Lipless Crankbaits for Spring Crappie

Sure, most crappie anglers will be casting jigs or dunking minnows, but maybe that's why you should try something different. Lipless crankbaits aren't just for bass anymore.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Few crappie lures offer the versatility of tiny lipless crankbaits. Anglers can use them at all depths, in muddy water and clear, during all seasons and in almost any cover. Without changing lures, you can jig in deep-water timber, count down to crappie suspended by bridge pilings or buzz across the top of a brushpile. Best of all is their simplicity; anyone can fish these lures.

Lipless crankbaits come in floating and sinking models, and in sizes ranging from tiny (1/10-ounce) to large (over 1 ounce). Smaller models - 1 to 2 1/2 inches long, 1/10- to 1/2-ounce - work best on crappie because they're within the size range of the baitfish that crappie usually feed on. You shouldn't reject larger sizes automatically, however. I've caught many slabs on bass-sized models, although these don't take crappie as often as smaller versions.

Among my favorites are Norman Lures' 1/10-ounce Tiny N-Ticer; Cordell's 3/16- and 1/4-ounce Super Spot and 1/8-ounce Spot Minnow; Bill Lewis' 1/8-ounce Tiny Trap, 1/4-ounce Mini Trap and 1/8-ounce Spin-Trap (with a small spinner blade attached to the rear); Mann's Finn Mann; and Rapala's 3/16-ounce Rattlin' Rap.

Each lipless crankbait has a line-tie eye on the back, which makes the lure run with its head angled down. Water pressure on the typically flat forehead produces a tight, convulsive shimmy that closely resembles a small baitfish zipping through the water. Crappie find this action irresistible.

Most models also contain steel, brass or lead shot pellets, another crappie attractor. The lure's tight, fast vibration whips the pellets against the sides of the bait, creating a rattle that can be heard even when the bait is a considerable distance from the boat. This clattering noise is especially important for enticing strikes in muddy water or dense cover, at night and on windy days.

Available colors cover every spectrum of the rainbow, from bright red to chartreuse. Carry a variety. In waters where shad are the predominant forage, shad patterns usually work best. Where young-of-the-year bluegills or sunfish are eaten, patterns resembling these food animals work well. Flashy chrome or metallic models have the edge in dingy waters.

Lipless crankbaits are great crappie locators. The narrow body has little wind or water resistance, so you can cast long distances and retrieve rapidly, combing broad areas to find active biters. A speedy retrieve optimizes the visual and acoustical attraction of the lure and allows fast coverage of lots of water.

Most anglers fish vibrators like other crankbaits, simply casting them out and reeling them back in, varying the retrieve speed and pausing occasionally. You can also fish them like bass jigs, casting the lure and letting it sink, giving it a good hard lift with the rod and reeling in the slack as it sinks again. This method is similar to the way you might fish a jig close to the bottom, only with more force. Each time you yank the lure upward, there is a rapid, nervous wiggle, and the long-distance sound transmissions are making your lure known to nearby crappie. Strikes often come just as the lure starts moving again after the fall.

It's good to bump vibrators through and over cover that typically holds spring crappie. Cast beyond stumps, brush, submerged weedbeds, shallow rockpiles or any other structure or cover that may harbor crappie, and start cranking. Slow to medium retrieves usually produce more fish, and bumping the lure into the cover or the bottom can trigger strikes. The stop-and-go retrieve is deadly on crappie, especially when you stop cranking for a few seconds immediately after the lure has bumped the cover.

Vertical jigging is a seldom-used but highly effective method for fishing lipless crankbaits. It's similar to the technique used with jigging spoons. This method can be deadly on early spring crappie suspended around deep ledges, weedlines, bridge pilings, sunken islands, bluffs and isolated brushpiles.

Position your boat directly over the target structure, then lower the lure until it hits the bottom. Engage your reel and take up slack. Then begin a delicate upward sweep of the rod tip to activate the bait's vibration. Move the rod tip as little as 12 inches or as much as 36 inches, experimenting as you fish to determine if crappie have a preference. Then slowly drop the rod tip, letting the lure free-fall back down. Maneuver your boat along or around the structure, jigging the lure this way.

A similar tactic is effective for fishing shallow sunken timber. Use a long jigging pole or fly rod to lower the lure near the structure - similar to a jig presentation - but give the lure considerably more action. Flicks of the wrist load a long rod, making the lure hop erratically. Watch your line carefully for any slackening or jerk that indicates a strike.

The vertical approach is an excellent way to search structure while trying to pinpoint crappie concentrations. Either drift with the breeze or use a trolling motor to work over an area. If your lure rises out of the fish zone because the drift is too fast, slow down by running the electric motor into the wind. When a crappie is hooked, drop a marker buoy to identify the spot.

Trolling over creek channels and other underwater structure is also an excellent way to fish lipless crankbaits, but you must be an active participant, varying the depth and speed of your lure and staying alert for weeds on your hooks. Toss the lure far out behind the boat and let it sink for several feet. Then engage your reel. Point the rod toward the back of the boat, then sweep it forward, parallel to the water, toward the front of the boat. Now quickly move the rod back to the rear position. This maneuver throws a couple of feet of slack in the line and allows the lure to fall straight down with no forward motion. As the boat moves and takes up slack in the line, allow the lure to troll normally for a few seconds, then sweep the rod forward again. Repeat until you hook a fish or pick up weeds.

During the pre-spawn period in early spring, crappie begin following creek channels and other sharp-edged bottom structure toward their spawning areas. Anglers searching for them must cover lots of water, and lipless crankbaits are great for this. Cast and retrieve them around staging areas like secondary creek channels, the outside bends of creeks and the juncture of two bottom channels. Creek channels circling humps or small ridges also can be key spots.

As water temperatures climb close to the magic mid-60s range, crappie move nearer and nearer to their spawning sites. Cast for them on shallow flats close to deep w

ater. Once spawning activity is under way, most anglers stop using lipless crankbaits, putting them away until crappie leave the beds and move back to deeper water. Nevertheless, lipless crankbaits remain effective throughout this season, especially where spawning beds are found in more open water.

Because lipless crankbaits are baitfish imitators, they're also very effective on schooling crappie feeding on young-of-the-year shad in late spring. Make long casts beyond surface-feeding schools and reel the lure back fast, on or very near the surface. When the crappie sound, let the crankbait sink and work it back with a pumping retrieve so it jumps and flutters through the school.

Another late spring tactic is working the lures over the tops of submerged weedbeds. If the vegetation is just a foot or two under the surface, many anglers use a floating vibrator on 10-pound-test line. Retrieve with your rod tip low, alternately reeling to draw the lure under the surface, then pausing so it floats back up. When the plants are deeper, use a sinking model and count it down to the top of the vegetation before starting it back. Ideally, the lure should just tick the top of the weedbed on your retrieve. If it moves too fast over the weeds without hitting any, it's not nearly as effective.

Versatility like this is what makes the tiny lipless crankbait one of the best of all crappie lures. Every crappie angler should learn the many ways to fish this extraordinary bait.

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