“Thank goodness this is more about color than anything else,” I thought to myself as I bounced the shallow running crankbait off the shell and paused long enough to allow it to start its slow ascent. Before I could turn the handle on the reel, another slot red inhaled it and powered his way towards deeper water.

The crankbait was never intended to be a staple in the bay fisherman’s box, but not unlike everything from spinner baits to tube jigs, it has earned a spot in the starting line-up. While there are more productive ways to fish it, a lipless crankbait will catch fish by simply casting it out and retrieving it. That is where”simple” ends when defining anything associated with crankbait fishing.

Even with a lipless crankbait, in order to maximize its potential you have to fish it with the correct rod and line size and few if any “Trap” fishermen simply throw it out and reel it back in. Aside from more physical work and having to pay constant attention to detail…crankbait fishing also equates to more money!

Following a trip last week, I found myself digging through boxes of lures that were a necessary part of the trade for 20-plus years of guiding on Toledo Bend. The first four boxes alone contained only lures that would dive 3 to 5 feet deep. Aside from having multiple baits in the same color, some were wide bodied, some were thin bodied, lengths were slightly different, speed of ascent was different, etc.

The crankbait is a tool designed to efficiently cover a specified depth of water for the duration of a single cast. The length and width of the lip dictates the depth that it will dive and the amount of vibration or wobble is determined by the width of the body of the lure. Are you starting to get some idea of just how complex fishing a crankbait can get?

Virtually every bass tournament fisherman in the 70’s and 80’s fished their way through boxes of alphabet crankbaits like the Big O, Little N, Wee R, and Model A.I still have an original Big O that I rented for a tournament in 1971. I chipped the paint off on one side during the day and lost my $20 deposit. They were the rage and they worked!

For years, Luther White wore every other guide in the Six Mile area out drifting the grass flats with a deep diving slender bodied crankbait that he never even fished deep. He affectionately called his spoonbill Rebel a “Whipporbill” and he would embarrass you with it if you were fishing nearby. Because I never mastered his technique I avoided fishing with clients anywhere near his old Power Cat boat.

The key element of his technique was that he could more easily reel the deep diving lure down to the hydrilla before stopping it, thus allowing it to hover in the strike zone most of his cast. Believe me, drifting a Texas rigged worm or slow rolling a spinner bait did not produce the same results.

Hands down, the most popular lipped crankbait for Sabine Lake fishermen is the Heddon Swim’n Image. It has earned its stripes all the way from the jetties to the revetment walls on the north end of the lake and in this case, a specific color can be very difficult to find at times. In one morning last April I watched nine dozen speckled trout colored Images leave Daley’s Hunt N Fish before they ever made the shelf!

Trout fishermen have discovered that it is a much easier lure to avoid the rocks with than an open hook jig as it never dives deeper than five feet. It is, however, the devoted redfish chasers that are attuned to the more specific benefits of fishing a crankbait.The only down side is the cost associated with carrying multiple colors and sizes designed to fish at different depths, but they are now able to ferret out fish they never caught before!

Easily the biggest discovery was that they could crank a larger bait down into the deeper rocks and get it back again.To effectively do this, however, requires a longer rod with a faster action and a reel filled with a line thin enough and strong enough to maximize the lure’s potential. Braided line and a 20 to 30 pound length of shock leader will usually accomplish this.

While we spend most of our time fishing the smaller crankbaits in the river and bayous, the lures of choice for digging around in the deeper rocks at depths of 12 to 15 feet are lures like the Strike Pro Super Diver and the River 2 Sea Hi-Dep. Because of the work involved in keeping these larger baits at the maximum depth, however, they are pretty much favored only by tournament fishermen with a pay check on the line.

Outside of colors and body styles, the so-called backwater or bay fisherman can get by with far fewer crankbaits as most of the catching will be done in water less than six feet deep. This doesn’t require purchasing a longer fast action rod and your standard issue 12 pound mono with a short length of leader will work just fine. If the lure does not have a split ring to tie onto add one or use a loop knot for better performance.

There are some really good crankbaits on the market right now like the Cranky M and Biggie, but I dusted off a couple dozen of those old Model A’s and Rebel Wee-R’s and they have worked equally well. Chrome/black back, any chartreuse pattern, and a red crawfish pattern will keep you in the hunt until your buddy blows you away with some exotic color he found in the discount bin.

This was probably far more than most of you ever cared to know about crankbaits, but it is at the very least a practical reason for digging through your old bass stuff and you might just enjoy watching your line slice across the water under the weight of broad shouldered red that doesn’t know crankbaits are for bass!