Early season walleyes are all about crankbaits

by Steve Carney
Contributing Columnist

It has taken me many years to actually get comfortable with crankbaits… the small to medium minnow imitators that look and perform just like a real minnow but of course they are artificial.

The use of crankbaits can help locate active schools of walleyes.
The use of crankbaits can help locate active schools of walleyes.

Now at this stage of my guiding career I rely heavily on this style of baits to both locate active schools of walleyes but also put other gamefish in the boat in a quick manner.

An angler is not a complete angler without learning the nuances of crankbaiting. Here are some tips and thoughts on why I believe crankbaits are a must have bait in your tackle box of tricks.

Quick method to locate

Many anglers make the mistake of dragging around livebait rigs or slow moving presentations trying to make contact with gamefish but actually waste a lot of time in the process.

When I hit a central Minnesota lake I am on a mission and that mission is to find walleyes as fast as humanly possible and cover water. I am trying to eliminate “dead” water and also trying to locate hot areas where the fish are congregating.

Working shorelines by fan casting crankbaits is the ticket. This method allows me to quickly cover water in a hurry especially with multiple anglers in the boat.

Speed trolling crankbaits also is basically the same process – finding fish fast. Once I have located a “biter” I will back off the area and work the area with a slower presentation. The trick is to find that first active fish.


Anglers often have their favorite style crankbait and once you have success with a particular color or brand you often stick with it.

I have settled on four different manufacturers and like the choices I have made and stick with these choices. Among them are very thin, shallow diving minnow baits that are considered “stick” baits. These often dive no deeper than four feet and are excellent on shallow flats with rocks or a minimum of weed growth.

My next choice is a shad style bait that resembles a shiner or shad minnow. These shad styles are excellent choices for lakes such as Leech, Winnibigoshish or Lake of the Woods that actually has a shad population.

Another choice that has really payed off the last few years are the itty-bitty, tiny crankbaits that are about one inch long. These tiny baits are excellent on lakes that support a good walleye as well as a crappie population. I often catch some of the biggest crappies on any given lake while casting for walleyes because these tiny baits are irresistable to spring crappies.

Looking into stomachs of walleyes caught during the spring you will find that they are almost always full of tiny, one inch minnows exactly like the small crankbaits I am talking about.

Anglers get hung up on larger sizes when in reality you’ll catch more species and have many more strikes by sticking with a smaller artificial crank, especially during the first few weeks of the season.


When anglers get into my guide boat they are often disappointed when they check out my crankbait box. They are expecting hords of colors and styles but in reality I have a handful of my favorite baits in just two colors – perch and silver.

These two colors are universally successful no matter what lake or river you fish and I would say hands down that perch is the best overall.

Believe me, I have tried every color in the rainbow and have access to anything I wish to use but year after year the perch and silver colors have proven consistant and reliable. Why switch when you already have the two proven colors?

Steve Carney is a contributing writer to the Outdoors page.