Crankbait tips for river smallmouth bass

Crankbait tips for river smallmouth bass

by Juan Veruete, Kayak Fish PA, LLC

imag0088Smallmouth bass are effective predators that thrive in rocky, generally shallow rivers.This makes sense given their preferred prey. They comb the rock strewn river bottom and ledges for their number one delicacy, the crayfish.

It’s no wonder that over the years fisherman have been using crankbaits to catch untold numbers of those chunky bronze river fighters. A crankbait skipping and bouncing off the rock of the river is a great “imitator” of a crayfish scurrying along the river bottom.

I’ve encountered many fisherman over the years that struggle to catch fish with crankbaits. In talking to these anglers, many times I find that just small adjustments help them improve their catch rates. Bottom line, the key to successful crankbait fishing is ultimately presentation. Some of the primary factors that you should consider when trying to increase your success with crankbaits are depth, deflection, and design.


Most of the rivers I fish for smallmouth bass are shallow. Typically, I’m fishing in 5 feet of water or less. When making my crankbait selection I try to determine what depth I am going to present my bait at then select a crankbait that dives a foot or so below the maximum depth. For example, If I’m fishing crankbaits on current breaks with an average depth of four feet, I’ll select a Bandit 100 crankbait that dives up to 5 feet.

I want my bait to make continuous contact with the river bottom but I don’t want it diggin in so much that it gets hung up all the time. In general, I’ve found that selecting a cranbait with just slightly more diving depth occomplishes this. I get a lot of contact with the bottom and very few hang ups. This also more closely mimics the movements of a crayfish swimming along the river bottom.


Not only do you want a crankbait making constant contact with the bottom, but you also want to maximize its angle of deflection off obstacles. More extreme deflection adds to the presentation and can trigger strikes.

There are two ways to increase deflection. First, use crankbaits with square bills. One of my favorite crankbaits is the Bandit 100 which has a square bill. The corner of the bill catches on rocks and create more deflection. Rounded bills tend to slide off rocks. Second, use monofiliment line. Mono stretches. When a square billed crankbait hits a rock, it momentarily hangs up causing the mono to stretch. Once the bill “breaks free”, the line will snap back creating more acceleration and increase the angle of deflection.


When I refer to “design”, I really mean the color pattern on the crankbait. Honestly, I don’t get real hung up on trying to exactly match the hatch even in clear water. I’m more interested in color combination and contrast. Color patterns you’ll want to have on hand are olive greens, browns, oranges, and reds.

Crankbaits can be fished in clear or muddy water. In clearer water, i’ll use natural looking color designs that more closely mimic crayfish like browns, olive greens, or oranges. These handful of colors will produce in most conditions.

In muddy or more stained water, I go to more reds and oranges with darker more contrasting back colors. I think the contrast is important from a visual standpoint in muddy water. Contrast is even more important than the specific colors you are using many times.

In the world of crankbait fishing, there are hundres of nueances, tips, techniqes, and presenations that can help you catch more fish. In the spirit of “keeping it simple”, I’ve selected depth, deflection, and design because I believe they represent some of the core concepts necessary to be a truly great crankbait fisherman. The next time you hit your local smallie river think about the three D’s and apply them.


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