What Is A Crankbait?

Every now and then someone asks the question “So……. what is a crankbait, exactly“?

It seems like an easy question….. right up until I try to give a precise definition of what a crankbait is (or isn’t).

I’ve personally been using crankbaits since a time that my kids refer to as the “Early Jurassic Period”. And I’ve been making crankbaits and teaching crankbait making for decades too.

So I know what a crankbait is, of course. But explaining it to a beginner can be surprisingly difficult. Crankbaits are such a broad group of lures.

And the lines between crankbaits and other types of fishing lures are pretty hazy.

For example, you’ll often hear heated debates about whether a jerkbait is a type of crankbait, or a completely different class of lure. I personally believe that jerkbaits are a subset of crankbaits. Others claim that a jerkbait is a completely different beats to a crankbait.

Does it matter? Probably not. There are good arguments both ways. And as long as you can recognize and use each style properly there’s no problem.

Anyway, here’s my standard response when I get the “what is a crankbait?” question:

“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.”

It’s not a perfect explanation, but I reckon it’s good enough!

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What Is A Crankbait InfographicMy definition breaks crankbaits into two broad groups – lipped and lipless. It makes sense because these two groups are different not only in their design, but in the way they should be fished.

I go into greater depth about the styles of crankbaits in my article on tips for making wooden crankbaits and how to use them in this article.

Group 1: Lipped crankbaits.  These are easily recognizable by the metal or plastic diving lip that protudes from beneath the head of the lure. This feature is what causes a crankbait to dive and what gives it a wiggling action. It’s also what causes a crankbait to deflect from objects that the lure strikes during fishing.

The diving lip (aka “bib”, “bill” or “beak”) varies widely in size, shape and angle, depending on the style of crankbait. But basically, almost any lure with a piece of plastic or metal poking out from the underside is a crankbait of some sort.

Lures that fall into this category include minnows, wakebaits, ripbaits, divers (aka floater divers), squarebills, broke-backs, countdowns, slashbaits, jerkbaits.

Group 2: Lipless Crankbaits. As the name suggests, these don’t have a diving lip. They are easily recognized by the location of the tow point, which is always on the top of the lure, rather than on the nose or underneath.

Lipless crankbaits derive their action from imbalances caused by internal weight and lure body design. These lures vary tremendously in size and interior architecture. They can also be called “rattlebaits”, “rattletraps” or sometimes just “traps”.

Crankbait Aliases

Local naming is the final thing that adds to the confusion of defining exactly what a crankbait is. Here is a list of alternative names that may or may not refer to actual crankbaits:

Plugs: Depending on where you live, plugs may be a type of crankbait. But not always – in some places just about any hard bodied lure can be referred to as a plug.

Jerkbaits: In many places the term “jerkbait” refers to a hard bodied lure with a diving lip, often weighted to suspend when the retrieve is paused. But in other places a jerkbait is considered to be a lure without a diving lip, essentially a sinking stickbait or glidebait.

Swimbaits: The original swimbaits had no diving lip and had a hard body comprised of several hinged parts. But these days just about any jointed lure seems to get classed as a swimbait. This includes the two part, lipped lures that are more correctly referred to as jointed crankbaits…. confused?

Twitchbaits: Can be either a version of jerkbait (itself a version of crankbait). Or it can be another name for a glider or sinking stickbait.

Wobblers: In Europe this is a term often associated with crankbaits. But it can also refer to other hard body styles and even some metal lures.

I hope this brings clarity for  those who were confused about what is a crankbait and what is some other style of hard bodied lure!