World class muskies have been taken on nearly every style of lure over time. Bucktails, spinnerbaits, topwater plugs, jigs, crankbaits and livebait have all taken their share of big ones. And, just when it looks like one specific type is beginning to dominate, preferences can suddenly change on a dime tilting statistics in the complete opposite direction. This is especially true when it comes to the subject of crankbaits and the discussion of whether a jointed lure produces more big fish than straight model divers.
I can't say that I've been more successful with either jointed or straight model crankbaits over the years, but there are those times, conditions, and situations when one is definitely better than the other. While the straight model crankbait gets far more water time from anglers, is sold by more sport shops, and is made by more manufacturers, the jointed crankbait still holds its own in terms of raw fish catching power. Plus, no matter what the species, there are times when the jointed plug proves superior to the straight model. That's why it's important to have both and know the differences between the two.
In my opinion, the biggest assets of jointed crankbaits are slow speed action, or what I like to call the illusion of speed, and noise. While many straight model crankbaits work well at slow speeds, most jointed crankbaits excel at slower retrieves. Very little forward movement is needed with a good jointed crankbait in order to initiate a wobble. As soon as a jointed lure begins to wobble back and forth, the jointed body parts react with opposite movements. As the front section moves one way, the rear section moves in an opposite manner. Usually this results in a violent collision of the body parts at the joint section. As these body parts collide, they create a strong clicking action. This makes the jointed lure exceptional in dark waters, where fish have limited visibility and need to rely much more on vibration sensing.
Research has shown that clear water gamefish are basically sight feeders, while dark water predators are sound seekers. A clear water environment offers any gamefish far more sight range, enabling it to visually spot prey. While clear water gamefish might have senses of hearing and vibration that are just as acute, they are not required for predatory success. Sight takes on the primary role in most strike decisions. That's why lures with superior flash catch lots of clear water fish. In most cases, straight model crankbaits provide all the flash necessary here. While jointed crankbaits definitely work well in clear waters under a variety of conditions, most often they are not necessary here. Straight models essentially work just as well.
What jointed lures do offer the angler in clear water is the illusion of speed. Because many good jointed crankbaits wobble and wiggle so violently at slow to medium speeds, they look like they're moving quickly through the water when they're really not. In other words, you can possibly make a fish think that the lure is getting away and moving out of strike range quicker by utilizing a good jointed crankbait. I have found that this illusion of speed trick works particularly well on clear water gamefish in colder temperatures; particularly in the fall. Jointed crankbaits are good big fish producers in clear water when the water temps are cold.
Jointed crankbaits have also worked well for me on clear water fish when the bite seems tough overall. For some odd reason, bass, walleyes, and muskies all appear to prefer a jointed crankbait in clear water when they're less willing. Generally, whether I'm casting or trolling, I'll nearly always load up on jointed lures if the fish stop taking a straight model crankbait. Slowing down the retrieve or troll speed is nearly always the other factor that goes hand in hand with this scenario. Whenever fishing gets tough in clear water, switching to jointed cranks and slowing down has worked more often than not. The illusion of speed is part of the secret trigger here, but you're legitimately providing that fish a bit longer opportunity to snatch the bait. Usually this little trick works.
Another side benefit from this switch to jointed lures and slower speeds is more solid hookups and a higher overall hooking percentage. The result of the speed illusion combined with an actual slower forward movement seems to help fish get a direct hit on the bait more often. By and large, when gamefish hit jointed lures, they're hooked well. In fact, I also believe that ¨C on average ¨C jointed lures hook big fish far better than straight models. The may have something to do with the overall loose-leverage design of a jointed lure versus a straight model. Big fish seem to be able to get more hook bending leverage on rigid straight model lures. The larger the straight model crankbait, the more of a problem this seems to create.
In retrospect, if you're going to fish larger lures for big fish, it's a good bet that jointed lures are going to hook'em better. In many cases, this means having several trebles buried solidly in the fish's mouth instead of one hook or two from a single treble. When the fish hooked is a 50 inch musky or a 30 inch class walleye, this might make all the difference in whether you ultimately catch the fish or not since the battle is likely to last longer with these larger brutes. Admittedly, I have far more confidence in the overall hooking ability of a jointed cranker over a straight model when it comes to oversized lures and larger fish.
This subject of larger lures versus smaller ones will be covered in more detail in another chapter, but its definitely worth discussing. Large, oversized lures do have their time and place for all big gamefish species. Crankbait selection basically follows the same set of rules. I've done exceptionally well on big bass with larger lures in dark water. This includes upsizing in just about all lure categories from plastic worms to topwater. Larger crankbaits are particularly good here. The bigger bait casts a larger silhouette making it an easier target to find. Larger lures also push more water, providing a bigger signal to the fish's lateral line much like a Boeing 747 on a radar screen in comparison to a small plane. All of this makes it easier for a fish to find the lure.
Huge crankbaits of 10 inches or more have proven to be highly attractive to the biggest fish in the system. Monster bass of California are regularly taken on plugs of this size. So are really big muskies of 30 pounds or more. In fact, many musky hounds are really shifting to huge crankbaits for big fall muskies in an effort to distract smaller fish of other species, and attract the biggest muskies in the lake, river, or reservoir. Tournament walleye anglers are finding out the same thing fish an oversized crankbait when you're into a big fish bite. It filters through the small to medium sized fish, and attracts the larger fish.
I have to admit that whenever I see darker, stained water conditions, I immediately think jointed in a crankbait. I want a lure with lots of action, sound, and vibration, whenever the water is dark. I also want a bait that really wiggles and wobbles at slower speeds so that fish has plenty of time to find it and hit it. A big straight model crankbait with a rattle might produce equally well on some occasions, but it's tough to beat a jointed version for dark stained waters. Add a rattle to the jointed plug and you¡¯ve really got a dark water dynamo.
Night fishing is another specific situation where I'm certain that jointed lures are superior. As many of you already know, I've spent a great deal of time fishing after dark for all kinds of gamefish. As a teenager, I chased largemouths after dark on a regular basis, establishing my beginning reputation for big fish as a big bass specialist. Most of these bigger bass came after dark. In fact, most of the locals that marveled at my big stringer catches in those days were amazed how early in the morning I'd come in. I'd be back at the dock by 8 a.m. These locals always thought I was simply getting up early and fishing the dawn/sunrise bite. Little did they know that I'd been out all night. Jointed L & S lures and Pikie Minnows were my weapons¡¡
Early in my guiding career, night time walleye excursions were part of business, and many of my clients caught wallhangin' walleyes under the cover of darkness. The vast majority of these big walleyes were caught on crankbaits. We'd begin a typical guided walleye outing at about 8 p.m. Most of our action would be between 9:30 p.m. through about midnight. Our approach to catching walleyes night in and night out was very simple. We'd cast crankbaits around weed flats, over top shallow rock reefs, and along the edges of stump fields. It was a rare night when we didn't catch lots of fish. It was also a rare night when we didn't catch a few big ones. While we caught plenty of walleyes on straight model crankbaits, I found jointed ones to be better.
Of course, anyone who's been keeping up with the musky game for any number of years knows that I made a living for over a decade guiding various clients for trophy muskies in the dark. I don't need to tell you that the jointed DepthRaider was the key bait. When I first started chasing muskies after dark, I thought it was a topwater game. However, we rarely got enough good topwater conditions for night muskies so the success rate was never big on topwater. A lot of nights had wind and waves. I started experimenting with subsurface lures and had a lot more success. Now, there's a lot of muskie guides taking clients out after dark. Back in the early 1980's, there was only one.
While I've had success with all of these species after dark utilizing a variety of artificial lures and livebaits, day in and day out nothing takes big gamefish after dark like crankbaits. Both straight and jointed crankbaits take plenty of bass, walleyes, and muskies after dark, but I still think the jointed lure is superior here. Much for the same reasons that jointed lures work better in dark waters during daylight, the body clicking action along with strong wobble at slow speeds makes them fantastic night baits. If you're seriously considering exploring night fishing, I'd highly recommend that you load up on some good quality jointed crankbaits.
Rattles can greatly improve a straight model for night fishing, just as it does for dark water applications. Hours and hours of casting, night after night, on all three species (bass, walleyes, and muskies) has proven this to be true more often than not. While there are times that I'm a fan of a crankbait with no rattle, night fishing is not one of them. You'll catch more bass, walleyes, and muskies after dark with crankbaits containing rattles. Night feeding predators seem to key-in on the sound of the rattle much easier than rattle-less models.
From all this talk about jointed crankbaits you'd think that I rarely use a straight model, but this is far from the truth. I'm a huge fan of the straight model and give it equal water time. My tackleboxes are loaded with straight model crankbaits of all kinds; from tiny two-inchers to giants of 12 inches or more. I use them for bass, walleyes, pike, muskies, and trout in all kinds of situations. More straight model crankbaits are made and marketed than jointed versions. Maybe that's why I have so many more straight ones. Anyway, here are a few of my favorite applications for the straight model.
Whenever there's snaggy bottom cover such as weeds, wood, or brush, I prefer a straight model floating diver over a jointed one. The straight model crankbait simply runs through cover a lot better. My research with underwater cameras reveals that the tail section of any typical jointed lure tends to snag-up a lot more often since it swings farther to the side. Jointed lures also tend to snag on debris when you're trying to let them float back up out of a cover. The tail section of a jointed lure folds to one side on the rise exposing the hooks to snags. Straight model floaters back out of cover perfectly backwards protecting the hooks from fouling on any kind of debris.
Comparatively speaking, straight models are more buoyant than jointed versions, too. This gives the straight model floater a distinct advantage over the jointed when trying to work the lure in a bump & rise fashion through any kind of cover, particularly weeds. Buoyancy is a big factor in cover. Without it, you're going to have lots of wasted casts. A crankbait that's fouled in weeds, or locked up in a brush pile really kills your chances over the long haul. Plucking weeds off the lure is bad enough, but having to move your boat over the brush pile, log or crib holding the fish in order to free the lure is sure spook any remaining fish.
I also prefer the straight model for most clean bottom bouncing situations. Straight models bump & rise over bottom, no matter what the substrate, much better than a jointed version. When the hard bottom area contains big jagged rocks with lots of crevices, the straight model is sure to be a better choice. Jointed baits are much more prone to jam in rock crevices than a buoyant straight model. If any scattered brush or logs exist along the bottom, it's a sure bet that the jointed bait will hang up more often than the straight version. Jointed baits simply don't have the buoyant rise and the precise back-out nature that a straight model does.
Casting crankbaits over clean bottoms is one thing, but trolling them over such terrain in a bottom bouncing manner is yet another. The additional speed and momentum of the boat has a tendency to hang up crankbaits more regularly. You're sure to get a lot more frustrating hang-ups when bottom bounce trolling with jointed crankbaits. That's why I choose to avoid them for this tactic. Give me a straight model floating diver with a large triangular lip and I'll troll it over just about any kind of bottom with minimal hangups, and in the process, catch a lot more fish. I'll rarely troll a jointed lure when trying to bounce bottom.
Speed and straight models are also synonymous. Whenever the fish seem to prefer speed, straight model crankbaits are superior. Jointed lures simply are not built for speed. Put too much speed on a jointed crank and it begins to torque against itself in all kinds of ways. Too much speed negates all body clicking. It also makes the jointed lure unpredictable in action. Most, but not all, straight models excel at high speeds once tuned properly. There's nothing working against the lure's built-in action to destroy the vibration and rhythm of the lure. Speed simply enhances the wiggle and wobble of the straight model.
This speed issue is particularly important when trolling at speeds of three miles an hour or more. Some clear water fish in warm temperatures need excessive speeds to trigger. Certain straight model crankbaits that can withstand high speed trolling, are going to be the only lures one can use here. Jointed lures simply have no possible chance in this situation. They were not designed for this purpose. Thin profile straight bodied crankbaits with thinner diving lips are built for high speed trolling. Straight model crankbaits are the lures to use for nearly all high speed trolling. Avoid jointed lures for high speed trolling applications.
Finally, I like a straight model crankbait whenever I'm using it in a jerkbait fashion. Twitchin', jerkin', and rippin' a crankbait overtop weeds and other debris is a job for the straight model hands down. The straight model isn't necessarily better on the twitch or jerk part of the retrieve, but they're far superior during the pause or rise. Whether it¡¯s a buoyant model that begins to rise or a suspender that continues to hang, the straight model has a more natural life-like look to it at this point. Jointed baits tend to fold during a pause. This causes them to hang up on cover more often, as I mentioned earlier, and it detracts from its naturalism.
I'm not saying that you can't catch fish on jointed crankbaits worked with a stop'n go retrieve, or any sort of jerkbait style, but they're rarely as good as a straight model in this situation. I've put many hours on the water testing both lures under these conditions and the straight model consistently out-performs the jointed one in this instance. Nowadays, I wouldn't even think of trying a jointed lure for this technique. I've come to learn that twitchin', jerkin', and rippin' are best left to the straight model.
As you can see, both lures do indeed have their time and place. In order to be a totally outfitted crankbait fishermen, it's a good idea to have both styles. Generally, I've found that walleye and bass fishermen tend to lean on straight model crankbaits too much. They never even consider a jointed version. Old classics like the jointed Pikie and L & S (Mirrolure) plugs sure were productive for me in the past. Newer small jointed baits such as the jointed Rapala and broken back Rebel Fast Trak are really hammerin' fish in tournaments. I'm convinced that walleye and bass anglers would catch more fish in both dark water and at night if they tried a jointed crankbait once in awhile.
Musky hunters are just the opposite. They're more apt to choose the jointed bait, and fail to recognize how deadly a straight model can be. They also don't know the distinct differences between the two. Both jointed and straight models should have specific placement in the musky hunting job. Yet, few musky hunters look at it this way. If you're a musky hunter, next time switch to a buoyant straight model when trying to fish thick weeds. You'll have a lot less weed hangups with this bait, and probably catch more fish.
All in all, be more versatile. Try both jointed and straight models. In particular, make the effort to match the right lure for the right situations. No doubt there will be plenty of times when it won't make any difference, but then who cares. However, there will be some outings when one clearly outperforms the other. You'll have to fish both in order to discover this preference.
Hall of Fame angler Joe Bucher is the Editor Emeritus for Musky Hunter Magazine and one the most highly recognized multi-species fishing and hunting authorities in the outdoor business trade. Joe is the host of Fishing with Joe Bucher TV show which has been on the air for over 20 years. For more information on Joe please visit his website at JoeBucher.Com