If you’ve gone to a fishing store, you’ve likely seen a crankbait. They are usually shaped and colored to look like fish, crayfish, or other creatures living in water. They have two sets of treble hooks, and may or may not have a plastic bill on the front. They are a fishing staple for many anglers.
But will they catch the fish that you’re after? The simple answer to this is if the fish you are trying to catch sometimes eat smaller fish – then yes it can be caught with a crankbait. But if it feeds on things other than smaller fish, chances are you can’t catch it with a crankbait.
But if you don’t know – then read on where I’ll discuss every fish you can catch with crankbaits and what type to buy to catch them!
Crankbaits for Largemouth Bass
Maybe the one species that fisherman are after above all others is the largemouth bass. And if you want to catch the,, crankbaits are a great lure choice.
If you’re in the middle of summer, nothing catches bass quite like a deep driving crankbait such as the Rapala DT Series. Focus on deep points and offshore cover to find the big ones.
Or if it’s fall, you can instead use a squarebill crankbait like the Strike King KVD which only dives to around 4 to 6 feet. With this, you can beat the banks and find those active bass feeding hungrily before winter.
In spring, you’re best buying a lipless crankbait like the Strike King Red Eyed Shad. This crankbait doesn’t have a lip and sinks naturally, but has rattles that really entice bass for some reason in spring. If you want to know the difference between lipless and lipped crankbait read here.
Crankbaits for Smallmouth Bass
A smallmouth bass is my favorite type of fish to catch, and are much like the largemouth discussed above.
The main difference is that, as the name suggests, smallmouth bass have smaller mouths than largemouth bass do. That means when picking crankbaits for smallmouth bass you should pick smaller sized crankbaits because it fits in their mouth easier.
I stay with the Strike King KVD series squarebill but opt for their 1 and 1.5 smaller sizes for smallmouth. But aside from trying to aim a little bit smaller, smallmouth will act very similarly to largemouth bass. So the same tips apply.
Crankbaits for Crappie
Crappie are one of the smallest fish on this list, but even they can be caught on crankbaits in the right conditions.
Like smallmouth bass, they have very small mouths. So the key to finding the right crankbait to catch them is to look for the smallest ones possible. These crankbaits are usually listed as “micro” crankbaits.
I recommend the Bandit crappie series of crankbaits, made specifically in colors like pink and white that appeal to crappie. They come up to sizes in the 300 range which can dive all the way down to 12 feet. Because crappie hold deeper than most freshwater fish, you usually want a crankbait that goes as deep as possible but stays in a smaller “micro” size.
Crankbaits for Trout
Speaking of fish with small mouths, trout are another species you can catch well with crankbaits but need to find smaller size profiles.
The issue is, smaller size profiles often mean they don’t dive as deep. And trout hold in some of the deepest water throughout much of the year and seldom feed very shallow in lakes especially.
This is why I recommend the Rapala Countdown series of crankbaits if you’re fishing for trout. They can be found as small as 1” long and come with an internal weight that makes the crankbait sink. The reason they are called “countdown” is because you can simply count once your lure hits the water to know how deep your bait is going.
If you like trolling for trout, which is very popular among boaters, the Rapala Countdown is also a great option.
For color options, it depends on the local forage in your fishery but I have always found the simple silver color to be a good producer.
Crankbaits for Walleye
Crankbaits are also a really great bait to catch walleye, though you should use specific types to make sure you get the most production.
One factor to consider is color. Walleye are especially attracted to brighter colors than most freshwater species. So pinks, reds, greens, and other bright colors are good options for walleye crankbaits.
Depth is another concern for walleye fishing. Generally they aren’t found much shallower than 10 feet and can get as deep as 30 or 40 feet during the middle of the day. So finding a crankbait that dives deep but isn’t oversized can be a bit tricky.
Thankfully, there are many crankbaits branded specifically for walleye. My choice is Bandit Lures Walleye Cranks which come in shallow (12 feet) and deep (27 feet) options. They have a great color and size variety as well, so you can use the deep during the hotter part of days and the shallow in the mornings and afternoons when walleye get a little shallower.
Trolling is a great way to catch walleye as well and the deeper bandit walleye crankbait is a great option for that.
Crankbaits for Striper
You fish crankbaits for striper much more like you would fish for largemouth or smallmouth bass, with some exceptions.
For one, you don’t have as many color options. Striper feed almost solely on baitfish, usually shad or herring. Because of this, you only want to use whites and silvers and maybe some hints of blue and chartreuse which really match the forage in your fishery. Really a few colors is all you will ever need for stripers.
The size of crankbaits you use also changes slightly. If you’re after big striper, over say 10 pounds, then you need to upsize from the “normal” sized crankbaits. Usually companies will label these larger crankbaits as “magnum” sizes like these magnum Rat-L-Traps that are great for large striper.
Again, trolling is an option for striper with crankbaits, I would recommend something like this Yo-Zuri 3D Magnum Deep Diver if your lake is deep enough.
Crankbaits for Pike/Pickerel
While many people use jerkbaits exclusively for pike or pickerel, crankbaits also can be extremely effective to hook some great catches.
Much like the walleye mentioned earlier, pike and pickerel are drawn towards bright colors over natural ones. So aim for crankbaits that have chartreuse, pink, or bright white in them over a more natural looking baitfish imitation.
Pike are also very aggressive, meaning that the more attention your lure gets the higher chance it will get bit. So going with a lipless crankbait that rattles loudly is a great way to entice them into biting. I personally have caught several pickerel with a firetiger Red Eye Shad when fishing for largemouth bass, even.
Usually pike or pickerel are also found in deeper water as well, but don’t mind opening up their mouth for a big lure. So use crankbaits that dive pretty deep and don’t worry too much about size profile. Avoid magnum lures but anything under 8 inches is perfect.
Crankbaits for Musky
Because musky are the top of the food chain in almost any freshwater fishery, they will eat on a variety of smaller fish. Making them great to target with larger crankbaits.
Thankfully there are many crankbait series designed and targeted specifically to musky fisherman so you’ll know what to look for. Musky will feed in a variety of depth ranges depending on your fishery so purchasing a shallow crankbait like this Musky Innovations Shallow Invader and a deeper one like the Super Cisco Musky crankbait is a good way to cover all depths.
Musky fishing is extremely unique and it’s well worth reading an in depth tutorial before just going out to your lake and chucking lures. So if you want a quick guide, I recommend this article by Karl’s Bait & Tackle that gives you all the basics you need to know.
While there are a few other freshwater species you can catch with crankbaits, the above are the most popular species that you can target or get lucky and catch on your next fishing trip. Most importantly, just find out if the fish you want to catch or are in your lake feed often on smaller fish. If they do, then they absolutely can be caught with crankbaits.
But other species, like catfish and carp, aren’t really going to be caught on crankbaits very often. They naturally feed on other things besides live fish. So if you are interested in catching them, try reading this article where I go over the best baits for catfish.
Or if you want to read more about crankbaits, here are some select articles:
Most importantly, go outdoors and go fishing!