The Lowdown on Countdown Cranking
By: Mark Romanack
Erich Carlson of Alpena, Michigan regularly uses sinking crankbaits to target trophy walleye.
Nine out of 10 crankbaits float at rest and dive when retrieved. It’s that one crankbait out of 10 that does things a little differently that walleye fishermen have unfortunately ignored. Sinking or what are commonly called countdown lures bring new options to the crankbait party.
Crankbaits that sink aren’t rare, but among walleye fishermen these lures are rarely used to their potential. It might come as a surprise to Fishing 411 followers that sinking style body baits have a deep tradition in walleye fishing and targeting trophy fish!
A couple of the past Ohio walleye state records were set with a sinking crankbait, the legendary Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap. This bait was designed for bass fishing, but it also triggers savage walleye strikes.
UNDERSTANDING FLOATING CRANKBAITS
Most crankbaits float at rest and dive when retrieved. Water resistance pushing against the lip causes the lure to dive. Meanwhile, the buoyancy of the lure and friction from the line passing through the water is working to restrict diving depth.
The fundamental design of a floating plug allows these lures to be fished most effectively with a constant retrieve and over the top of rocks, emerging weeds or other fish holding cover. Amazingly, even floating crankbaits with big diving lips only reach moderate depths on a cast.
A floating crankbait resists diving and requires most of the total casting distance to overcome the forces of buoyancy and friction. On a typical cast, a buoyant bait doesn’t reach maximum depth until the lure is reaching the end of the retrieve. Floating crankbaits fish the targeted depth zone less than 25% of the time they are in the water.
A sinking style crankbait has a completely different dynamic. Because the lure can be counted down to specific depths before the retrieve is started, a sinking or countdown lure can effectively be presented at a desired depth along the entire cast.
Most countdown style crankbaits sink at a rate of approximately one foot per second, should it be necessary to target fish suspended in the water column. However, most sinking crankbaits function best when fished in contact with the bottom or weed cover.
Another advantage of using sinking crankbaits is they can be used to effectively fish much deeper water than is practical with a floating style lure. Sinking lures can also be fished at ultra slow speeds to increase depth or buzzed at high speeds to enhance lure action and rattling noises. Furthermore, sinking crankbaits can be fished using pauses, twitches and jerks that dramatically increase strike responses.
For casting applications a crankbait that sinks is far more efficient than floating/diving models because the lure can be counted down to the desired depth and kept running at that depth throughout the entire retrieve.
Sinking crankbaits have traditionally been offered in two common styles including minnow and lipless versions. In the minnow category a number of popular brands and sizes are available including the Rapala Countdown, Salmo Sinking and Yo-Zuri Emperor, Sinking Crystal and SW Pins Minnows.
In the lipless crankbait category the list of popular lures includes the Rapala Rattlin’ Rap, Salmo Zipper, Cotton Cordell Super Spot, Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap, XCalibur XR50, Sebile Flats Shad and Berkley Frenzy Rattl’r. All of these lures feature a tight action and high frequency rattle. Because of the lipless design and heavy weight that yields long casts, these lures are great options for fishing on flats with emerging weeds or for making long casts from points, piers and other shore fishing locations.
A third and little known option in the sinking style crankbait is offered by Salmo a Poland based manufacturer. Salmo offers several of the their most popular diving lip style crankbaits in both floating and sinking versions. The popular Hornet is produced in multiple sizes and both floating and sinking versions. Combining a diving lip with a sinking crankbait allows these lures to achieve greater depths than possible with floating/diving plugs or traditional countdown style lures.
This unique category of crankbaits is in a class by itself. Using this unique lure group opens up a number of crankbait fishing options.
PRACTICAL FISHING APPLICATIONS
Early in the season casting out a rock strewn shoreline, flats littered with boulders or the mouth of a feeder creek represent some likely scenarios where using a countdown bait makes sense. Counting down a sinking minnow like a Rapala CD11 or Yo-Zuri Sinking Crystal Minnow opens up new retrieve options compared to the steady pull of a floating crankbait. Make a long cast and wait for the bait to hit bottom. Start the retrieve by skittering the bait across structure in a stop and go retrieve. Pause the retrieve occasionally and impart additional action by popping the rod tip not unlike the way a jig is worked along structure.
The huge advantage here is a countdown bait can be worked faster than a jig. The crankbait is also a larger target, more easily spotted in murky water and the increased water displacement helps attract active fish.
Baits that both sink and dive like the No.6 Salmo Hornet Sinking are useful at reaching less active walleye that may be holding in deeper water. Casting along the tapering contour of a point that juts into deep water is a good example of how a sinking/diving crankbait can be used to stay in contact with bottom.
Points can be effectively fished from shore casting out over deep water. Allow the bait to sink to bottom, then retrieve it back to shallow water. As the lure is felt contacting bottom, raise the rod tip to force the lure to rise in the water column and skim the bottom. A slow steady retrieve often works best, but the retrieve can also easily be modified to include some pauses and twitches.
This same point scenario can also be fished by positioning a boat in deep water and pitching a sinking/diving crank up shallow. Start the retrieve with the rod tip high and lower the rod as the bait pulls into deeper water. Lowering the rod tip helps keep the bait in contact with bottom.
Throughout the Great Lakes pitching lipless crankbaits like the Rattlin’ Rapala or Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap parallel to the rocky edges of piers, sea walls and other shoreline protection is a popular way to target walleye. Walleye often herd shad and other baitfish up against these man-made structures. Lipless baits are heavy compared to other crankbaits, making them ideal for making long casts. Allowing the bait to sink to bottom, followed by a steady retrieve brings out the best in these rattling baits. If the bait rebounds off rocks, so much the better.
Piers are generally targeted at night, but countdown lures can be used day or night to catch more walleye.
SUMMING IT UP
The idea of using sinking crankbaits isn’t completely foreign, but it is surprising how walleye anglers rarely get the most from these lures. The next time the idea of fishing a crankbait comes to mind, ask yourself if a sinking model wouldn’t be a better option.