Crankbaits seem like one of the most straightforward baits to use. All you have to do is reel them in and they do all the action for you! But how fast you reel has a big effect on a crankbait’s action, how high or deep it sits in the water, and ultimately if you’ll get fish to bite or not.
When first learning how to fish crankbaits, you should try to have a slow and steady retrieve. Try to count “one Mississippi” for each full circle you make on your reel. Once you get that retrieve memorized you can use it as a baseline to start getting more creative. But all crankbaits can and should be reeled in differently, so read on for more in-depth guidance and some advanced tips to set yourself apart from other crankbait fisherman with how quickly you reel in.
Types of crankbaits
First it’s important to understand there are multiple types of crankbaits. The first identifying feature is whether or not the crankbait has a “lip” or a plastic piece coming from its head where you tie the line into. If it does not have this plastic piece but only a metal swivel to tie into, it is called a lipless crankbait, also commonly called a rattletrap. If it does have a plastic piece, it is technically a lipped crankbait but most often just referred to as a shallow/medium/deep diving crankbait depending on it’s depth rating.
Determining which type of crankbait you’re using is going to be really important to understanding how fast you should reel it in. All crankbaits naturally have action just by reeling, but a lipless crankbait will sink if you don’t reel it. All others will float.
This is important because the speed you reel a crankbait will determine how deep in the water it goes. But a lipless and lipped crankbait are opposite of each other. For a lipless crankbait, the faster you reel the more shallow it will run (because if you don’t reel, it sinks to the bottom). For a lipped crankbait, the faster you reel it the deeper it will go (since it naturally will float).
Reeling Lipless Crankbaits
Since lipless crankbaits are different from their lipped counterparts, lets discuss first how to reel a lipless crankbait. A good version of this kind of crankbait is the Rat-L-Trap.
The reason a slow/steady retrieve for a lipless crankbait works so well is because this bait is meant to be fished somewhat close to the bottom of the water in most cases. So you want to reel it just enough that it rattles and swings side to side, but also stays just a bit off the bottom. If you drag the bottom, it won’t create action or rattle and you’ll likely hook into the bottom of the lake with it’s exposed hooks.
So when using a lipless, cast it out into the lake, let it sink for a second or two, and then start your slow reel retrieve. If you start bumping into the bottom too much or feel like you’re dragging the bottom, you can either speed up your reel a little or lift up your rod tip. Both should keep it higher in the water.
If you are fishing from the bank, also remember that the depth of the water is likely to get shallower the closer the bait gets to you. So while a very slow reel might work in the middle of the lake, you’ll need to reel faster and lift your rod as the bait comes in to keep it from dragging the bottom.
Once you get a feel for it, you’ll find that you can experiment more to see just how deep you can get by reeling slow, lifting your rod tip, or lowering it to reel faster when you want to really create some disturbance in the water. This experimentation can be key to catching fish, so don’t be afraid to vary from the slow steady retrieve if it isn’t getting any bites. We’ll get into advanced techniques later on as well which will capitalize on this.
Reeling Lipped Crankbaits
To most beginner fisherman’s surprise, lipped crankbaits are also best when fished near the bottom of the lake. In fact, if you can perfectly reel your crankbait so that the plastic lip is just barely digging into the bottom or ticking the tops of vegetation or rocks on the bottom of the lake, you’ll be catching fish in no time.
Here’s a good version of a lipped crankbait – the Rapala DT series.
Unlike lipless crankbaits though, reeling speed has less of an effect on what depth the lure runs at because a lipped crankbait floats and can only go to the depth it is rated at. So if you have a crankbait that dives to 4 feet, no matter how fast or slow you reel it, it will only be somewhere between the surface and 4 feet of water. This depth should be found on the packaging of your crankbait or may be printed on its belly.
So you only want to reel a crankbait fast enough to get it to its maximum depth and usually not any faster. This is easy to do with shallow running crankbaits that stay under 6 feet. As you get into deeper diving crankbaits you’ll find you want to reel more quickly at first to get it to depth, then begin your slow retrieve to just keep it at that depth.
Most fisherman will be fishing shallower running crankbaits and they are much easier to learn and use. Crankbaits that dive 20 feet require you to find fish offshore which is difficult in itself, and a deep diving crankbait can wear you out quickly.
So stay with the shallower running cranks at first and focus on your slow and steady retrieve. If you are just barely hitting the bottom of your lake and not dragging in it, then you’re absolutely reeling it at a good speed. But if you are dragging then try reeling just a little slower or lift your rod tip up. Both will raise your crankbait in the water just a bit.
Advanced Crankbait Reeling Techniques
The slow and steady retrieve is always how I begin using a crankbait and how I fish it 95% of the time. But if you aren’t getting bites or just want to try a different reeling technique to see if it will entice some bites, here are some “advanced” techniques you can use with varying reel speeds.
Yo-Yo'ing a crankbait
This is a technique that not many people use with lipless crankbaits that can get some fish to bite when fishing is tough, Much like it sounds, you are quickly lifting the crankbait up in the water and then letting it fall more slowly back down. Then immediately back up. So that the fish sees it as a baitfish that is injured or trying to quickly get away.
The technique for this is to quickly reel your lipless crankbaits in quick spurts. So you cast out into the desired area and let it fall to depth. Then as quickly as you can you reel about five cranks to make the lipless dart quickly upwards, then give it a couple seconds to fall back down and do it again.
If you get your crankbait too high in the water to where you start seeing it on the surface, either reel less when making it rise or give more time for it to fall. If your crankbait is on the bottom too much, then reel longer or let it sink less.
People are for sure going to ask what in the world you are doing as this isn’t a widely used technique and it frankly looks a little silly. But if you catch a couple you might have everyone else doing it too…
Burning a Crankbait
Another technique that can get bites in tough conditions is called burning a crankbait. This is reeling a crankbait very quickly, basically burning it across the top foot or so of the water. Burning a crankbait works with lipless crankbaits as well as shallow running crankbaits. Personally, I only use it with shallow running crankbaits like squarebills (noted by the square plastic piece they have as a lip).
You want to reel quickly, though not as fast as you possibly can. You still want the bait to do it’s action in the water and if you reel too fast it will just turn over. Instead it’s meant to look like a baitfish fleeing quickly from predators. It can kick in predatory fish’s instincts to eat seeing a smaller fish in distress.
While some fisherman just burn crankbaits, I usually mix burning crankbaits in with periods of slower reeling or even pauses. If you quickly burn a crankbait by a fish’s nose and then let it pause and slowly rise, the often are intrigued and bite it just as soon as it pauses. Or they catch up to it and take a bite. So experiment with burning and pausing, burning and reeling slowly, etc.
Creating Reaction Strikes
This is my favorite advanced technique that is sure to get you more bites. And it can be implemented into the slow/steady retrieve that we have already discussed. When fish don’t want to eat, you often have to trick them into it by creating a reaction strike. This basically means making the fish react to the movement of your bait because it is so unique it catches them off guard.
To make your crankbait cause a reaction strike, you need to randomly reel it quickly in the middle of a steady retrieve. This will make the crankbait have it’s normal swimming action and just randomly dart quickly, sometimes causing a fish that was just looking at it to bite. It can be done with any type of crankbait as well.
Once you have the slow and steady retrieve down and you are comfortable, you should begin doing this automatically. Just reeling quickly every so often to change it up and see if there is a fish trailing your bait that will now commit. Or do it when your bait is near a piece of cover like a large rock or tree in the water. If a fish is sitting on the cover and a crankbait darts by it, they are sure to react and bite it where as it just swimming idly by might not get it’s attention.
Armed with this knowledge, you should be able to go out to your local lake and start catching fish on a crankbait. Remember to start with the slow/steady retrieve regardless of which type of crankbait you are using and experiment from there once you get comfortable. Maybe even try one of the advanced techniques I mentioned if you want to add more variety into your crankbait reeling. If you have any tips for how to reel a crankbait or want to share success stories, comment below!