In 2012 it was unlikely that you would come across a completely new style of lure or a world first, it was also unlikely that a lure that could boast such attributes would come out of Australia from a small Tasmanian lure manufacturer, but it did. That’s what happened at last years Australian Fishing Tackle Association trade show (AFTA) when Cranka Lures released the Cranka Crab. It was the talk of the show going on to win Best Hardbodied Lure. By half way through the first day the crab was all over facebook and images of this amazing little crab imitation had gone viral. The big question that was being asked by tackle stores and anglers was “when can we get them?” Almost exactly one year on the Cranka Crab is nowehere to be seen on a tackle store shelf and the hype has died down as anglers have gotten sick of asking what is happening with this crab. Cranka ran in to a few production issues with the crab but it’s ready now and will hit the tackle store shelves in September. I had the opportunity to talk with Steve Steer, who is the owner and founder of Cranka and the man who designed the crab. He gives Hooked Up the low down on how Cranka lures are designed and made and exactly what happened with one of the most anticipated lures in recent history.
How long has Cranka Lures been in production for?
Cranka is four years old. We started in September 2009.
And what made you start a lure company? Did you tinker with making lures before this? How did it all begin?
I’ve always been a tinkerer. I was a pro staff angler for a lot of well-respected brands and I was making suggestions about the lures and what they needed. I got to the point where I thought they weren’t listening, and decided the only way to get what I wanted was to make my own.
What’s the process involved when you make a lure?
It’s a long, drawn out process. It starts with hand-drawn drawings initially – just some sketches of concepts. Then I take it to my own 3D software called Solidworks. We do 3D modelling, then we have stereo lithographic models made to make sure everything shape-wise/fit-wise works. We then send files off to our manufacturers for tooling, We receive a sample back, we check and test, go out and field test, pick colours, then get full production samples made.
Do you draw out the colours yourself?
I do all my own colour design. I spend hours upon hours sitting at the computer making mock-ups of colour designs. Then I send images to my manufacturer of the colours I’m trying to achieve.
Obviously you design colours based on experience but how do you settle on a colour range?
When I originally did my Cranka design colours, I sat down and pulled every lure out of my boxes and laid them all out on a big table and grouped them into successful colours that have worked for me over the many years I’ve been fishing – I’ve been fishing since I was three years old. I’m now 43, so after 40 years of fishing, I’ve come to rely on certain colours that work well in clear water but don’t work well in dark, dirty water. It just depends on the water conditions and the clarity. So I tried to put together a broad range that would cover super-clear water all the way through to super-dirty water, and that’s how I ended up with my 20 Cranka colours. We started out with 101 colour mock-ups, and we dwindled that down to 32. I then got 32 samples made in those 32 colours. We went out and field-tested those 32 colours and we got them in four different eye colours as well. We had the 32 base body colours, but we also had four different eye colours on each of those. We wanted to field test what difference eye colour would make.
The Cranka minnow has quite a large eye, and you’ve got orange, red, black and then there’s a green one. I’ve noticed Ghost Bluegill, has a green eye and nothing else has a green eye. How did you find that eye colour and colour pattern worked together?
That comes through field trial. Basically what we did was got those four eye colours in bluegill, so we’d have a bluegill body with four different eye colours, and we’d go out and field test, and this is nine months of field trials and testing to work out, ‘OK we think this eye is the best tricker on this coloured body in this particular water’. We’d fish it in clear, we’d fish it in dirty over that period, and we’d basically tick the eye colour we’d think performed the best. We kept diary records of all of our captures. It was a long, long drawn-out process. And it comes down to appearance as well. We look at the lures with the four different eye colours and go, ‘Well look we think that not only does this one catch – and we’ve proven that in the field – but we think it’ll sell best off the shelf with that coloured eye’. There’s that angler perspective as well, looking at it on the shelf, saying, ‘Yep that looks better with that eye’.
That’s obviously a difficult balance – finding something that’s goning to sell but also lures that catch fish.
Absolutely. I managed a tackle store for three years full time, and working for companies as a sponsored angler, I got to know which colours were the most popular, which colours anglers were choosing in certain lure ranges. I understood which were the best selling colours within the store, and I monitored that carefully. When I left, I had that knowledge and experience in the field and put this together to come up with a range that worked in all conditions and would sell. You always get the odd lure that doesn’t sell as well as the others but there are colours within my range that I built for specific purposes, like upgrading or bigger fish targeting. Certain colours like Wicked Prawn, which was an original design of mine, that I built for my own use and I didn’t think other anglers would actually fish it that much, and I didn’t think it would be a popular colour, as it turned out it is. But it was built for my own use.
Are you constantly trying to introduce new colours into your range to keep it fresh?
Absolutely. You’ll notice as our lures are released, there are differences in the colour range through angler feedback, trial in the field, and we discover, ‘OK, this certain colour can be amended to be made better over time’. We listen to our pro-staff, we listen to our customers and we get feedback on the most popular colours and we try to adapt to the market.
Were trout and bream the main two target species for Cranka Lures?
They’re the target species that I specialise in. I’ve grown up travelling to Eucambene and Jindabyne chasing trout all my life. I grew up in Victoria fishing Bemm River and Gippsland Lakes and Mallacoota and all those Victorian bream fisheries. They’re my bread and butter – bream and trout are what I know and love – and that’s what I’ve set Cranka up to target, because it’s pointless me trying to make a lure for barra when I don’t understand the species.
Did your Garfish pattern come from fishing Bemm River?
The Garfish pattern came from the Derwent River, to be honest. It came from a wide range of systems but I was triggered to create that colour through the Derwent. The Derwent, we get what they call a pretty fish – a Tasmanian baitfish – and it does get into Victoria and into some of the systems there. It was a baitfish that is prominent in the Derwent, and also we get little baby couda, which are very flashy and silver with a dark back. That’s where the garfish comes from. It’s to replicate pretty fish and the little baby couda we get in the Derwent River. The majority of our colours are either based on natural baitfish or experience with colour to know, ‘OK, this unnatural colour, catches’.
Like gold for example I guess.
Yeah exactly. Gold throws a lot of light, early morning, low light conditions, and that’s why gold makes an incredible trout colour, and also orange underbelly. If you look at most trout lures they’ve all got an orange UV underbelly because trout see in UV. All that comes with experience I guess.
A big think that happened last year was the Cranka crab. There was a lot of a lot of interest about what is an amazing looking lure no doubt. It’s probably one of the best imitations of a crab or any kind of marine creature in lure form that’s ever come about. It’s extremely detailed, a lot of moving parts, and obviously there’s been a big delay – we’re at about a year now since the last AFTA show where it got released. What happened in that year? Why is it taking so long to hit the shelves?
When we launched this product, it was launched in prototype form at AFTA last year. We told our customers that these were prototypes only. The design phase had been finished and we were moving into tooling phase. We didn’t give delivery dates, we gave an estimate, we just said, ‘Look we’re taking an invitation on people’s interest in this lure’. And that’s all we did.
The interest was huge?
The interest was massive. We thought we had a good thing, but we just wanted to confirm it at AFTA, so we already had started tooling but we were told by our manufacturers and so called experts in the field that they could produce some of our components, like our baseplate and our claws, in a certain way. We were totally reliant on those manufacturers and their expertise in that area to build us the components that we needed for our crab design. As it turned out, they built the tools, they attempted to make the components and found they couldn’t be made in that way. So we were then left between a rock and a hard place.
They had to build certain tools in order to mass produce the lure?
Absolutely. They believed they could do it the way that they thought they could. In a nutshell, they told us they could injection mould our claws with a closed-cell foam type material like Croc shoes – a resilient, tough closed-cell foam. One of the most important features for this crab was to make the claws float, that makes the hooks float, it makes it very snag resistant, you can drag it over rubble and structure and rocks without losing your lure all the time. We ran a little brim hatchery down here in Tasmania and had bream in a brooding tank, and we filmed them eating crabs. When a bream comes in to eat a crab, the first thing the crab does is put his claws up to defend himself, so we wanted to replicate that in our lure, and that’s why we wanted floating claws. We wanted them up like a defensive crab, and we wanted them up to be snag resistant. It was a very important feature to us. I could’ve made them like I had our prototypes at the show, moulded claws that didn’t float. That was an easy thing to do. Trying to make such a small claw float the hook, I needed very buoyant material. The very buoyant material was closed-cell foam or EVA foam, and I was told they could manufacture it out of a closed-cell injection moulded foam just like Croc shoes. When it comes down to it, the way foam expands in a tool, they have to make the tool half the size of the component, because what happens is, when they inject the liquid into the cavity, the foam expands and when they open the tool, the part pops out to the correct size. So what they didn’t bank on was that the liquid was too viscous at that size tool, they couldn’t get it to fill or inject into the mould. They built the tool thinking they could do it, they then went to do it, and couldn’t do it.
What’s happened now?
That was about February when we were told they gave up on it. They said, ‘We can’t inject your mould in this claw and make the hooks float.’ So then I was left to research and source an alternate method. We went about researching materials, got samples, made hand-cut, laser-cut, punched claws out of all different types of materials to try and get our claws to float. The only material we could find – we tried putting Q-cell which is a glass sphere mixture into soft plastic material, we tried a foaming agent, we tried all sorts of things to make this tool work for us, and it didn’t work. We ended up going with a vapour cut EVA foam claw that we now bind into shape. We were left having to find an alternate way of doing this and we ended up coming up with an alternate method that looks great, it works perfectly how we wanted it to but it took us probably six months to research, find materials, build tools, test, approve and then go into production.
How does the crab fish out in the field?
It’s probably, the best – by a long shot – lure I’ve ever used. My results so far in the field have just been – it blows me away when I fish it. I’m sure once anglers get it in their hands they’ll find the same.
How are you fishing it?
It’s a very versatile lure. Anything from fishing it like a plastic in snags, tossing against rocky banks, hopping it down, walking it off the beach, I’ve cast it onto the shore on the backs of canals and walked it into spooky, flighty fish that when you land a lure near them, would usually scare. It’s a very versatile lure, you can hop it like a plastic, hop it like a vibe. You can crawl it, you can drag it, so it’s extremely versatile.
The floating claws are providing a solid hook up rate?
With bream we’re finding both hooks end up in the corners of the mouth because of the way they eat – and we know this from our filming of bream eating crabs – if it’s the right size crab they’ll come head onto it and hit it straight in the middle of the head, try and break its shell. If it’s a too big, they would be very hesitant to eat it, and they’ll stalk it and take a claw off, take another claw off, and then eat it once they’ve disarmed it. It all comes down to the size of the crab and if you’ve got a crab with claws that are too big, then bream are very hesitant to eat them, and they’ll leave them to last. They’ll eat them, but it takes them a long time to stalk them.
How many sizes are there?
We have the 18mm across the shell Cranka Crab which is the initial Cranka Crab, and we have samples which we’ll have at AFTA which will be 30mm across the shell Cranka Crab. So at the moment there is one size that will be produced and out on the market very soon, and then followed by a 30mm across the shell for snapper, gummies, grouper off the rocks, you name it. And we’ll run singles on that larger crab for bigger fish.
When can our readers walk into their local tackle store and buy themselves one?
September. We go to the AFTA show in late August, stock is due to arrive straight after that. We should be able to deliver on pre-sales and sales from AFTA in September.
And Hooked Up will be able to get their hands on some?
You can check out the range of Cranka Lures at www.crankalures.com