gamakatsu EWG, Owner ST-36

Maintaining and Fine Tuning Crankbaits

After deflecting crankbaits off rock and hardcover for a couple seasons you will inevitably run into a bait that doesn’t track straight anymore. You can re-balance your crankbait by adjusting the eyelet that you tie onto.

If your bait tracks to the right, you need to bend the eyelet slightly to the left. If your bait tracks to the left, you need to bend the eyelet slightly to the right. You can use pliers to adjust the eyelet.

Make small adjustments and test to determine if more adjustments are needed.

How to Fix Crankbaits That Swim Sideways

  1. Lay your pliers flat along the bill and clamp down on the eyelet
  2. Bend the eyelet in the opposite direction that the bait had been turning
  3. Make very small adjustments at a time and test after each to reevaluate

Fine Tuning Crankbaits for Fishing Around Docks

When fishing docks it can be beneficial to have a crankbait that dives sideways. By tuning your crankbait to the left or right you to cast alongside a dock and instead of fishing alongside it, your lure will dive under it. This allows you to get your bait in more prime holding areas and will greatly improve your abilities around docks.

Crankbait vs Jerkbait – How to Spot the Difference

Red crankbait on the left compared to a jerkbait on the right

Both crankbaits and jerkbait have lipped bills (excluding lipless crankbaits), are hard bodied, and have treble hooks. Even though they have a few similarities, there are a few ways to tell the difference between the two.

The easiest way to tell the difference is the shape of their body. Crankbaits have a thicker and rounder body, while jerkbaits have a thinner and longer body.

The bills on crankbaits are typically much larger as well. Crankbaits rely on their bills to reach their target depth and provide their wobbling action. Jerkbaits typically don’t dive as deep and rely on you jerking them to get their desired action so they don’t require bills are large.

The last way to spot the difference is their treble hooks. Crankbaits have two treble hooks which are typically more stout. On the hand, jerkbaits have small thin treble hooks and can have up to three treble hooks.

Frequently Asked Questions About Crankbaits

Are Crankbaits Good for Bass?

Crankbaits are great when fishing for bass. They can be fished fast in order to cover a lot of water while you are searching for bass. The quick movement and action is one of the best for triggering bass to bite.

Do Crankbaits Have to Hit Bottom?

Crankbaits don’t have to hit bottom to be effective. They can also be used for targeting fish suspended off bottom. Deflecting off bottom is a great option though.

Do You Use a Weight With a Crankbait?

Weights are not needed when fishing a crankbait. Billed crankbaits are designed to dive to a certain depth. If you need to get extra depth out of a crankbait you can add a weight right above the connection knot. The extra weight will change the action of the crankbait.

Can You Use a Swivel With a Crankbait?

Swivels can be used with crankbaits to make it faster to switch between lures. Using a swivel will affect the action of your crankbait. It will also make your lure look a little less natural. This may or may not be an issue depending on water clarity and how finicky the fish are.

Do Crankbaits Float or Sink?

Billed crankbaits float when they aren’t moving but will dive when being reeled in. Lipless crankbaits sink on their own and require to be reeled in to control depth.

Are Crankbaits Topwater?

Crankbaits are not topwater lures. Billed crankbaits float but dive when reeled in. There are some that designed to dive very shallow and stay close to the surface but they aren’t considered topwater.

What Colors Are Best?

We have an in-depth guide on the best crankbait colors and when to use them.