Crank bait trolling methods evaluation


General definitions of the primary 7 methods:

Lead core – Weighted line with a 5’ to 50’ leader attached.

Long lining – Normal line with crank bait directly attached.

Snap weight – Normal line with a weight added in front of the crank bait.

3-way – A 3-way swivel to attach a crank bait and a weight on a dropper line.

Stacker Rig – Same as a 3-way but an additional crank bait is added in-line with the other.

Dubuque rig – Same as a 3-way but replaces the weight with a jig.

Hand line – Special reel, cable, shank, and weight. Basically the same as a 3-way rig.



Of the seven methods discussed in this article 2 basic groupings stand out.

Lead core – Snap weight – Long lining

All 3 of these methods rely primarily on the dive curve of the crank bait to determine the depth.

These methods generally use deep diving crank baits. Deep diving crank baits will typically run 5’ to 10’ under the surface but specific crank baits can be purchased that will run much deeper without any additional weight.

The weight of the lead core line and snap weights is placed ahead of the crank bait to allow the baits to be fished deeper than the bait will dive by itself. Long lining relies only on the dive curve of the crank bait to determine the depth.


3-Way – Stacker – Dubuque rig – Hand line

All 4 of the methods use the weight to get the crank baits to the bottom. Each of these methods employs some type of 3-way swivel with the weight and crank bait attached to the 3-way swivel. The weight for each of these methods is generally dragged on the bottom or in close proximity to the bottom. Diagrams for 3-way, Dubuque Rig, and Hand line are at the end of this article.

These methods generally use shallow diving crank baits. Typically shallow diving crank baits will run 1’ to 4’ below the surface without the addition of any weight.


Lead core


Not as speed sensitive as other methods.


Weeds, leaves, (surface debris)

Long deployment time


Long lining


No special equipment or line needed.


Limited to the depth of the lures.


Snap weights


Quick deployment. Can be fished deep.


Very speed sensitive. Line counter reels are useful. Need to remove snap weight prior to netting fish.




Follows bottom contour. Easily adjust to variable depths.


Storage when not in use.

Tangles when deploying.


Stacker Rig


Follows bottom contour. Easily adjust to variable depths.


Storage when not in use.

Tangles when deploying.


Dubuque rig


Puts multiple baits on each line.


Tangles when deploying.

Cannot be used where multiple baits are not allowed.

Both baits are in close proximity so less area is covered with each rig.




Multiple bait deployment.

Adjusts quickly to depths.


Special equipment needed.

Initial investment.

No mechanical (drag) or leverage (rod) advantage when fighting fish.

Only 2 per boat can be used at any time.

Baits on each rig follow same line so not as much water is covered.


Ranking Chart

1=best/easy                       6= poor/difficult


Expense Ease of Use Debris Sensitive Multiple Baits/line Speed Sensitive Learning Curve Depth Limited
Lead core 4 2 5 6 5 2 5
Long line 1 1 6 5 2 1 6
Snap weight 5 5 4 4 6 4 3
3-Way/Stacker 3 3 2 3 3 3 2
Dubuque rig 2 4 3 1 4 5 4
Hand line 6 6 1 2 1 6 1




River fishing basics:

The remainder of this article primarily targets fishing the Mississippi River for Walleye using various techniques to put crank baits into the strike zone.





Lead Core:

Lead core line is a braided line with a strand of lead inside the braid giving the line weight causing it to sink. Lead core line is used to get crank baits to greater depths than they would normally run when trolled using regular line. A lead core setup typically consists of a level wind reel, a trolling rod, lead core line, leader, and a deep diving crank bait. While not the least expensive method it can be done fairly inexpensively with existing equipment.

Most lead core line is segmented in multiple colors with each color representing 30’ of line. The approximate sink rate is 1’ for every 6’-8’ of line in the water. Deploying 5 colors (150’) of lead core will typically get a deep diving bait down to 20’-25’ depending on the speed and the dive curve of the bait.




Long Line:

Long lining is one of the lowest cost methods because it can be performed with existing equipment. Depth that can be fished is limited to the dive curve of the individual crank bait. In order to fish deeper depths, purchasing deeper diving baits will be necessary. Using smaller diameter line will also allow the bait to dive deeper but the added depth may only be a few inches. Long lining can work extremely well in shallow water or for wary fish because the bait can be deployed a long distance behind the boat allowing for the boat to be well past the fish when the bait comes by. Combining long lining with other methods can be very beneficial in some instances because it allows you to run a crank bait higher in the water column. Active fish will often hang higher in the water column when actively pursuing baitfish.



Snap Weight:

Snap Weight fishing is adding weight to the line ahead of the crank bait to make the lure run deeper than it would normally run. Typically anglers use Offshore Tackle OR16 clip and add a ½ to 6 ounce bell sinker to make a Snap Weight. The Snap Weight is clipped onto the line ahead of the lure. Because the weight is concentrated in a small area, this method will be much more sensitive to speed changes.

Reducing speed sensitivity with snap weights:

  • The heavier the weight the more speed sensitive it will be. Use the lightest weight possible to get the bait to the desired depth.
  • Higher speeds will reduce speed sensitivity for a given weight.
  • Greater distance between the snap weight and the bait reduces speed sensitivity. The closer the weight is to the bait the more immediate the effect of a speed change is on the bait.
  • Deeper diving crank baits will reduce the effect of a speed change with a snap weight.

Speed sensitivity can also be used to your advantage in some situations. When approaching a hump or dip in the trolling run, the speed can be increased or reduced to maintain the proper depth of the bait.


Snap weights are a good option if you are able to maintain a consistent speed and there are not a lot of corners in the area you are fishing.

A line counter reel is very handy to have for fishing snap weights because it will make getting back down to the desired depth easier.

There are many opinions on the distance to place the snap weight from the lure. Personally I will place the weight about 20’ ahead unless there is a lot of debris in the water. If there is a lot of debris I will place the weight closer to the bait (5 to 7 feet) so the weight does not have to be removed each time to clean off the weeds and leaves off the line.

Typically 80’ of line out with a 3oz weight at 2 mph will get down around 20’.




3-Way Rig:

A 3-way rig consists of a 3-way swivel attached to the end of the line with a short leader connected to a weight on the second connection of the swivel and on the 3rd swivel connection, a leader to the crank bait. The weight used will depend on the current, speed, and depth. Typically the weight will be ½ to 3 ounces but it is not uncommon in higher current, or when higher speeds are desired, to use 3 to 6 ounce weights.

3-way rigs can also be used very effectively to run live bait or plastics.


3-Ways are normally fished with the weight in contact or close to the bottom but can also be fished at any depth. When fished in contact with the bottom the weight will start/stop and bump along giving the bait an erratic motion that is often desirable. If the fish want a consistent speed on the bait try keeping the weight off the bottom.


Stacker Rig:

A stacker rig is the same as a 3-way rig with the addition of a second crank bait attached to the rear of the first crank bait. The weight used will depend on the current, speed, and depth. Typically the weight will be ½ to 3 ounces but it is not uncommon in higher current, or when higher speeds are desired, to use 3 to 6 ounce weights.


When using a stacker rig the front bait will have very little action compared to the other bait. This limited action can be very desirable in some conditions. When fishing a stacker rig the same principles as fishing a 3-way apply, weight in contact with the bottom will give the baits more erratic movements than if the weight is held above the bottom.


Dubuque Rig (AKA Denver Rig):

A Dubuque rig is the same principle as a 3-way rig but the bell sinker is replaced with a jig. Typically the jig on a Dubuque rig will be ½ to 3 ounces.


A Dubuque Rig has the distinct advantage of combining plastics or live bait with crank baits on each rod. This also works excellent to put multiple baits on each rod making it possible to allow for more people to fish multiple baits in a boat.

Dubuque Rigs are primarily fished similar to dragging with jigs. The jig at the bottom is maintained at a constant depth above the bottom or it can also be jigged. Jigging will give both the jig and the crank bait action similar to bait fish.



Combining methods:

There is great advantage to having multiple methods available because each method can be combined with another method to facilitate putting more baits and types of baits in the water.

Combining methods that use deep and shallow diving lures allows the fish to show you what they are interested in.

Running a hand line or 3-way with a lead core or snap weight over the top will present 2 types of baits, shallow diving and deep diving, which will give the fish a selection of bait profiles and actions. The lead core or snap weight rig will run much farther back than hand line so there is very little chance of getting them tangled.

Almost all of the methods can be combined with a long line over the top. Lead core may not work well with long lining depending on speed, depth, and the dive curves of the baits. In deeper waters running a long line higher in the water column can be a very effective method to find active fish that are suspending.



Planer Boards:

For this discussion Planer boards were not considered a method by themselves because they are most commonly used as an augmentation to Long Lining, Snap Weight, or Lead Core methods. That being said, planer boards can be a very deadly method for trolling shallow flats or trying to pull Walleyes off of shorelines. Planer boards also give you the distinct advantage of covering a large swath of water in each pass. Planer boards are also very handy when fish multiple lines to spread them out and keep them from tangling.


Puts bait away from the boat and can be very advantageous when fishing shallow water.

Very useful for running multiple lines on the same side of the boat and fishing a shoreline while keeping the boat away from the shore.


Not easily adjusted for varying depths and deployment time is longer than most other methods.


3-Way Rig

3-Way Rig

Stacker Rig

Stacker Rig

Dubuque Rig

Dubuque Rig

Hand Line Rig

Handline Rig

Long Line, Snap Weight, Lead Core

Snap Weight - Lead Core - Long Line


Dale Rueber