Gerald Almy: Tips for fishing crankbaits

Gerald Almy

If you were forced to settle for one lure to fish with, it would be hard to top the versatile crankbait. This bait is a favorite of both novice and expert anglers alike.

You can catch just about any species with them, and they’re easy 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.

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 doesn’t produce.

Choose a lure that runs deeper than the water depth. 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 bass or other gamefish are in an aggressive mood, but if the quarry is in a funk, try this tactic: choose a crankbait designed to run deeper than the water you’re fishing.

This way the lure 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 motion – reel a few turns, then pause. Reel one turn, and then hesitate, like a crayfish scurrying backwards 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 precise shape of the lure.

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

Stop and wait. This is a very productive but little known tactic for 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. This method also works well with suspending crankbaits that hang in place, tempting trailing fish to smack them.

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.

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, fire tiger or red.

Pitch 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.

It’s certainly true that in some cases, just casting out a crankbait and reeling it back in is all you need to do to succeed. But when fish are reluctant to strike, try these unusual tactics and see if they don’t improve your catch rate.

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