The vast variety of crankbaits on the market is mind-boggling; there are hundreds of styles available, and literally thousands of different color and size combinations for anglers to choose from. The seemingly infinite number of crankbait options presents a dilemma for anglers who use them when fishing for bass and

other species. How do you select a lure that will catch the most fish? Are there certain conditions when one crankbait is preferred over another? When are big crankbaits more appropriate? Small ones? How does one choose the best color? Is a floating bait best or one that dives deep? Should it be cranked fast or slow?

There are no pat answers to these questions. But don’t fret. Help is available from “The Doctor of Diving Plugs,” Joe Hughes of Mount Ida, Arkansas. Hughes has worked hand-in-hand with numerous lure designers and fishing professionals to help develop fishing lures for major companies such as Rebel, Cotton Cordell, Heddon and Bomber. His knowledge of crankbaits and crankbait fishing is unexcelled.

“I sat down one day and tried to determine what makes crankbaits perform the way they do under various conditions,” Hughes says. “The word ‘characteristic’ kept popping up. It has a characteristic of sinking, a characteristic of high buoyancy, a characteristic of the depth it attains. I put these on paper and came up with nine basic characteristics.”

Depth

The first characteristic is depth.

“Depth is where the fish are,” Hughes says. “You must select a lure that will go to that depth to be successful.

“When people go to a marina for fishing information, they tend to ask, ‘What are they biting?’” Hughes continues. “That’s the wrong question. The question to ask is, ‘How deep are they?’ That’s the first thing you need to know. If you trust the information you’re given, you know what ball park you’re in as far as selecting a lure.”

Many anglers think crankbaits run deeper than they actually will.

“You must determine yourself what depth a crankbait will run, or at least trust the information you’re given by the manufacturer,” Hughes says. “The best thing to do is determine how deep the bait runs on the length of cast you make, the size line you use and the type reel you use. Typically, if you work a deep-diving crankbait with your rod pointed into the water, the bait will run deeper with longer casts, lighter line and slow retrieves.”

Crankbaits Speed

The second crankbait characteristic, speed, is closely tied to depth.

“Speed affects depth,” Hughes says. “That’s why it’s important to look on your reel to determine its speed. Some reels are slower, like 3.8:1 (line circles the spool 3.8 times for every turn of the reel handle). Others are high-speed reels with a 7:1 ratio. Others fall between the extremes.

“The way these reels affect the depth a lure swims is based on the fact that most people turn the handle about the same speed,” he continues. “So the reel takes over for them. To get the crankbait to its maximum depth, visually appraise its action in the water. When you see the lure giving a good action, that’s the speed you want to crank it. When you get it down there, you can speed it up, or stop and start it, but first look at the bait in the water to see the best way to retrieve it.”

Action

Action is another important crankbait characteristic.

“Action relates to two different areas,” says Hughes. “First, action is the action the bait has—the side-to-side action, the wobble. The other action is what you do from a mental standpoint with the lure, like fishing a topwater, for instance. You twist and jerk and think about how to get fish to hit the topwater. If you take this same mental involvement you have with a topwater plug and use it in plugs that work down out of sight, you’ll enhance your productivity. A steady retrieve only catches fish about 10 percent of the time. Other times, the things you do to provide erratic action to the lure mean the difference in catching fish and not catching fish.”

Buoyancy

Characteristic four is buoyancy. This determines whether a lure floats (positive buoyancy), sinks (negative buoyancy) or suspends (neutral buoyancy).

“Buoyancy is something professional anglers are very attuned to,” Hughes says. “When fishing heavy cover, they want baits that back up, float and have a degree of buoyancy. When fishing during cool-water periods, they want baits that can be stopped without popping back to the surface, baits that stay where they are, suspended. Negative buoyancy baits like vibrating, lipless crankbaits allow you to fish all depths. You can fish them on bottom, near the top or in between. Be attuned to buoyancy to know which baits to select for certain fishing conditions.”

Color

Color is the characteristic anglers probably give the most consideration when selecting a crankbait.

“Color, as a characteristic of fishing lures, got a great boost from research conducted by Dr. Loren Hill (developer of the Color-C-Lector),” says Hughes. “There are colors anglers find very productive that most would never have tied on had it not been for the impact of the Color-C-Lector. The color gray, for instance, is a color that doesn’t sell well. But, it’s a great fish-catcher. Gray, according to Loren’s research, was the number one color overall. It wasn’t always the most visible to bass, but it was always one of the most visible under various conditions. The fact that gray catches fish makes sense when you consider that most forage fish are some shade of gray.”