Big Profile vs Small Profile Crankbaits
By: Mark Romanack
Large profile crankbaits like the PWC pictured here (4.5 inches long) tend to produce best in cool to cold water conditions. Larger profile crankbaits are also a good bet on bodies of water like Lake Erie where large concentrations of walleye are in constant competition for food.
When it comes to crankbait fishing for walleye is “bigger” always better? The short answer is no, but there are times of year when big crankbaits will consistently out produce smaller profile crankbaits. Understanding why crankbait size is important, is the first step to picking the right baits for the job.
UNDERSTANDING THAT SIZE MATTERS
Many anglers mistakenly believe that the size of a crankbait pertains to how deep that lure dives. Typically, larger crankbaits feature a larger diving lip and in most cases they dive deeper than smaller, but similar lures. Thinking that larger baits dive deeper is however a slippery slope, because size alone does not determine if a particular lure dives deeper than other baits.
I prefer to look at crankbait size differently. I believe that the size of a crankbait is not as much about diving depth as it is about matching lure size to the size of readily available forage fish. Walleye and other predatory fish become accustomed to foraging on the most abundant baitfish available. The size of these baitfish is constantly changing as they mature. Not surprisingly, the crankbait sizes that produce best tend to also change periodically during the year.
Walleye crankbaits can easily be broken down into three size categories including lures that are 4.5 inches long or larger, baits that are 3.5 inches long to 4.0 inches long and baits that are 3.0 inches long or smaller. Most manufacturers of crankbaits produce what I’ll call “families” of baits that are similar in that they share the same general shape, but are produced in several different sizes. For example, the Berkley Flicker Minnow series is offered in No. 5, 7, 9 and 11 sizes, the 5 being the smallest and the 11 being the biggest in the series.
Having several sizes of baits that share a similar action and profile is a useful tool for the walleye angler. Smaller baits tend to produce better in the spring and summer when baitfish are on average smaller in size. Also, smaller profile baits tend to produce better in clear water fisheries.
If a crankbait looks good enough to eat, that’s a good thing, but it’s also important that crankbaits smell good enough to eat. Adding a natural scent product such as Pro Cure Super Gel to crankbaits sets up a natural scent stream in the water that helps trigger more strikes and more aggressively hooked fish. The author’s favorite formula is Gizzard Shad when fishing on Erie, Saginaw Bay and other Great Lakes fisheries.
Larger profile baits tend to produce best in the late fall, winter and early spring when baitfish on average are much larger in size. Larger profile baits also produce better in stained or off color water compared to smaller profile baits.
I also believe that in fisheries where walleye are in high competition with one another for forage, larger profile baits stand out better and get bit with more authority and more often. This is precisely why on Lake Erie, large profile crankbaits tend to out produce smaller baits day in and day out.
Early in the year before walleye spawn, a larger profile crankbait is going to produce far better in most cases than a smaller profile bait. Early in the spring, baitfish have not spawned and the majority of the forage fish are nearing adult size.
So selecting a larger profile bait is a good option, but that bait must also have the right action. In cold water (water temperatures below 50 degrees) walleye seem to respond best to baits that have a subtle top-to-bottom rolling action. Minnow shaped diving baits and shallow diving stickballs tend to offer this subtle but important “rolling or rocking” action.
Immediately following the spawn, walleye go on a feeding binge. Again, larger profile baits are typically the better producing lures for a host of reasons. For one, walleye prefer to forage on larger prey species because they get more bang for the buck in terms of the calories used and the calories gained.
The post-spawn walleye crankbait bite lasts through April and May.
Once the water temperatures hit 60 degrees, walleye become very active and their metabolism also spikes. Just about as fast as walleye fill their stomach, the food is digested and the process must be repeated. This is the time of year that walleye are likely to be on the bite all day long.
This is also the time of year that young forage fish are the most abundant. Faced with lots and lots of small to medium sized forage fish, walleye are typically easier to catch using smaller profile baits.
This is precisely why Jake and I designed the PWC Light, a 3.5 inch version of the popular PWC or Precise Walleye Crank. The smaller profile better matches summer baitfish sizes. The PWC Light will start showing up in retail stores during the fall of 2023 and should be widely distributed by spring of 2024.
Baits that feature a lot of side-to-side action tend to dominate the catch in the summer months. Many of these baits are often categorized as “bass lures”, but they catch walleye like no tomorrow when walleye are feeding nearly non-stop. A good example would be the Wiggle Wart, Hot n Tot or the Mag Lip. All three of these baits have a very fast, aggressive and wide action.
During the early fall, water temperatures begin to drop, but only slightly. Smaller profile crankbaits continue to dominate. Cool nights and warm days create a situation where water temperatures decline, but very slowly. In most years, the early fall period is little more than an extension of the summer peak.
The fall peak for crankbait fishing begins in earnest once the water temperatures drop below 50 degrees. This is the same time of year that thermoclines break up and walleye that prefer cooler water temperatures can again invade the shallows.
Small and medium profile crankbaits will still catch fish, but increasingly the larger profile baits start to become a dominate factor.
In the late fall once water temperatures drop to 40 degrees or below, large profile baits literally run the show. Slower trolling speeds matched up with large profile baits is the ticket for catching walleye in icy cold water. This is also the time of year when baits that have a more pronounced “roll” dominate over baits that offer a wider side-to-side tail wobble.
The author has been chasing walleye professionally for over 30 years. When it comes to catching big walleye on crankbaits, the late fall, winter and pre-spawn periods are when an angler has the best odds of catching quality fish. Trolling large profile baits like the PWC is a good strategy for boxing your share of fish like these.
In recent years mild winter weather has allowed walleye anglers the luxury of fishing all winter long. While the water temperatures may only be a couple degrees above freezing, the walleye bite can be red hot. Ultra slow trolling speeds and large profile crankbaits is the answer to catching fish when the water is ultra cold.
Walleye are totally dependent on the forage species available to them. Picking lures that closely match the overall size of the primary forage isn’t rocket science, it’s just common sense.