How to Fish with Crankbaits, Minnowbaits, Vibrating Plugs, and Jerkbaits

Featured / Fishing Tackle / Lures / September 28, 2017

How to fish with Crankbaits, Minnowbaits, Vibrating plugs, and Jerkbaits

Plastics and spinners are common, but when fisherman think of fishing lures, they think of crankbaits, minnowbaits, vibrating plugs, and jerkbaits. Crankbaits are likely the most widely used lure available. Deep diver, shallow diving, fat, skinny, long, short, sinking, floating, you name it and there is a crankbait made for it. Minnowbaits are someone lumped in with crankbaits by may unassuming angler. Vibrating plugs, also simply know as rattling lures, are great for targeting fish at different depths. Jerkbaits are mainly used for big Pike and Musky, but don’t count them out for big bass and catfish. We’ve got the best info around for you to check out and learn how to use these lures. Be sure to check out our other articles on How to fish with lures, or How to fish Topwater

Crankbait Fishing

Fishermen use the term crankbait for any lure with a lip that causes it to dive and wiggle when reeled, or cranked, in. Its mainly used for casting and retrieving actions. Minnow plugs are sometimes considered crank baits but we are going to talk about them separately.

Crankbaits work best when water temperature is about 55F. Anything lower and fish are often too lethargic to bother chains the lure.

  Because crankbaits are aerodynamic and made for casting along with quick retrievals, crankbaits turnout to be the perfect lure for covering a long distance. Crankbaits can be retrieved rapidly. Even with fish aren’t not actively feeding, the intense wiggle can entice a strike by larger game fish.

How to fish crankbaits

What are Crankbaits

Most crankbaits float when not being retrieved. However, some are designed to have neutral buoyance, meaning they sit right where they were when you stopped reeling. There are sinking crankbaits as well but they are fewer and far between than the others. Normally made of wood or hard plastic, crank baits make-ups can have an affect on their usage. Plastic cranks generally cast better than plastic or wood. However, the action can be seriously lacking when compared to a wooden lure, made from balsa or cedar, on a slow retrieve. Crankbaits come in short, long, deep diving, big lip, lipless crankbait types. The size of the crankbait generally correlates with how deeply the lure will travel. Those with small crank lips only make it to around 3 feet deep while those with large straight lipped lures can provide depths of up to 20+. Shallow running crankbaits work best for fishing on shallow flats or over submerged weeds or brush. Deep Divers would dig into the bottom or foul quickly under thee circumstances. But deep divers are better suited for fishing deep structures, like a sharply sloping shoreline. For fishing in extremely deep water, use a sinking crankbait. Some crankbaits have metal lips which can be bent to make the lure run deeper or shallower. But the majority of crankbaits have lips that cannot be adjusted. Most fishermen carry a selection of crankbaits with different types of lips, so they can fish at different depths. The lip on a crankbait serves another important purpose. Most crankbaits run in a head down position, so the lip contacts obstructions before the hooks do. As a result, the lure usually deflects off solid objects such as rocks and logs before the hooks can become snagged.

Fishing with Crankbaits

Some fishermen argue that crankbait fishing is boring because all you have to do is cast out and reel in. But anyone who has shared a boat  with an expert crankbait fisherman knows better. You must select a crankbait that runs at the proper depth. To determine how deep a crankbait tracks, retrieve the lure through water of a known depth, feeling for it to touch bottom. If it dos move to slightly deeper water and try again. Continue until the lure no longer touches, then not the depth. Many fishermen believe that the faster you retrieve a crankbait, the deeper it will dive. Actually, every crankbait has an optimum speed at which it performs best. Too slow and it will not dive or wiggle properly. Too fast, and it will turn sideways and lose depth. Experiment with different retrieves to find the speed at which the lure tracks the deepest. A crankbait will not attain maximum depth unless tuned so that it tracks perfectly straight. Depending on the type of lip, a crankbait must be tuned by bending or twisting the eye, bending the lip itself, or bending the attachment wire. Experienced crankbait fishermen sometimes mistune their crankbaits intentionally to make them run to the side. By mistuning your plug, you can fish beneath overhead cover like a dock, or bump your plug into vertical cover a seawall. To reach maximum depth with a crankbait, cast as far as possible and keep your rod tip low while retrieving. With a shorter cast or higher rod position, you will begin pulling the plug upward before it reaches its potential depth.

Line diameter also affects how deep your crankbait runs. Thin line has less water resistance and allows the plug to run  deeper than thick line. The smaller the plug, the more it is affected by line diameter. When fishing a crankbait in open water or light cover, 6 to 12 pound mono is usually adequate. But in heavy cover, you may need up to 25 pound test r fishing . Spinning tackle works well for shallow running plugs or deep divers that do not pull too hard. But bait-casting tackle is better for deep diving plugs that have a lot of water resistance. For the best action, tie a crankbait directly to your line. If the plug does not have a split ring on the eye, use a Duncan loop. A heavy leader or snap-swivel will restrict the plugs’s wobble. To keep your lure in the fish zone as long as possible, cast it parallel to the structure or cover. For  example, to work the shady side of a log, cast parallel to the log and retrieve the lure along its length. If you cast perpendicular to the log, your lure would be in the fish zone only a fraction of the time. The way your retrieve a crankbait depends on the water temperature and the mood of the fish. In cold water, or when fish are reluctant to strike, a stop-and-go retrieve usually works best. Fish often strike when you stop reeling and the lure starts to float upward. In warm water, or when fish are actively feeding, a fast and steady retrieve is most effective. When a fish grabs a crankbait, it often hooks itself. Strikes can be much more subtle though. If the fish strikes while moving in the same direction as the lure, you will feel only a slight slackening of the line. Set the hook whenever you feel a change in the action of the crankbait. Crankbaits will catch practically any type of game fish except the smallest pan fish species. Mini crankbaits, measuring only about one inch in lengh will work for panfish.

TackleReports Best Crankbait Lures

Norman Deep Diver Crankbait

Norman Lures crankbaits have been the favorites of anglers across the country for over 25 years.Their precise balance and perfect buoyancy deliver straight running, highly responsive, extra enticing performance. This lure is 3 inches long and weighs in at 5/8ths an ounce. Its a good normal size for a crankbait. Part of the size is accountable for the large bill.  This is the Deep diving crankbait version, reaching anywhere between 11-17 feet deep. It comes in Chartreuse Blue, Chrome Blue, and Tennessee Shadow colors. The Norman Deep Diver Crankbait is reasonably well priced, especially for its quality. We suggest getting this deep diving crankbait in Chrome Blue but use your best judgement based on what you know of your local fishing waters.

Rapala Shad Rap 6 Fishing Lure

The benchmark other crankbaits are measured by, the Shad Rap closely resembles baitfish found the world over. Constructed of premium balsa, it is equally effective cast or trolled, performing from ultra-slow presentations to super fast without fail. Its precise action, detailed finish and proven fish-catching patterns make this a must-have bait for all anglers. Hand-tuned and tank-tested for perfection right out of the box. Features super sharp VMC black nickel treble hooks.

Fishing with MinnowPlugs

Minnow plugs have a shape and swimming action similar to those of shiners or slim bodied baitfish. Because minnow plugs rely mainly on their visual appeal to attract fish, they work best in relatively clear water. They do not produce as much sound as crankbaits or vibrating plugs, so they are less effective in waters of low clarity.   Minnow plugs generally have smaller lips than crankbaits, so the head does not swing as far to the side when the plug swims. The tight rocking action is less violent than the action of a crankbait, but much more lifelike.   Originally minnowplugs were made from balsa wood, hand-carved. Many are still made of balsa, but some are not molded from plastic. Because of their light weight, balsa models wobble more than plastic ones typically do. Balsa models are typically harder to cast and less durable though.  Most minnow plugs float at rest but some sink. The majority of lures run shallow, around 1 to 5 feet, below the surface. Some have longer lips and can make it as deep as 12 feet.   Floating minnow plugs rank among the top lures for casting or trolling along shallow shorelines, over shallow reefs, or above the tops of submerges weeds. They can also be twitched erratically across the surface. Floaters work extremely well at night. Fish can easily see the silhouette of the shallow running plug against the surface. Sinking models can be counted down to any depth but they have less wobbling action than floaters.

Fishing with Minnow plugs

The effectiveness of minnow lugs is not surprising because most gamefish prefer think-bodied baitfish to those with deeper bodies.  Baitfish with slim bodies are easier to swallow and less likely to lodge in a predator’s throat. Minnow plugs appeal to almost all gamefish, with the exception of small panfish. They work best for largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass; walleyes; northern pike, muskies, and pickerel; stripers and trout. If you attach a minnow plug improperly, you will dampen its wiggle, making it less effective A loop know or small, round nosed snap works best. Before casting, check the hooks to make sure that they are hanging straight. If they are cocked in the hook hangers, the plug will not run true. Because of their light weight, floating minnow plugs are difficult to cast. For maximum casting distance, use spinning tackle and the lightest line practice for the conditions. Light line also allows the lure to wiggle more freely. Bait-casting tackle can be used with the largest sinking minnow plugs. When casting a floating minnow plug in the shallows, use the wind to your advantage for maximum distance. When trolling in shallow water, let out a lot of line, around 100 feet of line. Long-distance casting and long-line trolling reduce the chances of fish spooking when they see your boat or kayak. Unlike most crankbaits, floating minnow plugs will continue to run shallow despite the long length of line, so they are less likely to foul. To work a floating minnow on the surface, cast it into a likely spot, then retrieve it with sharp twitches. Pause a few seconds after each twitch, as you would when fishing with a popper or chugger.

You can fish a sinking minnow plug on bottom by allowing it to sink until the line goes slack before beginning your retrieve. Reel just fast enough so that the lure bumps bottom occasionally. For suspended fish, count down a sinking minnow plug to the proper depth, just as you would count down a jig. In most situations where a sinking minnow plug works well, a floating minnow plug will work even better. Attach a bottom-walker or pinch-on sinker ahead of the plug to reach the desired depth. The floating plug has a more attractive action and is less likely to snag because it rides farther off the bottom. Some fishermen doctor their floating minnow plugs to make them neutrally buoyant. A standard floating minnow plug must be retrieved at moderate speed to prevent it from rising quickly to the surface. A neutrally buoyant plug can be retrieved much more slowly, yet it will maintain its depth. Slower retrieves often work better in cooler water or when fish are sluggish.

Tackle Reports Best Minnowbait Lures

Bluenet Fishing Lure Diving Minnow

The Bluenet Minnowbait is a run of the mill minnow bait. Its max diving weight is about 3 feet deep, so like any minnow bait, it isn’t meant for diving deep. It’s listed at about 15 grams, so 1/2 ounce for the rest of us.  Of the 5 available designed, the A432 Luminous design is our favorite pick, though it is the most expensive of the 5 designs. At 7$, the A432 Luminous design isn’t that expensive and the difference between that design and the other 4 designs is a around a dollar.   At 5 inches, this lure would be perfect for most any game fish you’re targeting. With most lures, the real question is how comfortable are you as an angler in imparting action on your lure. The best anglers can catch fish with any kind of lure.

Fishing with Vibrating Plug Lures

The tight wiggle of a vibrating plug creates high frequency sound waves that attract fish even in cool or murky water.  Vibrating plugs work best for largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass; northern pike; walleyes; white bass and stripers. Because most vibrating plugs sink rapidly, they are more versatile than crankbaits. Without changing lures, you can retrieve along bottom in deep water, countdown to suspended fish, or start retrieving immediately after the cast to catch fish near the surface. Vibrating plugs work well with a steady retrieve, but a darting retrieve varies the frequency of the vibrations and may trigger more strikes.

Vibrating plugs lack lips, so they are not as snag resistant as crankbaits. They work well in open water or along the edges of weeds, brush or timber. But they snag easily in dense cover. A Vibrating plug is ideal for covering a lot of water quickly.  They narrow body has little wind or water resistance so you can cast long distances and retrieve rapidly. The shot pellets in models with rattle chambers increase casting distance even more. For maximum wiggle, attach a vibrating plug with a loop knot, never with a heavy leader or snap swivel.  A sensitive graphite or boron rod helps detect changes in vibration that could signal a strike or indicate that the plug has become fouled.

Tackle Reports Best Vibrating Lures

Rat-L-Trap Lures 1/4-Ounce Mini Trap

Bill Lewis’ legendary invention, the Rat-L-Trap, is recognized as the most popular, and consequently, the most imitated lure over the past 35 years. But imitation doesn’t mean duplication. Just ask any of the “Who’s Who” of top name Pros that used Rat-L-Trap imitations while competing against Boyd Duckett at the 2007 BASSMASTER CLASSIC. Boyd wasn’t paid to fish with the original Rat-L-Trap, he made that decision himself and ‘BOY OH BOYD’ was it the right one! The fact is that while dozens of lure companies have spent the last 30 years trying to make a lure as good as the Rat-L-Trap, we’ve been making the Rat-L-Trap better and better. Today’s Rat-L-Trap is proven by leading experts to produce sound qualities nearly identical to those of schooling baitfish under attack. These sounds are the dinner bell for predator fish.

Fishing with Jerkbaits

A jerkbait imitates a large baitfish in distress, diving below the surface, then floating ack up or dating erratically from side to side. The term jerkbait results from the sharp, jerky retrieve needed to give the plug its action. Jerkbaits have practically no action with a steady retrieve. Nearly all Jerkbaits are made of wood. They fall into two categories: High-buoyance models, most of which have a metal tail to make them dive; and low buoyance models, which do not have tails. High buoyancy models stop quickly after being jerked, then rise rapidly to the surface. Low buoyancy models have more side-to-side action. Glide forward after the jerk, and rise to the surface more slowly.

Most jerkbaits dive from 2 to 4 feet, although some go as deep as 8 feet. Because the density of wood varies greatly, one jerkbait may dive or glide differently than another of the same model. Jerkbaits will catch fish throughout most of the open water season. If the water temperature is below 60 degrees F, use a low buoyancy jerkbait and work is slowly. In warmer water use either style of jerkbait and work it more rapidly. When you give a jerkbait a sharp pull, it displaces large volumes of water as it darts ahead. Fish sense the sound and vibration, so they will strike jerkbaits in either clear or murky water.

How to fish a Jerkbait

Many experts rate jerkbaits as the number one lure for muskies and big pike. Although seldom used for other fish, jerkbaits sometimes take trophy walleyes and largemouth bass. A jerkbait appeals to a big gamefish mainly because of its erratic action. As predators grows large they become lazier and a baitfish moving erratically signals an easy mean. You can rip a jerkbait through sparse weeds, retrieve it over weed tops, or work it near a drop off. After casting, reel up enough line so that the plug points straight toward you. Continue reeling while making sharp weeps that can vary from 6 to 36 inches in length.

A high buoyance jerkbait rises quickly, so you must retrieve with closely spaces jerks to keep it from floating to the surface. Most fishermen find they can jerk more quickly with the rod top pointing downward rather than sideways. When fished this way, these plugs dive rapidly, moving up and down more than side to side.

A low buoyancy jerkbait will not dive as steeply. Short, sharp jerks will give it a side to side action; long smooth jerks will give it an up and down, gliding action. Because the plug glides farther with each jerk and does not rise as quickly, the jerks can be more widely spaced. Ideally, the plug should follow a zigzag path 2 to 3 feet wide.

Experiment with the length and timing of your jerks to find the patter that works best. Often a serious of 2 to 3 inch tugs between longer jerks will trigger the fish to strike. Casting is by far the most popular method for presenting jerkbaits, but trolling can also be effecting. Motor along the edge of a weed bed while sweeping your rod sideways. Adjust your trolling speed to suit the action of the plug. Some fisherman doctor the jerkbaits, especially high buoyancy models, to make them run deeper, glide farther, and float back to the surface more slowly. A doctored plug will often draw strikes from fish that ignore standard models. And you do not have to jerk as frantically to keep the plug from rising to the surface. Setting the hook with a jerkbait is more difficult than with other plugs. Slack forms after each jerk, and unless you reel up the loose line immediately, you will not be able to get enough leverage. Even if your line is tight, you may have difficulty. When a big pike or muskie clamps onto your jerkbait, only an extremely strong pull will break the fish’s grip and move the plug far enough to sing the hooks. To set the hook this hard, you need a very stiff rod. Jerkbaits may weigh as much as 4 ounces, so a stiff rod is always necessary for casting and retrieving them properly. A rod with a long handle provides extra leverage for casting and setting the hook. Most fishermen use 40 to 50-pound line on a sturdy free-spool reel. If your jerkbait comes with a leader attached, additional snaps or leaders are unnecessary. If it does not have a leader, attach a solid wire or multi-strand wire leader of at least 45 pound test. A common mistake in fishing with jerkbaits is horsing the fish after you set the hook. With a stiff rod and heavy non-stretch line, you can easily rip the hook loose unless you play the fish carefully.

Tackle Reports Best Jerkbait

Rapala X-Rap Jerkbait XR10

Reaching depths of 3 to 8 feet, the adrenaline-pumping X-Rap slashbait has attitude. With its hard-cutting, aggressive darting action, it presents an irresistible rattle and classic Rapala action. The integrated long-casting lure system partnered with a total weight of 1/2 ounces, ensures great casts. The action suspends and comes to a roll at rest to trigger the bite. The X-Rap is ‘all about the action’ and it ‘triggers’ strikes.

Final Thoughts

These baits are all extremely popular and easy to use. There isn’t too much specialized knowledge you have to have to be successful with any of these, especially crankbaits. The best thing to do is to just order a couple lures, especially ones you’ve never tried, and go see how they work.

Make sure to check out our other articles if you need some more help. If you’re looking for more fishing basics, you can check out our articles on How Fish See Bait or Fishing Rod Baiscs. If you’re looking for more advances information, check out one of our fish specific articles like How to fish with Spinner Baits.

Now get out there and wet a line.


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