5 Best Crankbaits for Bass Fishing

5 Best Crankbaits for Bass Fishing
Lee Sisson is one of the most acclaimed crankbait designers in America. Here he shows some of his best. From left to right, Old School Square Bill, Aruku Shad, Old School Diver, and Little Diver 2, with an Old School Square Bill on the rod. (Photo by Mark Hicks.)

Looking for some more bass fishing tips to perfect your game? Here are some of the best crankbaits for bass fishing, and as it turns out, many have already been on the market for decades. 

Given the number of crankbaits introduced every year, you might believe that it's no big deal to knock out a new design. The truth is that it requires several months, if not years, to take an effective crankbait from an idea to a mass-produced model ready for the fishing market.

Modern computer technology, CAD software design programs, precision CNC milling machines and advanced plastic materials and molding methods have dramatically impacted how today's crankbaits are designed, developed and manufactured. The latest technology includes 3D printers that can "print" a plastic prototype lure directly from a computer program. 

But even today, many new crankbaits are first whittled by hand from a piece of balsa wood.


HAND-CARVED PROTOTYPES 

Bobby Dennis, head of new product development at Luck-E-Strike lures, starts with a hand-carved balsa prototype, as did his legendary mentor.


"I got my start in the fishing industry with Cotton Cordell," Dennis said. "He always carried a pocket knife and a piece of wood with him. He'd throw me a chunk of wood and tell me to bring him something."

Once Dennis has a balsa body he likes, he instructs his toolmakers to use their computerized equipment to make a hollow plastic prototype. The next step is to experiment with a number of critical variables. Among these are the size and location of the internal weights, the shape, thickness and angle of the diving bill, and the location of the line eye, which is the pull point. Slight alterations can significantly influence the action and the depth it will run.

"I've seen times when moving the pull point less than 1/16 inch gave a crankbait that was missing the mark the perfect wobble," Dennis said.

Many lure companies employ fishing pro staff members to come up with new lure designs and to test prototypes. Luck-E-Strike relied on Rick Clunn when they developed his Rick Clunn Square Bill Crankbait series.


"Rick wanted a hard plastic crankbait that had the same action and buoyancy of a balsa squarebill," Dennis said. "The technology to do this was not available until four or five years ago."

Clunn, who is known for being meticulous, tested one prototype after another and provided feedback to the lure makers at Luck-E-Craft for refinements. After six months of this back-and-forth, Clunn finally gave his signature squarebill the green light. Another Rick Clunn innovation is the Freak, a deep-diving squarebill crankbait. 

Not all ideas come from professional anglers. Rapala's new Scatter Rap and Storm's Arashi (which put Brandon Palaniuk in early lead at the Mississippi River Rumble this year) were hatched by the lure designers at Rapala. The Scatter Rap features a unique curved bill. The Arashi has a floating pull point and other innovations.


The concepts for the Scatter Rap and Arashi were shared among the different designers to come up with what they saw as perfect lures. Then they gave the pros prototypes for real-world testing and feedback before they were mass-produced.

INVESTMENT

Pro Marty Stone said it's critically important that hard plastic crankbaits in particular are refined to the nth degree before the final molds are made. Stone has retired from competitive fishing but had qualified four times for Bassmaster Classic and once nearly won the Bassmaster Angler of the Year title. 

One of Stone's side projects has been to help Bandit Lures design a shallow-running squarebill crankbait that would "hunt."

"Ideally, you want a squarebill crankbait to run to the left and right of center momentarily before tracking back true to center," Stone said. "That hunting action triggers strikes."

Making this happen was no easy task. Stone tested one prototype after another. Every time he changed one component, such as the angle of the bill, it affected every other aspect of the lure. Finally, the crankbait began hunting the way Stone wanted it to. Chris Ross, president of Bandit Lures sent Stone what he believed was the final prototype, the one that would be used to make the production molds.

"I fished that bait and found that its action was close, but not perfect," Stone said. "I contacted Ross and told him to hold off on the molds. He later told me that I saved him from making a $250,000 mistake."

Stone and Ross eventually got the bait to run right and manufactured it. The 5/8-ounce lure is named, simply, the Bandit Squarebill.

 

BALSA BAITS

Lee Sisson is one of the most acclaimed crankbait designers in America. He got his start fabricating balsa crankbaits for Bagley Baits in the early 1970s. Since then, he has worked extensively with many of the major crankbait companies. If you've been bass fishing for any length of time, you have surely fished hard plastic and balsa crankbaits that were influenced directly by Sisson.

These days, Sisson still hand-carves new crankbaits from wood. He has a duplicating lathe that he and his brother designed years ago. It has been sold to companies worldwide.

"After I carve a body, I'll duplicate 200 to 300 of them on the lathe," Sisson said. "That gives me plenty of lures that I can experiment with."

Sisson adds various diving lips to the crankbait bodies and plays with the angle of the bill and other factors until he gets a lure that performs the way he wants it to. Since he winds up with more lures than he can possibly use, he sells the overruns to make space for new creations.

This is essentially what any company would do that makes balsa baits with a duplicating machine. The difference is that they would churn out tens of thousands of bodies after they get the design they wanted.

OLD SCHOOL 

Arkansas' Jim Gowing is the most influential lure designer you've never heard of. He started his career in 1979 with Pradco, the company that makes Bomber, Cordell, Smithwick, Rebel and other lure brands. Over the next 21 years, Gowing said he had designed more than 250 lures for the company. No doubt you own some of his creations and have caught fish with them.

Gowing's initial lures were done without the aid of computers. By the time he left Pradco, he was working with computer techies that used CAD programs to create plastic prototypes from his hand-carved models.

"I never really warmed up to the computers," Gowing said. "It was hard for the computer guys to duplicate my wood models with a CAD program. We had to keep making adjustments on the computer to get it right." 

A lot goes into the lures in your box: Tradition, talent and many hours on the water to see how they run and if the bass think they are a hit.

Storm Wiggle Wart

This aptly named crankbait hit the market in 1975. Countless millions of Wiggle Warts have been sold, and it continues to prove itself across the country. Idaho's Brandon Palaniuk finished second at the 2013 Bassmaster Classic with the 3/8-ounce.

Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap

The original 1/2-ounce Rat-L-Trap, introduced in the 1960s, is named after Bill Lewis' old Ford station wagon. He said the rattling bait sounded about like his car. Bass and other species are still suckers for the Rat-L-Trap's chattering sound and hard vibrations.

Rapala Shad Rap

The slender, tight wiggling, subtle action Shad Rap has been a mainstay for bass and walleye fishermen since it was launched in 1982. Over 50 million have been sold in deep- and shallow-diving configurations. The No. 7 is the most popular size.

Spro Little John

A relative newcomer, the John Crews-designed Spro Little John has won over a lot of fans. Despite its small profile, it weighs one-half ounce and casts like a bullet. Its size and tight wiggle appeal to all subspecies of black bass, and Gamakatsu hooks are standard. All of that combines to make it a great search bait.

Bomber Fat Free Shad

This value-packed lure offers a lot of features for little money. The Fat Free Shad is a deep-diver with a wide yet fast wobble, and it's easy to crank. Bomber equips its flagship crankbait with Excalibur Rotating Treble hooks. The bait's popularity has led to several variations, and the Fat Free Shad is offered in a broad range of colors.

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