Jerkbaits vs Crankbaits: Key Differences and How to Use Each Lure

Learn the difference between jerkbaits and crankbaits in terms of swimming motion, number of treble hooks and more. Find out how to fish each lure

Anglers use a large amount of different fishing lures when they want to catch those massive trophy fish. Two very popular choices are the Jerkbait and the Crankbait.

These two lures come in a variety of different sizes and shapes, can be found in hundreds of colors, and can be made from plastic, metal, or wood.

We’ll be taking a closer look at these two shallow or deep diving lures to see what the differences are, where each one shines, and which might be better for your next fishing trip.

More on the Differences Between a Jerkbait and Crankbait

Crankbait vs Jerkbait Selection of crankbaits and jerkbaits
Jerkbait and Crankbait differ in their design and action in the water. Jerkbaits imitate prey through a jerking motion, while crankbait has a continuous swimming action and runs straight through the water column.

Action

The action of jerkbaits (see our favorite models here) and crankbaits (our top 9 crankbaits are listed here) are similar in that both are made to imitate an injured or scared small fish. The movement in the water will be anything from slight twitching and wiggling to rolling, fast swimming, and darting up and down.

A jerkbait’s action can be anywhere from subtle twitches to quick and very noticeable side-to-side motions, while a crankbait is more for rolling, wobbles, and slower swimming motions.

Shape

While both lures can come in a variety of different body shape lengths and diameters, in general, your crankbaits will be more thick and short in body shape. The jerkbait on the other hand, will be longer and usually more thin and streamlined.

Number of Hooks

Both jerkbaits and crankbaits use treble hooks, which have 3 sharpened points. On a jerkbait you will find three treble hooks for a total of 9 sharpened points. A crankbait will have two treble hooks for a total of 6 sharpened points.

Jerkbait Variations & Types

jerkbaitfeatureimage scaled
Jerkbaits come in various designs and colors to imitate different prey and target species. Variations include hard and soft-bodied, floating and sinking, lipless and suspending, with shapes like a minnow, shad, and crawfish.

Suspending Jerkbaits

This is the type of jerkbait the majority of anglers will use to catch bass and other fish, whether they are old pros or new beginners.

The purpose of a suspending jerkbait is to suspend in the midwater area and float around. Anglers can adjust the positioning in the water by giving a quick jerk on the rod to send the jerkbait diving or rising through the deep water.

Floating Jerkbaits

Just as you would have guessed from the name, a floating jerkbait is made to stay near the surface most of the time and is great for use in shallow water. You can make the lure dive slightly below the water by working the rod, but the lure will steadily make its way back toward the surface.

Sinking Jerkbaits

As the opposite of a floating jerkbait, a sinking jerkbait is made to dive toward the bottom of the lake or pond in deep water. When you want to stop the dive on a sinking jerkbait, you can make tiny movements on your rod to bring the lure up into the water column again.

Crankbait Variations & Types

Crankbait vs Jerkbait Crankbait with two trebles
Crankbaits vary in design, color, and shape to imitate prey and target species. Common variations are shallow and deep diving, lipless, and rattling, and the type used depends on target species, water depth, and angler preference.

Square Bill Crankbaits

Many largemouth bass anglers love square bill crankbaits as you can adjust the angle of the bill to make the lure give different swimming and diving motions. Square bills are effective when you want to fish at depths of around 9 feet, and they do extremely well around sunken structures.

Aggressive rod movements are effective with this type of deep diving crankbait and can make these lures flip and twist through the water, bouncing off rocks and scooting around pylons. In fact, rapid and aggressive movements help prevent these lures from getting snagged on vegetation and heavy cover and give a good illusion of a fleeing bait fish.

Lipless Crankbaits

While lipless crankbaits won’t be as active in the water as their billed counterparts, this deep diving crankbaits option is great when you want to make some noise. Also known as rattle baits, or rattlers, a lipless crankbait can be fished at around 10 feet deep (see here for our favorite lipless crankbaits).

The shape and design of these deep diving crankbaits will create a rattling noise in the water, easily getting the attention of curious and hungry nearby fish. Lures that make a bit of extra noise are great for fishing in muddy water or dirty water. While jerking on the rod won’t make this lure do much in the way of rising or falling, the extra movements are a good choice when using this lure for bass fishing.

Round Bill Crankbaits

Similar to the square bills, though not as good when being fished around submerged wood and solid structures, the round bill crankbaits are a better option when fishing in open water areas

These crankbaits can be found with both short and long bills, which are wide and rounded in shape. The purpose of the bill is to entice lethargic fish into striking with a feeding or defensive reaction, though longer bills may perform better around solid structure such as docks than short bills will.

Jerkbait vs Crankbait: Features in Common

There are a variety of similarities between jerkbaits and crankbaits. It’s not unusual for anglers to get confused about which lure should be used in what situation.

  • Crankbaits and Jerkbaits are both designed to catch a variety of different fish
  • Their shape and colors are intentionally designed to imitate common prey items
  • Both lures have hooks already attached, so they won’t require additional setup
  • These two lures can both be used in a wide range of water depths and conditions
  • Jerkbaits and Crankbaits both have billed and lipless versions
  • They are both a very affordable and easy-to-find lures in any tackle shop

When to Fish a Jerkbait vs Crankbait

Jerkbaits will shine in more shallow waters, such as smaller ponds, narrow rivers, and creeks. You can jerk on your rod a few times in order to keep the jerkbait near the surface of the water where the fish may be waiting to strike, or you can opt for using floating jerkbaits from the start.

Jerkbaits can be fished with both slow and fast retrieval speeds, as well as with high or low action movements on your rod. They are a great choice for bass holding in shallow areas along the banks of lakes, ponds, or reservoirs.

Crankbaits are your deep divers and will shine when the water is 10 feet or more in-depth, though a lipless crankbait can be used in shallow water same as a jerkbait. A crankbait that has a habit of floating can be forced to sink a bit when reeling it in but will slowly rise back to the surface on its own. 

A crankbait that sinks may require slow and steady retrieval to keep it from getting bogged down in the mud or heavy vegetation. If fishing one of these deep divers in areas where there is thick vegetation, you may need to keep the reel spinning slowly until you are able to cast it out again and repeat the process.

How to Fish a Jerkbait vs a Crankbait

Both of these lures should be cast at a good distance since each will require some movements and retrieval in order to get the right movements and motions to entice fish. If you attempt to get these movements out of them with a short cast, you risk running out of distance or depth and will just have to recast at a further distance a second time.

The only time you want to keep very short casts is if you are fishing in very shallow water or if you are aiming for a precise location under a bridge, pier, or other structure.

In this case, you can basically plop the lure in the water and work it on a vertical plane instead of a horizontal one by making more motions with the rod tip or the speed of your baitcasting reel.

How to Catch Fish With a Jerkbait

Crankbait vs Jerkbait
Jerkbaits imitate prey to attract target fish for strikes. The rod is used to create movements in the water to imitate an injured or dying baitfish.

Jerkbaits rely heavily on imitating baitfish and other natural prey items of your target fish such as shad. You want to ensure your lure can sink down to the proper depth for your target fish’s strike zone. Once it reaches this depth, you need to start creating the jerkbait swimming action, so it looks like an injured or dying fish.

This is done by swooping, jerking, and twitching your rod up and down or back and forth in order to get different slow or rapid movements of the lure in the water. In many cases, a jerkbait can get a strike by predatory fish within a minute or two, especially if the fish are hungry or aggressive.

If fish in the water column seems a bit lethargic or hesitant to strike, you can slow down your movements, so the lure doesn’t seem as intimidating. Let the lure sink slowly through the water to slightly deeper depths, then give it a gentle pop with your rod to bring it rapidly upwards before letting the bait sink again.

This motion is similar to an injured or dying baitfish, which many smallmouth basses or other predatory species will see as an easy meal. One thing to keep in mind during an upward pop with your rod is that you will need to reel in some of the line, though leave a bit of slack so the lure can sink back down a bit too.

How to Catch Fish With a Crankbait

Crankbaits work best when they are paired with a good fast-action rod (see here for our favorite crankbait rods) that has a high-speed performance reel. High speed baitcasting reels around the 8:1 ratio are my personal choice since you’ll be reeling in a lot of fishing lines when using a crankbait.

Your goal for a crankbait is to cast it into an area that has rock piles, bluffs or cliffs, large boulders, or adjoining rivers or creeks where fish may be hiding or resting. Crankbaits do well when they are delivered right into the strike zone of these fish.

When getting some movement and action from your crankbait, you will be alternating between two methods. Steady and fast retrieval and a stop-and-go method. 

When using the steady and fast retrieval, you will cast your lure into your chosen area and then rapidly reel it back in, so the lure looks to be “fleeing” from your target fish. This often gets quick and aggressive reaction strikes from bass, trout, and other fish.

The stop-and-go method is exactly what it sounds like. You’ll cast your lure into the water and let it sink a bit. Then you’ll reel it in rapidly for a few seconds before stopping and letting the lure “rest” in the water. After another few seconds have passed, you will quickly reel it in again.

This imitates baitfish that may be searching for food or could be injured or ill. These short but rapid darting motions catch the eye of nearby target fish, and the stopping motion gives them time to catch up and line up a strike.

One of the benefits of using a crankbait is you can zip the lure through heavy vegetation without getting it snagged in most cases. If you know your lure will be sinking down into some heavy vegetation, sunken branches, or around boulders, simply reel it in as fast as you can.

The rapid speed will help the crankbait bounce off and around these structures and prevent it from getting snagged, damaged, or lost.

See here for more information on how to fish crankbaits effectively.

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AUTHOR
Jeff Knapp is an expert fisherman, guide and outdoor writer whose work is widely published across a range of sites including Tackle Village. Jeff is based in Pennsylvania and loves exploring the waterways of that state in pursuit of smallmouth bass, largemouth, panfish and trout.
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