Trout Fishing With Crankbaits: Proven Guide Methods

A large spotted yellow sided brown trout.

Crankbaits is my secret method when I am trout fishing for trophy-sized trout. I say secretly because crankbait fishing for trout is an overlooked method that I don’t see many anglers using.

The crankbait methods I have been perfecting over the years are effective in large and small rivers, and can be used in lakes and ponds. They are also effective for wild and stocked trout. I guide with these methods and so do other trout guides.

What you need to consider when trout fishing is the following.

  • Lure Casting Gear: I use seven to eight-foot rods that are ultra-light to light action, with 1500 to 2500-size reels combined with braided line, mono, or fluorocarbon line.
  • Leader: A fluorocarbon leader and snap swivel can also be used. I add a 20 to 36-inch leader to most lines.
  • Best Lures: Spinners, spoons, jigs, crankbaits, and plugs are all good lures for trout fishing.
  • Reading The River: Knowing how to read a river and determining where the trout are is an important skill.
  • Covering The Water: I use a systematic approach to cover the water so every cast hits the right spot, and I put my lure in front of every trout.
  • How Deep: Knowing how deep you need to get your lure so it gets into the trout strike zone is critical to success.
  • Work Your Lure: Imparting more action into a crankbait can significantly increase the amount of trout that will bite your lure.

Crankbaits: Effective Lures For Trout Fishing

A YoZuri 3D crankbait

Crankbaits are highly effective lures for targeting trout in rivers, piers, boats, and shorelines.

Even those new to crankbait fishing for trout can still have good chances of catching trout.

When I am guiding and using crankbaits, the approach varies depending on several factors, including river conditions, depth, water clarity, current speed, and the activity level of the trout. Choosing the right crankbait based on these conditions is crucial.

Crankbaits exhibit lifelike movements and resemble baitfish, making them particularly effective in eliciting strikes from trout. At times, crankbaits can even be more efective than my best trout baits.

Their ability to cover a large area of water quickly and target multiple depths provides an advantage to anglers.

Exploring the Basics of Crankbait Fishing for Trout

A straight model crankbait

Fishing with crankbaits involves using a lure called a crankbait, which resembles the shape of a minnow and typically features 2 to 3 treble hooks.

Crankbaits produce exceptional action and vibration, contributing to their effectiveness.

The lifelike movement and resemblance to baitfish can attract trout from considerable distances, and the flash of the crankbait triggers strikes when it approaches the trout.

Not all crankbaits are equally suitable for trout fishing, and through experience, it has been found that some crankbaits perform better than others. Selecting crankbaits of appropriate size, color, and weight is crucial.

Investing in high-quality crankbaits that can withstand the battle with large trout is also important, as cheaper alternatives often fall short in performance.

Recommended Crankbaits for Trout Fishing

An assortment of my crankbaits
An assortment of my crankbaits

When selecting crankbaits, the following types are recommended:

Slender Body Crankbaits: These crankbaits are designed for faster and deeper retrieves, excelling in slower currents and deeper water.

Fat Body Crankbaits: Crankbaits with a fat body exhibit a more pronounced wobbling action, they displace a greater amount of water, and are available in both shallow lip and deep lip variations. These lures are typically shorter and stockier in shape but are excellent for medium to large trout. They excel in shallower water and faster currents, making them an ideal choice for such conditions.

Deep Lip Crankbaits: Deep lip or medium deep lip crankbaits are preferred, particularly in rivers. The deep lip helps maintain the crankbait’s depth even during an ultra-slow retrieve or in fast currents. These crankbaits can reach depths of over 20 feet, but it requires sufficient line out.

Shallow Lip Crankbaits: Shallow lip crankbaits, also known as shallow-running crankbaits, are suitable for both rivers and lakes, although they are more commonly used by lake anglers. Some shallow lip crankbaits work well in rivers with slow to medium-speed currents.

It’s important to note that certain shallow lip crankbaits may not perform effectively in faster currents as they tend to pop out of the water. Generally, shallow lip crankbaits can reach depths of 2 to 5 feet.

Rattle Crankbaits: Many crankbaits come equipped with built-in rattles, which tend to attract and catch more trout. Rattle crankbaits are particularly effective in faster and higher water, murky or stained water, and during night fishing for trout.

Non-Rattle Crankbaits: Non-rattle crankbaits produce a more subtle sound, but they still emit noise below the water’s surface, which can be detected by trout. The sound is created by the hooks bumping against the body of the crankbait.

When selecting crankbaits, refer to the information provided on the packaging regarding their running depth. It’s wise to have a variety of crankbaits of different depths on hand to ensure you can effectively cover all water depths when necessary.

I discuss my favorite and most effective crankbaits on my 31 Best Lures For Trout page.

Determining the Ideal Length and Colors of Crankbaits for Trout Fishing

An Assortment of crankbaits
An assortment of crankbaits

The optimal length of crankbaits for trout typically ranges from 2 to 4 inches.

A length of 3 inches is often preferred as it closely matches the size of most baitfish found in rivers or the ones trout typically feed on.

I use larger crankbaits in turbid or high-flow conditions and when fishing in dirtier water.

When fishing trout with crankbaits in clear with or when targeting cautious fish holding in pools, I prefer to use smaller and natural colored crankbaits.

The color of the crankbait plays a significant role in attracting the interest of trout and enticing them to strike. However, the most effective color depends on the mood of the trout and the prevailing water clarity and light conditions.

Silver, gold, or brightly colored crankbaits with reflective surfaces tend to be highly effective. The flash they create can be spotted by trout from a considerable distance.

Under specific conditions, dark green, yellow, and even black crankbaits or black/silver combinations have shown great success.

Based on experience, consistent and reliable colors for trout fishing in rivers include yellow, yellow/silver, silver, silver/orange, green/silver, and blue/silver.

Effective Techniques for Crankbait Fishing

Three techniques have proven to be highly effective for catching trout on crankbaits:

An angler Trout fishing with crankbaits

Method #1: The most commonly used technique involves casting the crankbait into the river and retrieving it with a slow and steady motion.

Depending on the depth and speed of the river, you may need to let the crankbait sink for a moment or adjust its depth accordingly.

Method #2: To enhance the effectiveness of the straight retrieve method, incorporate ripping or twitching actions into your retrieve. Every 5 feet or so, give the crankbait a sharp jerk or twitch to simulate the movement of an injured or dying baitfish. This erratic retrieve often doubles the number of trout strikes.

Method #3: This technique works best when trout crankbait fishing in faster currents. Cast the crankbait across and slightly downstream, allowing the current to carry the lure across the pool without reeling.

This “swing” technique mimics the natural movement of a baitfish as it sinks, wobbles, and entices trout to strike. You can further enhance this method by incorporating ripping, twitching, and pausing actions, which can be highly effective.

I use these same methods when spoon fishing for trout and when spinner fishing for trout.

Retrieval Speed and Depth for Crankbait Fishing

Fishing Crankbaits For Trout is good for big rainbow trout like this

When fishing for trout with crankbaits, the retrieval speed of your crankbait depends on several factors, including the lure’s action, your reel speed, and the velocity of the current.

Retrieving the crankbait at a speed that allows trout to detect it, see it clearly, and strike at it is generally effective.

A slow to medium retrieval speed is recommended.

However, there are instances when you can reel in the crankbait faster to cover more water, especially if you are targeting aggressive trout that are actively pursuing prey.

If the crankbait consistently pops out of the water’s surface, it indicates that you are reeling too fast or holding your rod tip too high.

Aim to maintain a steady retrieval speed. If the current in the middle of the river is faster, slow down your reeling speed to match its pace. The current itself will provide action and movement to the crankbait, even without continuous reeling. In very swift currents, you may not need to reel at all and can simply allow the lure to swing across the river.

When using shallow lip crankbaits and some deep lip crankbaits, the faster you reel, the higher the crankbait will remain in the water column. This may not be ideal for enticing trout that are holding deeper and are less likely to rise for a lure.

Determining the Optimal Depth for Crankbait Fishing

Although trout are often found near the riverbed, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your crankbait should be at the same depth.

To determine the ideal depth for your crankbait, aim to position it approximately 2 to 3 feet above the trout’s actual location. In clear water, you can get away with positioning the crankbait 5 to 6 feet above the fish, but closer is generally better.

The goal is to keep the crankbait within the trout’s strike zone for as long as possible. Since trout prefer to feed upward, it’s crucial to keep the crankbait off the bottom and above their heads. Avoid dragging the crankbait along the riverbed, as this can lead to snags and reduce its effectiveness.

Getting your crankbait closer to the trout significantly increases the likelihood of provoking a strike. However, determining the precise depth requires strategic tactics, which we will discuss next.

Achieving Comprehensive Water Column Coverage

When using crankbaits, it is essential to effectively cover the entire water column rather than randomly casting in all directions. Many anglers make the mistake of casting without a systematic approach, often missing potential opportunities.

To optimize your chances of success, employ a methodical approach to determine the trout’s location. Here’s a systematic method for achieving comprehensive water column coverage:

First Cast: Begin by targeting the top portion of the water column with your initial cast. Start reeling immediately, maintaining a slow and steady retrieve to keep the crankbait near the surface.

Second Cast: Repeat the cast, aiming to land the crankbait in the exact same spot as the previous cast. This time, adjust the depth by either submerging your rod tip (if using a shallow lip crankbait) or keeping a high rod tip (if using a deep lip crankbait). This allows you to effectively target the middle or lower part of the water column, typically ranging from 6 to 10 feet in depth.

Third Cast: If you haven’t had any bites or encountered the bottom on the first two casts, cast back to the same spot with a deep lip crankbait and submerge your rod tip to maximize depth. If the crankbait consistently hits the riverbed, lift the rod tip 3 to 6 feet to suspend the crankbait above the riverbed at a depth of 3 to 6 feet. This depth range often proves ideal and yields the most trout catches.

A diagram of the dive curve of a lure with rod tip high and rod tip low

Repeat: Once you have determined the depth that works best, make your subsequent casts 3 to 5 feet downstream from your previous cast and repeat the process. Pay close attention to any bites or bumps you receive during any of the three casts. These indicators can provide insights into the depth at which the fish are actively feeding or holding.

Once you have identified the depth at which the fish are present or the bottom of the river, you can focus solely on that depth without repeating the three-cast process. This systematic approach to discovering the fish’s location is preferred over rapidly covering a large area and hoping the crankbait is near the fish.

Casting Direction for Optimal Results

When using a crankbait, casting straight across the river or slightly downriver has been found to yield the best results when using crankbaits for trout fishing.

Casting the crankbait upriver can startle the fish or make it more challenging for them to strike. In contrast, casting the crankbait sideways and allowing it to move across the fish’s field of view presents an easier and more enticing target. Therefore, an across-river cast with a sideways retrieve is typically the preferred method.

Effectively Covering the Water

Effective coverage of the water is vital when fishing for trout with crankbaits. Instead of casting randomly in all directions, it is best to methodically cover the water from top to bottom.

I recommend starting your retrieve at the very top of the fishing spot and gradually moving down 3 to 5 feet with each consecutive cast. This approach ensures that every fish in the area has a chance to see and strike at the crankbait, leaving no gaps in coverage.

Implementing this systematic coverage technique distinguishes you from anglers who cast aimlessly and miss potential opportunities.

Understanding River Conditions for Effective Crankbait Selection and Fishing Tactics

Having a good understanding of river conditions is essential for adapting your fishing tactics. Factors such as water depth, current speed, water clarity, the presence of structures like rocks and logs, and the width of the river all influence trout behavior and should guide your approach.

Flexibility is key, and it’s important to adjust your strategies accordingly. Let’s consider a few scenarios:

Clear Water Fishing with Crankbaits

In clear water conditions, you have the advantage of running your crankbait up to 6 feet away from a trout and still potentially attracting bites. Silver, gold, and brightly colored crankbaits with reflective surfaces work well in clear water, as they create a visible flash.

A slightly faster retrieval speed can be effective since trout can spot the lure from a greater distance and have more time to react.

However, in shallow, clear water, trout can be easily spooked by the splash of the crankbait or its proximity. To overcome this, consider using smaller and less flashy crankbaits.

Cast the crankbait farther away from where the trout are holding and retrieve it at a slower pace to avoid spooking them. Abrupt movements or fast-paced lures can startle trout, so keeping a natural and subtle presentation is crucial.

Avoid landing the crankbait directly on top of the fish or in the middle of the pool. Instead, aim to cast it as close to the far bank as possible and pull the crankbait in front of and past the fish. Crankbaits or other lures appearing from behind the fish can also spook them.

Dirty or Stained Water Fishing

When fishing crankbaits in dirtier water or water with reduced visibility, it becomes crucial to get the crankbait closer to the trout, within a foot or two if possible. Slow down your retrieval speed to accommodate the reduced visibility. The rip, twitch, pause retrieve method is particularly effective in these conditions.

Allow for longer pauses, as they give trout the chance to locate and strike at the crankbait even when visibility is poor.

In very muddy water, I recommend using crankbaits with built-in rattles. The added noise helps trout locate and strike at the lure when they can’t rely solely on their sight.

Opt for larger crankbaits and brighter colors, such as chartreuse, in stained water conditions, as they provide better visibility and attract attention.

Fast and Slow Water Fishing

In faster currents, the swing method works best. Cast the crankbait across the river and let the current carry it downstream, mimicking the movement of a baitfish. Avoid reeling too quickly, as it can cause the crankbait to spin out or become too fast for the fish to detect and strike.

In slower water, a slow to medium-speed retrieval or a ripping and twitching retrieve is more effective.

Understanding and adapting to river conditions is crucial for successful crankbait fishing for trout. By considering factors such as water clarity, speed, and structure, you can select the most appropriate crankbaits and employ the right tactics to increase your chances of success.

Trout Fishing With Crankbaits Conclusion And Q&A

In conclusion, trout fishing with crankbaits requires a careful selection of suitable crankbaits, understanding the optimal retrieval speed and depth, and adapting to different river conditions. By following these guidelines and employing effective techniques, you can enhance your chances of hooking trout using crankbaits.

If you have any questions or would like to share tips and tricks, feel free to let us know in the comments section below.

Tight Lines,


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