Crankbaits vs. Jerkbaits: What's the difference?

Posted on 15 Oct 2021 | Posted in Fishing Guides

In the world of hard-bodied fishing lures, two variations reign supreme. Crankbaits and jerkbaits are two of the best presentations when it comes to bass fishing and some other areas of the sport. 

Although they come from the same vein of the industry, there are some key differences and similarities that are worth noting. Today, we will break those aspects down and show you how these two lures can make a huge difference in your fishing efforts. 

Table of contents

What is a crankbait?

Crankbaits are hard lures that are there to dive down into the water and imitate bait fish. Crankbaits are categorized by the depth in which they dive. There are shallow, medium, and deep divers. Each one will change the way the bait is presented and where it is in the water column. 

The key to a good crankbait is having a tricky color scheme and great movement through the water. The movement is side-to-side as it wiggles harder the faster you crank. They also vary in body size, so you can customize them wherever you are fishing. 

Crankbaits are best used in areas with active bait fish and areas with structure and texture on the bottom. When working the crankbait, it can be burned when the bite is hot and slow rolled when you need to be more patient. 

What is a jerkbait?

Jerkbaits are also hard-bodied lures that are used in fairly specific situations. Jerkbaits are very skinny and long with sometimes jointed, but usually solid, figures. On the underside, there are two or three hooks with a small, stocky bill at the front. The bill on the front is designed to get the water deeper into the water column as you work it. 

The key to using a jerkbait successfully is developing a cadence that is a mixture of jerking and reeling. As the name hints, the jerking motion helps trick fish into thinking they are attacking an injured baitfish. 

These are used in areas with plenty of baitfish and in all types of weather. More specifically, jerkbaits are incredible in cold and clear water. 

Now, there are three types of jerkbaits that are worth mentioning. There are suspending, floating, and sinking jerkbaits. Suspending jerkbaits are perfect for cold water and finicky fish. When it is used, it sits in the middle of the water column even when you are not twitching it. When fish are more lethargic, this is the way to go. 

Floating jerkbaits are the most common and only dive into the water when you start the reeling. Sinking jerkbaits will sink right when they hit the water. If you are trying to present the bait in deeper waters, this is the one to look at. 

Key differences between the two

Because these lures are fairly similar, there are both similarities and differences. Here are a few differences between the two. 

The bill size is vastly different

Both of these lures have bills on the front of the lure, but they are different from each other. Crankbait bills are designed to get the lure into the specified area of the water quickly. Jerkbaits, on the other hand, have a more subtle diving action that does not nearly go as far down, in most cases. 

The shape brings different uses and functions

With an elongated build, jerkbaits cut through the water in a different way than crankbaits. Crankbaits are more rounded and have a certain wiggle when being cranked. With the curvature, the functions are altered to fit the specific lures. 

The rhythms of the presentations vary

Because of those main structural differences, the entire rhythm of the representation will be different from the other. For example, using a jerkbait provides a specific cadence that jerks the lure from side to side in a specific way. Crankbaits are simply brought in and the only real variation is the speed, not the pattern. 

Where the lures are used

The final difference we will talk about today is where in the water column that the lure is placed. Generally, jerkbaits sit 1-6 feet down and crankbaits go from 2-20 feet deep and even deeper in some situations. As you can see, these vary greatly in where the lure will be presented in the water. 

This makes a big difference in what you use and when. If you need a shallower presentation, a jerkbait may be a better option, and vice versa. 

The number of hooks

Although this is a pretty minor difference, it is still important to talk about. Generally, crankbaits will have two treble hooks and jerkbaits will have three, but sometimes just two. Having that extra hook does make a big difference. 

Where a bite might be missed with a crankbait, that extra hook can get the job done on a jerkbait. This will also slightly affect the weight of the lure. That extra hook will add another inch or so of length and a little bit of weight to the setup. 

Key similarities between the two

Now, let’s jump to the other side of the coin and talk about the similarities. 

They both try and imitate similar things

At the end of the day, both jerkbaits and crankbaits are there to imitate moving or wounded bait fish. Crankbaits target a more active moving bait whereas jerkbaits try to imitate a wounded baitfish that is hobbling along. 

The colorways are very similar

The first thing you will notice between the two in terms of similarities is the color scheme. Many of the brands use the same colorways between the two lures in a very standard way. For example, the sexy shad scheme is very popular and will be found on both crankbaits and jerkbaits.

This is a pretty good standard for the industry to have as you can find a couple colors that work well and specify it with the lure that is best for the job.  

Both have bills, although they do differ slightly

The bills on the front of the lure is a basic, yet important similarity. Without each one having that bill in the front of the lure, it cannot dive down into the water column. Well, at least for the jerkbait. Crankbaits do have lipless options, but they operate in a different way. 

The bill directly correlates to how deep those lures can dive. When looking at the lures, the bill is a key thing that will jump out to you. 

Top crankbait and jerkbait brands

With any type of lure or area of the industry, there are brands that rise to the top in terms of popularity and performance. These brands have great reputations and put you in the best possible position for success on the water. 

Rapala

Rapala is known to many as the original jerkbait brand as their original models are highly regarded as incredible lures and now collector’s items. As time went on, Rapala was a leader in the charge for innovating and making top-notch models. They even make crankbaits now, so their umbrella of goods is large and growing. 

Strike King

Strike King is probably the largest and most popular hard lure brand in the game. Especially because professional angler Kevin VanDam is signed with the company, there are a lot of eyes on the products. Pretty much every hard body lure and a number of soft lure lines will fall under this brand. 

Berkley

Berkley used to be a household name but has been passed by the competition in a number of areas. They are most known for the Powerbait line, but that is in the soft bait category. They also produce some really good jerkbaits and crankbaits that tend to fly under the radar. 

Megabass

We have to include at least one high-end brand on the list in order to give a rounded view of the top brands. The other three are very affordable and steady, but Megabass is for the elite. Megabass creates top of the line hard lures that are used by those who can afford it and are tackle junkies. 

Best tackle for crankbaits and jerkbaits

Although these two lures have very similar uses, the tackle that is best for the job may vary a bit. 

For crankbaits, the best line is usually monofilament. The features of monofilament usually give crankbaits the best wiggle and hook-setting ability. On the flip side, jerkbaits work best with fluorocarbon. Fluoro has much less stretch and tends to be clearer in the water. All of those characteristics provide for the best possible use. 

One unique trick in the crankbait sphere is to tie the improved clinch knot or Rapala knot. These are both really good for moving baits as it compliments the natural movement of the lure very well. 

In terms of rod and reel usage, there is a bit of freedom there. Many anglers prefer to use casting rather than spinning gear as it gives better control and use. There are also specific rods made for crankbait usage. These are beefed up while still being sensitive so you can feel the vibrations clearly. 

On the jerkbait side, shorter, lighter rods tend to do the job very well. This is so you can have accurate casts and develop a steady rhythm with your cadence. 

Tips and tricks for fishing with these lures 

Whether you are using crankbaits or jerkbaits, there are some tips and tricks to make your fishing endeavors worth the time. So, here are a few tips and tricks for getting the most out of these two lures! 

It is all about the tempo

For both of these lures, the tempo in the retrieval is super important. In fact, it is the most important part of using these lures correctly. 

Tempo refers to how you reel in the lure while it is in the water. Having the right pacing and cadence is what gives these lures life. For jerkbaits, finding a jerking cadence will walk the lure in a way that produces the best results. For crankbaits, it is all about pacing and finding the right speed for the fish to feast on. 

Assess the specific area

To get the best results possible, you need to use the right lure for the specific area. If the water is super shallow and clear, maybe go with a jerkbait. If there is a lot of structure 10-15 feet down, throw a deeper crankbait that can reach the fish below. It is all about figuring out what the best presentation is for that spot specifically. 

Have the right gear for the job

Because these lures are different enough to be used in different situations, you need to have the right gear for the job. This provides you the best opportunity for catching fish. To be more specific, reference our tackle section as we talked about the correct tackle for both the crankbait and jerkbait. 

Although you can make it work without having the specific gear for the job, you will not be in the best position possible. So, as your budget allows, getting all of the best specifics is a great way to get ahead of the curve. 

Don’t lock into one color exclusively

One of the best things that you can do when fishing with these lures is having a few colors on deck for when one is not producing any bites. This is a simple, yet important point. If your budget allows, having a range of colorways that could work for that area is huge. 

Closing Thoughts
As you can see, crankbaits and jerkbaits have a good amount of differences and a few similarities. Hopefully, you can now make an educated decision as to which lure is best for the situation you are in. 

At the end of the day, it is all about putting yourself in the best possible position to catch fish. Whether it be with a crankbait or jerkbait, the mission is always the same. So, use the information laid out here to propel your fishing abilities to the next level!