Selecting the Right Crankbaits

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Click to view this article in the Fall 2016 issue of ADVENTURESS magazine.

By Debbie Hanson

The first time I went to my local tackle shop to add a few crankbaits to my bass fishing arsenal, a million and one questions started swirling through my head. There were literally hundreds of different sizes, different bills, different colors, some with rattles, some without rattles, crankbaits that would sink and crankbaits that would float. How in the world would I weed through the myriad of lures hanging in front of me to find a handful of truly productive crankbaits that would work well for my fishing situations?

While the answers most often come through experience and time on the water, the good news is you get the benefit of a head start. The following are some simple tips that will help you decide which crankbaits are likely to work best given the area you plan to fish and the conditions.

1. Keep in mind the bigger the “lip” or “bill” (clear plastic or metal piece on the front of the lure), the deeper the lure will dive. If you plan to fish deeper water, such as reservoirs or phosphate pits with depths of 15 to 20 feet, you will want to look for crankbaits with large, round bills.

2. If you plan to fish shallow areas with cover, you can select a few medium or shallow-running crankbaits with square bills. Square bills are excellent for bumping off structure.

3. Lipless 1/4-ounce crankbaits are a good option to try when fishing shallow water (2 to 5 feet) because of the sound and vibration they put off.

4. Do your best to balance line diameter with the depth you are fishing and the size of lure. Most lure manufacturers will include the line diameter and depth details right on the lure package.

5. Focus on ‘match the hatch.’ Although this term is most often used in the world of fly fishing, it can certainly apply to crankbaits as well. For example, when I’m fishing a freshwater lake system and bluegill are present, I try to select crankbaits in bluegill-imitating colors. Or, if I’m fishing in an area where I’ve noticed schools of shad, then I select crankbaits that resemble that type of prey.

6. When  it comes to choosing between a tight-wiggling crankbait and a wide-wobbling crankbait, consider the fact that the wide-wobbling cranks will generally be more effective when the water is cloudy (the extra motion will help bass locate your lure) or when the fish are aggressive. Tight-wiggling crankbaits are better for cool, clear water conditions when bass aren’t as willing to expend the energy needed to pursue more active prey. During the late summer and early fall, try wide-wobbling cranks. While tight-wiggling cranks are often more effective during the late fall through early spring months.

7. Pick colors of metallic gold or chrome on sunny days when the light can reflect off the lure and attract the fish. On days that are cloudy or when the water is muddy, try using white for a color.

8. Crankbaits with rattles are good to use when the water is a bit discolored or muddy. If the fish seem pressured or if the water is clear, add a fluorocarbon leader to reduce line visibility and use a crankbait without a rattle to avoid spooking your quarry.

You’ll find crankbaits are a lot of fun to fish with due to their versatility and ability to cover a wide area. Stumps, timber, brush piles, ledges, docks or rock piles are all ideal places to test these lures out. Ideally, you want your crankbait bumping off some sort of structure or cover to create an erratic motion that causes a reaction strike from a bass.

Just don’t be afraid to cast near cover for fear of getting hung up. You have to throw those crankbaits as close as you can to structure in order to get strikes. Once you’ve hooked up with a big bass, then you can figure out how to retrieve your lure. That’s a good problem to have!

Debbie Hanson is an avid angler, freelance writer, and website publisher who resides in Estero, Florida. Her website,, offers educational fishing and boating information for women.