How To Use A Crankbait ……. Please Share!

“A Lure Fishermen Who Doesn’t Know How To Use A Crankbait Is Like A Tennis Player With No Backhand. He Lacks A Basic Skill – And It Will Cost Him Dearly!”

Doc Lures

How To Use A Crankbait: Masterclass

Figuring out how to use a crankbait shouldn’t require a PhD in astrophysics. Yes, there is a lot to learn, and there’s no substitute for getting out on the water and giving it a go.

On the other hand, a little research can definitely make learning how to fish a crankbait quicker and easier……. and that’s what this post is about.

During fishing masterclasses I get a lot of questions on how to use a crankbait properly. Some are newbie questions but others are more advanced.

That’s the reason behind this post – I wanted to give newbies and a great start, plus make sure there were plenty of juicy tips for seasoned crankbait fishing enthusiasts. I hope you enjoy it ……. and if so, be sure and leave a comment at the end!

Table Of Contents: How To Use A Crankbait (Complete Guide)

Crankbait Fishing 101


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Chapter 1: Basic Crankbait Fishing 101


What Is A Crankbait?

I’ll start from the very beginning and if you already know the basics then feel free to skip on ahead.

Even if you don’t yet know how to use a crankbait, you probably already have a pretty good idea of what a one is. Maybe Dr Google has already set you on the path to endless fishing knowledge. But just in case, here’s a quick summary:

“A crankbait is a hard bodied lure, which has either a) a diving lip somewhere on the underside of the head or b) a tow point (the part where you tie your line) on top of the head AND has a swimming action when retrieved or trolled at constant speed.”

Now, if that crankbait definition seems simple, then let me muddy the waters, so to speak.

The humble crankbait has a few aliases that sometimes create some confusion.

For example, in the USA crankbaits are often referred to as “plugs”, while the term “wobblers” is more common in Europe. “Bibbed lures” and “minnow lures” are also used by crankbait fishing enthusiasts in some other parts of the world, such as Australia.

To make things even more confusing, the crankbait fishing gurus have created various sub-groups. There are sometimes fierce arguments about whether some types of fishing lures are crankbaits……  or whether they fit into some other family of lures. For example, jerkbaits (the lipped variety anyways) are a sub-group of crankbaits, in my opinion.

Others disagree and believe that jerkbaits are a family of lures all on their own.

You’ll also hear folks talk about wakebaits, slashbaits, ripbaits, squarebill crankbaits, jointed crankbaits and more. It all gets a bit confusing.

Anyway, this page is more about how to fish a crankbait, so I won’t elaborate too much more. I reckon the most important thing is learning how to use a crankbait, not what to call it. Let’s just focus here on crankbait fishing techniques.

But: if you’re really keen on understanding types of crankbaits, you could check out my article “What is a crankbait?”, or the one I published a while back on 23 types of lures that can be made from wood. Both articles go deeper into what a crankbait is (and isn’t).

How Does A Crankbait Work?

I mentioned that pulling a crankbait through the water at constant speed will have it wiggling and swimming.

Well, I guess that’s one way to use a crankbait. But there are much better ways that we’ll get to later.

No matter how you fish a crankbait, the wiggling action is still really important. So lets look at how and why it happens, which differs between lipped and lipless crankbaits.


How To Use A Crankbait - Lipped Crankbaits MO
How To Use A Crankbait: Lipless Crankbaits


Lipped (a.k.a. “Bibbed”) Crankbaits

Lures with diving lips are probably the first thing that come to mind when most people are asked what a crankbait is -so we’ll start with those.

Lipped crankbaits are easily spotted because that piece of plastic or metal (the diving lip) poking out from under the head of the lure is a dead giveaway. That diving lip plays a big part in determining the depth your crankbait will reach. It also plays a huge role in creating the wiggling, shimmying or rolling movement of a crankbait body as you’re fishing it.

As a crankbait fisherman, being able to spot a deep diving crankbait from a shallow runner is a great skill to have. Or knowing which crankbait can be worked fast as opposed to one that needs to be worked slower. Or which one is best among the snags…… you get the picture.

The diving lip is not the only factor affecting these things, but for those learning how to fish a crankbait it can give some good clues.


Bonus Tip For Crankbait Makers

Think of your crankbait like a performance car. On its own, a powerful engine won’t make a car go faster. You need the right suspension to cope with the power. The right transmission to convert power to speed. The right tires to handle the power. A powerful motor on its own is not enough.

A diving lip is the engine of a handmade crankbait. It can only do its job when its matched with the right towpoint and when the body weight and shape are matched to the lip.

More info about crankbait diving lips here


Lipless Crankbaits (aka Rattlebaits)

Many years ago I thought I had a pretty good feel for how to use crankbaits….. then I discovered lipless crankbaits. What a revelation! Suddenly I was catching fish I could never have touched with a “normal” crankbait. But I kind of had had to learn how to fish a crankbait all over again. Lipless crankbaits and the lipped variety are just chalk and cheese in terms of how they’re used – which is why you need to know how to fish both.

Actually, lipless crankbaits (also called rattlebaits) had been around a long time, even back then. But I’d managed to ignore them and just stay focused on the lipped varieties. When I finally pulled my head out of you know where, crankbait fishing took on a whole new dimension.

As the name suggests, lipless crankbaits are….well, er, lipless. For most lipless crankbaits the action is caused by the placement of the tow point (where you tie your line) on top of the lure combined with cleverly weighting. Water pressure on the front of the lure makes the lure body want to tip sideways, which is countered by the weight in the lure, causing a rapid side to side tilting action. The result is massive, fish attracting vibration.

Fishing Basics: What Are The Best Crankbait Rods And Reels?

It’s great to have just the right gear for crankbait fishing, but that doesn’t mean crankbait fishing has to be complex or expensive.

Yes, the tournament pros might need 14 dedicated crankbait setups on their boat. They might need a bunch of rods and reels, each loaded with a different line. But their livelihood depends on finding anything that will give them an edge over competitors (and fish)

The weekend fisherman who’s learning how to use a crankbait doesn’t need all of that. So don’t go mortgage the ranch just to buy a decent crankbait setup.

If you have a half decent baitcast or spinning outfit already, don’t splurge on a dedicated crankbait setup. Not straight away, at least. You can always upgrade later if you feel that your gear is restricting your success with the crankbait. For now, it’s more important to get a few crankbaits and start using them.

Baitcast versus Spin Gear: What’s The Best Crankbait Setup?

I reckon this question is a bit like “red wine or white wine, which is best?”

The answer is “both” or “neither”, depending on how you look at it.

Both baitcast and spinning tackle have a place in crankbait fishing, depending on the circumstances. I sure wouldn’t want to have to limit myself to one or the other.

So the infographic to the right sums up the advantages and disadvantages of both styles of gear, as I see it.

How to use crankbaits accordion blank
When To Choose Baitcast Tackle For Fishing With Crankbaits
When You Need To Make Long, Accurate Casts Unlike spinning reels, baitcasters don’t create loose loops of line during casting to slap against the first fishing rod guide. The result is longer casting distances and better accuracy. When Your Lures Are Relatively Heavy Casting a baitcaster means making the spool spin, which is easier done with heavier crankbaits. Good quality baitcasters can cast fairly light crankbaits, but spinning reels will always trump a baitcaster on very light lures. When Using Fluorocarbon Line Fluorocarbon lines are relatively stiff and create springy coils when cast from a spinning reel. Baitcasters can handle the stiffer line better When You Are Tangling With Tough Fish The direct line from fish to spool makes the drag system on baitcast reels smoother and more effective. This make them a great choice for fighting big, tough fish
When To Choose Spinning Tackle For Fishing With Crankbaits
When You’re New To Fishing Spinning reels are perfect for those just learning how to use a crankbait because they’re easier to use than baitcasting reels. When You’ll Be Doing Fine Line Fishing Light line usually means pretty light crankbaits, too. While baitcasters do a better job at casting medium to heavy lures, spinning reels do a much better job of casting the really light crankbaits. Casting Into A Breeze It’s easier to cast a lure into a stiff breeze with a spinning reel than a baitcaster.
How to use a crankbait: Reels For Crankbait Fishing

So if you’re just learning how to use crankbaits you probably don’t need to race out and buy a new crankbait setup.

But if you are in the market for a new crankbait rod and reel there is plenty to consider.

I won’t point you at specific brands or models, but I’ll give some general tips that willhelp you make the right choice for you.

Tips For Choosing Crankbait Fishing Rods

  • Longer rods allow you to cast further. This can be important when you are trying to reach fish or when casting deep diving crankbaits. Deep diving baits don’t reach their maximum depth on a short cast, so long casting becomes important. Longer rods can be awkward if you’re shore fishing and there’s a lot of vegetation along the banks though. Or if you’re fishing with crankbaits from a kayak!
  • You’ll probably want a rod with at least a medium action. Medium to deep diving crankbaits can be heavy to cast and create plenty of drag when you pull them through water.
  • I like a faster action rod when I’m using baitcasting gear , it gives more power during the cast. That said, a softer tip can give more cushioning if you’re fishing braided lines.
  • Double handed (long butt) fishing rods allow you to cast further, but can be awkard if you do a lot of kayak fishing.
  • Fiberglass vs graphite is a personal choice – each has its fans and its haters. I like graphite for it’s super sensitivity and light weight. But it’s also more brittle and causes a few missed hook sets.

Tips For Choosing Crankbait Fishing Reels

  • Choose the best quality reel you can afford. Buying cheap reels is false economy because they rarely last for long…. especially if you fish mainly in salt water.
  • The gear ratio can be important, especially when you are first learning how to use a crankbait. Low gear ratios (eg 5:1) are slower and are suited to deeper diving crankbaits. Higher gear ratios (eg 7:1) are much faster and are great for working shallow running crankbaits or lipless varieties. It’s better to err on the side of a faster reel IMHO, because you can always wind slower…… it just takes a lot of self control and concentration!
  • Low gear ratio reels have more torque and are better for fighting tough fish than high ratio reels.
  • When buying spinning reels, getting spare spool can allow to use one reel for a couple of applications. Load one spool with mono and one with braid, or load them with different line classes.

Got An Unanswered Question About Crankbait Fishing?

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Crankbait Fishing: Lines And Leaders

When I first learned how to use a crankbait the choice of line and leader was really simple. You could have blue mono or you could have green mono. Take your pick!

Thankfully, fishing line technology has advanced a lot since I was a kid. Mono lines still exist and have an important place, but they’re vastly improved from the good old days. And of course we now have awesome options such as fluorocarbon and braided polyester lines to choose from as well.

Just as for crankbait rods and reels, I don’t believe you need a crankbait fishing line for every different occasion. But, you will definitely find that some types of line work better in some circumstances than other types.

If you’re on a budget, then choose the line that works best for the style of fishing you mostly do. Then simply make do when you find yourself fishing something (or somewhere) different. Or, if you have a little more slack on the credit card, get yourself a second reel or a spare spool and load up with a different type of line!


Qualities Of Fishing Lines

Blank cell how to fish a crankbait
Effects Of Line Thickness And Strength
Thick lines create more drag during casting, which reduces the distance a lure can be tossed. They also cause more drag during fishing, and in the case of monofilament, they’re more buoyant. This results in lures not getting down as deep as they might on a thinner line. This can be helpful when fishing a shallow weed bed, but can be frustrating if you’re trying to fish a deep diver.
The Value Of Stretch
Lines with little or no stretch are great when you’re first learning to use a crankbait because they are very sensitive. In other words, you can feel the lure working and know when a fish breathes on it. But it’s easy with low stretch lines to pull hooks and miss fish. Lines with tons of stretch are like shock absorbers and result in less missed strikes and lost fish. But lines with stretch can make it difficult to “rip” a crankbait through grass or muscle a tough fish out of heavy cover.
The Memory Of Crankbait Lines
Lines that develop memory need to be stretched occasionally to help reduce the springy coils that can cause tangles during casting. They can be great for fishing suspending crankbaits though. Softer, limper lines don’t have as much memory but are more prone to fouling the hooks during casting and retrieving.
Understanding Abrasion Resistance
Wondering how to fish a crankbait around sharp coral, oyster leases, rocks or other structure that can wear through or cut lines? Switch to mono (shallow water) or fluorocarbon lines (deeper water). Fluorocarbon is especially resistant to abrasion but mono can take some punishment, too. Braided lines, being so thin, are easily cut when they are under tension, so use a looong leader if you find yourself fishing these areas with braid.
Using The Natural Buoyancy Of Lines
When you’re fishing crankbaits over grass or shallow flats, a buoyant line can be useful. Keeping your line (and lure) up high reduces fouling. On the other hand, buoyant lines fight the diving action of crankbaits, making your deep divers run a little shallower than you’d like.
The Visibility Of Line To The Fish
Lines that are transparent or semi-transparent (eg monofilament) are harder for fish to see than opaque lines like braid. Fluorocarbon is the king of invisibility. Being similar in refractive index to water it blends right in.
The Knot Strength Conundrum
Tying decent knots should be one of the first thins we are taught as we learn how to use a crankbait. Especially if we use braided lines where the strength factor is offset by knot weakness or slippage. Mono doesn’t suffer this problem and there are plenty of easy to tie knots that work fine. Fluorocarbon is a little slipperier, but adding an extra twist or two to each knot will usually solve the problem. But if you choose to fish crankbaits on braided line you’d better brush up on your knots!

Leaders For Crankbait Fishing

A leader is a short length of monofilament or flurorocarbon line that goes between your main fishing line and your crankbait.

The main function of the leader is to give extra protection to stop the line from being cut or abraded. But it has other functions too….. shock absorption, reducing line visibility and assisting with casting or presenting your crankbait, for example.

Can you fish a crankbait without using a leader?

Sure, sometimes. Especially if you’re using monofilament or fluorocarbon lines. If you don’t need the extra abrasion protection you can just tie the lure straight to the mainline and away you go. I know some people who do this with braided line too – and they catch plenty. I personally wouldn’t, but some do.

Often the leader will be quite a bit thicker and heavier than the mainline. This makes it harder to wear through on rocks, teeth or gill rakers. I prefer mono leaders for shallow running cranks, squarebills and so on. For sinking cranks and lipless rattlebaits I’ll generally use flurocarbon because it sinks.

If the water is very clear and the fish are being very shy I’ll sometimes switch to a fluorocarbon leader regardless of what type of crankbait I’m using. As long as I’m still getting a good action from the lure, of course.

Crankbait Fishing Accessories

Let’s face it, fishing is 100% an accessory sport! The best advice I got when I was first learning how to use a crankbait? Keep it simple.

That’s difficult for me because I’ll admit to being something of a gadgets freak…..

Anyways…. the following accessories are the ones that I consider mandatory.

More About Braid Scissors

Braid is not the easiest stuff to cut with a knife or your teeth – although oysters and rocks seem to make short work of it.

I reckon a good pair of braid scissors is a must-have whether I’m fishing crankbaits or any other style of lure. They not only cut braid cleanly, they make it easy to trim the tag end of your monofilament or fluorocarbon leaders, too.

Check Out Boomerang Braid Cutters On Amazon

More About Lure Snaps

I used snaps when I was first learning how to use a crankbait. And they were great for making quick lure changes. When I got into wooden lure making I stopped using them, preferring a good loop knot instead.

I’ll do anything to get the most from my lures, so I eliminated snaps because they add a little weight in just the wrong place. If you like the convenience of snaps that’s fine……. just keep them as small and lightweight as you possibly can. Duolock clips, like the ones shown here are much better than the heavier and bulkier snap swivels.

Check out Duolock Snaps on Amazon

More About Lure Retrievers

Here’s a simple fact. If you’re using crankbaits and you’re not getting hung up in fallen trees, brush piles, logs and rocks….. you’re not fishing crankbaits properly.

You’ll be surprised how snag-resistant crankbaits can be. But high percentage crankbaiting means usually means putting your lures in danger in danger. And that in turn means losing the odd lure, which can hurt the wallet a little.

I reckon every crankbait fisherman should invest in a decent lure retriever. You’ll find it pays for itself in no time.

Check Out Daiwa’s Lure Retriever On Amazon

More About Polaroid Sunglasses

No article on how to fish a crankbait would be complete without mentioning Polaroid glasses. A decent pair of sunnies with amber lenses can make a huge difference to your crankbaiting in shallow water. They’ll let you see fish, structure and bait with ease.

And while you could easily spend hundreds of dollars on top quality Polaroid glasses, there are plenty of entry-level options. Like the Flying Fisherman Maverick glasses shown here…..

Check Out Flying Fisherman Polaroids On Amazon

More About Fishing Pliers

A decent pair of fishing pliers isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. You’ll find yourself using them to unhook fish, crush crimps, tune crankbaits and more. Make sure you choose a pair that has a tooth on the end of the nose. It makes opening split rings for hook upgrades and changes super easy.

Check out Fishing Pliers on Amazon

More About Crankbait Weights

Want to know how to fish a crankbait super, dooper slow? Turn it into a jerkbait and nail shut-down fish? Balance it against a buoyant mono line?

Don’t try putting weight on the line in front of the lure, that’s disaster right there! Self adhesive crankbait weights are the trick. Attacjk them to the underside of the lure in just the right places and wha-la! problem solved.

There are a few brands around, but you can Check Out Storm’s Suspendots On Amazon

Got An Unanswered Question About Crankbait Fishing?

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How to Tie A Crankbait On….. Properly!


It’s a pretty simple thing to just tie a crankbait onto the end of your line and go fishing. Yet, a surprising number of people get it wrong – so let’s quickly cover what you need to know.

A great thing about fishing crankbaits is that you don’t need to know a ton of knots and rigs. In fact, you’ll get better results by keeping things really simple. If you’re using monofilament or fluorocarbon line then your crankbait rig couldn’t be simpler. Just tie a crankbait to your line with a loop knot and you’re good to fish. Or tie on a strong but lightweight snap (not a snap swivel) and clip your crankbait on. That’s it! You’re ready to go crankbait fishing.

Things are not that much more complicated if you’re using braided line. You’ll just need to know an extra knot or two and you’ll want to add a leader between the line and the crankbait. We’ve already covered choosing the right leaders for crankbait fishing here, if you want a quick refresh.

It’s not unusual to use a leader even when you’re using a mono or fluorocarbon line. That’s especially true if you’re using light line for decent sized fish or are casting crankbaits into rocky or snaggy areas. A short length of heavier mono or fluorocarbon can mean a lot less lost fish (and lures). My rule of thumb for mono and fluorocarbon leaders: about 1.5 times the length of the fish I expect to catch. For wire leaders I try to keep it as short as possible.

Knots For Fishing With Crankbaits

Loop Knots For Fishing Crankbaits

This won’t be news to anyone who has been fishing crankbaits for a while. One of the first things anyone learning how to fish a crankbait should be taught is a good loop knot. I prefer a loop knot to a snap for a number of reasons…… Strength, lure performance, less to catch weed.

The above video shows how to tie a Rapala knot, which is very similar to another great knot, “Lefty’s Loop”. The perfection loop is another top notch crankbait fishing loop knot. What you’re after is a non-slip loop that allows the lure to move more freely – especially important if you’re using a heavy leader.

It doesn’t matter which of these loop knots you choose. Just as long as you don’t tie the line tight to the tow point, that’s the main thing.

Leader To Line Knots

If you’re using a mono or fluorocarbon leader you’ll need to be able to join it to your mainline. There are tons of knots for doing this but what you’re after is something strong and not too bulky. Your leader is usually going to be long enough that the knot has to pass through the fishing rod guides, so a large, bulky know will seriously affect your casting ability. It might also damage the rod guides.

The above video shows how to tie the albright knot, which is perfect for attaching a leader to a mainline. Other great knots for this include the slim beauty, fg knot and nail knot. Google or youtube them and you’ll find plenty of tutorials. There’s no need to learn all of these knots though, choose one and perfect it and you’re good to go!

Tuning A Crankbait

OK, so we know what a crankbait is, we’ve armed ourselves with the right tackle and we’ve tied on a crankbait, we’re almost ready to fish.

There’s just one more step before we get too carried away with the nitty-gritty detail of how to use a crankbait……. Tuning.

Tuning a crankbait is second nature to experienced lure fishermen, but for those less experienced, here’s the essence of it.

Many crankbaits (and other lure styles) don’t work 100% properly when taken straight out of the box. they often need a little “tweaking” to get them swimming properly. Some cheap and nasty ones may never swim properly, but that’s another story!

So here’s what to do:

Make a test cast and then simply wind your crankbait back in, keeping a close eye on how it swims.

How To Fish A Crankbait: Tuning

If your crankbait swims in a nice, straight line then it may not need tuning. But just to be sure, take a few more casts and try cranking at different speeds.

What you’ll often find is that your crankbait will want to swim to one side or the other. Sometimes they will also roll onto their side a little, which gives an unnatural looking action.

Luckily, this is easily rectified by adjusting the tow point (the part you tie your line to) a little. If your crankbait is swimming to the left, for instance, use a pair of pliers to bend the towpoint slightly to the right. Don’t overdo it.

Then make another test cast and repeat the process until your lure tracks straight.

Note that all crankbaits have a range of working speeds that they are suited too. Cranking too slow means they won’t get much action and probably won’t dive.  Cranking too fast will cause your crankbait to roll onto is’s side and swim badly. A properly tuned crankbait has a wider range of working speeds than one that isn’t tuned.

The tuning process is also a good opportunity to figure out how to use a particular crankbait effectively. Once you’re done tuning you’ll have a pretty good feel for the speeds you can work your lure at for best results.


How To Fish A Crankbait: Kindle eBook


How To Use A Crankbait: Masterclass


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