Crankbaits are among the most versatile walleye lures and their abilities to create vibration often are overlooked. One challenge in understanding crankbait vibration is that it takes two numbers to describe—frequency and amplitude. And these values change with trolling speed, line size, and whether a snap is used to attach lures.
Berkley has promoted the understanding of crankbait motion with a system described by yaw, sway, roll, surge, pitch, and heave. The company prints an explanation of the system with diagrams and dive curves inside the lure packages. Designer Dan Spengler explains, "Crankbait motion relies on the interaction of the lure's body shape, body mass distribution, lip design, and pull point. Inspecting these details can suggest when and where a crankbait should be used. The next step is to put the lure in the water and feel the vibration at the rod tip."
Let's start with the crankbait lip. When designing the new Cutter jerkbait for Berkley, Spengler told me, "As we kept taking material off the sides of the lip, we increased the depth of the dive and the length of the glide." Physically, these effects make sense since a wider, cupped lip would create drag (reducing glide) and reduce the dive. The Cutter shares a general "coffin lip" design with the Reef Runner Ripshad, Rapala Shadow Rap Deep, and a few other lures, which all differ in action and body motion from classic stickbaits like Rapala's Husky Jerk or Smithwick's Rattlin' Rogue.
To further understand lure motion, Rapala lure designer Mark Fisher explains how the cross-section of a lure's body determines rotation and flash. Fisher compares this motion to that of a rolling hockey puck: "A round puck rolls smoothly while an oblong version or one with flattened sides would roll with distinct thumps and irregularities. Add a shiny finish to the sides and these thumps create flash," he says. Inspect the profiles of the Rapala Floating Minnow and the slightly more oblong Rapala Husky Jerk, then compare them to the X-Rap, Flat Rap, and Shadow Rap designs in Rapala's lineup. The bodies of the Berkley Cutter and Smithwick Rogue have key differences, too.
Further focusing on the lip, Berkley's Wild Thang and Rapala's Scatter Rap Crank both take vibration effects to a whole new level. Thanks to their wider lips, these lures move up to a foot from true center in a highly erratic fashion. Purposely unstable lures such as these jump to the side at irregular points during the retrieve, creating the classic "hunting" action. The drawback in the system is that a wider lip may impose a speed limit where the lure flips out and spins. Other lures in this category include the Lindy River Rocker and Storm Hot-N-Tot.
All jerkbait designs include a high retrieve point (often on the lure and not the bill), which limits their diving action and uses this pivot point to create rolling action. In contrast, deep-diving crankbaits incorporate a lower pull point to create more yaw, kick, and sway. Adding joints to the lure, like the Rapala Jointed Shad Rap, and extended attachment clips, such as on the Storm Hot-N-Tot, further increase vibration, as well as the amplitude of the lure's motion.
Body design and material also affect vibration and action. Fisher points to the Rapala Tail Dancer series as an example. "The reason the Tail Dancer wiggles so much is that the rear section of the lure has less mass. Its long thin tail multiplies the motion of the lure that starts at the lip. A lure with a thicker tail would have less action due to inertia." He goes on to explain how light balsa wood has different qualities than heavier plastic. This understanding led to the development of the Rapala's line of BX lures, where a balsa body is wrapped in a plastic shell that allows the lure designer to fine-tune the actions of each bait. "In my mind, a balsa lure offers a more delicate finesse action while a plastic lure provides durable flash," he adds.
Lure designers must balance the external material, lip design, and internal weights and rattles, so the process takes time and effort. Berkley's Flicker Shad took three years and had 31 different actions during its development, and that was for just one lure size. Initial prototypes are CAD-designed and CNC-machined or 3D-printed before they're tested in a flow tank. Designs that work in the lab are then compared head-to-head with competing designs in the field.
But Spengler notes perhaps the most critical step: "We always let the fish decide which lure design to release. We run lengthy tests of lures in casting and trolling situations, often returning to the drawing board five to seven times until the body design catches at least 30 percent more fish than previous efforts."
The long but rather shallow weedlines, flats, submerged roadbeds, and treelines at North Dakota's Devils Lake are ideal for longline trolling. Veteran Guide Jason Mitchell had been searching for ways to add lures to his midsummer trolling spread so he put out a deep-diving lure on a short leash. "I run two Salmo Hornets or similar lures 120 to 150 feet from the boat, running about 12 feet down," he says, "with a #8 Salmo Bullhead that reaches the same depth just 40 feet back, creating a set of lures with varying vibration patterns and profiles.
"If you look at the dive curve for a lure it's not linear," Mitchell adds. "The lure digs fast and dives to most of its maximum depth in the first 75 feet of the curve, then flattens out, gaining the last few feet of depth in the next 75 feet behind the boat. This steeper dive runs the lure nose-down and tail-up."
Floating vegetation and wood debris from spring flooding often make the use of planer boards impractical. "We have to clean off the lures on a regular basis and the boards get in the way," Mitchell says. "When longlining, we cast the lure halfway back and let it out to the right depth much faster and it stays cleaner. At times, we run large lures almost in the prop wash. The combination of a large lure, different vibration, and shiny prop seems to attract walleyes into the spread. Algae blooms and other debris stirred up by the prop might also be part of the attraction."
Mitchell explains that superlines have become popular for trolling, but monofilament has redeeming properties. "Braided line is louder and makes a more aggressive presentation with a slightly steeper dive curve, while the stretch and larger diameter of mono offers a slightly different look and less vibration. Running mono works best when walleyes seem inactive. Starting the day with both options and at least one lure in a nose-down tail-up position lets the fish exhibit their preference."
Leadcore Vibration Variables
I reported a year ago on how the Colorado Walleye Association ice-breaker tournament at 800-acre Cherry Creek Reservoir is an ideal setting to compare leadcore strategies. The 50-boat field mostly fishes a 20- to 25-foot-deep basin area in early April where walleyes often postpone feeding until darkness sets in. Catching them during tournament hours requires attention to detail, and the number of boats in the same vicinity makes for easy comparisons among presentations.
Last year, Colorado Guide Nathan Zelinsky noted a trend in crankbait vibration. "We were fishing alongside a friend just as the sun came out and the wind died down between snow squalls," he says. "I noticed my friend started catching fish and my catch rate declined." At the end of the day, Zelinsky compared rigs and found the difference. "I had 12-foot monofilament leaders tied directly to my leadcore. My buddy had more traditional 30-foot superline leaders tied to swivels, which generates a different dive curve for the 5-cm Berkley Flicker Shads we were all using. When conditions changed, walleyes were triggered better by the longer leader, which allowed the lure to dig instead of pull." By the end of the derby, Zelinsky had learned nuances in leader material, leader length, snap, and lure choices for changing conditions.
"For bluebird cold-front conditions or full sun, we rig a 30-foot leader of 14-pound Berkley FireLine with a #3 round-nose snap, like the VMC Crankbait snap, attached to a high-action Rapala Jointed Shad Rap, Storm Hot-N-Tot, or Norman Middle N, pulled at 2.2 to 2.4 mph to create maximum action and digging. For windy, cloudy, and generally active walleye conditions, the stretch of a shorter mono leader deadens lure action. Tying directly (no snap) to a Berkley Flicker Shad or Rapala Shad Rap at slower speeds (1.4 to 1.8 mph) further reduces vibration. To dampen action even more, tie your leader directly to the leadcore (no swivel). Any combination of these changes can fine-tune vibration for walleye success.
Skeeter pro and National Walleye Tour angler Robert Blosser offers a few tips to keep the system simple. "When developing a pattern, start with two different rigs, but always keep the setup and lure style the same on one side of the boat to keep everything running straight. When fish start popping, one side will catch more fish." If neither side produces, start changing one side at a time while also varying boat speed. Lengthen the leader on the next pass, change leader material, or remove the snap until walleyes show a preference. After six or eight passes, you should have cycled through enough options and speeds to confidently leave the area to find a different group of fish if nothing works. If the fish show a preference, making subtle changes can multiply your results."
For many Midwest walleye anglers, fishing near the dam at night has been a top open-water tactic in early spring. Aggressive males and big females gather to spawn and push up against the riprap. For years, Zelinsky relied on a Smithwick Suspending Rogue as his casting and trolling lure until he became frustrated at all the snags and lost lures. Testing options, he tied on a squarebill crankbait knowing the males would not be picky and he hoped its bill would deflect the lure from the rocks.
He first tried trolling Berkley's PitBull and was pleasantly surprised. "The dive curves for squarebill cranks and stickbaits are similar (6 feet maximum)," he says, "but the driving action of the shorter and stockier squarebill contrasts with the subtle rocking of the Rogue. Both lure designs have a high line tie and the bills are rather similar; only the body proportions changed. My guess is that the squarebill imitates prey that's fleeing and the Rogue imitates prey that has yet to recognize danger, but I only know it is a good option to try."
For his Fishing 411 TV show, Mark Romanack often highlights trolling patterns for walleyes throughout the Midwest and Canada. Whenever the numbers or quality of fish declines in shoreline vegetation and mid-depth drop-offs he searches for suspended walleyes over deeper basins by trolling multiple lines using Offshore in-line planer boards. As you travel north into Canada, longer days increase walleye activity but the water remains cooler, often in the high-60°F to low-70°F range. Farther south, this temperature range might encourage anglers to use a high-action lure such as the Storm Hot-N-Tot, but things can be different up north. Romanack often selects a Yakima Mag Lip 3.5 for basin walleyes, citing its skip-beat action that creates a unique vibration pattern. "At faster speeds this lure has a hard-driving, searching action but it settles into a standard wobble at slower speeds. With a spread of planer boards, this action offers two enticing movements. As I turn the boat, the outside boards speed up and start searching while the inside lines slow and the Mag Lip wobbles straight."
In colder water (40°F to 60°F), Zelinsky runs Storm Deep Thundersticks at slow speeds (1.0 to 1.4 mph) and notes that lure action increases dramatically when he speeds up to 1.6 to 2.2 mph. Putting these lures on planer boards and turning the boat in S-curves, he can easily run the inside lures at a slower speed and goose the outside lures to a faster pace, thus changing vibration patterns dramatically and offering fish two options at once.
Romanack backs up Zelinsky's leadcore vibration details and adds the option of using two snaps hooked together to further boost lure action. "The Mag Lip comes with a large snap," he says. "If I want to accentuate the lure's motion, I tie a snap to my line and clip the snaps together. This extra pivot point allows the lure to move farther to the side before encountering resistance from the line." This setup reduces diving depth but can generate bites when fishing turns tough.
Using speed to adjust vibration levels and dial in fish responses has always been part of successful trolling. S-curves on trolling paths and suggestions like, "keep speeding up until the fish stop biting," have been in vogue for years. Combining the speed of the boat with the movement of lures, then expanding that to the entire presentation system has been a more recent trend. At some point in the system you can make a lure imitate preferred preyfish at current water temperature, forage activity, and swimming motion to make fish bite. Lure designers work to deliver new actions and vibrations while skilled anglers fine-tune the frequency and amplitude of the final presentation for success.