Crankbait Buyers Guide

Crankbait Buyers Guide

Important Factors when Choosing Crankbaits

  • Depth
  • Lip Type
  • Body Type
  • Buoyancy
  • Size/Color


What depth will you be fishing?

Depth is the most important factor to consider when choosing a crankbait.  In order for a crankbait to be effective it must dive to the depth where the fish are.  The depth the lure runs at depends on the size of the lip.  Crankbaits are divided into three general depth categories, shallow, medium, and deep. 

Shallow diving crankbaits have small lips and usually dive between 1 to 5 feet.  They are used for very shallow water and often fished in and around cover.  They also can be used for fish that are feeding high in the water column. 

Medium diving crankbaits have mid sized lips and dive between 6 and 15 feet.  These crankbaits target deeper water and are popular when trolling medium depths and casting to deeper water from shore structures such as jetties. 

Deep diving crankbaits have very large lips and dive up to 30 feet.  These are used in open water to dive into the depths to target suspended fish. 


What types of lips should you use?

Crankbaits come in three different lip (bill) types; round bill, square bill, and lipless. 

Round bill crankbaits are designed for diving.  These lures dive to specific depths to target fish in certain areas of the water column. 

Square bill crankbaits are designed to bounce off cover and structure to induce reaction strikes.  They won’t deflect every time however, so if you are afraid of snagging a lure, square bills are not what you're looking for. 

Lipless crankbaits have no bills so they do not run a specific depth.  They are sinking lures that can be fished in any part of the water column and can be used in a variety of presentations.  Most are equipped with internal rattles to give off noise and have a tight side to side action that puts off vibration. 


What body type should you use?

Crankbaits come in several different body types but the most prominent are minnow and shad bodies. 

Minnow body crankbaits are often referred to as “stick” baits because of their long slender shape.  These baits feature a tight wobble and the long profile meant to target predator fish such as bass, walleye, and flathead catfish.  Stickbaits excel in early spring as anglers line the dams of Nebraska reservoirs in search of spawning walleyes as well as late fall when the larger profiles mimic big bait fish.

Shad body crankbaits have a smaller, rounder profile compared to minnow bodies.  This smaller profile opens up the range of fish that can be targeted.  Smaller shad body crankbaits can be used to target crappie and white bass as well as larger predator fish.  There is not many times of the year that fish cannot be caught on shad body crankbaits.  With shad being a main forage fish on most Nebraska reservoirs fish can be caught year round on these crankbaits.


How does buoyancy factor into a lures effectiveness?

Crankbaits can either float, sink, or suspend when they are at rest.

Floating crankbaits rise to the surface when at rest, these are helpful when fishing around cover and structure because when the lure makes contact with cover or structure a pause in the retrieve will allow the lure to float above the obstacle and not snag.  This is why square bill crankbaits float, it helps reduce snags around cover and structure.

Sinking crankbaits are lipless and are designed to be counted down to a specific depth before retrieving.  These are great for searching for fish throughout the water column or targeting suspended fish and generally sink at the rate of one foot per second.

Suspending crankbaits neither float nor sink when at rest but will pause in the water column.  Suspending crankbaits work well when fish are not aggressively feeding, pausing these crankbaits during the retrieve will put the lure in the face of a fish that is following but not striking and can often trigger a strike.  Depending on water temperature some suspending crankbaits will not have perfect neutral buoyancy and Storm Suspendots or Suspenstrips can be added to achieve neutral buoyancy.


How does size and color factor into a lure effectiveness?

Generally you can correlate the size of the fish you are targeting with to the size of the crankbait you will need. 

Panfish            1 to 3 inches

Bass                2 to 5 inches

Walleye           2 to 7 inches

Northern Pike  4 to 10 inches

Muskie            4 to 10 inches

There are two times a year when larger baits are preferable, in early spring large stick baits are used to target spawning walleyes along the dams of Nebraska Reservoirs and in late fall anglers step up the size of lures to match the larger baitfish and take advantage of aggressively feeding fish. 

The choice of color boils down to a few things.  Do you want to “match the hatch” and go with a realistic perch, bluegill, bass, or silver hues?  Do you want something bright and outlandish like firetiger or chartreuse, or something with flash like gold to add attraction?  Most of the time this comes down to the water clarity.  A good rule of thumb is in clear water you choose natural colors and in dirty water you use bright colors or colors that contrast with the stained water.  Nothing in fishing is an exact science so when fish aren’t biting don’t be afraid to experiment.