Crankbaits For Trout?
Bass fishermen are widely known for their use of crankbaits or plugs, as some call them. These lures are effective, and not just for bass, but for trout too. Trout fishing has always been considered a fly-fishing sport and with good reason, trout eat bugs. But trout also eat minnows and the like, so it seemed pretty natural to me to borrow some of the baits bass guys use and experiment with them to see if crankbaits for trout fishing is doable and man is it ever.
What Size Crankbait Should I Use?
The first thing I needed to find was crankbaits small enough to fit into the Pennsylvania trout world. Stocked trout in Pa average around eleven inches with some of the larger ranging into the 20+ inch mark. Native trout are even smaller with a good one being 10 inches. So as you can see I needed to find small crankbaits for trout. The crankbaits I chose were about an inch to two inches in length.
Light tackle is another factor to consider. Five-foot ultra light-spinning rods matched to a small reel and loaded with 4-pound test line is a popular choice these days. So going small is a priority. By the way, as I said, I am a fly fisherman so why am I using a spinning rod? I’ll get to that so hang in there.
How to “Swim” the Lure
The crankbaits I chose were about an inch to two inches in length as I mentioned. Most have a plastic lip on the front that allows for the lure to dive. The lip also creates the swimming effect for the lure. The lip, depending on the speed of the lure when retrieved, wobbles the lure and makes it look like a swimming baitfish. The faster the retrieve the more it wobbles.
But retrieve it too fast, especially against a creek’s current, and the lure turns on its side or it darts off to one side and just doesn’t swim. So finding “balance” by using the right retrieval speed is a key. It’s not hard to accomplish and it’s easy to “swim” the lure after a while.
Stream currents present challenges to fishing these crankbaits. If cast across the stream very little reeling is necessary to have them wobble just right. But casting upstream the retrieval speed has to be greatly increased. The retrieve must be faster than the water flow.
I learned when casting upstream to make long casts and reel quickly to get the lure down to the bottom. Then slow the retrieve to maintain the proper speed to keep it touching bottom. The wobble of the bait as it darts around touching bottom, kicks up silt, a huge attractant. Trout will chase the lure for some distance before striking it. It’s exciting watching trout and seeing just how well they can maneuver after a meal.
The opposite is to cast downstream in a pocket of water and let the lure “sit” in the current. A very slow retrieve, more like keeping tension on the lure, causes it to agitate back and forth resembling a swimming fish. Trout have a hard time resisting it.
What Type of Crankbait Works Best?
I tried a lot of different crankbaits until I found ones that seemed to work best for me. Rebel has a floating minnow that I like a lot. It has the shape and looks to resemble many of the small baitfish living in the creeks of Pa.
Because it floats, if you stop reeling it will float back to the surface. Start to reel again and it will dive. I found if I added split shot to my line, about a hands width away from the lure, it helped to stabilize the lure. Rebel makes these crankbaits in a wide selection of colors too.
Rapala is another maker of a minnow that is small enough to fit the bill. Theirs is different in shape from the Rebel crankbait and swims a bit differently too, but it works. It doesn’t float back to the surface, so to speak, when you stop reeling. But instead seems to maintain the level it is cranked down to. It swims differently from the Rebel as I mentioned but works about the same for all intense and purposes.
Whichever you chose is up to you, of course, but to get started either one is a good choice.
Why do A Little Modification to Crankbaits for Trout?
Crankbaits come with two sets of treble hooks on them. One set is in the middle of the lure attached underneath and a treble hook attached to the tail end. The hook on the Rebel actually looks like a swimming tail and many a trout has been snagged as it tries to nip off the tail of the lure.
I am a fan of catch release so I modify my crankbaits. I reduce the number of actual hooks by cutting the treble hooks down to one hook per set. It doesn’t affect the way the crankbait performs and is a lot less stressful on the trout. I will admit, I get hits without hookups but it’s part of the game to me. If I can fool a trout to strike I’m happy with that too.
Also, I remove the split ring that is attached to the bait and tie my line directly to the lure. Ok, being honest (not that I lie the rest of the time, lol), I can’t really say if it makes a difference or not. I seem to think it “steadies” the lure a bit for me taking away the slipping that occurs when the ring slides through the eyelet. By tying directly to the eyelet it seems I have a more control over the lure as I retrieve it. I suggest you experiment using the ring and removing the ring to see which way you feel is more comfortable.
The Art of Teasing
I think the biggest amount of fun with these baits comes as you learn how to swim them. The more you concentrate on swimming these lures the more your catch ratio increases. Trout will strike a crankbait because it plays into their aggressive behavior. Often they nip at the tail in an effort to stun or chase away an intruder rather than eat it. The trick is changing retrieval speeds. suddenly darting the crankbait, that is to quickly speed it up, will cause a trout to chase and hit it quickly. Other times, having the crankbait “sit” slowly wobbling, seem to drive a trout crazy so he hits it.
How a Crankbait Strategy Works for a New Stream
One of the offshoots of fishing crankbaits is the lure’s ability to move trout. Often trout will chase the crankbait but not strike it. Seems the curiosity factor takes hold and they swim after if only to turn away. I’ve learned to use this as an advantage for fly fishing. Oh, I can hear you now, how does this help a fly fisherman? Let me explain what I mean.
Many times trout will follow a crankbait because the trout are curious about what it detects and feels a closer look is needed. He may not hit the lure but you get to see him move when he goes to inspect it. When a trout move from his hiding place he reveals himself, of course, and that is a good thing for you.
The Revealing Flash Of A Trout Helps A Fly Guy
I like to explore new streams. One of the tricks I use to locate trout on new waters, especially in the spring, is to use a crankbait. For example, let’s say I found a new stream and plan to be there a couple of days. Sometimes what I’ll do, I’ll take my spinning rod and minnow and “fast fish” the stream.
This strategy of mine means I’ll walk the stream in a rather quick pace casting the lure into likely spots as I stroll along. Two things are happening here. One, I’m seeing what the stream looks like. How it runs, where holes may be, obstacles to deal with such as downed trees, etc. I get a general feel of the creek.
At the same time by swimming a crankbait quickly through differing spots as I go, trout many times “flash” as they turn to see what went by. They may hit the lure, a bonus if you will, but for now, I just want to know where fish are located. This way I can go back, with my fly rod, to the spots where I saw fish and spend time.
Here in Pa our fish commission stocks our creeks. The fishable waters are a combination of “put and take”, special regulation waters, which included Fly fishing only. Special regulation streams are set aside for the purpose of fishing artificial lures and flies. Fly only areas are catch release and the artificial areas are catch release for a portion of the year. The rest of the Pa waters are keeper sections.
The Limits of Stocking
The fish commission has limited personnel to do the stocking. As a result, the areas they stock are really predictable, meaning, find an area of easy access to the stream and that’s probably where they stock. Places like bridges or where the creek is close to the road, is typically where you’ll find the trout the commission put there.
Fishing “put and take” streams the trick is simple. Depending on the commissions’ effort, trout may or may not be in a given area and part of the walk is to see how ambition the commission may have been. Just because a spot looks like it should be holding fish doesn’t mean it is.
So again, a quick way to find out is to run a crankbait through and see what moves. Keep in mind the lure isn’t foolproof and sometimes trout just stay put going undetected, but many times the crankbait is really helpful in narrowing down your choices for the next day’s fishing outing.
It’s All About Fun
Like spinner fishing, Crankbaits offer you something different to try and to add to the enjoyment of trout fishing. Lure fishing is actually easy to learn and is a productive way to go about trout fishing. The other cool thing about crankbaits, like spinners, there is no mistaking a strike. The combinations of swimming the lure and a trout grabbing it create a “bang” of a strike. It’s exciting, to say the least. I’ll be the first to say there is nothing like fishing a fly rod, but even “pure” fly guys should spend a day with a crankbait. It has its challenges too, but above all, it’s just plain fun. So, what do you think, will you give it a try?