by Daniel Kiazyk

With each passing year the role that crank baits play (in the serious walleye angler's tackle box) has changed to a leading role. knowing the nature of the walleye and the part of the calendar year it is going through "nearly" necessitates the use of cranks in some instances. Moreover, the days of limited choice have been out flanked by an incredibly vast array of baits. However, having all these baits does not magically load the boat up with fish! Understanding the what, when and where is a little more involved than some might imagine. But it's when the right fit occurs between what the fish want (in this case a crank bait) in a particular season in a particular watershed, than a small step as been taken towards putting ones fishing up a notch. These moments when cranks are "the bait", I would argue are won through long hours and constant experimentation, or just a happy hypothesis proven right for a particular watershed.

Where do you start?

A couple of hypotheses have been shared over the past few years, some directly from the annals of walleyedom and others from the least of all expected worlds, fly fishing. Dave Whitlock, fly fisher guru, has expressed that his flies fall into three categories, and it would seem that these categories would apply to crank baits: imitator/replica; simulators and reaction baits. Each of these baits categorization can be carried over into the walleye crank bait world. The replica copy lure nearly repeats what is in nature; that perch colored shad rap looks nearly the same as the perch walleye see on a daily basis. The simulator really doesn't have to look like anything, but it has the qualities of forage in a lake. The flash of the lure showing dark, light or perhaps the size/color of the lure key in on a particular aspect of a walleye's forage in a fishery. Finally the reaction bait creates the condition where a walleye will strike out in a reaction or in a sort of programmed way, why do walleye bite a gaudy red, probably not because they see something they have in their environment, but it's probably something they would react to 9 times out of 10 for no reason.

Having this general idea of the effect of lures will certainly impact on our choice of lures. Probably the best route to go would be the simulator, which imitates various baitfish in the system. Following this would be the imitator if you have a good knowledge of what the predominant forage in a system is. Finally reaction type lures are always another option – although not necessarily the most important to have on hand.

Another interesting reflection on lures has been made by Doug Stange has been to characterize cranks by their action. Three groups have been described as a 1) slow wobble relatively tight in its range of motion 2) to again a more aggressive wobble while remaining relatively tight in its range of motion 3) finally a fast wide wobble. Each accordingly can be applied to a particular season following the concept that fish will react differently to different cranks during different calendar periods. For example earlier on in the year when water is colder a slower/tighter wobble will reflect the relative inactivity of the early season. As the season moves on and the environment starts to come alive with more forage a faster wobble will be required to draw attention from fish that may require a bit more movement. Finally, the wider action cranks will be effective in the warmest water when the whole eco-system is in high gear and something a bit faster and out of the ordinary would draw attention.

Having reflected upon these latter two ideas, a third comes to mind. Forage and seasonal preferences for prey movement will be affected by depth. Generally walleye seem to make a downward movement from spring to summer to fall. Saying this is only a generalization, as there will be fish at most levels but more of the fish will move down, in the water column as the season progresses.

It follows that as the season progresses; the angler will find walleye further down the water column. Initially the smaller lipped long slender cranks will have an effectiveness up to 8" feet. In some instances a few split shots in front of the lure will bring it down a few more feet. Lager lipped cranks which trolled or casted and move to depths of 12-14 feet will next prove effective. If fished up shallower and bounced over the rocks the stop and go action seems to call forth attention from eyes. Perhaps walleye are attracted to any unusually action, which might indicate they are trying to flee. Suspending baits in these contexts add another dimension to the fleeing minnow concept!

The third type of crank bait used by many anglers (as the season progresses) will be those that dive down deep 15-30 feet. Various companies have a line of these cranks, opening up another area in the water column where walleye will frequent later on in the season. Be aware that fish pulled up from more than 30 feet may suffer from an extended swim bladders. In some cases release may not be feasible. As a remedy for those who go down deep for walleye it is important that deep fish brought up slowly and then returned quickly to the water.

Increasing your Cranking efficiency

1) Super line use with cranks might change you level of effectiveness when angling for eyes. Many find this line to be very sensitive especially when angling with cranks. It is easier to "feel" out structure and allows the angler to go a little deep (because there's less line resistance).

2) Change the speed of your boat stop and go or large S turns can change the action of crank (something walleye seem to like).

3) Cranks can be trolled or casted, this latter option is often overlooked, but can be a deadly tactic countdowns cranks can be used to dial in depth and locations.

4) Neutrally buoyant or suspending baits when casted can be deadly as they hang temptingly in front of fish drawing a reaction form fish.

5) As was already mentioned, deeper diving lures can be used to "bang" rocks creating an attractive action. Cranks can also be ripped through weeds (especially along weed edges early on in the year this tactic can trigger strikes).

6) Boards have begun to play an important role in crank bait use. In conjunction with snap weights, cranks can be taken down and away from the boat.

The crank bait seems to have other benefits as well. In the Red River where I'm known to fish from time to time I'll use a crank bait up until the water drops below 50. (I know much has been written about 40 water and the use of cranks). I believe cranks are effective in the Red for a number of reasons. Firstly, the crank emitsa certain amount of underwater vibration, helping walleye to find a crank in water that has nearly zero visibility. Second the crank helps to cover a lot of water – which in the fall seems necessary on the river – In lakes the situation seems somewhat different as walleye will generally gravitate towards the best structure. Cranks can be effective in this context in the structure is a larger hump or a long break link and coverage will put your offering in front of more fish.

I'll also use crank baits as a discovery tool in new lakes or in lakes I don't know what the fish are doing. Going through the water column will eventually give you a hint on where the fish are at and what they're not/or maybe what they are feeding upon.

Finally with regards to cranks, I've found that they can be very size specific for catching fish. On one river that I fish, I find that only larger fish will bite on cranks without exception putting the jig down in this system during the same season produces all sizes of fish. What is there to conclude: cranks in this context do produce good fish (I suspect this generalization could be applied to more fisheries than I previously thought).

Hence it goes without saying the cranks have become a significant part of the walleye man's arsenal. Cranking one down produces results in most watersheds at one time or other. The trick is to establish a game plan for their use, so that cranking one down will result in/hoisting out more rewards.