Crankbaits deserve their place as a strong staple in the sport of bass fishing due to delivering both power and distance. For the competitive angler that means finding and catching bass fast. But for the beginner, they are also a dependable lure that promises results.
Also known as “plugs”, “wobblers”, “minnows” and “shallow-divers”, naming these hard-bodied lures differs depending on country and region. This complication, along with the differences among subtypes, can make shopping for crankbaits somewhat headache inducing.
Here we take a look at the major features of the crankbait, determine the uses of each subtype and even discuss the fishing set-ups that best utilize them. All in the hope of helping you buy the best crankbaits for bass possible.
Buying a great crankbait involves understanding a little of the history of this classic lure type. Here we’ll learn what they are and when to use them.
What Is a Crankbait?
At its essence, a crankbait is like any other fishing lure. It mimics the swimming action of the prey of a predatory fish (bass) in the hope of attracting it into biting and taking the hook. It also does this in numerous ways, using color, size, construction, materials and more.
Unlike other lures, however, especially those like topwaters or spoons, the main feature of a crankbait is that it is designed to dive and sit below the water on retrieve (the act of reeling the line back in toward the rod and reel). Moving or “wobbling” from side to side as a result of water resistance.
Historically, the first crankbaits date back to the turn of the last century. Made of wood and featuring treble hooks (three hooks set into lures body), the overall design of these lures hasn’t changed too dramatically although modern technology has enabled some advancements.
What really separates modern day crankbaits from older versions? Versatility. Today’s market has thousands of options available.
Why and When to Use a Crankbait Over Other Lure Types?
Many anglers have a preference in terms of the types of lures they like to use. Often times this can be season or condition dependent too. Just as some anglers prefer to use crankbaits in summer (while opting for spinners in winter), others argue that crankbaits are better used in fall.
Wherever you stand on the debate, one thing about crankbaits is undeniable in terms of when and why they should be used. The factor in question? Depth.
Classified by varying depth, crankbaits are perhaps the best lure choice in waters where bass tend to swim near the bottom rather than the shallows or surface. They also tend to be more robust than other lure types too, meaning that conditions shouldn’t have too much of an impact on their use.
One thing to bear in mind, especially for the beginner, is technique. Using a crankbait means staying open-minded and changing your retrieval speed based on what’s happening out in the water. It also means casting appropriately and accurately to target certain areas of the water too.
So while there’s a crankbait for every occasion, if you’re a stickler for a certain way of fishing and aren’t open to chopping and changing rigs, casting spots or reeling speeds, then perhaps crankbaiting is not for you.
Types of Crankbaits
Familiarising yourself with the most common types of crankbait is one way to help you better hook a bass. Here we take a look at the major classifications.
Lip or “bill” crankbaits refer to lures with a lip, often plastic, wooden or metal, that can differ from the body of the lure itself (protruding from it) both in terms of size, color and material. Lips also help determine a lure’s action, helping contribute to the diving depth by creating a downward force in the water.
Getting a lure to dive deep or shallow comes down to increasing or decreasing this driving force. The size, rather than the angle of the lip, dictates this.
The three classifications based on this feature give very different performances in this regard.
A square (or “horizontal) billed or lipped lure will reach maximum depth much faster than other lure types making it perfect for anglers looking for speed rather than precision in their cast.
For a beginner, it’s easier to think of the lip of a lure as an “angle of attack”. The less streamlined a bill shape is, as is the case in a square or horizontal type, the more friction it is likely to exert in the water that then increases drag.
As drag helps increase driving force, a lure of this type is going to sink faster than other crankbaits if its other components (like body, weight, and size) are also favorable. They are also a strong choice for anglers looking to tempt bass situated around a rock or wood in shallows.
Round bill crankbait are more aerodynamic and therefore won’t cause the same amount of force in the water as a square and will dive a little slower. This makes them a better choice in less clear conditions, where a slower presentation of the bait might be required to draw a bass.
Another situation a round bill might also serve a bass angler well is as a deflector in the water. Helping “bump” the lure off potential obstacles it could otherwise snag on, this is something that makes it a key tackle component for anglers fishing unpredictable waters.
Although a square bill would also have a similar effect, it’s angular edge could potentially cause it to get embedded in dirt, grass or other underwater hazards.
Lipless crankbaits will sink nose down in the water and can be a good option in both shallow (where anglers should reel faster) and deeper waters given that their action is only really affected by the speed of the retrieve.
The wobble of a lipless crankbait, however, is likely to be different from lipped options due to having less downward force. For some anglers, especially those who assert that increased movement of the bait better attracts bass, this can be a downside. They’re also more likely to snag (given the lack of deflection) too.
Perhaps the biggest classifier when it comes to crankbait lures is depth. As someone shopping for the best crankbait for bass possible you’ll want to have an idea of how deep the water is that you usually fish in.
Shallow diving crankbaits are best used as their name suggests; in shallower water. Round-bill lures, due to their increased diving speed, usually fit this category. Raising (lessening depth) or lowering (increasing depth) the tip of a rod while reeling in also factors in how shallow or deep a lure might run.
Shallow crankbaits are best used in around rocks, submerged wood and docks, where bass like to spawn or mate particularly in warmer seasons. Beginners needn’t be intimidated by the treble hooks snagging too much, not if they reel at faster speeds.
One plus for shallow baits is that when they deflect off an underwater object the swift direction change can be an effective way of attracting bass. They are best used in water up to 4 feet in depth.
Crankbaits of this category effectively work well up to 10ft where they can dive deeper than the water’s depth itself. Preferred because they make contact with the bottom of the water quickly, this impact goes a long way in creating a disturbance that can draw a bass.
The best medium divers dig into the bottom and are able to be “bumped” along (bouncing up and down the surface) by the angler. That means the best of this caliber are usually fairly heavy and robust enough to withstand the technique.
Medium lures have a bigger lip than shallow divers enabling them to dive deeper too.
Deep diving crankbaits are useful for fishing offshore spots like ledges and rock piles, where getting down deep is important. Usually, they are used in warmer months where bass are likely to reside and feed deeper (to stay cool from the sun) but this is also condition dependent.
This lure type works well in water at depths between 12 and 20 feet and will obviously take longer than shallow or medium diving crankbaits to reach the bottom. They have the biggest lips to create the most resistance. They are also best used with powerful rods that have strong backbones.
Familiarising yourself with the depth of location you plan to fish should be the first step in matching a lure with the right diving capability. Mid-to-shallow divers are recommended most to beginners mainly due to their versatility. Pro anglers, on the other hand, usually have a range of crankbaits covering different depths (even using deep diving lures in shallow water and vice versa)
Body styles of crankbaits go a long way in helping a lure appear like the typical prey of a bass. Just like bass tend to eat a variety of things, from crawfish, frogs and other small fish, crankbait lures are shaped accordingly. The four major body shapes are jointed, minnow, shad, and flat.
Jointed crankbaits differ to straight hard-bodied lures in a subtle way, mostly observable when the lure is retrieved slowly. Unlike hard-bodied crankbaits that give a constant, tight wobble, jointed lures offer more erratic movements and also tend to give off more vibration.
The reason for this is construction. Jointed crankbaits have a “broken back” or a divider on the lure that makes its components kick in different directions. This strongly imitates a struggling baitfish. These usually make for easy pickings when it comes to a hungry bass.
The benefit of this jointed body also gives multiple targets for the fish to bite. That’s what makes it particularly effective in attracting larger specimens.
One possible drawback is price, which the more complicated design tends to drive up.
As minnows are one of the common small fish that bass prey on it makes sense to design crankbaits shaped similarly. Minnow body lures are usually hard-bodied and generally make up the cheaper end of crankbait lures depending on the simplicity of the design.
Minnow designs can be lipless or lipped so they are effective both in shallow or deep water bass fishing. They are also potentially the most versatile crankbait for bass and can be used with other fishing techniques like twitching and trolling (not locking a beginner into one technique) too.
Typically minnow bodies are long and slender which can cause some issues with snagging. Pros avoid this by adding weight to the tail to give it a nose-up position in the water that better mimics wounded fish.
Shadbody lures, like minnows, imitate the specific fish species of shad. In the summer months especially, when lakes and rivers get hot, shad tend to die off suddenly and provide free and easy meals for bass. That’s when using a lure that resembles them makes the most sense.
Unlike minnow body lures, shad lures are generally shorter and wider while usually made of plastic rather than wood or metal. They also have lip and lipless options and varying colors.
Flat Body Baits
Flat body baits (sometimes categorized as “flat sided”), although they can vary a lot in length, are generally categorized by having two flat surfaces present on a lure. Usually made from wood, these are perhaps the simplest of crankbait lures and some of the most widely used.
Some flat body baits utilize plastic and are easily malleable. This enables them to be “squashed” to reduce their length and allow for more effective hook setting. These modern flat body variants are less common and tend to be more expensive than their traditional counterparts.
Buoyancy rating is one of the more important features that crankbait buyers should pay attention to, providing key information on how a crankbait is likely to behave once cast out into a river, lake, pond or ocean.
Although crankbaits are mainly used as deep water lures, there are plenty of floating options on the market that make them suitable for topwater fishing. The best crankbaits for bass that float will have a “high buoyancy rating” and stay on top of the water and resist the lures dive.
These lures are good for fishing in water where you need to back up away from sunken obstacles that could cause snags. Often bass anglers will “twitch” or retrieve slowly with these lures to better mimic wounded prey.
“Sinking” crankbait lures differ to the high buoyancy types by sinking to the desired depth. This depth is often determined by the materials and the lip of the crankbait itself. Outside of the water, beginners can get an idea of the depth from the lure’s marketing or packaging content.
These lures are good fits in summer months, keeping the lure in deeper strike zones where bass tend to swim before retrieving the line after it reaches depth.
Suspended crankbaits are also known as “neutrally buoyant”. This refers to the lures tendency to stay at depth when you stop reeling the line in. Something that sinking or floating lures fail to do.
The best suspended lures are usually wooden. Pros like Mike Iaconelli suggest using them in cold water temperatures where bass tend to be a bit more frenetic.
Another key characteristic of crankbaits is wobble. This determines the movement pattern of the lure as it’s retrieved in the water and also contributes to its vibration. Crankbaits that offer little wobble? Ineffective in attracting fish.
According to the pros, the amount of wobble a lure has should be matched to the activity level of the fish. In high temperatures when bass are likely to spawn, wide wobbling crankbaits are good. In lower temperatures, when bass are just coming out of winter areas, a tight wobbling option is better.
Beginners will probably be best served by a medium-wide wobble. This displaces a fair amount of water and is versatile in a range of situations.
Wide wobblers are good for current fishing and in low visibility conditions (taking advantage of the bass’ dependency on lateral line to hunt).
Modern painting and molding techniques mean that the amount of choice available when it comes to crankbait lure colors is vast. Choosing which to go for is best done under the consideration of conditions and water type.
Clear water conditions, where bass have the best chance to see the lure, means opting for colors that closely resemble their prey itself. That means grey “ghost shad” or blue “sexy shad” colors, as well as others that match other bait types.
Darker conditions are when the brighter colors are a possible best fit. That helps the bass see them better when their vision is impaired. Luminescent yellows and oranges generally make for good choices here but there’s also no problem getting more adventurous with purples, pinks, and reds.
Pairing Crankbaits with Other Gear
When it comes to pairing lures with your gear it’s always best to take stock of what you’re already comfortable using. Thankfully cranking doesn’t require a massive tackle overhaul and is usually compatible with most fishing set-ups.
What Type of Rod? What Rod Action? What Rod Power? What Rod Length?
Bass fishing with crankbait lures usually involves baitcasting or spinning rods. Features can be matched accordingly but beginners will probably best be served by keeping to common bass fishing trends with moderate to fast action rods of a length suitable to them.
Moderate action rods give a good parabolic curve that helps better control a crankbait while heavy power rods have a strong enough backbone to handle any bass that bites a crank. Anything heavier or longer is going to make it tricky to twitch or jerk a rod. Techniques that cranking can sometimes be very dependent on.
A set-up like this will keep an angler open to any crankbait option and offer good control over any buoyancy rating or lip length.
What Type of Reel? What Gear Ratio?
Reels matched to rods should be the foremost concern of a crankbait angler. Once that match-up is made it’s then time to start thinking about the lure type.
Baitcasting or spincasting reels should be matched up with the appropriate rods for the best control out on the water. Pros who swear by cranking tend to go for reel gear ratios around 5.5:1 and look for high-quality bearings to help with long precise casting.
Beginners might be pleased to know that virtually any reel can be matched to a crankbait lure. These dimensions are a recommendation rather than a necessity.
What Type of Line? What Pound Test?
Again line is more of a preference rather than a distinct match to a particular lure. The best crankbaits for bass will usually run fine on monofilament or braided but will perhaps give the best performance on fluorocarbon which has the least visibility.
Pound test should be matched to the size of the target fish. In bass fishing, this can vary so most beginners are recommended to go for something around 10 lbs. Line of this type will be able to handle most crankbaits unless they are exceptionally heavy.
If you plan on fishing floating crankbaits then line is going to matter more. The lighter pound test the better will work in this case, as well as clear colored fluorocarbon in order to reduce the chance of the line being spotted as it runs the surface.
Best Crankbaits for Bass
Hopefully, this guide has helped clear up major questions in terms of when, where and how to use a crankbait. Now it’s time to jump into some of the best-rated options out there proven to help raise your bass fishing game.
The wLure Minnow is a solid minnow-bodied lure that runs four inches in length and comes in at a weight of ½ oz. Matched to closely resemble the natural colors of minnows, the body of this lure has a unique texture and a solid treble hook that’s unlikely to bend or warp at the hands of a big bass. The deep diving options go to about 12 feet in depth while maintaining a strong rattle and vibration. Buyers get six lures as part of the package too.
- Strong and sharp hooks that aren’t likely to require replacing (as is the case in other models)
- Great value for money with choice of six lures that perform smoothly with very little need for tuning
- Body is printed rather than painted which makes the finish a little less desirable for those after a higher quality finish
- Bills have a tendency to crack and chip in heavy conditions
These lures offer a lot of versatility over other crankbaits and can target species other than bass including catfish, perch, trout, and bream. Suitable in both freshwater and saltwater these lures have a 3D-designed eye that closely mimics that of baitfish while also featuring strong treble hooks. They swim at a depth between 2.5 and 8.5 feet and have a length measurement of 2.2 inches.
- More lightweight than minnow crankbait lures at 0.2 oz
- Stainless steel ball bearings inside the lures chamber ensure it runs well in the water and sinks to the depth specified
- Double rather than treble hooks can make it slightly more difficult to hook tricky bass
- Lighter weight makes long casts particularly difficult
These crankbait bass lures have a multi-jointed body that are connected by textile fabrics to ensure a wide wiggle that’s effective in attracting fish. The large lip makes it particularly adept at floating while the range of colors can match any condition or setting. A built-in gravity ball also helps increase the amount of vibration this lure generates while also reducing wind resistance on the cast.
- Suitable for bass and other species like pike, walleyes and musky
- Longer length of 4.72 inches and a heavier weight of 0.44 oz makes them good for long surface casts
- Diving depth of 3-4 feet makes them unsuitable for deep water fishing
- Only comes in a pack of two so offers less value for money than other options
This lipless, long-casting sinking crankbait has a “special tuned” sound chamber with ball bearings that produce a rattling sound in the water designed to create an attractive disturbance. The Rappala also has two full-size treble hooks and can be run fast or slow on the retrieve at shallow depths.
- At 0.32 oz. it’s a very lightweight lure that is easy for beginners to master
- Sound chamber makes it a good all-weather lure that’s suitable for in all seasons
- Only one in a pack means it doesn’t offer the same value as multiple lure pack options
- Two treble hooks means it can be prone to snag if not cast or controlled carefully
These crankbaits imitate frogs rather than minnows or shad and are made of durable plastic rather than wood or metal like these other recommendations. Made to collapse for a solid hookset these frog designs run smoothly in all types of water, from heavy thickets to clear running streams.
- 365 days return and replacement warranty make it a reliable purchase
- Very life-like both in color, and movement
- Best used with heavy line types as the frog has a tendency to float (limits line options)
- Color variation on underside of the frog could be better (all are white)
Crankbaits are one of the best ways to start bass fishing and is a good choice in all types of water. The options above are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what’s available in the cranking world.