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Hard Bait Selection

By Marc Wisniewski

There is nothing better for just covering a lot of water than crankbaits. The word “crankbait” encompasses so many lures in the hard bait category so let’s break them down and reveal where and when you will want to use each one.

Let’s start out shallow. The shallow running minnow bait is a very versatile fish catcher all season long. From the start of spring this bait rules the skinny water for Bass, Walleyes and Pike in natural lakes. Even in streams, some of the biggest trout can be fooled with a minnow bait. It can even be twitched on the surface like a topwater bait for early season Largemouth and Smallmouth. The slim profile lends itself to catching almost anything.

If its bass you are after, a stouter profile that resembles bluegills, shiners, and shad are what you are looking for. A shallow running square bill is perfect for tossing at banks, around fallen trees, docks, and running over shallow weeds. The wide body design matched with the classic square-bill allows this bait to deflect off cover and keep going. If you are fishing a shallow square-bill correctly you are making contact! Erratic retrieves that are deflecting off rock and wood are what triggers strikes from these bass holding tight to cover. These square bills generally run in the 2’ to 4’ range. You will want to fish these cover baits on a baitcaster or heavier spinning rod with 10 to 12-pound line.

To get a little deeper to fish in the 6 to 12 foot range are the medium divers. These baits will come into play in summer when Bass, Walleyes and Pike start holding on deeper structure and the deep edges of weed lines. This medium diving crankbait is also the workhorse for walleye trollers whether you are trolling a single line or multiple lures off trolling boards. Since most of the action on these baits are in more open water situations, you can lighten up to 10-pound line and make longer casts to get the bait to its maximum depth.

If you want to get even deeper, you can make it happen. Deep divers will cover the 12 to 20 foot range and there are a few that can even get to 25 feet when trolled on a long line. Most of the deep divers will achieve 16 to 18 foot depths on a long cast which covers most of the deep holding mid-summer and very late fall fish. Most of these baits are very popular with Pike and Walleye trollers on deeper lakes and impoundments and even the Great Lakes. Great Lakes Trout and Salmon can even be caught on some of these extreme divers without the use of weighted lines or down-riggers.

One lure in the hardbait category that doesn’t really fit in the “diver” category is the lipless crankbait, also referred to as a rattle bait. As the name says, the lipless crankbait has no diving lip. With no lip it has no predetermined diving depth. It can be burned over weeds in a few feet of water, or yo-yo’d along the bottom in 20 feet. The line tie is in the middle of the back and it casts like a missile. It’s a weighted bait with plenty of beads inside to make it rattle and trigger amazing reflex strikes. These baits are available from panfish sized to Bass, Pike, Walleye, and Striper size. Don’t count out Musky in the spring when it comes to tossing a lipless crankbait in the shallows. You can bang this lure off shallow cover, or bomb-cast it in open water for fish feeding on open water schools of baitfish, and everything in-between. The lipless crankbait is one of the most versatile lures in your tackle box. You really can’t fish it wrong.

Let’s talk a little bit about colors. In general, think about using natural colors in clear water and brighter colors in murky water. The shad or natural perch colors will excel when the water clarity is in the 6 to 10 foot range. If the water is darker than that consider some of the yellow, chartreuse, or red fluorescent patterns. And I can’t explain why but when in doubt, break out an all-white lure. They seem to work anywhere. Chrome finishes are great around shad or alewives. If your lake has a lot of crawfish, there are several crawfish patterns that need to be in your arsenal.

Whether you are looking for fish shallow or deep, a crankbait is a great tool to cover a lot of water quickly and catch the most aggressive fish out of the schools.