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               Summer 2005 Issue

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Modifying Crankbaits For Better Walleye Fishing
Gary Parsons and Keith Kavajecz


We use crankbaits a lot as we travel “walleye country” competing on the tournament trail. Crankbaits are great fish catchers, and with the success they’ve had on various tournament circuits across the country, everybody’s fishing them. Why? Because they’re versatile (in color, depth, size, etc.), effective and have an uncanny knack for producing Big Fish! In fact, thinking back, we’d have to say that well over 50% of the really big fish we’ve ever caught have come on crankbaits. Not everyone however has had the same positive results. The difference is in details. Over the years we have learned several things about modifying crankbaits to make them better fish catchers.

The Right Speed:

An often overlooked aspect of crankbait fishing is the speed at which the lure is presented. Terms like “Speed Trolling” have lead many anglers to believe that crankbaits work better at faster speeds. That is only true in a few, rare instances. More often, slow is the way to go when it comes to trolling crankbaits. These baits are much more effective at catching numbers of fish, and especially big fish, when used to trigger a “feeding bite” rather than a “reaction strike” which is what happens when the baits are run fast. Slowing down your presentation, trolling 1.2 to 1.5 mph, you will fool the fish into thinking your lure is an easy meal.

Varying the speed of a crankbait is another important way to trigger fish to bite. A bait that surges forward, then stops momentarily better resembles the activity of a real baitfish. This “surging” action can come from the angler imparting a pumping action to the rod, or it can simply come from the wave action pushing the boat forward as you troll. The effect is more dramatic when trolling with in-line boards like Off Shore Tackle’s OR-12 Side Planers. As the boards “ride the waves”, they pull the crankbaits forward and back adding variation in speed and action.

Modifying Profile:

There are times when changes to crankbait’s “profile” are needed to make the bait more effective. We have witnessed this first hand on several occasions, particularly when fishing on The Great Lakes. There have been instances when we’d be on a good crankbait bite, only to have the bite taper off whether from changes in weather or fishing pressure. Experimentation taught us that bulking-up” the crankbait by adding a piece of nightcrawler to the front hook of the bait was often all that was needed to get the bite going again. In fact, this little trick not only saved the day on more than one occasion, it proved to be even more effective better than what we were experiencing using the cranks “undressed”. Some fellow anglers that have also tried this believe the results are due to the scent added from the crawler, but honestly we think it has to do more with the added crawler changing the “profile” of the bait, making it appear larger than it was. In some cases, depending on the lure being used, the added weight and drag of the crawler also changes the action of the lure slightly … another modification factor that can play a role in the lure’s effectiveness.

 Increasing A Crankbait’s “Bite”

For a large part, we have built our walleye fishing careers with what we’ve learned about fishing crankbaits. One thing about crankbaits that many pros will tell you is that although they will catch fish right out of the box, most of them can be improved by changing to better hooks. When walleyes are hooked on a crank, especially when that bait is being trolled a long distance from the boat, the hooks can tear a large hole in the fish’s mouth. That hole can allow the hook to slip out if the tosses its head just right, or any slack is let in the line. That’s why, when the money is on the line, we change all our crankbait hooks to Mustad Ultra Point Triple Grip Treble Hooks. The inward bend of the Triple Grips locks the fish on, greatly increasing the chances that the fish is going to stay hooked all the way to the net. The light wire of the Triple Grip Hooks also lets you use a size larger hook than the bait comes with without adding weight to the bait and thus deadening its action. The larger hooks will also increase the bait’s “bite”, giving you a better chance of “hooking up” when a fish hits the lure.

 Color Modification:

Have you seen the color selection of crankbaits available on the market today? There are literally hundreds upon hundreds of colors to choose from. The problem is, no way can one fisherman have every color crankbait in the boat at one time. The good thing is, you don’t need to carry all those colors. Most pros will carry a good variety of colors, but add in some sort of “paint set” or colored markers that can be used to modify a lure’s color. Our most commonly used color modification is to add red to it. At times painting a crank’s bill red, or adding red to the belly of the lure, makes all the difference in the world. The general feeling is that the added red gives the bait the appearance of being “wounded”, thus prime for easy pickin’.

Changing out the lure’s belly hook and replacing it with a red hook is another way to add a splash of color to the lure. There have also been times where changing the lure’s tail hook from a bronze hook to a chrome or nickel plated hook added just the right amount of extra flash needed to trigger a few more bites.


Having a good variety of crankbaits for the various situations you will face as a walleye angler is important to being successful. Learning how to “fine-tune” your crankbait presentations with a few key modifications will make you much more effective at cranking in loads of walleyes. 

Editor's Note: If you have questions or comments on this or other articles of ours you may have read, contact us through our website at