Without a doubt, I probably catch more bass, both largemouths and smallmouths, on soft-plastic lures than any other type of lure over the course of a season. But I also won't head to any of my favorite bass waters - rivers or lakes - without at least a few crankbaits in my tackle bag. That's because these popular lures are not only quite effective but also a lot of fun to fish.
Of course, there are no magic bullets when it comes to bass fishing, and even the best lure must be fished properly to catch fish consistently. Probably the single tactic that has upped my success rate with crankbaits is to slow down the retrieve. If you're not getting strikes on crankbaits, try reeling about half as fast as you normally do and see what happens. Another trick is to crank the reel handle as fast as you can for three or four turns and then resume a slower retrieve. This erratic action will often provoke an ambivalent bass into grabbing the lure.
Like any genre of bass lures, crankbaits are available in a nearly endless variety of brands and models. When putting together an inventory of crankbaits, two of the most important attributes to consider are diving depth and overall action. Most models of crankbaits can generally be grouped into shallow divers, which will go down 2 to 3 feet; medium divers, which will dive 4 to 6 feet; and deep divers, which will go 8 feet or more. I define "action" as the characteristic swimming motion or wobble of an individual model of crankbait. Most crankbaits also have internal rattles, which allow the bass to track the lure by sound in off-color water.
Currently, my top three "go-to" crankbaits would be the Bomber Model 4A, Bomber Fat Free Fry and the Strike King Pro-Model Series 3. Each of these three baits is a medium diver that consistently produces bass in rivers and lakes. The Bass Pro Shops Nitro Crankbait is another good one that is available in shallow-, medium- and deep-diving models. All the models in the Nitro series are reasonably priced and come in a wide range of colors, so it is no problem putting together an assortment of lures for almost any situation.
The Bass Pro Shops Static Shad exhibits a distinctive tight wobble, and its system of several small rattle chambers produces a sound different from most other crankbaits. It is available in a 3/16-ounce model that is 2 3/8 inches long and dives 2 to 5 feet and another the weighs 3/8 ounce, is 2 3/4 inches long, and dives 4 to 6 feet.
The Cotton Cordell Wiggle O and the Storm Wiggle Wart are what I consider to be a "situational" baits. By that, I mean one of these lures will often work when others don't, and when it's hot, it's really hot. These baits possess a wide, exaggerated wobble, which undoubtedly sends out plenty of vibration.
Sometimes, lure size matters, and in the summertime, that often means going smaller for pressured bass in clear water. The smallest model of the Cotton Cordell Big O - a 1/4-ounce 2-incher that dives 2 to 4 feet - is one my favorite and most effective crankbaits for river bass in the summer. The Strike King Pro-Model Mini 3 is another scaled-down version that does a great job. At 3/16 ounce, the Mini 3 is about the same size as the Big O but dives 4 feet or more, making it a great choice for lakes or searching the depths of those deeper river pools that the "little" Big O can't reach.
Finally, if you are the type who likes tinkering with your fishing tackle, I would strongly recommend replacing the belly hooks on your crankbaits with red treble hooks. I have been doing this for about six seasons now, and I estimate that some days I get 20 percent more strikes on baits with a red hook. More important, however, bass seem to target the red belly hook most of the time when attacking the lure, resulting in solid hook-ups in the top of the upper jaw. Probably fewer than one out of ten bass hooked in that manner will shake loose during the battle if played properly, so turning more strikes into landed fish has made the time and effort of replacing the hooks on my crankbaits well worth it.