Crankbaits can be one of the most effective ways to target bass or other predator species almost any time of the year. From shallower square bills in the early Spring and Fall, to deep diving cranks late Spring and the heat of Summer, crankbaits are a great way to locate fish and trigger them to bite. But, to improve your success when fishing crankbaits, the right rod and reel set-up is just as important as the specific crankbait you choose.
First let’s understand the “why” behind the rod and reel set-up. A crankbait is a lure style designed to mimic a preferred forage species and trigger a strike by virtue of the action, color, and vibration emitted from the lure. These baits are commonly referred to as “reaction” baits because the fish usually “reacts’ to the lure passing by as they think it is trying to escape and strikes at it out of instinct. The fish tries to inhale the bait by forcing water rapidly through the mouth and out the gills which creates the ability for the lure to be sucked inside the fish’s mouth very quickly. But this is where the fun begins. Because the bait is typically hard plastic and usually has multiple sets of treble hooks, the fish quickly detects it’s made a big error in judgement. So, ole’ wily largemouth tries to expel the bait just as fast as it inhaled it….and trust us, it can be faster than greased lightning. But by choosing the right rod and reel set-up it tips the scales in your favor and becomes more difficult for the fish to “spit” the lure before you can react to the strike.
With treble hook baits, especially crankbaits, the rod is the most critical piece of the puzzle. In general, you’ll want a rod power and action that is more forgiving and not stiff in the tip section. A “softer” rod design provides more “give” when the fish inhales the bait so the rod doesn’t overreact to the strike. A tip that’s too stiff, actually assists the fish in expelling the lure from its mouth. A softer rod action acts like a shock absorber and makes it more difficult for the fish to expel the lure. The rod “gives” as the fish inhales the lure and effectively hooks the fish itself while you just keep on reeling when you feel a strike versus setting the hook. A more forgiving action also allows the lure to maximize its action in the water. You’ll also feel more of the lure’s vibration and increase your ability to detect the difference between the lure deflecting off cover versus a fish strike.
In general, you’ll want a rod that’s medium in power and a moderate to fast taper like the Trika C610MXF or C73MF. For bigger, deeper diving crankbaits you may need to step up to the C73MHF to comfortably fish bigger lipped lures that pull much harder. The C610MXF is also a great choice for other treble hook lures like jerkbaits and topwaters where the shorter length allows you to work the bait very effectively with erratic stop-start retrieves and cast accurately to visual targets. The longer 7’3” rod is great for throwing crankbaits in more open water as it’s easy to load the longer blank effortlessly to make longer casts which maximizes the depth your lure will dive.
When choosing a baitcasting reel for crankbaits and even spinnerbaits, select a gear ratio in the 6:1 range or even lower with the slower gear ratios working best for deeper diving lures that have a lot of resistance when cranking them. The slower gear ratio is more comfortable to fish all day and it won’t pull the lure too fast which negatively affects the lure’s action. All vibrating baits are best fished with a slower to moderate retrieve which maximizes the side-to-side action in the water triggering more strikes.
The fishing line you choose is also critical in your set-up. You’ll want reasonably light line in either monofilament or fluorocarbon. The smaller the diameter, the deeper your bait will go. That 1 or 2 extra feet of depth can mean all the different when trying to stay in contact with the bottom or reaching a suspended school with the right size bait. Something in the 8-12 pound test range is ideal but you may need to go a bit heavier if there is a lot of cover and underwater obstructions to deal with. You’ll want a baitcast reel capable of holding at least 120 yards of line which aids in making the longest cast possible in offshore situations. Larger spool 200 size baitcast reels perform best where casting distance is desired.
If crankbait selection itself seems daunting, we’d recommend you keep it simple. First, you can narrow color choice to three basic themes – red, chartreuse, and natural colors.
Red variations work great in the spring and when fish are feeding on crayfish. Chartreuse variations are good almost anytime as they mimic bluegill, perch, and other prey species and stand-out well when the water is off-color. Natural colors like pearls, silvers, and whites mimic many prey species like shad and are particularly effective in clearer water. To cover the water column, make sure you have at least three depth ranges in your box. Shallow square bills that run 3’-6’ deep, medium cranks that run 8-12’ deep, and deep-diving big-lipped cranks capable of getting down to 15’ or more. With these basic colors and depth ranges, you’ll be able to target fish wherever they appear in the water column at any time of the year.
Crankbaits should be in your arsenal on any fishing trip and are one of the most effective ways to catch bass, walleye, and other predator species so it’s worth the time and investment in getting your crankbait system dialed in to optimize your performance and most importantly, show your fishing partner who’s the better crankbait slinger.