Wednesday, January 7, 2015


    The most devoted of anglers understand that fooling fish into fulfilling the biological process of feeding under the weak premise of a lure or fly is an art, and consider themselves artists of the rustic, self-sufficient breed.  Thus, tackle craft is a unifying factor in many of the sport’s top competitors and professionals.  Settling for the commercially-available rarely provides an angler an edge over others of like pursuits.
    Such was the reasoning of Fluvanna County resident, Chris Graham—a lifelong outdoorsman and tinkerer.  “My passion has always been fishing and then hunting.  My grandfather took me fishing as a kid and bought me my first rod and reel.  I grew up on the New River fishing with my parents below Claytor Lake Dam in Southwest Virginia,” he said.  “I originally started pouring and hand-tying my own jigs, trying to get an edge that everyone else didn’t have in tournament fishing.”

    When his kids went away to college in recent years, Graham was introduced to another aspect of tackle craft via a video entitled Crankbait Painting:  The Basics by Amistad Tackle.  After acquiring a Paasche VL airbrush system and an air compressor from a printing press, courtesy of local angler and mutual friend, Sam Clarke, Graham began tackling the learning curve associated with his new hobby.

Two taped bluegill-patterned Graham Crankers after painting.  Photo courtesy of Chris Graham.

A white-bellied crayfish pattern.  Photo courtesy of Chris Graham.
    Graham, who now operates his hobby under the business name “Graham Crankers,” paints and sells what he calls “repaints,” usually store-bought crankbaits that are old or that feature patterns that just don’t trigger the desired strikes from fish.

    With a store-bought lure in hand, Graham begins his process by removing the split rings and treble hooks from the wire harness.  Next, the hard body is rinsed in soap and water, dried, and sanded lightly with 220 grit sandpaper to allow the paint stick.  The bill of the crankbait is then taped using masking tape, to prevent paint from speckling the bill.  Finally, a coating of white (or another base color) spray paint is applied to the body and heat set with a hair dryer.  This helps to cover the original pattern.  With those steps completed, Graham begins working his airbrush magic, laying out a new pattern.

The bill of this crayfish pattern was first covered with masking tape before Chris put his airgun
to work.  This keeps the bill from getting "speckled" with paint.  Photo courtesy of Chris Graham.
    “The learning curve can be very trying,” Graham admitted.  “The whole process can be a little lengthy, and time passes quickly without a lot of results.  I quickly learned that when things aren’t going right, it’s best to clean your airbrush and put your paint away.  It can get a little expensive when you keep spraying and don’t get the desired result.”

Simple shad color scheme in a variety of body styles.  Photo courtesy of Chris Graham.
Baby Bass Graham Cranker.  Photo courtesy of Chris Graham.
    “Patterns have come from trial and error (shop to water), along with using some of the tried and true patterns from fishing’s past,” Graham said.  “As I look back through some of my rejects, I find out just how bad they look.  At the time I was proud of them, but when I look at them now they look like a 5th grader painted them.”

    Today Graham produces and sells several patterns as standbys but continues to experiment.  Though he does make money at his game, he maintains that Graham Crankers is a hobby for the moment, and something he enjoys doing.  “It has created a lot of conversations that have inspired me to create and repaint crankbait patterns that can no longer be bought in the store,” he said.

A citation Virginia largemouth taken on a Graham Cranker jerkbait by local angler, Sam Clarke.  These lures produce!  Photo by Sam Clarke.
    Can’t find the old standby pattern you remember fondly from your childhood?  Give Graham a ring, check out his Graham Crankers Facebook page, and join the family!

Originally published in the Rural Virginian

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