Gerald Almy: Five tips for fishing crankbaits

Gerald Almy

Crankbaits are one of my favorite lures to fish. You can catch just about any species with them, and they’re easy lures for beginners to use. Simply choose the right depth offering, tie it on, cast out, and start “cranking.” Just reeling the lure back is one of the most effective retrieves of all.

Certainly that presentation is all you need to know to get started. But here are a few tricks I’ve learned from fishing with expert anglers that might come in handy when simply casting and reeling don’t do the trick.

1. Choose the wrong depth lure. Most people select a crankbait to match the depth they’re fishing so the lure runs very close to the bottom, perhaps a few feet above it. That’s fine if the bass are in an aggressive mood, but if the quarry is in a funk, try this ploy: choose a crankbait designed to run deeper than the water you’re fishing.

The plug will plow right into bottom debris, leaves and sticks, kicking up a fuss like a scurrying crayfish as it bounces and ricochets off rocks and rubble. If the water is 8 feet deep, for instance, choose a plug designed to run 10-15 feet.

Cast the lure past the area where you expect fish to be, so you can crank it down to the bottom before you reach the cover. Holding the rod tip low to the water or even submerged in it helps the plug dive quickly.

Reel fast and steadily until you hit muck or rocks. Then work the bait back in a stop-and-go, staccato fashion — reel a few turns, then pause. Reel one turn, and then hesitate, like a crayfish scurrying backwards erratically as it tries to escape a predator.

You can use crayfish-shaped lures for this tactic, but traditional baitfish-shaped crankbaits also work well. It’s the aggressive, off-beat presentation and bottom-stirring commotion that seem to trigger the strikes, rather than the exact shape of the lure.

Yes, you’ll hang up some. It’s worth it for a live well full of jumbo bass or walleyes.

2. Stop and wait. This is one of my favorite tricks when fishing crankbaits. Many anglers pause briefly during their retrieves. But try this trick. Stop reeling and let the lure slowly drift all the way back to the surface.

Fish don’t see this action very often and that can be the key for unlocking strikes on a hard-pressured lake like Anna, near Fredericksburg. Of course, this method also works well with suspending baits that hang in place, tempting trailing fish to smack them.

3. Add a trailer. If action is slow, try putting a small plastic twister tail or strip of pork rind to the rear treble hook. This gives the lure extra bulk and a different look than fish have seen. It’s particularly deadly for stripers and walleyes.

4. Choose the right color. Match the color of predominant forage, particularly in clear water. It may be shad, minnows, bluegills, or crayfish. Duplicate that and you draw more strikes. If the water is murky or muddy, go with bright hot colors such as orange, chartreuse, firetiger or red.

5. Skip it. Try skipping or pitching crankbaits far back under boat docks. You’ll break a few lures, but this is often the best way to trigger aggressive fish into striking. You can even bend the eyelet of the lure slightly to one side with pliers to get it to run towards the pilings and knock against them, inciting reaction strikes.

Sometimes just chucking and reeling is all you need to do with crankbaits. But when fish are a bit more skittish or close-mouthed, try these refinements and see if they don’t improve your catch rate.

Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.