Lipless crankbaits are extremely versatile for bass fishing. Without changing lures, you can jig over deep-water humps, count down to bass suspended by bridge pilings or buzz across the top of a weedbed. Best of all is the simplicity of these popular lures. Anyone can fish with them and expect to hook some lunkers.
Lipless crankbaits go by a variety of names, including slab plugs, vibrators, rattlers, rattlebaits and sonics. They’ve been around in one form or another since about 1912 when a sonic plug called the Diamond Wiggler was being sold.
In 1928, designer Fred Nichols was hand-carving similar lures from cedar. Pico Lures in San Antonio sold them in the 1930s and ‘40s after changing the lure to get rid of the tail, which had a tendency to snap off. Lack of a tail didn’t affect the lure’s fish-catching ability, however, and anglers throughout the country began casting them for largemouths, smallmouths, spotted bass, northern pike, walleyes, white bass and stripers.
Whopper Stopper’s Bayou Boogie came along in 1950 and Heddon’s Sonic in 1952. The Cordell Hot Spot burst onto the scene in the early 1960s and was followed some 10 years later by the Rat-L-Trap.
Today, more than a dozen companies manufacture lipless crankbaits. At the head of the pack is Bill Lewis Lures of Alexandria, Louisiana, maker of the famous Rat-L-Trap. This wasn’t the first such lure, as you’ve read. But Lewis’ lure is so well-known, its name is almost synonymous with lipless crankbaits, just like “Xerox” is synonymous with copy machines and “Kleenex” with tissues. Anglers everywhere refer to lipless crankbaits as Rat-L-Traps or “‘Traps.”
Lipless crankbaits come in floating and sinking models, and in sizes ranging from tiny (1/10 ounce) to large (over 1 ounce). Each has a line-tie eye on the back, which makes the lure run with its head angled down. Water pressure on the flat forehead produces a convulsive shimmy that resembles a small baitfish zipping through the water. Bass find this action irresistible. Most models contain rattles that clack against the vibrating bait’s sides as it’s retrieved, giving the added enticement of sound.
To improve your chances of catching bass with lipless crankbaits, here are 18 tips to try this season.
- For the best action, attach lipless crankbaits to your line using loop knots, never with snap swivels or heavy leaders. There are plenty of online resources where you can learn to tie loop knots if you don’t already know how.
- Use a soft-tipped rod to better feel the throbbing vibration of the lure in the tip, and therefore calibrate your retrieve speed to get the heaviest vibration and loudest rattle possible.
- Use light lines (4- to 8-pound-test) for the smallest lipless crankbaits (less than 1/4 ounce), 10- to 12-pound-test line for 1/4-ounce lures, 12- to 15-pound for 1/2-ounce models, and up to 20 for 3/4- to 1-ounce versions.
- Lipless crankbaits are among the easiest lures for jumping bass to throw loose. Fight fish gingerly on a loose drag, and try to avoid making the fish jump.
- Small hooks on some lipless crankbaits cause lost fish. If necessary, change to a larger hook size to overcome this problem.
- When fishing debris-strewn bottoms, clip off one or both of the downward-turned trebles on the hooks. You’ll still hook plenty of fish but avoid many snags.
- Try to match the size of the lure to the size of the baitfish bass are eating. In late winter and early spring, larger lures often work better because small, young-of-the-year baitfish are not available. Switch to smaller lures in summer after baitfish spawn.
- Thousands of bass are caught with these lures by simply casting past their holding positions and quickly cranking the lure back. Lipless crankbaits are great lures for children just learning to bass fish.
- As a rule of thumb, increase lure speed in clear water, especially where there is heavy fishing pressure, and reduce lure speed in dingy water, at night or under low-light conditions.
- You can comb broad areas with a lipless crankbait to find active biters. The narrow body has little wind or water resistance, allowing long-distance casts and rapid retrieves. A speedy retrieve optimizes the visual and acoustical attraction of the lure and allows fast coverage of large areas.
- In some situations, the best retrieve is one similar to that used when fishing a plastic grub. Cast the lure, let it sink, then lift hard with the rod, reeling in slack as it sinks again. Each time you yank upward, there is a rapid wiggle, and the long-distance sound transmissions make your lure known to nearby bass.
- Vertical jigging is deadly on bass suspended around structure such as bluffs, bridge pilings and sunken islands. Position your boat over the target structure, then lower the lure to the bottom. Engage your reel and take up slack. Jerk the lure off the bottom two to three feet, and let it free-fall. Maneuver your boat along structure, jigging the lure this way.
- Use lipless crankbaits to catch schooling summer bass feeding on shad. Make long casts beyond surface-feeding schools and retrieve the lure fast near the surface. When bass sound, let the crankbait sink and work it back with a pumping retrieve so it jumps through the school.
- Trolling over creek channels and other underwater structure is another excellent way to fish lipless crankbaits. Toss the lure far out behind the boat and let it sink free-spooled for several feet. Then lock on the anti-reverse. Move slowly in a zig-zag pattern over bass structure, using an electric motor or drifting in the wind.
- When bass are suspended at 9-10 foot depths, you can usually pinpoint them by trolling a 1/2-ounce lipless crankbait 120 feet behind the boat with 12-pound line. If you go to heavier line, subtract a foot for every pound test you move up to. If you troll with line lighter than 12-pound-test, add a foot of depth for every pound test you drop in line size. Troll at approximately 3 m.p.h.
- Try the sweep-and-drop trolling tactic. Point the rod toward the back of the boat, then sweep it forward, parallel to the water. Now quickly move the rod back to the rear position. This maneuver throws slack in the line and allows the lure to fall with no forward motion. As the boat moves and takes up slack in the line, allow the lure to troll normally a few seconds, then sweep the rod forward again.
- When bass are stalking prey in dark tunnels beneath thick weeds, a rattling lipless crankbait worked along the edge can draw them out. When fish are feeding on outer edges of cover, however, lures such as spinnerbaits usually work better.
- Remember that versatility is what makes the lipless crankbait one of the best of all bass lures. Experiment with various retrieves. Learn the many ways to fish this extraordinary lure.