Skip to main content

Steelhead On Crank

Steelhead On Crank

A crank slaps the water and floats along for a few feet. The line tightens and the bill of the bait begins to dig into the current. Vibration transmits unimpeded up the low-stretch braided line, telling Kevin Morlock when his Storm Hot 'N Tot is running clean, cracking off rocks, digging into sand, or fouled by a leaf. He won't worry about feeling the strike.

Twelve hours prior, we were 30 miles north on the Big Manistee with Mark Chmura. When the big, orange sun came climbing into the trees the following morning, we were on the lower end of the famous Pere Marquette. And Morlock showed me again how cranks are not just for dropping back behind a drift boat in a V pattern with rods in holders for steelhead.

A couple years ago, we filmed a TV show together pitching Rapala Shad Raps, Tail Dancers, and Original Floating Minnows about 10 miles upstream of this spot, and Kevin revealed how we could fire cranks upstream behind current breaks like fallen trees, points, and rock piles — into spots you just can't reach by dropping plugs back and working them with the movement of the boat. I remember catching our "closer" by pitching a Hot 'N Tot upstream of a tree and letting it drift down under the branches, which hung way to0 close to the water to allow a direct cast. The strike felt like the lure intercepted a runaway freight train.


Steelhead can get tunnel vision when they run down a crank, becoming so fascinated with the wobbling, struggling "thing" that they don't care about that dark, opaque, highly-visible braided line connected to a Berkley Cross-Lok Snap. They come from farther away than they do to hit a fly or a spawn bag, sometimes bulging the river's surface for 20 feet or more.


The great thing about crankin' is covering water fast. It takes 5 or 6 drifts with a float or chuck-and-duck rig to cover the same area you clear in one cast with a crank. The technique is somewhat similar to fishing spoons. Cast cross-stream or slightly down against the far bank, tighten the line, and let the lure dig and swing. The big difference is, a crank floats, making it much more efficient. When you tap into wood or hang slightly, you can back off on the pressure and let it float up. The bill helps protect the hooks, too, by leading the way and bouncing off wood and rock, attracting more attention with the added noise. Once the lure is straight below the boat, you can let it hang there for 10 to 20 seconds, wobbling in place.

Kevin uses a 7-foot, medium-power spinning rod with 20-pound Berkley FireLine to get more vibration from the bait and to get it deeper. A low-stretch braid like FireLine gains positive traction on a silver bullet that rams his lure near a log jam. No need to set the hook. Just hope you can hold onto the rod.


Mary, of course, wasn't about to quit float fishing because we were reminiscing about good times with cranks. And she caught the biggest fish of the day — a 31 1/2-incher pushing 12 pounds — using a Mustad 9260D on a 5.6-pound Raven Fluorocarbon leader. She saw the fish roll and sent her Thill River Master float drifting on course to intercept.

Something magic about watching a float disappear right where you expect it to, at a speed that says, "this is no snag." Of course, feeling a wild, Pere Marquette steelie slam a crank is something not soon forgotten, either. No stocked fish in this river, Bubba. And the guy to learn all the tricks of the trade from is Kevin Morlock. He's an equal-opportunity guide, so bring a fly rod, a centerpin rig, a spinner box — whatever suits your fancy. Kevin's a Jack of all trades, into whatever's working at the time, providing a perfect opportunity to learn something new.

The weather was unseasonably mild, the winds light, and the sky clear as we slipped under the sheets that night. No worries. We never gave weather a second thought all week, maintaining radio and TV silence. But as we slept, the frost giants came stealing south.


Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Drop-Shotting For Smallies

Drop-Shotting For Smallies

The In-Fisherman crew head to Lake Erie to catch smallmouth bass.

Lake Superior Whitefish on Ice

Lake Superior Whitefish on Ice

Doug Stange joins Capt. Aron Kastern on Lake Superior near Ashland, Wisconsin where they go after whitefish on ice.

The True Story of the Bass Boat Hero Who Broke the Internet

The True Story of the Bass Boat Hero Who Broke the Internet

“If that engine starts without my kill switch on, I ain't the one driving it,” Blake Broussard says after ejection video goes viral.

Channel Cats on Ice

Channel Cats on Ice

The In-Fisherman staff reveals some of the hottest action of the winter season, as they show how to ice 20-pound channel catfish.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Fall presents opportunities for both numbers and trophy fish.Stellar Late-Season Destinations for Panfish Panfish

Stellar Late-Season Destinations for Panfish

Steve Ryan - October 25, 2020

Fall presents opportunities for both numbers and trophy fish.

Triggering big fish is all about putting something down there that moves like animals walleyes eat.Walleye Lures: A Shade Beyond Convention Walleye

Walleye Lures: A Shade Beyond Convention

Cory Schmidt - September 18, 2019

Triggering big fish is all about putting something down there that moves like animals walleyes...

Catfish are simple creatures that can be caught using the best catfish rigs. Catching them is simply a matter of putting a good bait in the right in front of them. 8 Best Catfish Rigs - When, Where and How to Use Them Catfish

8 Best Catfish Rigs - When, Where and How to Use Them

In-Fisherman

Catfish are simple creatures that can be caught using the best catfish rigs. Catching them is...

A bumping rod is the unicorn of fishing rods because building the right rod for bumping feels impossible at times.Selecting a Bumping Rod and Reel for Catfish Catfish

Selecting a Bumping Rod and Reel for Catfish

David Harrison - October 28, 2020

A bumping rod is the unicorn of fishing rods because building the right rod for bumping feels...

See More Trending Articles

More Trout & Salmon

Getting paid to spend life on the water isn't always glamorous. Legendary Angler: Buzz Ramsey Trout & Salmon

Legendary Angler: Buzz Ramsey

Matt Straw - May 01, 2015

Getting paid to spend life on the water isn't always glamorous.


How many king salmon run the Columbia & Snake rivers and their tributaries varies eachWestern King Salmon Trout & Salmon

Western King Salmon

In-Fisherman - January 25, 2016

How many king salmon run the Columbia & Snake rivers and their tributaries varies each

A look at the best lake trout waters on the planet. World's Best Lake Trout Waters Trout & Salmon

World's Best Lake Trout Waters

Matt Straw - September 07, 2017

A look at the best lake trout waters on the planet.



Placid water stretched across the seventh largest lake in the world, extending into that textureQuest for a 40 Revisited: Lake Trout Fishing Trout & Salmon

Quest for a 40 Revisited: Lake Trout Fishing

Matt Straw - January 14, 2014

Placid water stretched across the seventh largest lake in the world, extending into that...

See More Trout & Salmon

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the In-Fisherman App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All In-Fisherman subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now