Crankbaits more than anything let the angler cover a lot of water. What I mean by this is take the ocean for example. It is a big wet desert in that the vast majority of it does not hold fish. There are a lot of fish in the ocean, however, the challenge is to find the water that is holding fish and catch them. Freshwater fishing is the same. There will be a lot of water in the lake, pond, river etc. that you look to fish, however you need to work through the water that does not hold fishsand find that water that does.
Think of a crankbait as the fish finding bait in your tackle box. You can quickly fish and blanket an area of water including depth by fishing and changing out crankbaits that work at varying depths of water. Once you find the depth the fish are holding at, focus your efforts at that depth to get repeated strikes. More often than not staying consistent, you will catch more fish.
The rule of thumb here is stained vs. clear water. In clear water, fish will focus on line of sight to target food and baits. Natural bait colors of prey fish will do the best in this situation. Silver or minnow look alike colors of browns and greens work best on this occassion. Look at the natural forage fish where you are fishing and look to replicate it. Avoid the bright baits with the clearer the water. Most successful fisherman I know will even tone down bright silver or even natural colored baits with a steel wool to get the “shine” off of the bait to look closer to the forage fish they are trying to imitate.
The darker the water the brighter the crankbait should be. This is where your bright colors come in. Chartreuse, Fire-tiger, whites and red crankbaits. Bright colors will help get the bait seen in the dark water. Focus your efforts and pair the brighter baits to the darker stained water.
We have all heard the saying that the bigger the bait will catch the bigger the fish. I guess sometimes that is true, but I will tell you this…the largest bass I have ever caught was on a tube jig at night one night crappie fishing. This is a tough one. I tend to keep a number of crankbaits of the same type in the different sizes. Once I target where the fish are holding and at what depth, I will throw progressively larger sized cranks at them and see what they prefer that day. I tend to lean to the smaller baits and go larger…unless I am fishing dark stained water. Then I start large in that I think these cranks get noticed better by making more of a turbulence in the water and thus get targeted better by the fish. So go big and bright in these conditions in that they tend to do better than the smaller baits do in the dark cloudy water.
Here is a quick reference for crankbait lure size for freshwater game fish:
Largemouth Bass- 1 to 5 inches
Smallmouth Bass- 1 to 4 inches
Walleye- 2 to 6 inches
Northern Pike- 3 to 9 inches
Muskie 3 to 12 inches
Crappie 1 to 3 inches
White Bass- 1 to 3 inches
Crankbait lure action – Wiggle vs. Wobble
Focus your lure selection here on water temperature and water clarity. Understand that in colder clear water fish slow down. A tight wiggle bait and a slower retrieve tend to give better results. Cold muddy/stained water may be the most challenging fishing condition there is. My vote, consider doing something else when this happens besides fishing. Warmer water conditions in stained water with baits that wobble or have a greater turbulent action tend to do better here. In warmer water- predator fish will chase baits down and hit them, not so much in cold water conditions.
41 degrees- clean and cold water clarity- tight wiggle baits consider lipless rattle traps and the like and slow your retrieve down.
51 degrees- clean or stained water-consider wobble baits like strike king shad, jointed swim crankbaits and the like.
Colder than 41 degrees consider doing something else- (maybe a good time to go to the pub instead of fishing and brag about the one that got away!, Cheers!)
Between 41-51 degrees… really slow down your retrieve. Erratic presentations and bouncing the crank off of structure always is key….and getting the bait on the fishes nose is always important the colder it is. Hit a big bucket mouth in the nose with your crank, you will entice a reflexive strike. Fish slowdown in the cold water and bait action and retrieves should follow suit.