Outfit Matches & Misfits – Crankbait tackle

Outfit Matches & Misfits – Crankbait tackle

Apr 2, 2012

Outfit Matches and Misfits: Technique – Crankbait Fishing

Crankbait Tackle Logic with Dan Johnston, St. Croix Rod

Part 1: Selection Criteria, common mistakes, rod length

Interview conducted and edited by Mike Pehanich

Dan Johnston of St. Croix Rod drills down to the fine points of matching crankbait tackle in this exclusive interview for Mike Pehanich’s Small Waters Fishing.

SWF Editor Mike Pehanich: A lot of fishermen regard crankbait fishing as a “no-brainer,” a simple chuck-and-wind technique. But it’s a lot more sophisticated than that if you do it well and do it right. And much of its complexity seems to rest upon matching rod, reel and line to the type of lure and conditions you are fishing.

Dan Johnston: Crankbait tackle is a multifaceted issue. There’s a million crankbaits out there, from squarebills (square-billed crankbaits) to baits that dive to 20 feet, and there’s a tool or set of tools for each trade.

The “mechanic’s toolbox” provides a great analogy. When the job calls for a regular slotted screwdriver, a mechanic doesn’t pull out a Phillips screwdriver, and vice versa. Crankbait fishing is the same.

Selection Criteria: Ask these questions

I ask a couple of questions before selecting my tackle for crankin’:

1) What kind of crankbait will I throw?  When it comes to rod selection, it’s important that the fisherman first determines which category of crankbaits he is going to pursue. For example, you have your lipless crank baits …your Rat-L-Traps. A ‘Trap’ is one of the best casting baits ever invented. And it comes through the water with relatively low resistance, and you can run it at a number of speeds. Then you have squarebill crankbaits, deep-diving crankbaits and wide wobble crankbaits like the Wiggle Wart that work your tackle hard with their vibration.

2) Do I need casting distance or accuracy? When you determine what kind of rod you want to use for that kind of bait, it comes down to how accurate you want to be versus how far you want to throw it.

A general rule of thumb in all fishing — with the exception of flipping – is: “The closer the tip is to your hand, the more accurate you’re going to be.” For example if you have a 5-1/2-foot spinning rod and you are in heavy timber, and you are casting only 15 feet max, you are going to perform a lot better for the obvious reason that you are going to be able to work it around the timber without banging it into something.

So, if you are target fishing, the one thing you want to be concerned with is the length of the rod.

Outfit Misfits: Common mistakes in crankbait tackle match-ups

Q: Let’s move to the “Outfit Misfit” portion of our discussion, Dan. What are the most frequent mistakes anglers make when they are assembling their rod/reel/line combination for crankin’?

DJ: Great question. And there are four or five answers.

Stiff and "fast action" rods will result in missed strikes and lost fish. Use a moderate or "softer" action rod with crankbaits.

MISMATCH #1: Rod choice too stiff — Without a doubt, the Number One mistake in crankbait fishing is people using a rod that is too stiff.  First, it impedes the action of the bait, and, secondly, you are absolutely going to miss fish that you wouldn’t miss with a lighter, let’s say “softer” rod.

MISMATCH #2: Reel too fast — A real close second is using a reel with too fast a gear ratio. Sometimes you want to burn a crankbait with a 7:1 gear ratio reel, but in most situations, people reel crankbaits too fast. There are reels that have 3.8:1 and 4:1 ratios, if you can find them. But generally, I don’t want to use a reel much over 5:1.

The reel can be your biggest enemy if your gear ratio is too high.

Now I  have to be careful saying that. I’m not saying you never want to work a crankbait fast. I was catching bass on a Mann’s One-Minus last year over the top of emerging lily pads, and I was burning the bait. But that was an exception. You can find plenty of exceptions.

But for guys who go out every weekend with a 7.1 to 1 burner and are reeling their crankbait fast from dawn to dusk…that is one of their problems, without a doubt! In my opinion, you need to slow that crankbait down. Most of the time, you want to use a steady retrieve or a stop-and-go, but you want to slow it down. I see many people fishing crankbaits way too fast.

MISFIT #3: Choosing the wrong line – Using the wrong line is the third big error that I see among crankbait fishermen. Generally, I don’t fish a crankbait with braid.* Also, in gin clear water, don’t use a bright color, especially if the lake is pressured.

Line stretch can work to your advantage in most crankbait situations. Use fluorocarbon or monofilament.

I usually prefer monofilament for its added stretch, but now a lot of us are throwing light fluorocarbon lines, too. Fluorocarbon will actually sink better than mono, so it will get deeper, and that can be an advantage. You get great sensitivity with fluorocarbon, too; you get a phenomenal sense of feel with it. It offers low visibility, and it lets the action of the lures work well, too. So I suggest you keep fluorocarbon line as an option.

MISFIT #4: Baitcasting reels with very light crankbaits – Trying to throw very light crankbaits on a baitcasting reel can be an exercise in futility – and an invitation to a monstrous backlash. I opt for spinning tackle for tiny crankbaits like the Rapala Shad Rap SR05 and the Rebel Crawfish. (See “Spinning Reel or Baitcaster? When to take a ‘spin’ with crankbaits”)

*Note Dan makes exception to his no-braid rule in such conditions as dark water with brush or timber.

A matter of length

Q: In general, the rods we used today are significantly longer than the rods we used for crankin’ in yesteryear.

DJ: That’s so true. If you look at cranking rods across the country in the past 10 years, they have absolutely gotten longer. Fishermen commonly used 5-6, and 6-0 rods for crankbait fishing in the 1980s, but most guys opt for the longer rods today.

But there’s definitely an application for a shorter crankin’ rod, especially when you are casting around timber.

When pinpoint accuracy is very important, you want a shorter rod in your hand. (See “Why Kevin Short is big on short rods for target crankin’” feature and exclusive SWF video)

I wouldn’t recommend a 7-4 glass crankbait rod for close quarters target fishing. I don’t know many guys this side of Kevin VanDam who can put a bait where it needs to be in cover at close range with that rod. We will be replacing the 6-6 Premier glass crankbait rod we used to make with a shorter 6-10 crankin’ rod in the Mojo series next summer (July 2012). It will join the other two Mojo Bass Glass Rods – the 7-4 Crankster and 7-8 Big Crankster.

Now if we are fishing for bass in Texas or just bombing an open point anywhere, then a lot of people are choosing rods that are 7-1/2-foot and longer.

The longer rod will, first of all, cast a great deal longer and with less effort. Secondly, and what is awesome about these long rods, is you can hold the tip up in the air and work the bait a lot shallower for a longer distance than with a 6-0 or 6-6 rod.  And, third, you can get a much better hookset if you get bit far from the boat because it picks up more line! If you get bit way out with a crankbait, it’s really important to have a rod that has length or you are going to miss them.

Bassmaster Elite pro Kevin Short opted for a shorter 6-6 crankbait rod for accurate casts around cypress limbs and stumps on his way to a Bassmaster Elite series win on Pickwick Lake in 2010. See "Why Kevin Short is big on short rods for target cranking’!" for feature and video.

Again, the only downside to the longer rod is when you need accurate casts into tight areas, like around wood and dock posts.

But the long rod is great on rock, great in grass, great on the flats, great for when you have to throw in the wind.

What’s more, when you feel that crankbait lose its cadence and smooth out because it has picked up weed on the hook, you can rip it free with the longer rod, rip the grass off it way better than you can with a shorter rod.

When does a short crankbait rod trump a long crankbait rod? In situations that require short but precise and highly accurate casts! Read “Why Kevin Short is big on short rods for target crankin’!” and view the accompanying video!

The long and short of crankbait rods: a comparison

Longer crankbait rods gained attention in the 1980s when Paul Elias introduced his “kneel to reel” cranking to get longer casts and greater depth from his crankbaits. Longer crankbait rods offer other advantages as well. But short rods shine in certain conditions.

Here’s the long and short of it.


Characteristics Short Crankbait Rod(5.5 to 6.5 feet) Long Crankbait Rod (6.5 to 8.0 feet) Notes
Accuracy In general, the shorter the rod, the more accurate it will cast; able to work in tight areas and around objects Long rods can be cumbersome in tight quarters. Relatively short, accurate casts are difficult Rod flex in the upper portion of the rod also is critical for accurate casting.
Distance Not as good when long cast required. In general, long rods enable longer casts. A moderate action rod that deflects further down the rod blank “loads” well for longer casts.
Working the Bait Easy to work around objects and to impart directional change More difficult to work in tight quarters.
Hookset Picks up less line on hookset. Greater line pickup results in better hookups on long casts.
Playing the Fish Offers less leverage when fighting fish, but may be easier to handle in close quarters where heavy cover is involved. Greater leverage tires fish more effectively. A moderate action (Note: this is not the same as medium power) rod and line with more stretch absorb the shock of head shakes, leaps and runs.

Note: Outfit Matches and Misfits provides expert guidelines for matching rod, reel and line to specific techniques. However, conditions often dictate adjustments to one or more components of your tackle. Small Waters Fishing will identify many of the specific adjustments in sidebars and features. We also invite your questions and comments to help deepen our Outfit Matches and Misfits coverage. Send to mppehanich@smallwatersfishing.com .

 The “Outfit Matches and Misfits” series offers the most comprehensive analysis of how to match rod, reel and line to specific technique, lure and circumstance. For more crankbait features and videos, check out:

Crankbait Tackle Logic with Dan Johnston, St Croix Rod: Part II – Lipless and Squarebill crankin’

Squarebill crankbait fishing: Why Kevin Short is big on short rods for target cranking’! Includes exclusive video with Kevin Short


  1. We’re a group of volunteers and opening a new scheme in our community. Your site offered us with useful info to work on. You’ve performed an impressive activity and our entire group shall be grateful to you.

  2. A J Faria /

    I finally realized why I have a tougher time shaking off weeds when I’m hung up. I fish a 6’6 crankin rod because I’m out on a canoe.
    The longer rods are much easier to rip out of weeds.
    Great info!
    All along I thought it was because I didn’t have the Snap!

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