Practical tackle


There is no doubt that the majority of pike anglers lure collections comprise mainly of crankbaits. These are the lures that are often commonly known as plugs, although this generic term covers just about any lure that has a large body made of plastic or wood. So a plug could be a jerkbait, propbait, chugger or any number of specific lure types. The term "crankbait" refers to plugs that are fished, primarily, by casting them out and cranking them straight back. There is not a lot to say about fishing crankbaits in this way because they have enough inbuilt action to attract pike without any input from the angler, other than to wind them through the water. This is, after all, how they are designed to be fished, and what makes them good trolling lures. Other retrieve patterns can be used with crankbaits, and these vary from lure to lure. For example, some can be twitched, while others refuse to play ball with this retrieve.

A crankbait's action usually comes from a diving lip (sometimes called a vane, bill, or wiggle-plate), which accounts for them sometimes being referred to as lip-baits. Minnows are lip-baits too, and although they will work as crankbaits are often better employed, as I describe elsewhere, as twitch baits. This is why I have given them a chapter of their own. Not all crankbaits have lips, and many that don't are classed as trolling plugs. This is a grey area of lure classification, so I have chosen to deal with classic trolling plugs alongside traditional crankbaits and those that could be considered to fall somewhere between the two.

As with most lures that I use, my preference is for the larger sizes of crankbait which is a bit of a problem as the great mass of baits available are small ones. I am sure that this is another reason for the widespread view that lures (plugs in this instance) catch only small pike. Having said this I am well aware that small crankbaits will catch large pike from time to time, my friend Martin McDerby caught a 34 pounder on a Big S, but I still don't believe that lures like this are the overall best bet for bigger pike. I have little to say about the majority of crankbaits traditionally used for pike in this country, as, apart from a few notable exceptions, I reckon they are too small. When all's said and done, most were originally intended for the American bass and walleye. The choice of crankbaits of five inches or longer is not that great in the U.K. at present, certainly in the shallower runners, and you will have to search around or send to America for them. One or two people are making larger crankbaits too, but some are better than others and the quality of finish can leave a lot to be desired. I have made my own at times and have had some success with them. If I can make lures that catch pike, anyone can!

There are a few factors to be aware of when it comes to choosing crankbaits, mostly concerning lip shape and size. Understanding what a particular lip style does for a lure will save you from buying baits that don't suit the waters that you fish. Large lips tend to mean that the lure will run deep, and the longer the lip the deeper it will run. Wide lips give the most side-to-side wiggle, narrow lips a rapid tight wiggle. Bear in mind, too, that the wider a lip is the greater its water resistance will be, and therefore, the harder it will be to crank the lure in. Fishing lures with lips like this can be physically demanding to work for long periods - the more so if the lure is very buoyant and requires constant cranking to maintain its running depth. Low stretch line, a slow geared reel and a stiff rod make fishing lures like this less like hard work, so bear this in mind too. A few deep divers are actually weighted towards the front of the lure, either in its nose or on the lip itself near the line-tie. Weighting a lure in this way gives it a tendency to sit nose down in the water, and causes it to dive more rapidly and steeply. The angle of the lip has a bearing on diving depth too. A lip that extends straight out in front of the plug body will dive deepest, whereas one that is almost at right angles to the body will cause the bait to run shallow. Most deep diving plugs run with the body at forty-five degrees to the vertical, rather than just about horizontal like shallow running baits do. Some lures are available in deep and shallow running versions, but the actions often vary tremendously between the two styles. Abu, and others, produce lures that have adjustable lips. There is a degree of compromise in this as the action of the bait alters as you vary the angle of the lip, this is because the size of the lip doesn't vary. Even so I have found it quite a useful feature at times, notably when trolling, although just a couple of settings seem to work best. Most metal lipped baits can have their action altered, and to an extent their running depth, by bending the lip. Bend lips down for more wiggle and less depth, and up to achieve the opposite effect. Going too far in either direction will almost certainly kill the action altogether, so take it in stages. Be careful to bend lips evenly or the lures will track off to one side. The Creek Chub Pikie is one lure that can benefit from a bit of lip bending. Most deep or steep diving crankbaits are easy to spot as, apart from the large lip, the line tie is often on the lip rather than the body of the lure.

Classic crankbaits. Floating diving "plugs" reaching around four to six feet when cast and retrieved, with the exception of the adjustable lipped Hi-Lo. Broom Stick Pikie (home-made by the author). Creek Chub Pikie (wood). Creek Chub Pikie (plastic). Lucky Strike Ol' Wooden Plug (wood!). Abu Hi-Lo. Gudebrod Sniper (plastic - long discontinued).


Mid to deep diving crankbaits. Note the similarity of lip angle and shape. The metal lips can be bent to alter lure action and diving depth. Husky Cisco Kid (sinker), 6¼" body length. Super Husky Cisco Kid, 7¾" body length. Buchertail Jointed DepthRaider. Solid DepthRaider. Smity Jointed Diver (wood).

Many crankbaits come in straight and jointed versions. The straight, single, baits are the most common and, as far as I am concerned, the most successful. I realise that my lack of success with jointed crankbaits is probably due to the little time I spend using them. In fact, as I think about now, it I have had more action on jointed lures than I first thought. I must dig a few out again! Jointed baits have more action, in terms of vibration, and some give out more noise as the body sections knock together. This might just make them a better bet in coloured water conditions. Jointed crankbaits are certainly highly rated for night fishing for muskies in the 'States.

It is crankbaits that most anglers associate with rattles. My views on rattles have been expressed already, and luckily for me few large crankbaits have them fitted. If anyone had to name the most famous crankbait for pike it would probably be the Creek Chub Pikie - and this doesn't rattle. Case closed! This is undoubtedly a hugely successful bait, despite its simple shape and lip design, or maybe because of it. The change from wood to plastic for lure bodies has had a marked effect on crankbaits. No one who has used older, wooden, versions of baits now moulded in plastic will deny that the wooden lures have much better actions. It is hard to put your finger on the the difference, but it is most apparent when the lures are on the end of your line. Wooden lures are heavier than their plastic replacements and therefore cast better too.

Shallow running crankbaits, down to six or eight feet, are the most widely used lures in this group. Perhaps this is because they keep away from most of the snags and save you pounds in the process! Shallow divers are pretty simple to work as the standard steady retrieve catches well enough. A faster retrieve will get the bait down quicker and keep it there. At the other extreme, some baits will work almost on the surface with a very slow retrieve. Others will not work at all in this way as they have a critical retrieve speed. Too fast and they might burst', flip on to one side or roll right over. Too slow and they lose all their action. As a general rule it pays to work crankbaits as slowly as possible in the coldest conditions, increasing their speed as the water warms up. For this reason it is worth having a selection of lures to cover different diving ranges when fished at the same speed.

Crankbait fishing is a much more considered form of lure fishing than some other searching techniques. Rather than using cranks to cover a lot of water to find fish, I prefer to use them in places where I have either found fish with other baits, or where past experience has taught me I am in with a chance of a fish or two. At times the concentration demanded from crankbait fishing can be mentally draining. Visualising precisely what your lure is doing is critical when working close to features such as weed beds and drop-offs. Sure, you can just chuck out crankbaits and wind them back, but I find that a picture in my mind's eye of the underwater scene gives me far more confidence - and a higher success rate. It doesn't really need pointing out that such an attitude helps with all lures, but search lures rely far more on a pike reacting instantly to them than do more slowly fished ones like crankbaits. I certainly find that when rapidly searching water I can lower my concentration level, at least as far as pin-point presentation goes.

For dead slow fishing you have to match your lure to the depth you want to fish. This might entail using a lure that has a maximum running depth of twelve feet in a swim that is only four feet deep. Choose a deep diver that is very buoyant. The Bagley's Diving Monster Shad is an excellent choice for this tactic. Having a tight wiggle and broad, flat sides the Monster Shad can be retrieved very slowly, but still gives out strong fish attracting signals of flash and vibration. Working a lure like this takes patience, because when I say dead slow I mean as slow as you can without the lure stalling. It also takes concentration as the takes from lethargic fish can be very gentle and need an instant response if you are to stand any chance of connecting with them. Why fish shallow water in cold conditions though? Well you might have no choice, the entire water might be shallow, but otherwise such areas are always worth exploring in the months of January and February when pike start mooching round their spawning sites. In these days of mild winters there can still be weed in these spots at this time of year. A slow cranking retrieve and a sensitive outfit will enable you to feel this as soon as the bait touches it. At this point, or if you feel it dig bottom, pause the retrieve and allow the lure to float up a foot or so before starting to crank it again. Takes are to be expected the instant the lure dives a little.

In the deeper weed beds, and in open water during the summer, a similar technique can be used - but speeded up. Match the lure to speed and depth requirements again. Where a Diving Monster Shad worked in winter you might now need a Grandma, or another lure with a strong action but a shallow diving depth, to prevent constant fouling with the weed which has grown higher in the water. Drawing the lure forward two or three feet by moving the rod tip will work the bait quickly and smoothly. Crank the reel as you return the rod tip to its initial position, keeping in touch with the lure all the time. From time to time you will get takes as the lure floats up, but these hits are difficult to connect with. It's a slack line take in effect. Braided line helps in this situation, because of the improved feel it gives you of the lure compared with the use of monofil. Even so, all you might feel is a knock as the pike grabs, and releases, the lure. By then it is too late. The steady retrieve is always a good starting point, but it is worth breaking it up at times, a sudden change in action is always likely to trigger a strike. One fairly subtle way of breaking up a straight retrieve is to give a few quicker turns of the reel handle now and then. This will have two effects on the crankbait. Firstly it will speed the lure up (you'd never have guessed, would you?) and it will also make the lure dive a little deeper with a stronger wiggle. Making lures behave in an erratic manner is the best way to trigger pike into taking, so this increase in action and speed is sometimes just what is needed to turn a follower into a taker. A similar effect can be achieved when trolling crankbaits by either speeding the boat up every now and then, or if you are holding the rod by pumping it forwards and dropping it back. Again a change in lure action can trigger strikes. This is one of the most important things to remember about working your lures, and is as close to a hard and fast rule as you are likely to find in this book. Many crankbaits can be twitched, a little like minnow baits. The technique is much the same but the resulting action is quite different. I find the best crankbaits for twitching are actually the deeper divers, with broad lips. Baits like Pikies and Hi-Los haven't worked too well for me when twitched, being more suited to the quick-slow-quick type of retrieve, but Diving Monster Shads and straight DepthRaiders are another matter. Both are pretty buoyant lures which means that they can be twitched slowly in shallow water, despite the fact that they will run deep. Maybe it is the flatish bodies that make these particular lures good for twitching, but more likely the wide lips. Because the lures try to dive steeply they can be kept in one spot for a number of twitches, bobbing back to the surface almost exactly where they were twitched from. Both these baits can be made to turn through ninety degrees when fished like this. If you have pinpointed a pike holding spot, it is well worth casting a crankbait well past it and retrieving it steadily. As the lure gets in line with where you think a pike should be lying start twitching the bait. Not too violently, but in a subtle sort of way. Many's the time a pike has shot out and grabbed a lure of mine worked like this, from under floating rafts of weed and from gaps in reed beds. I think the waiting pike will have become aware of the lure well in advance of its arrival, and the sudden change in its action, right next to the fish, triggers it in a way it can't resist.

Flat-sided crankbaits. Although the Grandma can also be considered as a minnow bait, its flat sides give it shared characteristics with the shad-type lures - notably flash, and wiggle. All are superb twitch baits but troll well too. Magna Strike Grandma, 9". Grandma, 7½" jointed. Grandma, 6". Rapala Super Shad Rap, 14cm. Bagley Diving Monster Shad, 4 ".

Another excellent crankbait for twitching is the relatively new Super Shad Rap from Rapala. Already the general opinion is that this bait is destined to become a classic. With a lovely wiggle on a straight crank, and diving to around five feet, it offers a nice bold profile to the pike with its flat shad shape. Twitching this bait really does make it something special as I found one January day. I had been using my usual dead-slow winter cranking retrieve, it has worked so often in cold water that it is my first line of attack. On this occasion, however, my slow cranked Grandma had only produced one tiny pike. Partly out of boredom, and partly out of frustration, I started twitching the lure. Literally on the first cast using this change of tactics a decent pike came up behind the bait, only to turn away at my feet. The fish was easily recognisable owing to a red mark on one flank. A few more casts produced nothing so I switched to a Super Shad Rap and began twitching that. In short time a fish took it gently, but threw the bait when it thrashed its head on the surface. I obviously hadn't driven the hooks home, and the way the pike came straight to the surface made it difficult to rectify the situation. A few more casts and something hammered the bait, this time it stayed hooked and turned out to be the fish that had followed the Grandma in. A nice mid-double. Even in winter it pays to keep on twitching. I have found that the Super Shad Rap is a poor hooker as have a number of anglers I have spoken to. Others, though, have had no problems. If you suffer the same difficulty as me with this lure switch the hooks to a larger size, 3/0 seems about right. Using a finer wire hook for the replacements also gives the bait a bit more wiggle on a straight retrieve, and flash on the twitch.

For fishing close to the bottom where it is rocky or stony it is best to go for a certain lip type of diving bait. The ones to look for are deep runners that have a long lip coming out almost horizontally from the body with the line tie mid-way along the lip. These baits tend to run with their body at forty-five degrees which keeps the hooks away from snags, and when the lip hits bottom the angle of pull from the line flips the lure vertical and clear of the obstruction. Should one of these lures wedge behind a rock feed some slack, and it will usually float out the way it went in. Baits like this that spring to mind are the Ryobi Deep Dixie, Storm Big Mac and Bagley's less buoyant Diving Bang-O-B series (known colloquially by their code numbers as the DBO6 and DBO8). Like the shallow running Big Dixie, the Deep Dixie is not actually made by Ryobi, and I have seen it listed by at least two other companies under other names! This doesn't stop it being a good lure though. Many lip baits like these can also be fished through sparse weed without hanging up too much. As they have fairly tight wiggles the hooks stay behind the bait, and away from from the weed.

Kwikfish behave pretty much the same when confronted with rocks, but are less good in weed as they have a much wider wiggle. Originally intended as trolling plugs Kwikfish, and the almost identical Helin's Flatfish (now marketed as the Worden's FlatFish by the Yakima Bait Co.), work quite well on a straight retrieve, but are difficult to cast without fouling the trace - no matter what anyone says. The larger sizes are very buoyant while the smaller ones sink. I find most use for are the larger one-piece floaters which I like to twitch on and just under the surface. The jointed models I reckon work best on a straight retrieve - the slower the better in most instances - or on a quick/slow/quick retrieve. It is difficult to bring these lures back too quickly in the larger sizes owing to the resistance they put up to your efforts to crank them in. It will come as no surprise that both Kwikfish and Flatfish are good trolling lures! Because of their broad banana shape these baits are not good for hooking pike. Some of the Flatfish models have dual treble hooks on spreader wires for this very reason, but this is a veritable weed magnet. Adding an extra split ring to the belly hook, placing it further from the body, helps to an extent.

Deep diving crankbaits. Most of these baits share a slim body shape, and it is worth comparing the lip shapes and line-tie positions. Storm Big Mac. Ryobi Deep Dixie (this lure is also marketed under other names by various firms). Bagley DBO8. Rapala Magnum (sinker). Yozuri L-Jack Minnow (sinker). Smity Large Troller (wood), 8½" body length.

Another trolling plug that gets used as a crankbait is one that, like the Kwikfish/Flatfish family, comes under two names from two manufacturers but which are just about identical - the Believer or Swim Whizz. The only discernable variation is the shape of the 'tail' of the lures, that and the name on the side of them. Like the Kwikfish these, too, are poor casters - no matter what anyone says. Better on multiplier outfits where the reel acts as a brake on the lure, but still liable to tumbling and tangling with the trace at times. Their hooks are also prone to tangle with each other, and to foul the body from time to time too. The Swim Whizz and Believer have two line ties - the upper one gives the deepest running depth, and the lower one the shallowest. The largest sizes (8" plus) are very buoyant and can be twitched in the surface layers on the shallow setting (front line-tie). They work a little like a jerkbait as they have some degree of swing, far more than most crankbaits or minnows. A long, stroking sweep of the rod is what I find works best with this lure after first cranking it down a couple of turns. Sharp jerks can cause it to 'burst' and flop on the surface. As straightforward crankbaits, using the deeper setting, I haven't had much success with this bait, although I know a number of anglers who have. Another case of lack of effort I guess.

As with so many hollow bodied lures that come in a range of sizes, the bigger Swim Whizzes have a greater inherent buoyancy than the smaller ones. The same applies to the excellent Magna Strike Predator and Equalizers. So good are these lures that I don't know of anyone who has used these two lures and not caught pike. There is something about Magna Strike baits that pike seem to find irresistible. Both these lures are one piece lipless crankbaits, getting their wiggle and dive from the shape of their heads. I suppose the Equalizer does have a lip really, but it is an integral part of the lure, along with a bracing section behind it. The Predator is the shallowest runner of the two, the six inch model diving only a couple of feet when cast. In the right situation it can be absolutely deadly cranked back at high speed, as fast as you can without your wrist giving way. This tactic works best in pike packed shallow water with plenty of weed close to the bottom. Say four or five feet of clear water, with two to three feet of weed. The pike need to be active, so it is best if the water is relatively warm. Spring, before the weed gets too dense, or a warm spell in autumn after the weed has begun to die back a little. I found a situation where this was the tactic required to get a take, and used the Predator, Gudebrod Maverick and large willow leafed spinnerbaits to fish shallow and fast enough to get a response - I had about a dozen takes in an hour, seven of them to a six inch Predator. The Predator can also be twitched, when it works rather like a fat minnow bait, on and just below the surface.

The seven inch Equalizer weighs 3oz (provided the weight has been put in when it was made) and dives quite quickly to eight feet or a little more. This one, too, can be twitched, working correspondingly deeper than does the Predator. It also casts like a bullet, provided you have a rod capable of throwing it, and so makes a good choice for casting into strong winds and reaching far out into big stillwaters. I have an Equalizer that for some reason has no added weight, and this prized possession runs somewhere between the standard model and the Predator. Unfortunately Magna Strike lures are noted for suffering from a leak problem. The Grandmas are not too bad, for some reason, but the others frequently take on water. They are not without other production defects either, I have had a lip fall out of a Grandma and have heard of them snapping off too. A pity that quality control is so bad as they are not cheap lures, and they work really well. So well that even the less than brilliant paintwork doesn't bother the pike. I have heard people say that they wouldn't buy these lures because of the finish. Well, they are missing out on some great sport. If the main thing that interests you about a lure is what it looks like when it comes out of the box, then you have got your priorities wrong. It is what it does in the water that matters.

I mentioned DepthRaiders earlier, and these crankbaits are little known in the U.K. This is largely down to their unavailability in the U.K. until very recently and their price, which puts a lot of people off being fairly high even in the 'States. Like the Magna Strikes they are worth taking some trouble to get hold of though, but these lures are tough and the finishes superb. Unlike the bulk of six inch crankbaits (the DepthRaider is listed as eight inches which this includes the lip - the body actually measures 6 inches), Creek Chub Pikies and so forth, DepthRaiders dive that bit deeper. Whereas most of the afore-mentioned baits run to six or eight feet when cast, DepthRaiders get down to ten feet or so. This gives you an added variation when conditions dictate, allowing you to fish deeper at the same speed, or slower at the same depth. On one occasion I had moved into a new and deeper swim, this was after catching a few fish shallow on Predators cast close to the reeds. I was boat fishing and my partner and I decided that in this spot we should switch to deeper running crankbaits after I'd caught a fish on a float legered deadbait, having initially tried the shallow lures. I switched to a straight DepthRaider and picked up a fish almost straight away. Another choice might have been the Bagley's DBO6 which Geoff swapped to and also caught on.

What lovely teeth you have. A Magna Strike Equalizer accounted for this mean looking fish, one that clearly illustrates the need for a wire trace when lure fishing for pike.
The DBOs are not as buoyant as the DepthRaider though, nor is the classic Cisco Kid which the DepthRaider resembles very closely. Available in straight and jointed versions DepthRaiders give an added option to the committed troller too. Remember that the straight model is more buoyant than the jointed one, and so runs slightly shallower (this is my experience, although I think the packaging claims otherwise) - no doubt this is why a countdown version has been introduced. Unlike the Super Husky Cisco Kid with its metal lip which can be bent to slightly alter its diving depth and action, the DepthRaider has a moulded in lip. It is also about an inch shorter than the Super Husky Cisco Kid, but bulkier than the Super Deep model (which actually sinks due to the weight of its lip). As already mentioned DepthRaiders can also be twitched, so they are pretty versatile baits.

Lipless crankbaits and trolling plugs. Helin Flatfish T60, 6 . Kwikfish K18J, 8½". Homer Le Blanc Swim Whizz (repainted), 7". Magna Strike Predator, 6". Magna Strike Equalizer, 7".

Don't get carried away with the new generation pike crankbaits and neglect the older designs like the Creek Chub Pikie and the Abu Hi-Lo. These are true classic lures, very basic in shape both being round in cross section with shaped heads. If you want to try making your own plugs these are the shapes to copy! In their six inch sizes both lures are similar in action, having a gentle wiggle with a bit of roll thrown in for good measure. Despite this restrained behaviour, when compared to shad type crankbaits and deep divers, they catch an awful lot of fish. Working well both cast or trolled. I like to fish these baits a hesitant manner. Not twitched and not cranked straight back. Quite hard to define, but the lure is kept moving forward all the time. The 40g Hi-Lo is my favourite model and I find that a couple of lip positions give it the most action. One thing I do do to the Hi-Lo is to slip a small section of shrink, or silicone, tube over the nose ring. This is to hold it in line with the lure, as otherwise it has an annoying habit of slipping out of position and putting the lure out of tune.

Another classic is the long defunct Gudebrod Sniper, an extremely simple shape to copy - which is why a number of people do just that! I have even done so myself and caught a few pike, but I have to confess that it is not a lure that I can recommend very highly - but then it's another one I hardly ever use. Of course, I bow to those who rate Snipers, and their imitations, as superb catchers of big pike. If everyone's favourite lure was the same it would be a very boring world. We'd have nothing to argue about! It does raise the point that many pike anglers, mostly those new to lure fishing, prefer to use crankbaits with rapid wiggling actions. Overall, though, I don't find that the pike share this preference. Maybe it is just that these anglers are happier to use lures that can be simply cast out and wound back. After all these wiggling crankbaits do look like they should entice a pike or two. But to fish them only in this manner is to limit their effectiveness, and a little more angler-input to their action will make a marked improvement to their success.

There are a few wooden crankbaits on the market in the U.S. (usually at a price), mostly aimed at musky anglers. As a consequence they are large, maybe a foot or more, and have some pretty basic paint jobs. Even so they have excellent actions. If crankbaits are what turn you on, seek them out. The Hi-Fin, Lucky Strike and Smity ranges are currently available in the U.K. These firms do a selection of deep and shallow divers in straight and jointed versions, all with metal lips which can be bent to alter their actions. Smity also do a range of deep trollers which have huge lips, rather like playing cards!
Whether it is because crankbaits are a fairly old lure family, or because they are worked a lot slower than some other lure types, giving pike more time to inspect them, you might notice that naturalistic and subdued colour schemes predominate. There is some logic in thinking that an imitative looking crankbait might deceive a pike, some have actions that are very fishy indeed. I still like to use hot colours and abstract patterns too. Black crankbaits are noted killers at times, as are yellow ones, and the white body with a red head is an all time favourite of many a pike angler. Some people swear by a flash of red on their lures, particularly crankbaits, and there is no harm in this, nor in adding a hot orange belly - even to naturalistic patterns. Whatever gives you confidence I suppose. I doubt that pike notice red fins painted on lures. Not as fins or blood spatters at any rate.

Just to prove that large crankbaits don't catch all the best fish, this one from way back when took a four-inch home made jointed plug.

Because the lure is doing most of the work for you, rods for crankbait fishing can be longer than for other more angler-active techniques. I usually go for a rod of around seven feet in length - give or take six inches. Because you should be trying to retrieve your crankbaits with the rod pointing down the line there is no great need for a very stiff rod in most circumstances. However I still prefer something with a bit of beef in the mid-section and butt. This helps punch baits out as far as possible if necessary and also assists in setting the hooks should I get a take early into the retrieve. Stiffish rods are helpful for popping lures free of weed too. The rod is matched with a baitcaster, possibly a low profile mid-sized model, loaded with fifteen to twenty pound mono or 30-50lb braid. The finer the line the deeper your crankbaits will fish. So for fishing shallow use a thicker line than for scraping the bottom. Traces are sixty pound test as standard and have a Duolock snap for preference. The round loop of these snaps giving the baits a freer side-to-side movement.