Applied Science: Crankbait Corps. “Flip-Flop”, Part I

The man behind Crankbait Corp., Tom Seward

Terry has mentioned the brand Crankbait Corp. before in a post that related to the poor quality they witnessed in the tackle shop of the body/bill combination of this bait. However, there was some very interesting applied science going on with this particular brand of crankbaits that I thought was worth taking a little extra time to discuss.

Every basser on the planet knows about and has read of natural color patterns on baitfish-colored lures – that being some type of darker back and lighter belly. It’s prevalent on most every bait on the market today, and was even more so back in the late 70s and early 80s when super natural colored baits become the fad. The interesting thing is that at the time, some pros really liked the natural color patterns, and some pros didn’t. That’s probably a whole different story for another time but, suffice it to say, the jury was still out on the issue.

Through the years, that basic color pattern has continued to be a mainstay, but at about the same time as these new natural-patterned baits were just taking off, Crankbait Corp. threw the industry a curveball based on applied science. The theory went that nature made baitfish the way they are in order to help camouflage them from being eaten from predators. Their coloration allowed them to blend into the background of a watery world whether viewed from above or below. The big question then became, “Why would you want to mimic a natural bait if the idea is to get your bait seen and hopefully eaten by a big bass?”

Part of an ad from Crankbait Corp dating back to 1980 and showing one of the reverse countershading color patterns.

Over the years you’ve probably read comments such as, the reason you don’t see many blue crayfish is because in nature, they stand out and get eaten first. If that were true, wouldn’t you want to make your bait stand out with its color pattern? That became the general theory behind the Crankbait Corp. “HI-CONTRAST” and “FLIP-FLOP” line of baits. The scientific term was called reverse countershading, and famed lure designer Tom Seward mentioned that he came up with the idea after a discussion about WWII fighter planes and how British Spitfire’s were intentionally colored to help hide them from their enemies.

Tom designed a series of 8 different color patterns that made his baits actually stand out in the water instead of trying to blend in. He stated that in stained- or muddy-water situations, or even at night, contrast was much more important than naturalizing, and that was where and when these baits were designed to excel. They were pretty eye-catching, and the science behind them even made them more intriguing to someone such as myself.

I don’t have any idea as to how well they ended up selling – or whether they even elicited bass to strike – but the concept was novel at the time and one could argue that to some degree, over the years, this line of thinking still has its moments. I think of crankbait colors like “skunk,” which I believe was first made popular by Bagley’s and has had a devoted, albeit perhaps small following. Have you had any particular color patterns over the year that have produced well that might be considered a reverse countershade?

In Part II, I’ll look at one other really neat applied science concept from Crankbait Corp. – stay tuned.

  • As much respect as I have for Tom, I could never quite get behind this one. My own prejudice favoring a natural approach perhaps got in the way, I guess. Tried, it caught fish on it, but never found it advantageous.

    That having been said, in winter striper fishing we use mostly soft jerkbaits on jigheads, and one of the most successful guys I know ALWAYS puts his baits on upside down. Dark side of the pattern down, light side up. And catches the snot out of the stripers that way.

  • Rich, have you ever asked him if he was the guy that took the pictures of the Sassy Worm for Twister? 🙂

  • Ralph Manns

    I remain a fan of natural colors in cranks, often using bluegill and bass colored Rapalas, simply because the shading pattern and colors look like real food. Natural colors are camouflaged and indistinct in most water environments and thus subtle finesse cranks, IMHO. although a little dab of contrasting color seems to aid effectiveness. I think this helps at times with pressured bass. But I doubt details count for much. Still, my best baits in the late 70s and through the 80s were Bagley Baby Bass– (originals with the weak lips). I’d still use them if they were available..

    I found no distinct improvement in catches with the counter-shaded Fingerling lures.. But my best twilight and night-time lures are home- colored black bellies (majority color on belly and sides) with a faint blue green or chartreuse show- through on top. In the early ’80s, night fishing friends and I found our most consistently effective plastics were black worms/lizards with either blue or chartreuse tales. Considering that bass and most other fish night vision (rods) see blue/green light as the brightest light, I think the blue-green backs let bass see these counter-shaded lures more clearly against a total black/dark background. Thus adding horizontal and downward contrast to the silhouette effect against the slightly lighter surface.