Developing a Feel for
Crankbait Fishing


In the hands of an artist (tournament pro David Fritts comes to mind), the vibrations and rhythms of an incoming Rapala on the end of the line provide constant feedback about what's going on down there. Fritts says he can feel bass "turn" on his bait, the powerful force of the fish's tail creating conflicting underwater waves that interrupt the swimming motion of his lure.

As he fishes, Fritts is a study in concentration. He wants that edge. If he knows a fish is following, after all, he can try various triggering moves to see what the fish want that day. Or, even to find out what that fish wants at that moment.

Yes, it sounds a little metaphysical, spiritual, out there. But anybody who repeatedly performs a specific set of motor skills gets more tuned in to the process over time. Some people do have more natural talent than others, so maybe a David Fritts only comes along every once in a great while.

Fritts claims anybody can develop a better feel for crankbait fishing. Who knows, but in a sport where concentration, positive thinking and attention to detail are extremely important, this is one area most casual anglers don't explore enough. In our experience, there is a progression you can take yourself through, if you decide you want to become better connected with that Rapala swimming at the end of your line.

Connecting Mind to Lure

It's pretty much impossible to perform any task at peak efficiency if your mind is distracted by something else. Computers are better at multi-tasking than human minds. For most of us, it helps if we consciously connect our minds to what we are trying to do. At least in the beginning, it seems to make anybody a better crankbait fisherman if he or she concentrates on feeling, and noticing, the subtle action of the lure.

Try it. Shut out distractions. Make a cast and begin the retrieve. See if you can feel the bait digging for its target depth. See if you can tell, just by the feel, when it levels off and starts moving in the zone. Pause the lure, and sense the slack, and lack of vibration. Twitch it, pull it, and try to see the lure in your mind. Picture what it looks like-not from your perspective, but from either the side,

behind or below, which are the typical angles fish see your lure from.

It will take time, but your goal is to develop your ability to feel what the lure does as you retrieve it steadily, and what it feels like as you impart various changes to the swimming action. If you know what it feels like when you're in control, it becomes much more obvious when something else changes the lure's swimming progress or action. You should be able to feel when it catches on weeds, or deflects off a downed tree stump. When it bangs into something hard, that should be fairly easy to notice.

Real progress comes when you can sense 'life' in the contact, or change.

It's extremely difficult to articulate what it feels like when a fish hits a crankbait. But there's a 'clamping down' to it sometimes, almost a 'wiggle' in it other times, and sometimes it's almost a complete loss of tension, when the fish's surge overtakes the lure as it tries to eat it.

Because it's hard to recall what something felt like after the fact, it pays to concentrate on feeling for these things before they happen. When you start fishing like this, train yourself to pivot at the waist and sweep sideways with the rod tip (to snug up the connection) when you think you have a bite. You'll do it a bunch of times as the lure catches on weeds or wood, but that's okay. In fact, the surging forward of a lure as it frees itself from an obstruction can often trigger a strike, so be ready for that, too.

In time, your mind should become sharper at discerning subtle differences.

Depending on whether you're trying to get your lure to dive deeper or shallower, you might have to hold the rod tip up or down. So that can limit other options, when it comes to how you hold the rod as you present the crankbait. Fritts likes to point his rod toward the lure, so the line slides straight through the guides while hardly touching them. He says it helps him detect slight differences in the lure's swimming action, and helps him feel that surge when a bass "turns" on his lure.

You may never be able to feel this well, but try this technique and see how it works for you. Fritts uses mainly fiberglass rods, primarily for their forgiveness as a hooked fish thrashes at boatside. But today's graphite rods do an amazing job of helping you feel the steady progression of the lure toward you as you retrieve. Many anglers prefer graphite to glass for this reason. Preference is a personal thing; choose your own tools as you develop your fishing skills.

Realize that bites don't all feel like car accidents. Many crankbait bites are subtle-so soft, in fact, that they go undetected. Fish can grab the lure and move along with you, or surge forward so you feel nothing. If you're not in tune with the action of the lure, and don't notice the interruption, or the sudden loss of tension, you can easily miss the split-second opportunity for a hookset.

Yes, a certain number of fish essentially hook themselves when they mess with the trebles, but it's amazing how many swim off after a close call. The new Sure Set hooks were designed, in close concert with Fritts, to try to capture more of those fish, along with those notorious short-strikers, fish that nip at the bait but don't commit. That technology absolutely helps, but the best hookup ratio comes from knowing a fish has bit, and sweeping across instantly to snug the connection.

Note: This article was crafted by the Rapala Pro Staff. For more fishing insights, go to

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