The classic crankbait. What could be simpler than chucking out a plug and windin’ it back in? Occasionally it will be intercepted by a sportfish of nearly any species and since it’s armed with treble hooks that fish will likely be hooked even if the angler is half asleep. That is the attitude many anglers harbor about crankbaits – I learned that over years of guiding professionally. Who can blame them because a lot of the time it actually does go that way; huck, wind and viola – fish on.
Well, as with many things that seem so outwardly simple in fishing, cranking is a complex game and amazingly successful when performed at a high level. Let’s look at cranking scenarios closer, but first let me specify some crankbait lingo and limitations.
Lipped crankbaits dive on the retrieve, float up when paused and are the most common. Lipless crankbaits typically sink and are full of rattles. They play by different rules all together. Since lipped crankbaiting is a horizontal game where the lure must be retrieved to dive, there is a practical maximum depth of about 20 feet. If your fish are 30 feet down, you probably need a different tool. Realistically, my crankbaiting stops around the 17-20 foot mark – so will yours unless you invest in specialized lures and rods. And while lipless cranks can be fished at any depth, the deeper the water, the more vertically they must be fished, typically in a yo-yo fashion like jigging a spoon. Efficiency goes away as the retrieve gets more vertical, so the hard depth floor is still around 30 feet. Also, crankbaits can be snaggy, but the key to minimizing this is speed – the faster you wind, the less you’ll snag because the lure will run more nose-down as the diving lip will protect the trebles and the lure will deflect harder off anything it does hit. Ironically, you want it to hit things – lots of things – because that deflection is a great strike generator. Since crankbaits are among the more expensive lures an angler can buy, I strongly suggest procuring a Frabill Telescoping Lure Retriever. It will save you tons of money in the long run.
Now let’s examine specific scenarios, starting shallow and moving deeper. One of my favorite cranking scenarios is working visible cover or flats in 0- to 6-feet of water. I most commonly do this with a “squarebill crankbait” or lipless crankbait. A squarebill crank’s diving lip has distinct corners as the name implies; they make the lure far more weedless than other cranks around hard cover like stumps and rock. I like a Berkley Pitbull squarebill for their wobbling action and great colors. Casts are short with an emphasis on accuracy around cover and I make every attempt to hit pieces of wood, dock pilings, rocks, etc with the bait to provoke that reactive strike.
Working large shallow flats is accomplished with the same Pitbull squarebill or a Berkley Warpig lipless crankbait. If the flat is too deep for the Pitbull to dig in the bottom (meaning more than about six feet), I’ll switch to a Wildthang lipped crank – it has a “hunting”, rambling action and runs a little deeper. If there is not much cover or a weedy bottom which will hang the lipped bait, I’ll work the Warpig, most commonly with a bit of yo-yo to the retrieve. This bait is very loud and fast, perfect for combing vast flats and drawing strikes.
Another great scenario for cranking is deeper offshore structure, especially isolated humps and rock piles. Here I’ll reach for the Berkley Digger because of its steep dive angle and ability to stay down for most of the retrieve. It is imperative to cast past the target pile so that the Digger has time to dive and make contact with said pile. That is how you generate the most strikes. I’ll work all the way around a hump if possible, mixing up my casting angles. Channel swings and drop-offs are also prime targets and I prefer they be no deeper than about 15 feet if possible, making lure contact with the structure more consistent.
Rip-rap or rock dams is the last distinct pattern I’d like to mention. They can be worked with any of the above-mentioned crankbaits, along with a Flickershad or Bad Shad (more subtle) depending on the depth range you want to work and water clarity. I like to cast at 45 degree angles to the dam until I establish a productive depth, then put my boat in that depth and cast parallel, thereby keeping the plug running in the productive range.
All my cranking is done on fiberglass rods by St Croix; the Mojo Bass cranking rods. The moderate action they feature is perfect for cushioning strikes, since the bait is typically moving forward, getting solid hook-ups is tougher on faster action graphite rods. I use the 6’10” “Target Cranker” for its accuracy around tight cover, while the 7’4” “Crankster” handles most other cranking. Deep cranking is handled with the 7’8” “Big Crankster” because it casts the larger baits farther (allowing more time at depth) and has more power in general. I top the latter two with Abu Garcia’s Revo “Winch” for its low 5.4:1 gear ratio and long handle which produces tons of cranking power, while the Target Cranker has a Revo SX in 6.4:1 ratio for faster retrieves. All are spooled with Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon, typically 10-15lb.
See, maybe cranking really is simple. Follow these patterns and presentation details and I promise more bass and walleyes will visit your boat!