July 26, 2012
By Jeff Simpson
Walleye anglers tend to use crankbaits in the 4- to 6-inch range, although mini crankbaits from 1 to 3 inches in length are perhaps more proportionate to what many walleyes eat throughout their lives. It's why little cranks are a justifiable option and sometimes the best baits to use.
Walleyes at times key on smaller minnows or young-of-the-year panfish, becoming adept at finding and striking a particular size and type of baitfish. When walleyes are gorging themselves with a specific kind of forage, it's wise to use a crankbait that resembles the same size, shape, and color.
Fish also can be difficult to catch when there's an ample food supply -- when they can fill their bellies quickly without expending much energy. Not only is it a guessing game for anglers to be at the right place and time, but once walleyes are full, it's extremely challenging to entice them to eat any more food. Using a small crankbait, however, may be the ticket to tempting a full-bellied walleye to take one more fateful bite.
Coaxing pressured or negative fish to become active can be as easy as offering them a different look, such as a smaller crankbait. For instance, the top-producing bait for several weeks may have been a #7 Shad Rap, but because the walleyes have seen the lure pass in front of them so many times in recent days, they may grow leery of the bait. Switching to a smaller #5 Tail Dancer, which has a different body shape and action, can be key to trigging strikes.
Whether you cast, troll, or pull them behind a three-way rig or bottom-bouncer, small crankbaits work, sometimes better than all other sizes. Get a supply and give them a try. You may be surprised how many walleyes, including big walleyes, are willing to take a tiny crankbait. Examples include:
Excalibur -- The Ultralight Ghost Minnow (2 1/4-inch) is available in floating, suspending, and Tracdown (sinking) models. The thin minnow-proportioned bait has 3-D eyes and is available in several reflective holographic color patterns.
Matzuo -- The Nano Crank (available in 3/4- and 1 1/2-inch models) is a fat-bodied bait that works well in the shallows and around rocks. The Nano Minnow (2 1/2- and 3-inch) has a tight minnow-swimming action. Both baits have large eyes, realistic scales and gill plates, and are available in many popular colors. The 2 1/2-inch Depth Charge is a deep-diving shad-minnow hybrid bait that features rattles and a reflective holographic body, making it easier for walleyes to find.
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Mighty Mini-Cranks (cont.)
Berkley -- The 2 1/2-inch Firestick Minnow has a tight wobbling and rolling action that creates lots of flash and vibration. It's a good choice for casting or trolling over weedflats or for jerking in the shallows.
Nils Master -- The Invincible crankbait has a slightly arched body and a wide-wobbling action. It's available in 2- and 3-inch models that dive shallow and deep.
Yo-Zuri -- The 1 5/8-inch Snap Shad has a tight wiggle action and dives 1 to 3 feet deep -- a good option for casting, trolling, or three-way rigging along structure or in rivers. Their 2 3/4-inch Pin's Minnow features an Internal Weight Transfer System, basically an internal steel ball that allows longer casting.
Rapala -- Rapala tight-action Shad Raps are top producers in most walleye waters. Glass Shad Raps, Shad Rap RS's, Jointed Shad Raps, Shallow Shad Raps, and the Original Shad Rap are available in 1 1/2- and 2-inch models. The #5 Jointed Shad Rap, for instance, has been a top producer the past three seasons on the PWT. The #5 Tail Dancer (2-inch) has a wide and lively tail action. The #6 Husky Jerk (2 1/2-inch) works for casting and three-way rigging.
Rebel -- The Rebel Holographic Minnow (#49 and #50) features realistic eyes, livebait colors, holographic broken scale patterns, and a hint of iridescence to give the bait its lifelike appeal.
Storm -- The MinnowStick measures 1 1/2 inches and is available in six color patterns. Their #6 ThunderCrank (2 1/2 inches) has a frantic tail action, rattles, and a thin polycarbonate lip that cuts through the water to position the bait around 10 feet deep.
Reef Runner -- The Little Ripper and Deep Little Ripper are thin banana-shaped baits that resemble minnows or smelt. Both curved-bodied baits have wide-wobbling, darting actions.
Salmo -- The Hornet is available in 1- to 2 1/2-inch sizes and floating, sinking, shallow- and deep-diving models. Originally designed for rivers, it has proven to be a walleye producer in lakes and reservoirs, as well, and a real killer in recent years when trolling open water for natural-lake walleyes in the Dakotas. The Bullhead is a wide-bodied, slow-wobbling bait that features a bulky head and body. It's a good choice when walleyes are eating young-of-the-year bullheads or catfish, and we're pretty sure it could be mistaken for a Great Lakes goby, too. The 2 1/2-inch Sting is a tight-wobbling yet aggressive-action minnow bait.
Company Contacts: Berkley, berkley-fishing.com; Excalibur, 479-782-8971; Matzuo, 720-941-9400; Nils Master, 802-658-1070; Rapala, rapala.com; Rebel, 479-782-8971; Reef Runner, 419-798-9125; Salmo, 952-224-3649; Storm, stormlures.com; Yo-Zuri, 888-336-9775.
The baitfish gurus at Koppers unveiled a radical design in hardbait technology with the new LiveTarget BaitBall lineup. Comprised of a 2 3/8-inch floating squarebill and 3½- and 4½-inch suspending jerkbaits, all of which dive to four feet — along with a 2½-inch diving crankbait that reaches depths of 10 feet — the series mimics a tight school of frightened baitfish. So, rather than seeing one large preyfish, predators see a cluster of smaller, bite-sized minnows instead. If it proves half as deadly as the umbrella rig concept, it's going to be a game-changer on the cranking scene. livetargetlures.com
Jackall Jockie 120 Topwater Minnow
Designed by Kazuto Yamaki, the Jockie 120 blends topwater theatrics with top-shelf jerkbait performance. It dives straight with a spin of your reel handle — thanks to its unique, diamond-shaped lip. Plus, the bottom cup produces a popping sound on splashdown. Other features include a flashy inner scale molding, and aft-oriented, moving weighting system for long casts and a funky pop, dive, head-stand, and rolling action. Available in six colors. jackall-lures.com
Lucky Craft S.K.T. Magnum
Designed by Bassmaster Classic champ Skeet Reese, this beefy, tight-wobbling crank matches the supersize meals of behemoth bass. It should also shine for other large fish-eaters. Available in 11 colors, in four sizes from 1 to 3¾ ounces, in MR and DR versions. The 105MR is the shallowest runner, targeting depths of 6½ feet, while the 120DR is the depth-dredger of the family, capable of reaching 25 feet. luckycraft.com
Matzuo Kinchou Shad
Brandishing flared, blood-red gills, these shad-bodied additions to Matzuo's Kinchou series are wide-wobbling floaters featuring chambered bodies with stainless-steel rattle bearings. Available in eight colors, in 3- and 3 ½-inch sizes that dive from eight to 12 feet, respectively. matzuo.com
Smithwick Perfect 10 Rogue
Building on the stellar attributes of the original Rogue — an all-around jerkbaiting icon for more than 35 years — Smithwick created the Perfect 10 Rogue. Upgrades include a flash-enhancing new material and lip design that takes the suspending bait deeper, faster, plus a tungsten rattle that produces a unique, strike-triggering thump. Best of all, the weighting system allows the 5½-inch bait to be more responsive and regain its horizontal posture quicker after a twitch than its predecessor, all while retaining the iconic Rogue roll that has fooled countless bass. As a bonus, the translucent body intensifies the bait's reflective scales, and accentuates the eight available color patterns. smithwicklures.com
Rapala Scatter Rap
A groundbreaking 'scatter ' lip gives Rapala's newest lure series — which includes the Scatter Rap Crank, Minnow, Shad, and Countdown — an aggressive sweeping action that mimics the maneuvers of fleeing forage. The baits are easy to fish — just crank or troll, and they do the rest — but the more you get a feel for their intricacies, the more tricks they'll perform. Running depths range from five to nine feet. Available in a variety of hot color patterns. rapala.com
SPRO Baby Fat John 50
If you're looking for a shallow-running hardbait with a wild side-to-side hunting action, the new Baby Fat John 50 is a serious contender. Weighing in at 3/8 ounce, the bait dives to two feet, max. And, thanks to its fiberglass 'computer chip ' lip, it darts from to the side, then returns to center for an erratic fish-attracting action. Available in eight catchy color patterns. spro.com
Storm Arashi Silent Squares
Part of the hot new Arashi (ah-rash-ee) family from Storm, the Silent Square 3 and 5 sport 'circuit-board ' bills that enable true tracking at slow speeds, while still reaching maximum running depth. Another slick feature is a self-tuning line tie that keeps the bait tracking true, while producing a tantalizing roll, accentuated by a pronounced tail kick. The size 3 is 2 1/8 inches long, weighs ½ ounce, and runs to three feet, while the size 5 stretches 2 3/8 inches, weighs in at just over 5/8 ounce, and dives to five feet. Available in 12 alluring colorations, ranging from Mossy Chartreuse Craw to Black Silver Shad. stormlures.com
Named with the Japanese word for sky, this ultra-responsive jerkbait from iconic bassman Gary Yamamoto glides or walks underwater, depending on your wishes and retrieves. Available in 76-, 100-, and 110-mm sizes that dive to four, eight, and 10 feet, respectively, in a broad palette of colors. yamamoto.baits.com
Yo-Zuri 3DB Jerkbait
Built with big bass in mind, but perfect for other predators such as pike and walleyes, this 3½-inch suspending jerkbait is part of the brand-new 3DB family. Features include lifelike detail on gills, fins, and scales, flat sides, flashy 3D Internal Prism, and Wave-Motion Vibration Ribs that create wave-like fish-attracting vibes. Comes in five core colors, all accentuated with oversized red eyes and Mylar tail treble dressing. yo-zuri.com