If you looked at the record of money-winning presentations for walleye fishing tournaments from over the past dozen years it would quickly become apparent that crankbaits rule when it comes to catching walleyes. Be it spring, summer or fall, cranks catch ‘eyes, but to be effective, choosing the right one for the given situation is key.
As a professional angler I have made a living studying exactly what crankbait characteristics trigger more bites. The lure’s action is the number one thing that differentiates a walleye crank from one typically designed to catch bass. A bass crankbait will normally have a side-to-side wobble; the best walleye cranks have a more top-to-bottom roll. The roll attracts walleyes because it gives the lure side-flash that emits a “flickering”, like you’d see if you observed a school of minnows underwater
Having side-flash is only the first step in choosing a crankbait. There are lures with subtle rolls and ones with more aggressive rolls. For instance, a shad-style lure designed for walleyes typically has a more aggressive roll than does a longer-thinner minnow style crankbait. The profile you choose can depend on factors such as water temperature, forage base and mood of the walleyes. Generally, cool water calls for subtle action baits while the higher action lures dominate in warmer temps.
But there’s a lot more to choosing the right profile than water temperature. Each body of water has its own unique forage base and “matching the hatch” can play a key role in lure selection. In natural lakes, rivers and many southern reservoirs, forage species like perch and various species of shad can be prominent meaning the shad-profile lures are preferred. In the Great Lakes and many large northern reservoirs, forage like smelt, fathead minnows and shiners, species with a long and slender profile, are predominant and good places to use minnow shaped cranks.
Next on the list of characteristics to consider when choosing the right crankbait is size. Here too, much like profile, matching the hatch is a good place to start. The problem is you may not always have a clue what size forage the walleyes are keying in on so experimenting with size is important. I’ve seen it a million times where the biggest fish I catch on a given day come on the smallest lures, and just as often I’ve seen where larger lures catch numbers of smaller fish. Bottom line, experimentation will help you decipher the size puzzle.
So what about sound, aka, rattles in crankbaits? Do they make a difference? I’ve never seen where a crankbait with rattles decreased the number of bites I was getting, so given a choice; I’d choose a lure with rattles over one without.” Crankbaits like the Berkley Flicker family of lures have a much higher pitch rattle than most lures designed for bass which tend to have a more “thunky” rattle to them, so choosing a bait with the right rattle can also make a difference too.
The last piece of the puzzle is picking the color of the cranks you use. This can be a hotly contested subject but in my experience, color is the last thing to worry about in choosing a crank. That’s not to say I don’t have my “confidence” colors that tend to get first pick. I lean toward ones that emulate natural forage colors like Berkley’s Pearl White color; what I normally refer to as “Mouse”, (a lure with white sides and a grey back). Cranks that have white or silvery sides and a dark back are the best ones for getting good the side flash when the bait rolls; you see the side, top, side, top … it’s that contrast in color that imitates the “flicker” you see in a school of minnows. But don’t be afraid to experiment with color once you are catching fish,; the walleyes will tell you what color they like best.
So my advice on choosing the right crankbaits for walleyes: Get the key factors right first; action, profile, and size, then experiment with color to dial in the pattern.
Of course, you have to put the crankbaits in the right depth to contact the most fish, but we’ll cover that topic in detail in our next installment.