When grading cast-n-crank lures, lipless crankbaits score high, producing bass bites with little input from the angler on the other end of the line. A more refined approach, though – one that provides modifications in rigging as well as application – allows the rightful utility of the lure to be fully experienced.
One of the lipless crankbait’s classic applications is over emerging weedbeds during the spring and early summer.
“I take a pretty straightforward approach to fishing a lipless crankbait over early season weeds,” says Florida-based bass pro Bernie Shultz; straightforward perhaps, but not without its details.
Shultz uses a fairly heavy baitcasting rod with a fast tip, one capable of ripping the bait free as soon as he detects contact, preventing the lure from balling up with grass. He makes long casts that launch the flat-sided bait past target areas such as weed edges and openings within the cover.
Line diameter is another tool Shultz uses to restrain the running depth of the lure. Typically, he starts with 15 pound test Suffix fluorocarbon line. In areas where beds of eelgrass, milfoil and hydrilla reach closer to the surface, he’ll switch to 17 or 20 pound fluorocarbon, relying on the thicker diameter of the line to keep the lure closer to the surface.
Pennsylvania-based touring pro veteran Dave Lefebre also counts on the wiggle of lipless crankbaits to pry bass up and out of weed-covered flats. One of his more effective tricks was inspired by in-boat safety.
“Throughout the year I take out folks that don’t have a lot of fishing experience,” says Lefebre. “When you’re dealing with multihooked lures, things can get dangerous.”
Lefebre began removing the belly hook on lipless crankbaits to minimize the amount of razor-sharp projectiles. Not only did it make the lure safer to cast, he discovered he could make strike -stimulating weed contact with little fouling.
“Lipless crankbaits run nose-down, but that belly hook is still the first one to gather up grass,” notes Lefebre. “It didn’t take long (fishing the single hooked lure) to realize we were hooking just as many fish.”
Lefebre fishes the single treble rattling bait more often than not. He reports that even with two-hook baits, the vast majority of fish he catches are lightly hooked on the tail hook.
Another hook-related refinement he’ll employ is to replace the two treble hooks with two double hooks.
“That third tine, which rides forward, is the one that seems to catch on everything,” he says. Lefebre carries a supply of number 3, 4, 5 and 6 double hooks for such duty.
Lipless crankbait refinements exist beyond fine-tuning its use around weeds. Shultz is among a collection of pros using a rattlebait such as a Rapala Clackin’ Rap on deeper structure, employing a method somewhere inbetween slow-rolling a spinnerbait and dragging a jig.
“You’re going to get hung up some, fishing it slowly like you must do, but man, you can catch some big fish doing it,” says Shultz. “You want to be in contact with the structure, or the cover that’s related to the structure, like a deep stumpbed. I’ve even seen the tactic be effective on deep bars on rivers.”
Shultz adds that the deep rattlebait pattern is a good complement to Carolina rigging as well as casting deep crankbaits.
Sometimes the less common sound and look of a seldom used bait will turn on bass that ignore a rattlebait they more frequently see. Lefebre's experience with Luhr Jensen’s Sugar Shad is an example.
“The Sugar Shad is a great option when you want to throw a rattlebait, but one that doesn’t sink so fast,” says Lefebre. “It’s hollow, and a little wider of a bait. It’s great for throwing them a change-up. I like it on days when it’s really calm out, and I want a bait that I can fish slower. Or there’s only a two- foot band of water above the weeds, and I don’t want to fish the bait a hundred miles an hour.”
Lipless crankbaits are also highly effective river lures, where smallmouths tend to rule. For instance, on the Columbia River tournament, angler Garret McAfee uses lipless crankbaits from April to August. They are especially useful in the spring, says McAfee, when shad are running the river. McAfee strings bubba-sized western smallies fishing silver-hued XCalibur rattlebaits.
Likewise, throughout the eastern and Midwestern river smallmouth belt, lipless crankbaits excel on brown bass by picking the use of such to days when the water runs on the dark side. Noisy, bright-colored (red and orange, especially) lipless crankbaits have just the right attributes to call in smallmouth bass, which often feed aggressively when the water comes up. Rocky, grass-lined banks lying just off the force of the hard current are high percentage targets.