February 28, 2022
Consider these bass-fishing questions:
- What’s a lure that has been around for decades but still catches bass like it’s new?
- What’s the most ubiquitous hard lure in bass-fishing history, yet is one few anglers get the most out of?
- What lure can be so easy to use that even a beginner can fish it well?
- What lure is effective shallow or deep, fast or slow?
- What lure offers different applications on monofilament versus fluorocarbon versus braided lines?
- What lure both casts like a bullet and can be fished vertically?
The answer to all of these, of course, is the lipless crankbait. And while it’s a safe bet you have one in your tackle box, it’s even more likely you have 10 or 20.
All lipless crankbaits have four things in common:
- They sink (though there are floating versions).
- They vibrate when you crank them.
- They have internal noisemakers.
- They catch fish.
These baits work year-round and under a wide range of conditions because they’re versatile—more versatile than most anglers realize. And they catch bass in late in the winter even though few anglers are fishing them. Lots of your fellow bassers think it’s too cold to throw a rattle bait. Don’t think like them.
Late winter can be an unpredictable. It can be unseasonably warm, unreasonably cold or anywhere in between. No matter the conditions you face, the lipless crankbait offers an option so strong you should always have one tied on.
Here are three prime scenarios for using a lipless crankbait to catch bass in the later winter and early spring:
SCENARIO 1: ON THE BLUFFS
If you’re fishing a deep, clear, rocky highland impoundment, it’s likely that water temperatures are low and the bass are hugging bluff walls. These structures are attractive because the bass can easily move up to warm in the midday sun, move down to sulk when it’s extra cold or move around the bluff to follow bait.
For these fish, your lipless crankbait can shine in two ways. First, you can make long casts along the bluff wall and count the lure down to the bass. Most lipless cranks sink at a rate of 1 1/2 to 2 feet per second.
Generally, you want to retrieve your lure just fast enough to keep it in or slightly above the fish. If the bass respond, you’re in business. If they don’t, maybe it’s moving too fast for their metabolism. Try going vertical.
Position your boat directly over the bass, being careful not to cast a shadow over them that could spook them. Then, drop your lure to a depth just above the fish and yo-yo it.
Alternatively, you can bounce the bait down the bluff face, hopping it along as it falls. Watching the vibrating, rattling plug yo-yo up and down or bang along is often more than the bass can stand. Just be sure not to let the plug fall below the fish; you won’t get any strikes there.
For this approach, use 10- to 12-pound-test fluorocarbon. In these scenarios there’s typically little cover to contend with, and fluoro’s near invisibility is an asset in clear water. Lipless crankbaits ranging from 1/2 to 3/4 ounce are typically best.
SCENARIO 2: IN THE GRASS
At the other extreme of early in the year bassin’ is the possibility that the fish are in submerged vegetation on flats near a drop-off. It’s a common scenario in the Deep South, as the water’s warming and the bass are moving toward their spawning grounds.
This is a perfect time to tie a 1/4- to 1/2-ounce lipless crankbait onto 14- or 15-pound-test monofilament and start making long casts that cover a lot of water. Experiment with your retrieve speed until you feel the bait just ticking the tops of the hydrilla or other vegetation.
If the lure occasionally gets hung up, that’s even better. Snatch it out of the weeds with a forceful pull and then tense for the bite. When the lure slingshots out of the cover, it often spurs a reaction strike from nearby bass. Monofilament is ideal here because it has a lot of stretch. Nothing creates that high-speed slingshot effect quite like old-school mono.
But, if the cover’s really thick and you can’t pull your bait free with the monofilament, switch to 30-pound braid. You won’t get quite the slingshot effect, but you’ll reclaim your bait more easily.
SCENARIO 3: ON THE POINTS
If you don’t have bluffs or grass—or if you didn’t find bass there—it’s time to move to a main-lake point. These structures are just about the closest you can get to a sure thing when trying to establish the right depth. Use your electronics to find the “spot on the spot.”
That may be a big rock or brush pile on the poin or perhaps it’s the sharpest drop-off on the side of the point. In any case, that’s a strong place to start. Pick a lipless crankbait that suits the depth (heavier in deep water and lighter in shallow water) and make a long cast across the point so your bait contacts the target.
Here’s where a lift-and-drop retrieve will pay dividends. Use 30-pound braid to maximize your sensitivity, and expect the bite to come as the bait falls. If there’s a lot of rocky cover that could fray the braid, you may need to switch to 15-pound fluorocarbon, but nothing beats the sensitivity of braid.
If the lift-and-drop doesn’t pay off, try crawling the bait across the point, causing it to bump into any cover. Sometimes bass will strike so hard you’ll need to tighten the grip on your rod. Other times, you won’t feel a thing, but the lure will start to move to one side.
Ultimately, it’s difficult to fish a lipless crankbait incorrectly, but if you give these patterns and retrieves a try, you’re guaranteed to be fishing them correctly and in the right places.