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Crankbaits for Walleye

Walley caught with crankbait

It’s perhaps the most mispronounced work in sport fishing. Ask three different anglers to say “Rapala” and you’ll get three different pronunciations. The Rapala was the first but is far from the last crankbait developed for walleye. Born of necessity, rather than pleasure, the Rapala was invented by Lauri Rapala in 1936 because he and his sons couldn’t afford baitfish. It worked so well that it moved from Finland 25 years later to America and caught (pun intended) the walleye fishing world by storm.

Over the last six decades, nothing aside from live minnows has brought as many walleye to shore or the live well of a boat than crankbaits. Walleye crankbaits come in every shade of the rainbow. They range in size from traditional two to four-inch, half-ounce lures to massive eight-inch crankbaits, festooned with layers of treble hooks. No matter the size, their ability to mimic baitfish such as shad, shiners, fingerling perch, bass, and walleye themselves makes them an irresistible lure for walleye.

Mature walleye live at the top of the food chain. Few other mature fish can challenge their position in the lakes and rivers of the Northern USA and Canada. The dipping, diving motion as they’re retrieved allows crankbaits to mimic baitfish. It is a skill that has to be mastered to be most effective. Crankbaits are designed to work at specific, pre-set depths based on the length of the protruding bill, the longer the bill, the deeper the lure travels on a retrieve or troll. You can adjust the depth by how fast you crank in the bait, hence the name “crankbait.

Bass fishing offers clues on where to cast by visually studying above water vegetation such as lily pads and cattails, you don’t have that option with walleye. A depth finder or detailed underwater map of a lake can determine likely walleye habitat. Locate a shelf 10 to 20 feet under the surface near an inflow of a feeder stream, river, or even seasonal drain and you’re likely to find walleye hovering as they wait for baitfish to flow toward them. Once you locate the habitat you can present the crankbait by casting and retrieving against the current, in a zig-zag manner across the current, or at right angles from a trolling boat, or a rock outcropping along the inflow.

Recommended Crankbaits for Walleye Fishing

Walleye hit on motion, vibration, and a flash of color in the water. Often the color of the sky is as important as the color of the water in selecting the right crankbait. Blue is predominant, but you can catch more walleye on the edge of a fast-moving low-pressure system than you can on a sunny, summer afternoon. Presenting the right color, size, and style of crankbait is the key to success in almost any weather condition. Thankfully, we have a few suggestions in the list below to help you determine the best crankbait for your day on the water.

Walleye Nation Creations LLC Shaky Shad Crankbait

A wobble, a rattle, and an established retrieval depth of either seven or 13 feet in 24 distinctive color patterns make this a favorite for walleye anglers in a variety of water conditions. This crankbait will work in clear water on sunny afternoons, or just as well on cloudy, windy days when the water is churned to a murky greenish brown. The secret is the wobble and the sonic vibrations created by the rattling action.

This lure casts well thanks to its half to one ounce weight and is easy to guide. On the retrieve the moderately-aggressive bill keeps the lure at either seven or 13 feet, the preferred depth for walleye once the surface begins to warm in the summer months.

Color 24 different patterns
Size ½ -1 ounce –2 ¾ - 7 inches
Depth 7 to 13 feet

Walleye Nation Creations Reaper Extra Deep Diving Crankbait

On larger, deeper lakes, sometimes the tributary flowing into a bay, bringing baitfish with the current that attracts hungry walleye isn’t an option. If you’re fishing in a large lake, or even one of the world’s largest such as Superior, Michigan, or Eerie, you’ll have to fish at depth. Getting live bait to depth can be difficult with heavy weights and downriggers, but a lure presents even more of a challenge. Walleye Creations solved this problem with an aggressive crankbait designed specifically to be trolled at depths of 28 feet. This is a trolling lure, you could cast and retrieve but the work involved would be prohibitive, and finding a shelf that close to shore that isn’t a vertical drop is even more of a challenge. If you’re working from a boat, in July or August when the surface is as warm as bath water, this lure gives you the ability to reach down to the depths that cold water-loving walleye like to inhabit.
Color 15 colors/patterns
Size 1 ounce – 4.5 inches
Depth 28 feet

Rapala Scatter Rap Shad Round Bill Medium Diving Crankbait

The original crankbait manufacturer offers a lightweight, easy-to-handle shallow surface lure that works well in the early season when walleye are closer to shore and feeding in shallower water. The Rap Shad is patterned in eight popular live bait color combinations ranging from its shad namesake to crawdad, perch, and silver. This crankbait has the triple action of lifelike color patterns, the wobble of panicked baitfish, and the rattling vibration that attracts walleye even in murky water.

This is a small lure, at just one-quarter ounce, but it casts well, is easy to use, and better yet, it is easy to keep at depths of five to eight feet during your retrieve. In early summer, and again in early autumn, this is often where you will find walleye waiting at the mouth of incoming streams for an easy meal.

Color 8 lifelike color patterns
Size 1/4 ounce – 2 3/4 inches
Depth 5-8 feet

Strike King Walleye Elite Lucky Shad Medium Diving Crankbait

If life gives you lemons, well, let’s not go there, but a light yellow top color merged with striations on an off-white body creates the illusion of many different baitfish. Since walleye aren’t particular in the type of panicked baitfish they’ll feed on, this is a great neutral color that works well in clear water conditions on bright sunny days.

The operating depth of zero to eight feet is determined entirely by your rate of retrieve. This lure floats when motionless, but the oversized, aggressive bill, which makes it resemble a platypus grabs water with the slightest motion and can be controlled by your cranking rate on your reel. The faster you crank the deeper it dives. When you vary your retrieval speed the rising and falling of this crankbait adds a dimension you won’t find in many competitors as it rises and falls in the water. This is a natural action by baitfish trying to escape.

Color Lemon
Size 1/4 ounce – 2 ½ inches
Depth 0 – 8 feet

Salmo Hornet Floating Crankbait

A common mistake young and inexperienced walleye anglers often make is the idea that a larger bait will get a larger walleye to strike. As apex predators walleye aren’t afraid of anything. Immature walleye will hit baitfish as large as they are without hesitation, and on the other extreme, large, five to eight-pound walleye will hit smaller minnows, shad, and other baitfish just an inch long. This lure works on that principle, offering a smaller crankbait that still attracts bigger walleye to strike.

At only 1/16th of an ounce, this lure is best used from a boat on short casts into prime, shallow walleye feeding areas, but on calm days, it can be cast 40 to 50 feet and then be retrieved from shore. This is not a lure to use in windy conditions unless you’re lucky enough to have it at your back, and in decades of fishing, I’ve almost never encountered a favorable wind. The operating depth of five to eight feet is identical to most baitfish who can’t dive deeper, but who avoid the surface for fear of birds, and surface feeding bass. This is a powerfully effective crankbait in a small package.

Color 10 natural patterns, extreme colors
Size 1/16th ounce – 1 5/8 inches
Depth 5 to 8 feet

Strike King Walleye Elite Bonsai Shad Deep Diving Crankbait

Walleye lakes are often blustery places with intermittent wind that can change direction quickly. The biggest challenge anglers often face isn’t in the lake or river, but rather in battling the wind to get your crankbait right where you want it. This crankbait, with just a half-ounce weight, has almost half its length in the protruding bill. That bill works well in water, but sails in the air, generating greater casting distances.

The Bonsai is colored to resemble an Alewife and set to work at a productive 10 feet below the surface. Walleye will feed in shallower water in the early summer and in the autumn, and at greater depths in the summer months, but 10 feet is a great compromise for all seasons. You can catch walleye at 10 feet every month of the year. The color pattern is best suited for bright days in clear water and on a 10-pound monofilament line. This is a great utility lure for use throughout the year.

Color Alewife
Size 1/2 ounce 2 5/8 inches
Depth 10 feet