Categorizing Crankbait Depths

Bagley crankbaits, photo credit R. Yoder Graphics

Bagley crankbaits, photo credit R. Yoder Graphics

The bassin’ world has seen its share of crankbait crazes, usually tied to an approximate depth range that a “hot” bait will run. For example, we seem to have recently come out of a shallow phase with the popularity of squarebills, and are now re-entering a deepwater phase with baits like the 6XD and 10XD, especially with “ledge events” being held during the summer. From a historical perspective, everybody surely remembers the ‘kneel and reel’ period made famous by Paul Elias, as well as the David Fritts deep crankbait era. Somewhere in there was the popularity of shallow runners such as the Mann’s 1-, or the Rat-L-Trap. Some lasted longer than others, but in each case, a series of events would make one style of bait the most popular way of cranking at the time.

Over time, most crankbait lines, while starting with a signature model that might run at a particular depth, seem to always end up expanding into both shallow versions as well as deep versions eventually, ending with a whole family of baits to cover the many depths. We also know a whole lot more now about how deep certain baits run right out of the package, but this wasn’t always the case. Modern technology has made this fairly easy to determine, and for manufacturers to label on their packaging, but I recently came across a chart from about 35 years ago that tackled the question the good old fashioned way, through simple trial and error.

1977 In-Fisherman study of crankbait running depths

1977 In-Fisherman study of crankbait running depths

Some In-Fisherman staff members back in the late 70s ran a test with a variety of popular crankbait lines at the time. They found a large, slowly sloping flat, and put out markers every time the depth slid down another foot. They then standardized line test (14#) for all baits, and simply grinded through the process of casting and retrieving the selection of baits along the series of markers, ultimately determining at what depth a particular bait stopped bumping bottom. They recorded the data, put it all into a table, and then published it in one of their magazines. That chart, and one of the earliest examples I’ve found of this type “R&D” if you will, arguably gave rise to a new way in which we looked at and actually classified crankbaits.

1980 Bassmaster diagram of Rebel Lures running depths as part of a "crankbait system."

1980 Bassmaster diagram of Rebel Lures running depths as part of a “crankbait system.”

About three years later, Bassmaster would publish a similar article by Bill Phillips entitled, “Crank Bait System,” where he asked readers to “consider each crank bait design as a tool, used to do a specific job at a certain depth.” In that article, they included a similar type chart showing the tested running curves of the then popular line of R-Series baits by Rebel (see pic). Anglers were encouraged to build their own “crankbait systems,” capable of covering an entire range of depths and situations, ultimately leading to more efficient fish finding, and theoretically eliminating needless extra baits that didn’t fall into that system. It can be argued that from this early line of thinking became the beginnings of overall tackle organization based around the concept of lures as “tools,” and ultimately giving rise to the individual storage boxes so commonly used by bassers today.