What makes crankbaits "tick"?

About the author

Lee Sisson

Lee Sisson

Lee Sisson built the first deep-diving crankbaits and has designed lures for dozens of companies over the years. At the age of 63 he became an Elite Series rookie. Now retired from the Elites, Lee consults for Bagley Bait Company from his shop in Winter Haven, Fla.

Ask 10 Bassmaster Elite Series anglers a question and you’ll get 12 different answers. Sound in crankbaits is no different. Sometimes louder is better; other times no rattles is best.

Notice I said "no rattles." All lures coming through the water create a noise, vibration —whatever you wish to call it. A sound wave propagating underwater consists of alternating compressions and rarefactions of the water. These compressions and rarefactions are detected by a receiver, such as the human ear or a hydrophone, as changes in pressure. More important to fishermen is that bass have three different ways to detect these pressure waves. According to biologists, the lateral line is by far the most important, but they also pick up these sounds with ears and through their swim bladder.

All lures coming through the water leave an acoustic signature created by the vibration of the lure and, in many cases, rattles.

Years ago Cotton Cordell was building a new lure called the “Hot Spot.” He had a lead weight tightly fitted in front of the body to get the lure to run right. Well, as things often go, the weights in one batch of lures were cast a little smaller which made them loose in the body.

Cotton got a call from a distributor telling him the weights were loose. Before he could tell the caller that the error would be corrected right away, the caller started pleading for more of the baits with the loose weights. The rattling lure was born!

It's funny to me that the One Knocker got so popular 40 years later. They all started as "one knockers"!

What makes this important is that baitfish and crawfish also make noise as they come through the water. Anyone who has been to a crawfish boil has heard them making a clicking, ticking noise in the tub right before they become dinner. Schools of shad also make these clicking, ticking sounds.

Once while fishing Toledo Bend I jumped into a school of shad. As I swam in the shad listening to the ticking sounds, a school of bass attacked. It looked just like when you see schools of tuna attacking on the Nature Channel. Bass and shad were everywhere, and there was a lot of sound.

Over the years, I've become very skeptical of fishing gadgets. I have been through oxygen meters, pH meters, the Color-C-Lector, etc. But I do believe there is something to the Hydro Wave. It puts out a sound which simulates the sounds of baitfish and schooling fish. In certain situations I've seen it really work.

Next time you're at a show that has a tank full of fish, slip up when no is looking and tap rapidly on the glass with a key. If the fish haven’t been harassed, they'll all turn and look. Most will begin to come to the sound.

Rattles are just part of the sounds lures make. Anything moving through the water leaves an acoustic signature. That is why the vibrations crankbaits make are so important. They build sound waves which the lateral lines pick up also.

For years I built balsa lures with no rattles. After 40 years they're still some of the most sought after lures because of the acoustics they create. I've spent hours in a pool listening to these lures and the noise they make without rattles. It's a different noise — not better or worse, just different.

There are times when I want a lot of noise — usually in dirty water. There are times when I want a tighter action — usually in colder water — or a wider, quicker action — usually in warmer water.

You notice I always say "usually." The one thing I know for sure, is that when I think I know something for sure, the bass show me different.

For more information you can go to my website.

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