By Josh Boyd
As far back as recorded history portrays, man has sought out new and creative ways to pull fish from the water’s depths. As fishing began to take on its modern form and adopt the use of a pole and line around 2000 B.C., those who sought success were forced to get creative. Gradually, this creativity spawned the birth of various artificial baits and lures, which were intended to draw the attention of willing fish, with dinner on their minds.
Today, the number of lures available for purchase has skyrocketed to an unfathomable level, with a number of these different lures having reached a near level of infamy. One such offering is that of the crankbait, which has now seen 100 years since its original concept was patented. In the years since, the crankbait’s use has accounted for a nearly infinite number of fish, and just as many smiles from the anglers who have caught them.
The History of the Crankbait
The invention of the first lipped diving bait is most commonly credited to Henry Dills, George Schulthess, and Carl Heinzerling. These three avid anglers joined forces to start Creek Chub Bait Company, which was based in Garrett, Indiana. Though this company would go on to build some of the most iconic lures of the day, few left as indelible of a mark on the sport of fishing as that of the first crankbait.
Dills, Schulthess, and Heinzerling began dabbling with the idea of producing a bait that could be retrieved below the water’s surface in 1915. With continued experimentation and a fair share of trial and error, the trio finally perfected plans for the bait which they had envisioned. In 1920, a patent was awarded for the Creek Chub Wiggler, and the crankbait was born.
This primitive crankbait was made of wood and featured a metal diving lip that was attached to the bait’s nose with the use of a purpose-built sleeve. The Wiggler featured dual treble hooks, as well as two distinct line ties, one of which was located on the bait’s lip, and the other atop its head. This allowed an angler to vary the crankbait’s action, as well as its running depth.
Notable Crankbaits Through the Decades
In the 100 years since the crankbait was initially patented, the iconic lure has been reinvented time and time again, taking on many varying forms along the way. The following are some of the most memorable crankbaits to ever hit the market.
Cordell Big O
For a lengthy period of time after its invention, the crankbait remained somewhat obscure, as it was produced in different variants by small bait companies across the country. However, this was about to change with the introduction of the Cordell Big O.
Legendary angler Fred Young, built quite the reputation for carving his own plugs, beginning with his original wooden, hand-painted crankbait in 1967. This lure featured a square-shaped bill and was renowned for its ability to be fished through heavy cover.
In 1973, Young sold his patent to Carl Richard “Cotton” Cordell, after which the hand-built crankbait was reimagined into its current plastic form, and rebranded as the Cordell Big O. During its first year of mass production in 1973, Cordell sold 1.3 million lures. As a result, a number of the nation’s most sizable lure manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon and began mass-production of their own hard-plastic crankbaits.
The Norman DD22 also holds a rightful piece of the crankbait’s lengthy history. This lure became the first of its kind to carry a set depth designation. Before the DD22, the bulk of crankbaits were solely marketed as “diving baits”, with no inclination given as to just how deep they would actually dive.
At the deepest point of its dive, the DD22 was found to bounce along the lake bottom at depths of 17 feet. This, in turn, also gave the lure the distinction of being one of the earliest, purpose-specific deep diving crankbaits. Other reasons for the DD22’s popularity included its use of large Gamakatsu treble hooks and a conservative sub-$5.00 retail price.
Though the Bomber 7A did not carry the same level of historical significance as the Cordell Big O or Norman DD22, it was of note due to the fanfare that surrounded it. The Bomber 7A was often praised as being the most balanced crankbait of its day, which allowed it to be effortlessly cast wherever an angler desired, and swam back to the boat in a flashy, yet consistent manner.
This lure was also favored due to its sizing, which accurately represented that of the baitfish found throughout most bodies of water. The Bomber 7A was 3-inches long and weighed only ⅜ ounce. The lure’s aptly sized bill allowed it to dive to depths of up to 10-feet, making it ideally suited for the bulk of bass fishing applications.
Early in the new millennium, famed lure manufacturer, Rapala, set out to create the ultimate line of crankbaits. This resulted in a cumulative effort between the brand’s top hard bait designers, as ideas were tossed about regarding how Rapala could reinvent the wheel, and put their own spin on one of the fishing world’s most renowned hard plastic lures.
At the end of the day, avowed crankbait fanatic and legendary pro angler, David Fritts, stepped to the plate and provided further direction to the program’s design efforts. In the months that followed, the highly popular DT series of crankbait was born. Out of this series, the shallow running DT6 became an instant classic, and drew high praise for its wide-ranging versatility. DT series crankbaits also come in a myriad of color schemes, further adding to their appeal.
Diving to New Depths
As time continues to pass, the crankbait only evolves in its mystique. Crankbait use was once seen as one of the only ways of probing the unknown depths below, but now allows anglers in the modern sonar age to reach suspended fish that are spotted on their graphs. After 100 years of notoriety, it’s likely safe to say that the crankbait will continue to be a mainstay in tackle boxes for years to come.