Tired of dragging that rubber worm across the bottom of the lake? Is lack of action just about to put you to sleep? Time to pull out the top hit-producing, heart-stopping action lure, the beloved crank bait.
Crank baits come in all colors sizes and shapes, but they are all wobbly, vibrating hard-baits that are best fished when bounced and knocked along underwater rock ledges and tree-stumps, looking much like a flailing shiners to most predator fish.
Crank baits all have a plastic lip on the tip, made for adjustment. The more you twist the lip, the more of a wobble or dive-action you’ll put on the lure’s presentation.
With crank baits, simple is best. Match the natural bait and water color where you’re fishing. Shad or crawdad (crayfish) colors correspond with most natural shades. When water has a dark-stained look, or skies are over-cast, chartreuse gives fish a chance to see bait in low-visibility conditions. Baits can be run on top, mid and in deep depths, depending on where the fish are. The faster you want the lure to go, the lighter the line you use. Ten to twelve-pound test will get your lure down deep, and is perfect for fish hanging just off of a rock drop-off, giving your lure the depth and dance that crank baits are known for. But if you’re in the heavier stuff—say weed beds with submerged debris—heavier line will not only keep your bait up higher, but it will also help you drag that rig back from the bottom.
Crank bait’s banging, bumping and thudding off of rock, ground debris or submerged tree stumps brings out fish. When a two or three pound bass sees a small thrashing bait fish (your crank bait) in what appears, to the fish, to be the shiner’s death-dance, the predator fish is annoyed. Sure the fish is hungry, but that’s not the main reason it hits your bait. It hits your bait because your bait has a lot of nerve to be there. This is what is better known as an anger-hit.
You don’t have to have watched the interaction of baitfish-to-predator fish long to realize that shiners spend most of their day hiding. They try very hard not to be seen. Even if they’re not feeling particularly well, instinct (self-preservation) will keep them down in the weeds, hiding. And predator fish know this. So if a teeny little shiner thinks it’s going to flip-flop right in the face of a larger fish—that sees it only as an appetizer—that fish is, for lack of a better term, dead meat.
Keep in mind that anger is the key to strikes on crank baits. The more attention drawn with your bait crashing off of rock and stump, the more likely that larger fish will not be able to resist your lure’s presentation, winding up stuck on to two or three treble-hooks as their payback.
For a sure shot at a nice bass, walleye, pike or pickerel, choose early morning or late afternoon to head for the coves or creek beds of the lake. Troll or cast your bait at varying speeds, as you bump along structure, trying to determine where the fish are at the moment. Cast off points and on to flats that have deep drop-offs. Keep up the banging and bottom-churning. When you hit something, take a second and let the bait rise back to the surface on its own. Fish can’t resist the waiting game.
When you finally do get a keeper fish, don’t try to reach down and lip-land, let’s say, a largemouth. You’re sure to get a handful of treble hooks imbedded in your skin for your trouble. And the net is no better an answer, since the same thing will happen, only to your net instead of to you. Needle-nose pliers are an angler’s best friend. Always—always—have at least one set close by.
One more tip to keep in mind about hard-bait, you must keep up on your gear. Rusty hooks and un-tuned lures (along with old line and poorly tied knots) are sure to break your heart. Not because you won’t get a hit on your bait. But because the fine fish that was on your line just moments ago is now waving you good-bye as she heads back to the spawning grounds, never giving you or your un-kept gear a thought ever again.