Properly tuned crankbaits catch more fish

A crankbait that’s out of tune works about as well as a six-string guitar without the strings. Out of the package, the vast majority of crankbaits are not only out of tune, but next to worthless for catching fish.

A statement that strong requires a little explanation. A tuned crankbait is one that dives straight down in the water when retrieved or trolled. All crankbaits certainly dive out of the package, but diving straight down in the water is another matter. The vast majority of these lures tilt slightly to one side or the other causing the bait to run left or right of center when casted or trolled. 

To the untrained eye, an untuned crankbait doesn’t seem so ominous. How could such a modest indiscretion ruin the fish-catching ability of an otherwise excellent fishing lure?

Crankbait action is a fickle thing. These unique lures enjoy the most action when they are tuned properly. A tuned lure also generates the maximum amount of fish-attracting vibration and flash in the water. In addition, a precisely tuned crankbait reaches it’s maximum diving depth potential. Lures that are only slightly out of tune may catch a few fish, but they never reach their true potential.

Thankfully, all crankbaits can be hand tuned to ensure each has great action, vibration, flash and dives deep. A pair of needle nose pliers is the only tool needed to tune a crankbait properly.

Basic mechanics

For a crankbait to dive straight down, the eye-tie (spot where the line is attached to the lure) has to be precisely aligned with the centerline of the lure. Because the vast majority of crankbaits are molded from plastic or foam, it’s literally impossible from a manufacturing standpoint to ensure every single lure comes out of the package ready to fish. Even hand-made, wooden crankbaits are not always in tune. Only about one lure out of four will run properly without adjustment.

While some crankbait manufacturers have better quality control standards than others, all of these lures are prone to needing help in the tuning department. Even if the lure is tuned when you buy it, after catching only a few fish the line tie is likely to get bent and the lure knocked out of kilter.

The moral of the story?

Crankbait enthusiasts need the mindset that it’s important to tune their favorite lures and to check them often to ensure they are providing peak performance.

Tuning a crankbait requires bending the eye-tie attachment in the nose of the lure or molded into the lure’s lip. A needle-nose plier is the perfect tool for making modest adjustments.

It’s necessary to bend the eye-tie the opposite direction the lure is favoring. In other words, if the lure is running right of center, the eye-tie must be bent slightly to the left. The reverse is true for lures that are running to the left of center.

Easy does it as repeatedly bending the wire eye-tie back and forth softens the metal and can cause the lure to quickly go out of tune. Unfortunately, trial and error is the only way to make these necessary adjustments.

Some lures feature a screw eye instead of a bent wire eye-tie. A screw eye is thicker and more difficult to bend with needle-nose pliers. Don’t twist the screw eye. Bend it by putting one jaw of the pliers on the edge of the lure lip and the other on the edge of the screw eye. This technique provides the leverage needed to carefully bend even stubborn screw eyes.

A few lures have elongated soft wire eye-ties that can actually be bent with just finger pressure. This style of line tie makes tuning these lures quick and easy.

Tune in undisturbed water

The best way to tune a crankbait is to cast it into calm and undisturbed water. Make a short cast and lower the rod tip to the water surface. Point the rod directly at the lure and reel rapidly. The faster the lure is retrieved, the more imperfections in how the bait runs become obvious.

Remember, if the lure is running left of center, the eye-tie will need to be tweaked to the right, and vice-versa.

After each adjustment with the pliers, make another cast to confirm if the adjustment helped or hurt the situation. It usually takes three or four tries to get the lure running perfectly straight.

Many anglers try to tune their crankbaits while trolling. Dropping the lure back behind the boat to test the tune is a slippery slope as the boat and outboard are displacing water and creating a bumpy path for the lure to  run in. If you have to tune lures while trolling, move to the front of the boat so the lure is on the boat side and not directly behind the boat. At least this way the lure is passing through somewhat undisturbed water.

Easy tuning

Clearly, some lures are easier to tune than others. The wider the lure’s diving lip, the less precise the adjustments need to be in order for the bait to dive straight down. Narrow-lipped lures are often tricky to tune because the line has to line-up precisely with the centerline of the lure.

To help keep lures in tune and catching fish, use a loop knot or small round snap to attach the lure to the fishing line. A snap makes it easier to change lures and provides enough freedom of movement that the lure will enjoy maximum action.

Never use a swivel or angled snap when fishing crankbaits. This type of terminal hardware makes it more difficult to tune lures. Even worse, avoid tying crankbaits directly to the fishing line using common knots like the clinch. The knot when pulled tight often ends up positioned to one side or the other, destroying the lure’s ability to dive straight down.

Stay tuned

The investment in lure tuning will not only save fishing time, it will guarantee better success on the water no matter what species is being targeted. Tuning crankbaits isn’t much fun and it’s certainly not a glamorous topic, but this often overlooked step pays big dividends in the fish catching department.

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