How to Fish Crankbaits: Expert Tips and Tactics

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Every angler, whether they target bass, trout, pike or another species, has most likely heard about crankbaits and how they can help you catch fish. But you may not have used them. Fishing crankbaits can be a very effective way to land a variety of target fish species in all types of water and across all seasons. Let’s take a closer look at how to properly fish a crankbait.

What is a Crankbait?

Crankbaits are a popular lure that is found in the shape of small bait fish such as minnow or shad, as well as crayfish. It’s made from hard plastic and can be found in a variety of sizes and shapes to be effective at different diving depths.

Some of the more popular crankbaits have rattles and will make a sound when they move through the water. You will usually find this crankbait with a large rounded bill as well to help it cut through the water and create that swimming motion to get a nice sound and vibration that fish will really take notice to.

You can find crankbaits in a wide range of sizes, shapes, and colors since not every crankbait will work on every target fish. What works great for pike may not work at all for bass. However, once you find the crankbait that works for the species of fish you are targeting, you will notice just how effective and successful your fishing trips can be.

See also: Nine great crankbaits to try for bass

Types of Crankbaits

Squarebill crankbaits

If you’re focusing on extremely shallow water less than 6 feet, a squarebill crankbait is the best option. These shallow divers do exceptionally well when tossed around rocks, heavy vegetation, sunken logs, dock and pier supports, and more.

This style of crankbait makes use of two attached treble hooks, yet does very well in areas with heavy cover. They can also be extremely successful when ice fishing. If you maintain a quick reeling and jerking action with your rod tip, you will rarely get hung up in grass or weeds no matter how thick the vegetation may be.

Lipless crankbaits

best swimbaits for bass
These lures are great for targeting bottom dwelling fish since they are more prone to sinking.

Crankbaits that are lipless are lacking the small plastic bill or shovel on the end. This helps give the lure a nose-down action which can imitate small fish searching at the bottom of the lake for food. Professional anglers love lipless crankbaits to catch bass.

Many lipless crank will also include an internal rattle in the lure body which helps create vibrations in the water and imitate bait fish such as shad. You’ll usually find lipless crankbaits in sizes up to 2 ounces, though specialized sizes are out there as well. These lures do well at any diving depth but since they are more prone to sinking, they are great for targeting bottom dwelling fish.

See also: Our top 10 lipless crankbaits

Shallow diving crankbaits

Crankbaits made for shallow diving are good in shallower water up to 10 feet in depth. You want to keep popping and jerking your shallow diving crankbaits around in the water in an attempt to intentionally make it bounce off of structures and underwater vegetation. This jerking action and quick changes of direction when it hits an obstacle will really attract fish that may be lurking nearby in this midrange diving depth.

Medium diving crankbaits

Medium diving crankbaits are the most common type of this lure you can find and are great for targeting big bass. This popular lure is a perfect choice for most water depths, though it really shines in shallow water with a cooler water temperature where you want to dig into the substrate a bit.

This size and style of crankbait is best used on rocky bottoms as the lure can bounce off of rock piles and scrape in between outcroppings to make clear vibrations in the water which will trigger strikes from your chosen fish. It also does great punching through shallow cover with the plastic lip and flat sided crankbait body.

Deep diving crankbaits

These deep diving lures have two treble hooks attached which helps you get a good hook set on any fish that strikes. This particular lure is great for fishing deeper water around 50 feet or more, and is a perfect choice when you are fishing for low dwelling fish during the hot summer or cold winter months.

When fishing with a deep diving crankbait, you want to keep full control over your deep divers as well as feel any vibrations that may be coming up the line. If you get a nibble or a full strike, you need to know the difference. Keeping your line tight and your lure moving is a great way to ensure you can feel what’s happening below the surface of the water.

How to Fish a Crankbait: Guide’s Tips 

Where to Cast

Crankbaits are extremely versatile lures in where they can be fished from. In fact, if you are struggling with a different presentation in water that has heavy vegetation, switching to a crankbait may get more fish to take notice during your fishing trip. 

One of the biggest benefits to bass fishing with crankbaits is that they are specifically made to be fished in heavy vegetation, thick grasses, around rocks and outcroppings, and in other areas where different lures will constantly get snagged or hung up.

Many anglers, both professional and casual, will intentionally toss their lure into heavy cover areas to catch fish in their hunting areas or spawning grounds. Around the stone or wood structures of a dock or pier are also extremely good spots to consider. The more vibrations your crankbait makes when it scrapes along sunken debris or bounces off rocks and pylons, the more effective it can be at catching fish.

Best Retrieves

There are three common fishing retrieval methods anglers will use when fishing with crankbaits.

  1. Stop & Go. This method is great for enticing slightly more timid or hesitant fish into striking. You will cast far and use a steady retrieve speed, with a few stops now and then to let the lure sink a few feet in the water. This “resting period” helps fish in the area take notice before the lure is moving again.
  2. Burning. Also known as “locating”, this fast retrieve method is used by a lot of anglers that just want to pinpoint the location of the fish with as few casts as possible. Using a high speed reel is important for this fast retrieve method as you will be keeping the reel spinning almost the entire time so the lure looks like it is “fleeing” from an area.
  3. Yo Yo. This method is great for deep water fishing with lipped crankbaits. You will cast the lure far and let it sink, then reel it in at enough speed to make it rise several feet in the water before stopping and letting it sink to the bottom again. This drastic up and down motion gets the attention of midwater and bottom dwelling fish.

Hitting Structure

Unlike most other lures, you want your crankbait to hit strictures and bounce off rocks and rip through thick vegetation. Your goal is to make your lure get noticed by larger fish and summer bass in the area. You also want your lure to imitate live prey type fish in the area and the vibrations it causes when it pulls through weeds or scrapes across the bottom of the creek channels can do exactly that.

What Fish to Target with Crankbaits

Walleye are attracted to smaller lures in all natural colors that closely mimics a real prey item which is active in that water during the time of year you are fishing.


Crankbaits are excellent for bass fishing, and are even used during a lot of bass fishing competitions around the country. The style of crankbait you choose will depend on the water temperature and depth ranges you are fishing in. Most bass will eagerly take a lipless crankbait throughout the year, but you may have great results from deep diving crankbaits during the winter as well.


If you work with a crankbait that imitates a minnow, trout will be eager to strike. For the best results when trout fishing, try to go out on the water when the weather is clear and the wind is calm. You want to keep your crankbait active in the water as the movement will help attract the trout to come closer and strike.


Walleye can be a bit more difficult to fish for as they take the time to study your lure. When fishing for walleye, use smaller lures in all natural colors that closely mimics a real prey item which is active in that water during the time of year you are fishing. Keep your crankbait near the bottom of the water as walleye will strike from above rather than the sides or below.


Throughout the late winter and spring, crappie will be actively and aggressively feeding in preparation for the spawning season. This is the best time to drop a small and lightweight crankbait in the water to try fishing for crappie. Deep diving lures will be the best option during the summer, but mid to shallow crankbaits will do well the rest of the year.


Pike are similar to walleye in how suspicious they can be with new crankbaits and bait styles. If you are fishing for pike, go for darker natural colors on your crankbaits. You want them to mimic the local small bait fish species in that body of water. Larger crankbaits may end up being too intimidating and pike will ignore them, so go for smaller sized lures instead.


A wide variety of other fish will strike crankbaits if the color, shape and movement of the lure is correct. It’s not uncommon for catfish to take a crankbait, as well as perch and panfish. It’s always a good choice to know what species you are fishing for and adjust your lure selection to suit their preferences.

Crankbait Fishing FAQs

What seasons are best for crankbait fishing?

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Crankbait fishing can be highly successful all year round, though for most species it will do great during their pre-spawn and post-spawn seasons which is late winter to spring. You can use a crankbait in all seasons and all water types successfully, but be sure you know which fish you are targeting before going out on the water. 

What Color of Crankbait is Best?

When it comes to crankbait colors, there are a few tried and true combinations that work well just about anywhere. These include shades of green, blues, and purples. Shad colorations or shad patterns are extremely common and highly successful, and crayfish colors and patterns can do well in some areas. Phantom or ghost colorations, bluegill patterns, or crankbaits with chartreuse sides are also highly successful in clear water clarity, and can be that sweet spot of color if you want to catch timid or suspicious fish. More info in this color chart.

How to Fish With a Lipless Crankbait?

Lipless Crankbait Peacock Bass Caught Hand Hold

Lipless crankbaits create a unique and very tempting vibration and wobbling movement in the water. This mimics injured baitfish and can really trigger bites from bass, trout or pike. Additionally, lipless crankbaits are great for pulling through grasses and other underwater vegetation when you want to locate the area of your preferred fish without having to cast out a fishfinder a dozen times.

How to Fish With a Crankbait from Shore?

Medium crankbaits with a small diving lip are excellent when fishing from shore. Their size is perfect for long fishing casts and are versatile enough to suit a wide range of fish species. One of the benefits to fishing a crankbait with a diving lip from shore is you can get the same retrieval speeds as you would from a boat, and can also get diverse directional changes when popping and jerking your rod, especially if you cast into a deep water area with plenty of underwater vegetation and rocks.

How Fast to Reel With a Crankbait?

In most cases, you want to keep your crankbait moving through the water and changing directions and speeds often. Your goal when fishing is to imitate the natural zig-zagging movement of a bait fish that is looking for food while also trying to avoid being eaten by something larger. Popping and jerking your rod can give you the motions you need, but reel speed can be adjusted to your preference depending on the style and size of your crankbait. If you feel it  resting on the bottom too much, increase your retrieval speed.

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Rick Wallace is a passionate angler and fly fisher whose work has appeared in fishing publications including FlyLife. He's appeared in fishing movies, founded a successful fishing site and spends every spare moment on the water. He's into kayak fishing, ultralight lure fishing and pretty much any other kind of fishing out there.
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