Details of the Fall Crankbait Bite
By: Mark Romanack
Mark has lots of reasons to smile here. This sled of a walleye was just landed and over his right shoulder another big walleye is about to bury his Off Shore board! Happiness is calm water, clear skies and big walleye in the fall of the year.
Every avid angler worth his crankbait collection knows this class of hard baits dominate the walleye scene in the fall of the year. Trolling crankbaits produces the lion share of the fish caught in places like Lake Erie, Green Bay, Saginaw Bay, Little Bay de Noc, Munuscong Bay and countless other fisheries in the Great Lakes region.
While there is little question that crankbaits get the job done, there is a lot of speculation as to which crankbaits consistently produce noteworthy results. In part this is because every brand out there wants a piece of the lucrative crankbait pie. Spoiler alert, of the hundreds of crankbaits on the market, only a handful consistently catch walleye during the fall of the year.
TOO MUCH ACTION
The problem with most cranks is they have too much action. It might sound counter intuitive that a crankbait can have too much action, but it’s true. Wide wobbling cranks that catch walleye readily all summer long suddenly go ice cold when the water temperature takes a dip. There is a direct correlation between the best crankbait action and water temperature that most anglers don’t fully understand.
In the fall of the year when water temperatures are dropping steadily, the best producing crankbaits are lures that feature less side to side wobble and more top to bottom roll. This rolling or rocking action is found in a surprisingly small selection of crankbaits.
Jake Romanack of Fishing 411 TV is doubling down on big walleye by trolling select crankbaits in the fall of the year. Not all crankbaits are created equal and some simply produce better than others when the water starts to cool off in October, November and December.
So less is more when it comes to catching walleye on crankbaits in cold water. Stickbaits and minnow divers make up the majority of the crankbaits with the necessary rolling action to consistently trigger walleye strikes in cold water. The slender profile of stickbaits and minnow divers is part of what makes these bait tick. Slender baits naturally deliver more of the desired roll while wider body baits generate more of the less desirable tail wobble.
The width, length and shape of the diving lip also dictates to a degree the action of a crankbait. Even among diving minnows, if the diving lip is too wide, the bait will have too much tail sway and not enough roll to produce good results in cold water.
This happens commonly because crankbait manufacturers are struggling to build baits that dive to deeper and deeper depths. Doing so forces these lure manufacturers to incorporate wider and at times longer diving lips into their bait designs which in turn causes these lures to sacrifice that all important rolling action for improved diving ability.
Just because a crankbait has a pronounced minnow profile, doesn’t mean that particular lure will catch walleye with consistency. The pull point or the place where the line is attached to a crankbait also impacts on crankbait action. The further from the nose of the lure the pull point is mounted, the wider the action becomes. Moving the pull point to be located closer to the nose of the lure changes the angle at which a lure runs in the water it’s dive profile and works to mitigate wobble while emphasizing roll in a crankbait.
The EZ Crankbait Tuner pictured here is a handy tool for tuning all brands and sizes of crankbaits from tiny panfish models to walleye and even musky cranks.
The angle at which the diving lip joins the body of the crankbait is another factor to consider. Cranks with the most appealing “roll” tend to be lures with the diving lip protruding out the nose of the bait. Lures that have the diving lip coming out under the chin of the lure don’t produce the roll fall walleye anglers are looking for.
The exception to this rule are stickbaits or what some anglers call jerk baits. In the case of stickbaits the diving lips are so small they don’t over power the action of the lure.
SIZE MATTERS IN THE FALL
They say that size matters and in the case of crankbaits larger baits are typically the best producers in the fall of the year. In part, this is because larger baits do a nice job of imitating the mature or larger baitfish found in most bodies of water during the fall.
Matching the hatch is good because walleye instinctively feed on larger forages in the fall. Most predatory fish species are programmed to stock pile fat reserves in their body core as the year winds down. In the fall adult walleye are building an egg mass in preparation for the spring spawn. Doing so requires that these fish eat often and efficiently, setting the plate for some exciting crankbait trolling action.
In the stickbait category, I carry three baits everywhere I go in the fall including the Smithwick Perfect 10, the Rapala Husky Jerk 14 and the Rapala Original 18 Floating Minnow. Each of these baits catch walleye consistently in the fall of the year.
Because all of these lures are shallow diving baits, I typically fish them in combination with a two ounce Snap Weight to maximize their diving depth. The Precision Trolling Data phone app has detailed dive curves for these baits fished in combination with a two ounce Snap Weight called the 50+2 Data System.
The exception to this rule of using Snap Weights is when fishing walleye at night when these fish are often found right at or near the surface. In this case using these baits unassisted produces consistently excellent results.
LARGE MINNOW DIVERS
In the large minnow divers (baits over 4 inches in length) the new Bill Lewis Precise Walleye Crank, Rapala’s Deep Husky Jerk 12 and 14 and the Bandit Deep Walleye 5/8 are the top producing baits in the fall. All four of these lures excel at catching walleye and all will impress right up until ice puts an end to the trolling fun.
Large profile minnow divers like this Bill Lewis Precise Walleye Crank (PWC for short) feature the subtle but important top to bottom rolling or rocking action that triggers walleye strikes when trolling in cool to cold water. Mark and Jake Romanack designed this bait to deliver the right action and armed it with oversize No. 2 premium wide bend treble hooks.
MEDIUM SIZED MINNOW DIVERS
Big crankbaits routinely produce best in the fall, but at times walleye will favor a somewhat smaller crankbait profile. The Berkley Flicker Minnow 9 and Storm’s Original Deep Jr. ThunderStick are two baits that should be in every walleye angler’s tackle selection.
SUMMING IT UP
As time goes on more lures will likely be produced that meet the needs of the avid fall walleye troller. For the time being, the baits outlined here are consistent producers and all are worthy of being in the walleye fishing Hall of Fame.