Best Setup for Crankbait Fishing: 7 Tips and Tricks

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Crankbaits are tried and true when it comes to bass fishing. Cranks come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colors, making it a little overwhelming if you go into a store without doing your research first. There are square-billed crankbaits, round-billed crankbaits, and some without a bill at all.

To improve my bass fishing game, I decided to do in-depth research into the ultimate system for crankbaits.

So, what is the best crankbait setup? Unless you are throwing light lures, you’ll want to use a baitcasting rig. This will include a smaller baitcasting reel and a crankbait casting rod.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner or an experienced angler who’s primarily used to a spinning reel. Fishing with crankbaits on casting gear can be one of the most relaxing and rewarding experiences on the water. Below are 7 tips and tricks to help you master the art of cranking.

Best Setup for Crankbait Fishing

1. Crank on your Strong Side

Cranking on your strong side means positioning your rod to your dominant-hand side. By cranking on your strong side at an angle, with your rod securely in place under your non-dominant arm, you can set the hook with ease. When you have a fish on the line, lean into your strong side to set the hook and that bass isn’t going anywhere.

The key is to eliminate slack from entering the equation. If you crank on your weak side, it’s easier for a bit of slack to form on the line when you first set the hook. Sometimes, that’s all a bass needs to shake loose.

Also, try not to point your rod at the bait. You want to keep your rod at a 45-degree angle when fishing crankbaits. If your rod is pointed right at the bait, it’s too easy to pull the lure out of the bass’s mouth when you feel a strike.

2. Use the Right Rod

Your rod is the most important piece of gear when fishing with crankbaits. If your rod is too stiff, you can easily pull a crankbait out of the bass’s mouth as he’s inhaling it. There have been way too many fish lost this way, so picking out the right rod is paramount.

The first box to check is picking out a rod with enough bend at the tip. This is referred to as the “action” on a rod. A fast-action rod will have a stiffer tip, and a slow-action rod will feel more like a noodle. You don’t necessarily need a slow-action rod, but moderate-action is the sweet spot.

The slower action means that the rod reacts slower to you set the hook. Every action you make will flow to the lure at a slower rate with a slower action rod. This helps ensure that the bass has every opportunity to swallow the bait.

You can get away with fishing crankbaits on a medium-heavy rod, but that powerful of a rod is not necessary. At the same, you do need enough power to pull up a big bass, so a medium or medium-lite powered rod is preferred.

One area of your crankbait rod that should not be up for debate is making sure it has a graphite shaft. Fishing with crankbaits is one of the best times to take advantage of the benefits provided by lighter, stronger graphite shafts.

3. Use the Right Reel

When it comes down to “the best reel for crankbaits” what you’re really looking for, beyond basic quality, is a lower gear ratio. A higher gear ratio means that you’re reeling in more lines for every handle turn, which is not ideal for crankbaits. You want to give that lure a chance to slowly dive, and give that big old bass following your lure every opportunity to take the bait before you reel it back in.

Especially if you’re fishing with crankbaits in colder water, you’ll want a slower retrieve with more lethargic fish in the water. Something in the 5.0-6.0:1 category will work best. You will want to avoid a reel with a 7.0:1 or higher gear ratio.

The best crankbait reel for the money, in my opinion, is the Daiwa Tatula CT. You can get this reel for under $130 from Amazon and never need to buy another crankbait reel in your life.

Daiwa TACT100P TATULA CT Baitcast Reel, Black
  • Custom Soft-Touch Handle Knob
  • Ultimate Tournament Drag (13.2lb)

Used by Bass Pro Randy Howell specifically for crankbaits, this reel has everything you could ask for, including:

  • 5:1 gear ratio with eight ball bearings.
  • Ultimate Tournament Carbon Drag at 13.2 pounds, courtesy of oversized drag washers.
  • MAGFORCE Z spool – uses magnets to start the spool faster, spin longer, and brake on command, preventing backlashes.
  • Swept handle – a Daiwa exclusive feature creating less rod and reel wobble while you crank.
  • New lightweight, compact, and ergonomic design featuring an aluminum frame and side plate.

4. Know What Depth to Target

Each one of your lures will have a different operating depth depending on the size, bill, and length of your crankbaits. Having a GPS depth finder on hand is extremely helpful when using crankbaits. With a GPS device, you can locate what depth the fish are at, and then select your crankbait accordingly.

  • Square-billed crankbaits are best used in the shallows, from 2’ to 6’ deep.
  • Medium-diving crankbaits are 2” to 3” long and go as deep as 12 feet.
  • Deeper-diving crankbaits are 3” to 5” long.
  • Lipless crankbaits can be used at any depth, but do not cover as much ground as lipped cranks and are more prone to snags.

5. Don’t be Distracted by Color Overload

Crankbaits are so popular that manufacturers never stop pumping out new colors and patterns. While many colors will work effectively no matter the conditions, other colors are best left on the shelf.

One of my favorite colors to use is the Sexy Shad. This color scheme will vary slightly from brand to brand, but that just means more varieties of sexy shads to toss out when things dry up. Sexy shad is probably best used in water that’s moderately clear.

Natural shad is another go-to color that can be used in all conditions. If you live in a northern state or territory that frequently sees bluegills, try a bluegill-imitating crank. Another situational pattern is a crawfish crankbait, which is perfect in the spring when crawdads are breakfast, lunch, and dinner for hungry bass.

Lastly, the citrus shad color isn’t usually in my starting lineup but is an excellent choice coming off the bench. If my go-to crankbaits aren’t working, throwing on the citrus shad can sometimes work wonders.

6. Have a Purpose for Every Cast

One of the great joys of fishing can be mindlessly casting and reeling. Even if you don’t catch a fish, it’s always great to have a rod and reel in your hand, and the back and forth of casting and reeling can be a soothing experience. If that’s how you want to fish, more power to you.

However, if you want to be effective with your crankbaits, don’t simply toss your line and mindlessly crank back. Keep your retrieve slow, vary your speed, pause the lure mid-retrieve, and try to bounce it off the structure. When you catch a fish, think about what you were doing before the strike so that you can replicate that on the next cast.

7. Use the Right Line

In general, for crankbaits, the lighter the line the better. A long cast is important for crankbaits because they are meant to cover both depth and length in the water.  You want to ensure that your bait gets enough time to attract fish.

If you ask Bass Pro David Fritts, he’ll tell you there are two things that matter most with crankbaits that are directly affected by your choice in line: the action of the lure, and casting distance.

Another reason to use a lightweight line is to ensure that the lure has energetic action. The best way to achieve this action is with a light, thin line. Some suggest an 8-pound test, while Fritts prefers to go with a 10-pound test to reduce the risk that the line will break.

Berkley has a new Trilene Sensation monofilament line made with a multi-polymer formula to add strength without adding diameter. The Trilene Sensation is one of the more expensive lines, but you get what you pay for.

Berkley Trilene® Sensation, Clear, 10lb | 4.5kg,...
  • BERKLEY TRILENE SENSATION: Don't let fish off the...
  • WIN BATTLES WITH BIG FISH: Whether it's wet or...

If you’d like to spend a little less on a quality mono line, try out the Berkley Big Game monofilament. You can buy five times the length of a 10-pound test line for the same price as the Trilene Sensation.

Berkley Trilene Big Game Fishing Line
  • Pound Test: 10 lb.
  • Line Color: Ultra Clear
  • Spool Length: 1500 yd.

Bottom Line on the Best Crankbait Setup

Crankbaits are some of the most effective lures you can use to catch bass. But if you don’t have the right setup, even the best-looking crankbaits can be worthless in the water. Make sure to use baitcasting gear if possible. On your reel, a lower gear ratio will help with a slower retrieve. On your rod, make sure the action is moderate to slow, and not fast.

Once you have your rod, reel, and a light mono line, it’s time to go pick out some crankbaits. Get a wide variety of cranks depending on the depth you’re targeting, and the color of the water. Remember to have a slow, steady retrieve, and enjoy a boatload of bass!

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