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Identifying what characteristics make a special crankbait


Many people are having problems with what most people call the idiot bait, a basic crankbait. This, and future, articles are trying to help identify characteristics that can improve your crankbait techniques. These are some of my observations made using crankbaits as primary search-baits, and some special qualities to seek.

People picking up a crankbait for the first time can be confused by the great amount of information available. Some false, some true, some unproven. This article is trying to help identify what makes for a successful crankbait. The idiot bait reference was first given to the Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap baits, because any idiot could catch a fish on them. But, these baits have probably caught more fish than anything other than soft plastics or jigs.

A crankbait is, for our purposes, any lure with a hard body, with attachments for hooks, intended for subsurface fishing (excluding hard jerkbaits). Many have lips, some do not. Most have two hook eyelets and a line tie, and can be classified into four subset categories. All crankbait styles tend to work deeper with lines of small diameter and shallower with thicker lines. They also vary depth with rod position. going about a foot deeper as a rod tip is lowered a foot and a foot shallower as a rod tip is raised 1 to 2 feet.

1._Shallow crankbaits can be usually identified by a smaller bill, usually less than 1 inch, and a lip aligned at a large angle to the lures centerline. The shallowest runners often have nearly perpendicular bills. Some bills are rounded, but many are fairly square, the latter are often called coffin or squared bills. These lures dive to a maximum depth between 1 and 5 feet on typical line sizes with the rod tip held about 2 feet above the surface. Different manufactures have different depth criteria for lures they class as "shallow" baits, and there is great variety within the depth ranges.*

2. Medium-diving crankbaits usually have bodies similar to shallow cranks, but have a larger bill aligned at smaller angles to the lures centerlines. The larger bills are seldom more than half the length of the body. These baits normally are rated to dive from 4 to 12 feet. Once again there is great variety in the manufacturer's classifications.*

3. Deep-diving crankbaits are identified by large bills that range between one-half to the full length of the lure's body. Many, if not most, have lure bodies that are also larger than those of most shallow and medium-diving cranks. The bills force these baits down to maximum depths for their size and shape. They normally go to depths from 12 to 20+ feet. But, only a few specially designed deep-divers actually get below about 16 feet using line diameters typical of most bass angling. Lure makers tend to overrate the depths achieved by these products. *

4. Lipless crankbaits, typified by the original Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap, come in many slightly-modified shapes with added or removed fin-like appendages. But, most retain the same basic design. In general they are fish-body or eye shaped with flattened or compressed sides, unlike the more rounded bodies of many billed crankbaits. Lipless baits do not have appended bills. They produce a tighter wiggling action created by water pressure on the top of the lures surface and/or a flattened upper lure face. These lures generally run near the depth they are allowed to sink after a cast, rising slowly in a direct line toward the angler while cranked, and sinking whenever cranking is paused. Some depth control is also possible by large variations in retrieve speed. Lipless baits almost always rattle. *

Are there other styles that are called crankbaits? Yes, but the above categories cover most of the baits that the general fishing public considers crankbaits.

The primary purpose of the bill is to get the bait down to the required depth, with a fish-like swimming action imparted during the retrieve. Some people say that they are supposed to resemble baitfish in the retrieve, others claim they can resemble crawfish. We are trying to get the basses attention, by creating a wiggling bait. Some contain internal rattles, often loose BBs or steel shot, to create noise during the retrieve. Others do not.

There are two basic material used to create crankbaits: plastic and wood. There are also three different buoyancy styles: sinking, suspending, and floating-diving crankbaits. Each has their place in bassing.

Sinking increases the depths at which these lures can be retrieved. They will start at any depth the angler has patience to allow them to sink. But, the retrieve from deep water is generally a rising curve toward the angler, and sinkers are more easily snagged and lost on bottom cover.

Suspending lures hold at approximately the depth attained during retrieves, hovering, and allowing a slower, sometimes more tantalizing, retrieve than floating-diving crankbaits. They seldom dive or remain more than a few inches deeper than their floating-diving counterparts. Most crankbaits produced today are the floating diving type. They float slowly toward the surface when reeling is halted. We will concentrate on floating-diving lures for the rest this article.

Plastic floating-divers normally have the hollow bodies, and often these are used as rattle chambers. Most wooden baits (not all) do not contain a rattle chamber, so they are generally not as noisy on retrieve. There are many crankbait manufacturers that produce all bait types, so it is mostly a matter of personal choice as to which brands to use. There are also many different sizes/weights in each style of bass-sized crankbaits, ranging from 1/8 oz, up to and including, 1.5 oz or larger baits. All sizes catch fish at times, the anglers job is to intuitively or experimentally find which type is best at the moment.

The floating-diving crankbaits cause most of the confusion, because they offer the greatest number of choices in styles, colors, sizes, and in manufacturer's descriptive terms. Can you use a shallow crankbait in deep water, or vice-versa? Sure you can, but does it make the most sense to do so? Sometimes, it does, but we'll cover that some other time.

The objective when selecting a new crankbait is to find one that does something different than those you already use effectively. This could involve many things, such as ability to dive deeper or more steeply, run straighter and truer, "hunting" (a special term attributed to Rick Clunn), or some other distinct movement or sound. Some of these baits may already be in your tackle box. You know, the ones that consistently out catch the others, or catch bigger fish? THOSE are the special baits I am talking about for this article. How do we identify those lures? Here is what I gained from extensive testing.

David Fritts’, Mr. Crankbait, contends, that not all crankbaits are made alike. That only special baits, generally 5 or 10 out of 100, possess such characteristics. He jokingly says that they were made at 11:30 on Wednesday morning, when the workers were performing at their highest levels. Well, he was right. Mr. Fritts’ also contends, that when he finds one of these baits, he puts it in a special place, and of his special baits, he claims he would not take $1000 for any one of them. I have to agree with him on this assertion. I have 34 baits that I consider special. These are the baits I use when I need to catch fish. A short observation is in order. In September 2002, a friend asked me to help him pattern some fish for an upcoming big money tournament. He said we would be fishing mostly crankbaits. From the back of his boat, my big 5 fish weighed 15-9, while his big 5 fish weighed in around 2.5 lbs. All small dinks, that were under the size limit for Texas. THAT is what I consider a special crankbait. Now, back to David Fritts theory, lets do the testing now.

Pool testing at one facility revealed, that out of 100 identical crankbaits (not the same color, but the same body style and type) only 7 were considered to have the unique actions that catch more fish, according to the test anglers. These lures dove quicker, stayed down longer, went a little deeper, ran straighter, and/or came up on a steeper angle when nearing the point of retrieve.

Twenty-two additional test baits were considered almost perfect, but needed some additional testing/modifying to get them to that special level. Many lures never reached the desired level of performance, and unfortunately, these are often part of the lures sold in stores. Even after extensive tuning, some of the 22 baits never made it into the SPECIAL category, but they still exceeded the other 71 baits in performance on the water.

The on water application of these 100 baits was quite startling. The original 7 special baits, out caught the next 22, at about a 5 to 1 ratio. The 22 baits that were close, out caught the remaining 71, by about a 3 to 1 ratio. Was this due to applications? Or was it true that these special 7 had some unseen attributes? Or were we fishing them differently, with more confidence? Perhaps, but the final numbers made believers of the 2 of us. These tests were run in the spring, summer and early fall of 1999. We always had one of the 7 tied on, and then went through the other 22, then the 71. So, it couldn’t be done in a shorter time period with 2 people fishing both at the same time. Did the differences in season effect our results? Well, remember, we always had one tied on, and we fished one of these 7 against all the other baits, rotating about every 30 minutes on the other baits, and about every hour on the 7. Another startling observation, was that the big 7, didn’t catch near as many short or under fish. Most of them were keepers, not so the other 93. We never kept weight numbers, but did measure each fish. We made at least 500 casts with each bait.

So, did we fish the 7 that much more than the others? Yes we did, but we were keeping track of casts and fish caught within certain time periods.. The 7 still won, hands down. We then tried to identify what made them special (an exercise in futility). We even X-rayed the 29 baits, dry rattled them for distinctive sounds, examined with a magnifying glass. We never found anything that we could identify that made them special, except the qualities mentioned above.

So, here is what I am looking for when I search for THE SPECIAL CRANKBAIT (you can make up your own rules for your situation). I want them to get down deeper faster, run deeper, straighter for a longer period and come back to the surface at a steeper angle, than all of my other similar baits. This provides what I call maximized action. You know you are getting the bait to act the way you want it to, when you retrieve the lure, and it actually runs underneath you, and then tracks upward to the surface, coming back to you, as if from the other side of the boat. I consider this characteristic identifies what I consider, a special bait.

How do you identify that special bait in the store? Good question, but here are some ways to tip the scales in your favor. You can purchase more hand carved/tuned baits, or you can buy some more expensive foreign made baits that come much more finely tuned than most American mass produced baits. Most of these foreign produced baits do not come without a price, but as a general rule, they run truer/straighter/deeper than the American mass produced baits. Many tackle manufacturers have added a TOP or PRO line-up of baits. Without any tank testing, these seem to be more highly tuned toward the results that I am looking for. This is just a broad observation, and I am not knocking nor pushing any bait company. Just some observations of a couple of avid fishermen. Oh, neither one of us got any special compensation from ANY company, to not be influenced by a monetary factor. We did this all from our own pockets and our own time.

Thad Rains

Next, That crankbait won’t hunt. Or will it? (suggested by Ralph).

· *Special thanks go to Ralph Manns. He helped tremendously in the bait writing of this article, especially in the definitions of each bait.

by Thad Rains


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