Unspoken Words On Lipless Crankbaits

Anglers and tackle makers alike are tuning in to the subtleties of lipless crankin'

Shake 'em. Hear them rattle. See their myriad shapes, styles, actions, finishes and colors.Lipless crankbaits are multiplying faster than jack rabbits. And though the rate of output may be dizzying, this feverish proliferation has delivered quality along with numbers. Some designs seem to flaunt their sophistication, the weight systems and rattle chambers exposed through transparent shells."Big ones, little ones, new lip designs, different finishes. … It's a category where I've seen just as much improvement and growth as any in the hard bait (realm)," says Skeet Reese, 2009 Bassmaster Classic champion.Still perceived by many as baits tailored to the easy shallow-water pickings in spring and fall, lipless cranks are becoming baits for all seasons — suited to a wide range of depths and conditions, to boot. Bass anglers tuned in to the nuances of these baits find some models better suited to one type of presentation or set of conditions than another. And the more anglers embrace them, the wider the range of their versatility grows.

 Year after year, lipless crankbaits are changing the outcome of events," says Reese. "This year showed me how versatile a lipless crankbait can be, from dragging them on the bottom to hopping them like a jig to burning them fast over deep water. Shallow water, deep water, grass, rocks … it doesn't matter. If bass are feeding on baitfish, a lipless crankbait will work."
I catch a ton of fish on them," says Kevin VanDam, fresh off his 2008 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year win. "It's a huge part of my arsenal year-round.""It's a versatile bait that is mostly overlooked three-quarters of the year," says Elite Series angler Jared Lintner, who has made the Jackall TN/70 his workhorse. "They are prespawn favorites as search baits, but you can spoon them in deep water, work them in any depth or with any retrieve. … These are versatile baits that you can capitalize on throughout the year if you let the fish guide you."

Lipless crankbaits are at their best when they are inciting reaction strikes. Burn 'em. Bang 'em off rocks and points. They're all good.But waters with healthy hydrilla, milfoil, eelgrass, pondweed and other bass-preferred vegetation nearly cry for "lippers."Lipless baits and grassy lakes and reservoirs make for a perfect marriage," says Elite Series pro Bernie Schultz. "Lipless baits are some of your best tools for probing and searching for bass in vast areas of underwater grass. In my opinion, a lipless crankbait ranks as high as a spinnerbait in terms of covering water effectively."
Schultz's "first and foremost technique" is ticking the tops of submerged vegetation, making contact with the tops of the grass with a steady retrieve.Oddly, the mix of grass and "lips" grip many anglers with fear and loathing.

Wrong attitude.Schultz, like many pros, welcomes a hang-up. The quick snap of the lure ripped from the grass elicits a reaction strike. "It's a total reflex strike and extremely effective," says Schultz, whose current favorite is the Rapala Clackin' Rap. "If you are around fish, it is almost predictable that it's going to work."Ripping the 'lips' requires tackle suited to the conditions. Schultz beefs up from his typical medium action graphite rod for cranking to a medium-heavy and — this is essential — braid or heavy fluorocarbon line between 17- and 25-pound test. He chooses a reel with 6.2:1 or 7:1 gear ratio because "a lot of times they want it fast — even in cold water."But don't get wedded to a rigid tackle mindset. Mark Davis, host of Big Water Adventures, drops his baitcaster and adopts spinning gear and 8-pound test to keep his lipless baits down, dirty and ticking bottom when bass are holing up in deep winter patterns.




The category is hardly new. Baits such as the Heddon Sonic and Cordell Spot helped establish the genre. When Bill Lewis brought angler attention to the auditory dimension of his rattling bait and named it Rat-L-Trap (after his beat-up Ford station wagon from which many of the early baits were sold), a star was born.The "Trap" became the brand that defined the category and loaned it its name. It also opened doors to imitation and innovation.While early imitations borrowed from the blueprint of the Trap and the Cordell Spot, the new generation of lipless baits plays more loosely with size and profile — larger or deeper, thicker or thinner, smaller or leaner. Bellies may vary, too, in width and weight distribution.
With considerable boost from Japanese manufacturers, the finishes of most of today's baits sit far atop those of their predecessors. These vary from scale-like finishes and metallic finishes to see-through cavities, such as that of the Sebile Flatt Shad, which contains oil mixed with glitter to mimic the phenomenon of scales flying off an injured baitfish.But perhaps the biggest factors in performance are those that are not immediately visible.


"The main things separating the new baits in the category are nose configuration and sound chamber," notes Reese.

 Nose weight, width and general configuration largely determine action, though weight distribution and other factors may enter in as well.
Strike King developed the Red Eye Shad with VanDam, specifically to add drop action.

 "\I wanted to make the bait fall as much as possible," says VanDam. "I learned a long time ago that lipless baits are most effective when they hit something — deflect off cover or rip through grass. We designed it to have action as it falls. It actually stays balanced. It wiggles or shimmies as it descends to the bottom. That wobbling fall has great triggering quality, as well. It doesn't have to hit something."




Since the dawn of Lewis's Rat-L-Trap, lipless cranks have been synonymous with sound and vibration. And much of the segmentation in the lipless category today revolves around rattle — from high frequency and low frequency rattles to more subtle sonic deliveries."Glass beads, brass beads, lead, steel … there are lots of ways to vary the rattle," says Reese. "Some guys want a single one-knock bait, some want a real loud bait. To me, that's what really separates baits in the category."
While confidence may be the overriding factor with all baits, performance has certainly shaped conditional preferences. Lintner wants "the noisiest lipless crankbait" he has in his tacklebox on windy days or when trying to lure bass out of "hog grass." On a flat glass calm day, he may switch from his TN/70 to the Jackall TN/60, which has a more subtle sound in addition to a smaller profile."But when I want to draw a fish out of cover, I want something that appeals to all its senses," he adds.Every point has its counterpoint, however. That's where rattle-less baits and low frequency knockers enter.
"Fishermen have told us that bass can become attuned to rattles, and they want to have a more subtle lipless bait to show the fish at times," says Curt Arawaka, sales manager for Jackall Brothers' U.S. division. Jackall's response was the Mask Vib 70, a no-rattle bait that also sports a soft plastic body.




"One-knock" baits employ single metal balls in their sound cavity. XCalibur added a One-Knocker model to its XR lineup last year. Rapala's Clackin' Rap adds a twist to the one-knock concept, with a single internal weight transmitting sound to water through exposed side weights. Megabass also added a one-knock version to its Vibration-X Smatra line of lipless baits.Low frequency sounds transmit better than high frequency in water," notes Mark Fisher, Rapala national sales promotions manager, who created the earliest prototypes in his garage with David Fritts. "We wanted something with more baritone — a harder, denser sound.""I prefer the duller sound of lead over steel or brass," says VanDam.

 Some pros modify baits for a duller or even silent presentation. Lintner drills a 1/16-inch diameter hole in his TN/70 and allows water to enter the bait "to dilute the sound." VanDam carries modified lipless baits at the ready, including variations of the Red Eye with the BBs Super Glued to the rear of the cavity.In my opinion, the lipless baits with BBs outfish everything else day in and day out," he says. "But is it important to have baits with different sounds? Yes. It's good to have them in your tacklebox."




Staging fish in cold water — Work a lipless crankbait along the bottom in ditches and holding areas adjacent to feeding flats in the cold water period, suggests TV host Davis. He uses a 1-ounce XCalibur Rattle Bait XR100 to dredge up his winter largemouth.Prespawn and cold water search tool — Lipless crankbaits enable you to cover ground in the early season. They help to locate fresh beds of aquatic vegetation on flats or rocks and stumps on secondary points, notes Lintner.In the cold water of the early season, Reese likes to "drag and pop them like a jig."VanDam prefers "a slow clip" along the bottom, occasionally pulling the lure and then letting it fall and flutter. He adds hard bottom and riprap to his search areas, noting that he has caught bass in 34-degree water on his home lakes in Michigan. "There's no water too cold for a lipless crankbait," he proclaims.

Grass blast — Grass is ideal for lipless baits, especially young beds of milfoil, hydrilla, pondweed and eelgrass. "Standing hydrilla is primo for lipless crankbaits," says Schultz. "You can find it just about any time of the year. Even in later (summer) months when the water warms up and the grass mats up at the surface, you will still find standing hydrilla on the deeper edge." Tick the tops or rip it free.

 Stop and go — As bass approach the spawn and become more reluctant to chase a lure, a stop-and-go retrieve that bumps the face of a stationary fish or slow follower is irresistible.Banging rock, wood, concrete and steel structures — Banging lipless baits off wood and man-made structures can be deadly. "Ninety-nine percent of anglers don't want to hang up in spots like that, but I've seen this presentation work all across the country," says Lintner.

Deep water "spooning" — In cold water conditions of late fall, when fish back out to deeper water, Lintner uses a yo-yo presentation over deep water in the middle of creek arms, moving his rod from the 8 o'clock position to 12. "It's not a rip but an easy pull, then let the bait fall back down."In the last few years, I've found the (heavier baits are) deadly effective in deep water," says VanDam. "Use thinner diameter fluorocarbon line and let them sink to the bottom and then try the same retrieves as with shallower versions, much as you would with a spinnerbait." He lets the bait fall with a semi-tight line to detect bites on the drop. "With the 3/4-ounce baits, I am fishing down to 20 feet now." He works channel ditches and even deeper depressions on flats similarly.Some opt for vertical presentations with heavier versions of the bait.

 Ledge hopping — "The 3/4-ounce (Red Eye Shad) has become one of my key ledge-fishing lures," says VanDam. "I can yo-yo the lure as a jigging bait or use a sweeping action and catch the heck out of fish. I can fish it almost like hopping a spoon." He uses the same presentation on shell bars and clay points.

 Docks, cypress and scattered pads — Try lipless cranks in areas generally overlooked by bass fishermen, advises Schultz. "Dock fish rarely see a lipless crank."

 Fall flats and coves — When lake temperatures fall into the 50s and shad gang up on windblown flats or the backs of coves, lippers shine.

 Open water feeding bass and schoolies — Lipless baits proved their versatility to Reese at the 2008 Elite Series finale on Oneida Lake. "The fish were over 14 to 18 feet of water, down about 3 feet. I tried a lot of other baits for those fish, but I couldn't catch them. But when I ran a (Lucky Craft) LV100 through there, I'd knock the snot out of them. They were probably feeding on perch or smelt."