Crankbaits are great lures that have stood the test of time. They allow you to cover a large amount of water quickly. They’re compact yet usually have enough heft for you to cast them as far as you’d like. They have an inbuilt action that draws strikes. Plus, they just look like small fish.
While crankbaits are great for trout and largemouth, they can be even more effective on smallmouth bass. You can cover huge expanses of lakes with smallmouth by fan casting a crankbait and moving from spot to spot. Or you can work an entire section of a stream without moving around much. Of course some crankbaits work better on others. Here’s a list of the best crankbaits for smallmouth bass that applies to basically anywhere the fish can be found.
Note: The Angler’s Notebook may receive compensation for purchases made at participating retailers linked on this site. This compensation does not affect what products are mentioned here.
As I have written before elsewhere, the Original Floating Rapala is probably the best overall crankbait commercially available. And it has been that way for some time.
Simply put, the floating Rapala is an old standby that has yet to be bested. The lures are well made, they track true, and they have an action that fish of all kinds can’t resist.
The Floating Rapala is great on most species of fish. But is especially effective on smallmouth bass. The natural colored lures in size 5 and 7 can catch fish after fish in a lot of conditions. It’s one of my go to lures when I start out looking for smallmouth.
Smallmouth can be found in a range of habitats. The floating Rapala may be the best overall crankbait for smallmouth bass, but it won’t cover every situation. If you’re fishing deep rivers or lakes, you need to carry the Rapala Countdown Minnow. Unless the fish you’re after are up in the shallows, you’ll never reach them with a floating Rapala.
The Countdown Minnow is more or less a sinking version of the famous floater. It’s called a countdown because you can count out and get a good idea of how deep the lure has gone before you start your retrieve. The basic rule is that the lure falls a foot a second. So in a fifteen deep lake section, you might want to wait about 13 seconds before you start your retrieve.
In many locations, smallmouth bass feast heavily on crayfish. It only makes sense. Smallmouth tend to inhabit the kinds of rock laden areas that crayfish call home. Crayfish aren’t without defenses. Besides having pincers, crayfish also have a quick backwards retreat to escape predators.
The Rebel Crawfish is shaped like a crayfish making a fast escape. And the lure has an action that looks a lot like a retreating crayfish too, especially when it bangs along the bottom kicking up debris. Yet the lure also works in open water with a slower retrieve thanks to its enticing wobble. At times, it seems like smallmouth simply can’t resist this lure no matter how you fish it.
The Shad Rap is another lure by Rapala. The reason so many of these lures appear on this list is that they are very good. If I could only carry three lures for smallmouth bass, there’s a very good chance that all three would be Rapalas.
As the name would suggest, the Shad Rap is meant to mimic a shad. It has the shape and the action too, but it comes in a wide variety of colors including a near perfect match for a live bluegill. Smallmouth don’t need to know what kind of fish this lure is supposed to be. They just need to eat it. And that they certainly do!
The Berkley Flicker Shad is a similar lure to the Shad Rap. It looks pretty similar, and it even comes in some of the same colors. But the lure is different. It has a different make up and a unique action in the water.
There are times when the Flicker Shad seems to out fish pretty much anything else. The Flicker Shad is also one of the cheaper crankbaits you can buy. So it’s easy to stock up on a variety of colors and sizes without breaking the bank. Just beware of the stock hooks that come on the broken body versions of the lures, as they seem to fail more than they should.
The Rat-L-Trap from Bill Lewis Lures in a classic crankbaits that has been catching fish for decades. It’s a lipless crankbait with great action and a shape that looks like a lot like a baitfish. It comes in great colors like bleeding shiner that smallmouth hone in on. And of course it’s filled with small shot that rattles when the lure is retrieved. That makes the Rat-L-Trap especially effective in high and stained water.
Don’t be afraid to go down in size either. I’ve had more luck with the smaller Rat-L-Traps in a lot of northern waters than the big lures. Even the 1/8 ounce Tiny Traps put off a lot of sound and vibration. And they make look more like what the smallmouth in your neck of the woods are used to eating. Not every waterway is brimming with huge forage fish. Nor do smallmouth always key in on the biggest fish they can find.
If for some reason you can’t get a hold of authentic Rat-L-Trap lures, there are some good alternatives. Not ever lure shaped like a real Rat-L-Trap works well. Some of the really cheap knock offs might not work at all. Yet there are some competing lures with comparable shapes and actions that do work really well. The best example of a good lure like the Rat-L-Trap I can think of is the Cotton Cordell Super Spot. Smallmouth bass love them.