By Dan Dannenmueller Sr.
What should a crappie fisherman consider when buying crankbaits? With so many brands and types to choose from, it is very important to know their characteristics and makeup. The end result of your decision will mean a difference in the size and numbers of crappie at the end of the day. Let’s look at one manufacturer’s design, development and testing used to make a top-quality bait.
Recently, I was invited to visit Chris Pitsilos, Brand Manager with Johnson Fishing, and Dan Spengler, Product Innovator, at the Pure Fishing location in Spirit Lake, Iowa. They discussed, demonstrated and provided the results of their crankbait development process from an idea, or concept, to launch when the crank bait is introduced.
The bottom line about understanding the effectiveness of a crankbait is catching more fish. Knowing how crankbaits work, their characteristics and other information will help you make better choices to fit your fishing techniques.
Concept and Goal
The concept or goal, according to Pitsilos and Spengler, was to develop a crappie crankbait that would quickly dive, retain depth, and provoke strike movements at slow or fast speeds. Another important goal was to mimic threadfin shad, the main prey of crappie. Their new Johnson Fishing crankbait series, the Crappie Buster Shad Crank, meets the goals.
Design and Development
There are six important attributes in the design and development process. If followed in a proper sequence, they will produce a bait that can instill a bite response even before the bait reaches a piece of structure or the fish. They are:
Yaw – Pivoting swim action (y axis)
Pitch – Angle/orientation during retrieve (y axis)
Sway – Unstable lures have much sway. Deviation in Yaw (y axis)
Heave – Movement up/down (z axis)
Roll – Movement (x axis)
Surge – Movement forward/backward on x axis
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In order to achieve the right mix to target the fish’s preferences (but not necessary the fisherman’s preference), they went back to the basics. Basics included emulating the threadfin shad.
Dan Spengler says, “We actually had shad in key crappie sizes shipped in to us. We designed the bodies of the crank baits to match their sizes and shapes.” The results included bait lengths of 2 1/8-inch and 2 1/2-inch. The overall shape of the baits emulated the shad at those lengths.
Spengler says they first studied the specific swim movements of threadfin shad that would provoke a feeding reaction from the fish. The study resulted in design and weighting of the crankbait bill. There were many prototypes tested. Spengler says, “The Johnson Team also researched popular crank baits that historically had good swim actions and caught crappie well. By refining their shad shape, they refined the swim action to catch more crappie. We tweaked both the bill shapes and weight locations to yield the desired results.”
Prototyping, Testing, and Fine Tuning
Johnson Fishing performed their testing in flow tanks where they emulated various trolling speeds while viewing the movements of the prototypes in action. During this development phase, all six elements were tweaked to create the right actions at the desired trolling speeds. Also, appropriate hook sizes were determined and tested during this phase.
The bait appearance had to be a major consideration during developed. The appearance was designed to emulate the details of the shad head, eyes, gills and gill plates to make it as close to the threadfin shad’s appearance as possible. Red hooks, eyes and rattles were added to enhance the visibility and sound the bait emits to further attract the fish.
The Crappie Buster Shad Crank
Finally, a completed prototype was manufactured and ran through testing. This included flow tanks and a deep-sided underground tank. It was tested while observing fish in tanks. The testing was intense, requiring calibrated speeds, virgin fish, varied line sizes and time consuming calibrations. Competitor baits were run side-by-side with the final prototype for the purpose of comparing actions and hook-ups.
While there, we tested the new baits at varying speeds to see how they would perform. The 2 1/8 inch and 2 1/2 inch baits were originally designed to optimally run 6 feet and 10 feet respectively at 1.8 to 2.5 mph while trolling (pulling) and pushing them on weighted spider rigs on 10-pound test line. However, the very good news for crappie fishermen is they will perform with effective swim action at 0.6 to 2.5 mph while maintaining optimal depth. This attests to zeroing in on the optimal six attributes.
Johnson Fishing has various testing stages. One of the final stages is field-testing by pro-staff and key opinion leaders. Results are tabulated, scored and used for future product enhancements. Johnson Fishing is in this phase along with beginning of the production of the new crankbait.
An important thing I learned on this trip is to read and follow the specifications and instructions on product packaging. Johnson Fishing, along with many other companies, go to great lengths to define the right line, speeds, and fishing methods that work best with the product.
Post spawn, late summer and early fall are great times to troll crankbaits for slab crappie. Last September, Tommy Skarlis and Kyle Steinfeldt won the 2013 Crappie Masters National Championship trolling Berkley Flicker Shads. They proved that trolling crankbaits is a very effective technique. I’ll be using crappie crankbaits this year and recommend you use them too.