I don’t care where in the world you live, whether you’re fishing a small river or lake to large reservoirs; there’s a place in your arsenal for trolling or casting crankbaits for walleyes. I personally LOVE trolling cranks for big walleyes. In fact, our river opens up as early as February and March and you can find me trolling plugs all the way up to freeze up in the late fall. If you have the right techniques, you can fish cranks in as little as a foot of water all the way into the deep basins. There are so many varieties of crankbait styles nowadays that you have more options than ever. From small minnow baits to large banana baits, you need to match the size and often the color of the forage base. But just when you think you have a crankbait that mimics their food, they start slamming the pink one. Sometimes you just never know. With all that being said, we took plenty of time researching and have a list of the best crankbait colors in 2018 for walleyes. As we all know, you can never have too many crankbaits!
With SO MANY crankbaits and crankbait colors to choose from, where does a person start? Well, first take a look at the forage base on your body of water you’re fishing. What are the lengths and colors of the baitfish? I would match that with a crankbait that mimics the forage base. Match the hatch as people often say.
If you’re fishing dirty water, it helps to have some brighter colors in your arsenal as well. And not only that, but sound is helpful in dirty water so you may want to use those with beads inside that produce a rattle.
In clear water, stick to the natural colors. The whites, blues, chrome, etc. are all great baits to use in clear water. I often go a bit smaller on my bait selection in ultra-clear water as well.
We based our list of crankbaits based on reliability, colors, hooks, tuning, price, and lure action. And with that….
BEST WALLEYE TROLLING CRANKBAITS OF 2018
Rapala Shad Rap #5 Crankbait
I don’t care who you are, if you fish, you have at least one #5 Shad Rap in your tackle box. These have been walleye killers for decades and they just keep on working. I have trays FULL of Rapala shad raps in both #5 and #7s, jointed and unjointed, in every color they’ve conceived (and I’ve found, even a few customs). The #5 is a short bait, only 2 inches in length, and mimics smaller baitfish. At certain times of the year, like mid-summer, most lakes are full of young of the year fish that size. That’s what makes it so deadly. I remember a trip a few years back at Mille Lacs Lake in Minnesota where we trolled #5’s with leadcore in white perch pattern (picture shown). They ONLY wanted white perch, and that day we boated dozens of big walleyes, and even a bonus 54″ musky. Rapala is known for making quality crankbaits, and have been one of my go-toes for years. And they come in numerous crankbait colors in 2018, including new HD Series cranks that will be sure to turn some heads in the fishing industry.
PROS: Tuned perfectly out of box every time, good hooks, and proven colors.
CONS: A bit spendy, and only the plastic models feature a rattle.
Deep Diving Reef Runner Walleye Crankbaits
If you’ve walked into any bait shop in the Midwest that carries walleye tackle, it’s sure to have a large selection of Reef Runners. I actually feel bad for shop owners, as there’s SO MANY colors to choose from direct from the factory. And I can’t count the customs I’ve seen online either. It’s unique wobble action is just deadly on walleyes. While the Great Lakes region seems to be the homeland for these baits, I’ve used them in many reservoirs including Lake Sakakawea in North Dakota almost religiously for trolling deep, mid-summer walleyes. While they have a smaller version available, I personally prefer the big baits (800 series) is 6 3/16ths inches long, and can troll up to 28 ftw (according to their website). However, with my setups I’ve had them touch bottom as deep as 34 feet without leadcore. This allows you to get your lure not only deep, but you can run it shallower too without using a lot of line. The kicking action is really hard to beat. And if I had to pick just ONE color of Reef Runner, it would be Red Wonderbread (as pictured).
PROS: TONS and TONS of colors and produces a WIDE wobble action
CONS: It’s a little spendy, and one of the worst crankbaits for being untuned out of the box. Make sure you have a tuner or pliers ready.
The Berkley Flicker Minnow is a new crankbait for walleyes that is catching a lot of fish in just a short few years. I use the #7, #9, and #11 crankbaits myself and have had really good luck with them. They have an impressive dive curve, but don’t get quite as deep as other cranks in it’s same class. I use these a lot for when I’m fishing mid-range depths in my waters, around that 12-22 FTW stuff. The best part about them is their price, as you can get them for cheaper then they’re competitors. And there are SO MANY styles of Flicker Minnows available in terms of colors, including the following color styles:
- Berkley Flicker Minnow Pro Slick
- Berkley Flicker Minnow (original)
- Berkley Flicker Minnow Pro Flash (pictured)
PROS: LOTS of colors and the price is right.
CONS: I’m not honestly a big fan of the hooks, and I swap out the tail hook with a Gamagatzu.
Rapala Tail Dancer Walleye Crankbait
In my opinion, the Rapala Tail Dancer in size #11 is one of the most underused walleye crankbaits on the market. And to be honest, I have no idea why? The kicking action of the Tail Dancer is hard to beat in terms of motion, and the BIG bill allows it to reach depths pushing 30 feet with straight line. I use 15 lb test Power Pro for my trolling line, and the diameter is MUCH thinner then Mono so I’ve had good luck up to 35 FTW with this crank. I’ve caught some of my biggest tournament walleyes on Tail Dancers, from #7 to #11 but more often then not it’s the #11’s that put the BIG walleyes in the boat. The purple color (pictured), put my largest trolling walleye in the net in my Skeeter out of Lake Oahe in North Dakota. I happen to be guiding that day so the customer was pretty exciting with that fish (pushing 32 inches). And the best part about these walleye crankbaits is that they RARELY, if ever, need tuning. They just flat out work!
PROS: Decent selection of colors, very deep diving
CONS: It bit on the expensive side, retailing over $10.
Berkley Flicker Shad Walleye Crankbaits
Rapala Shad Raps have been a staple for decades, but a lot changed when Berkley introduced the Flicker Shad years back. Not only was there a solid runner of a competitor for Rapala, but the price tag being about half of a Shad Rap made Flicker Shads a very viable option. I use mostly the #5’s for my walleye trolling, running depths up to around 10 ftw max. This has slowly become one of my go-to walleye crankbaits for spring time. The biggest advantage the Flicker Shad has over a Shad Rap, in my opinion, is the rattle inside. I almost always go for a rattle crankbait when fishing dirty, muddy water. I firmly believe it helps the walleyes locate the crankbait. The tight wobble action is great for walleyes in most any mood. I run them with leadcore a lot late in the summer last year and had a lot of success with them on bigger walleyes.
PROS: They have a lot of colors, cheap price tag, better tuned then the first series
CONS: You get what you pay for with these, a nice crankbait with few issues
Rapala Husky Jerk Walleye Trolling Crankbaits
I’ll be honest, I’ve just started using Rapala Husky Jerk cranks just this year. I know I know, they’ve been around for ever…but they’re new to me. I have a friend that fishes Lake Erie a lot and says he won’t hit the water without his trays of Husky Jerks. So I tried a couple in my spread and noticed them getting bit…A LOT. While it’s often used for casting, the action and sound this lure produces in unique and works awesome when trolled fast or slow. I used them on leadcore with a lot of success as well. I’ve also seen like a cult following of these baits where I’ve seen them custom painted in never ending display of colors. Any way you slice it, if you’re looking for solid walleye crankbaits, you’ll love the Rapala Husky Jerk!
PROS: Creates sound, lots of sweet colors, and decent price for a Rapala crankbait
CONS: There’s an original and deep diving, I actually prefer the shallow runners on leadcore over the deep diving series.
Salmo Hornet Walleye Crankbaits
I got turned onto Salmo Hornets by my friend Jason Mitchell out of Devils Lake, ND. He’s sponsored, so of course he’s hot on them, but on that lake especially they’re a great choice in spring and early summer. I typically use the smaller sizes, which on the grand scale of walleye crankbaits, run on the smaller side. They’re tiny, but at the right time of year they mimic young of the year hatches that walleyes target for food. While they have lots of colors to choose from, I tend to use the classics like pearl (pictured) and dalmatian (mimics small crappie or white bass). The first time using them I felt like these little things won’t slam fish but boy was I wrong. The first weekend using them we could hardly keep them in the water on a long pull. While they have larger sizes available, I highly recommend keeping the smaller Salmo Hornets in the box for the right times. You’ll be glad you did.
PROS: Run great, no tuning needed – Great wobble. Made of foam, last long
CONS: They’re very expensive compared to other walleye crankbaits.
Rapala Jointed Shad Raps #05
Ya, I know…I already listed Shad Raps. But the jointed version is so gash darn killer that I had to list them individually. If I had a choice to only run a straight or a jointed walleye crankbait, I think I’d have to go with jointed most of the time. It’s that kicking action from the back tail that creates that erratic motion walleyes love. I normally run these in late spring and early summer, when fish are hanging around that 10-15 foot range. I can run them straight without anything added on the outsides; on heavy snap weights on the inside. You must have a few of these in your tackle box, they’re too good not to.
PROS: Always run true out of the box, has a great action
CONS: Like any Rapala you’re going to pay for them, but results don’t lie
There are A LOT of walleye crankbaits I could’ve also mentioned, but let’s face it…there’s only so many crankbait styles a person can handle. And when you get into a particular crankbait style, you’ll find a wide variety of what you think are the best crankbait colors. And, not only that, you need at least 4 of EACH color as you need to move to more trolling that color and of course, you may lose some. If I know I’m going to be doing any trolling at all, I have AT LEAST 15 trays of crankbaits on my boat. I like options, and each lake I fish presents a new list of cranks. So get out there and put some of these walleye crankbaits to the test and I hope to see you introducing a child into the wonderful sport of fishing…