How to Fish a Crankbait: Tips and Tricks for Bass

Updated on December 8, 2022 by
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The best way to fish a crankbait is to target deep dropoffs that topwater lures cannot reach, by selecting the correct depth lure and varying the retrieve rate.

Crankbaits have been one of the most productive fishing lures of all time. Throughout any season of the year, anglers have found ways to make their crankbaits produce catches when other lures simply can’t. Some of the most prominent professional bass anglers have won championships using crankbaits in just the right time, place, and method to catch fish. 

A crankbait is traditionally made of balsa wood or some other type of wood, but companies today use much more modern techniques that create stronger lures that are better suited for the specific task they want to achieve. There are a number of different types of crankbaits that include shallow, medium, and deep diving cranks, and also what most anglers refer to as a lipless crankbait. 

The crankbait wasn’t truly invented until about 1915, when the Creek Chub Bait Company produced the first-ever minnow-like plug that featured a diving lip. In this article, we will cover some of the most basic information about how to rig a crankbait, and when and how you should use it to catch fish. 

This article is part of my Complete Guide to Bass Fishing series that you might be interested in.

How to Rig a Crankbait

Properly rigging a crankbait is fairly simple, although there are some new methods that have become popular. A crankbait is traditionally rigged straight to your line without any sinkers or other tackle items included. Most anglers prefer to use a swivel a few feet above the crankbait, which will allow them to use a fluorocarbon leader line that will provide extra camouflage for the lure. 

A popular method for rigging crankbaits in the winter or early spring includes using a bullet sinker or other weight that’s tied a few feet above your crankbait. This extra weight will cause the lure to sink down far below its normal cruising depths as you retrieve it in the water. This is commonly referred to as a Carolina rig as it can be used with soft plastic worms throughout the year to entice fish to bite. 

Some anglers have also opted to rig an extra bit of line from an actual Carolina rig and worm and tie a crankbait behind the worm. This is done by tying a one or two foot length of monofilament line from the worm’s hook and connecting it to the crankbait. This unique rig is one that anglers have been experimenting with over the last few years and is meant to look like a small bait fish chasing after a fleeing night crawler or other type of worm. 

Crankbait Techniques

A crankbait is effective by mimicking what a small bait fish looks like as it swims through the water. The distinct design of the crankbait’s ‘plug’, or body portion helps to give it the distinct ‘wobble’ motion that makes this lure so effective. The dive lip on a crankbait may vary in shape, size, or angle. These lips are specially designed to make the crankbait dive down to a certain depth depending on the angle at which the lip is at. 

The most important thing to remember when fishing with a crankbait is to keep the lure at the target depth where the fish are. Depending on what time of year, or the weather conditions, fish are likely to be suspended at different depths in the water column. You can better target these different depths by learning to properly use a shallow, medium, or deep diving crankbait. 

Retrieving a crankbait is very simple and straightforward. You only need to cast your lure out to the chosen location where you want it to land and begin reeling the line in once it finally hits the water. One of the biggest mistakes novice anglers make is to retrieve the crankbait at the wrong speed. 

There are times when fish will be a bit more sluggish and will only strike at a crankbait when it is moving very slowly through the water column. However, there are other times when fish are more likely to bite a fast moving crankbait. In some cases, crankbaits can effectively be used to catch fish when they’re driven into the bottom of a lake or other body of water so that the lip actually digs into the silt or mud on the bottom and causes a large cloud of debris to be sent into the water. 

The key to knowing just how quickly and at what depth the retrieve your crankbait comes with lots of research, as well as trial and error. When you’re fishing a particular lake, it’s a good idea to experiment with different reel speeds to see what speed the fish will bite on that particular day. When you catch a fish at a certain depth and speed, be sure to make a note of it and try it many more times to see if that is the best pattern for catching fish. 

Target Areas 

The most productive location to fish a crankbait will depend on what time of year you’re fishing. It will also depend on other factors such as temperature, water depth, water clarity, structure, and a host of other variables. One of the most productive methods for fishing a crankbait is to target areas that have a significant depth change, ledge or drop-off. This will typically be where fish suspend and lire in wait for unsuspecting bait fish to swim by. 

In order to understand the best location to use a crankbait, you’ll need to have a thorough understanding of the depth at which you’re fishing. This means that you’ll need to use a depth finder, or other type of electronic equipment to get a better sense of the lake bottom depth before you ever make the first cast. 

Using a crankbait at significant depths is a good strategy for hot weather in the summer since bass will retreat to deeper, cooler water. This is especially useful when passing near standing timer or large rocks as well since fish often use any structure they can find to hide and ambush their prey. 

Lipless Crankbaits 

Lipless crankbaits are an ideal choice of lure for shallow water fishing when the weather is mild and bass are in shallow water near the banks and points of most major lake or river systems. These lures will only go down to a certain depth depending on their weight and have a higher tendency to get snagged on underwater structure as they don’t have the lip that other crankbaits do, which is capable of making lipped crankbaits glance off of most structure that it encounters as it is retrieved. 

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Donny Karr

Donny Karr is a Tournament Angler and writer whose work has been featured in magazines for nearly a decade. He is a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. He enjoys bass and crappie fishing in the lakes around the south-eastern United States, as well as trout fishing in the streams and rivers of the Appalachian mountains. He enjoys keeping up with the latest news and gear items in the fishing industry and is always looking forward to his next outdoor adventure. Donny has written for Georgia Outdoor News, Paddling Space, Man Can Outdoors, Alabama Outdoor News, and Bassmaster.