|The Lipless Crankbait my #1 go-to bait in the early spring. I wouldn’t leave home without one. Check that – I wouldn’t leave home without a tackle box full of them.
Nothing catches big bass for me in the early spring quite like a lipless crankbait. Perhaps it’s the tight wiggle or the extra fast retrieve speeds; and maybe it’s the combination of the two. I don’t know what it is for sure, but something really gets big bronzebacks and lunker largemouths turned on to these lures while water temperatures are below 55 degrees. In fact, these crazy looking cranks seem just as effective when the water is still in the 40’s! Why this lure is so effective in cold water is somewhat a mystery, but I will try to reveal the secrets of this lure inside this article.
First on the agenda is to recognize what exactly a lipless crankbait is.You’ve all seen one or two or three or four of them. In fact, you probably already own some. Popular lures such as the RatLTrap, Hotspot, Sugar Shad, Rattlin’ Rap, Bayou Boogie, PT Rattler, and Pico Perch are just some of the examples of what the crankbait industry calls a lipless crankbait. The tell-taled featured is no diving lip, a la the term lipless, and a teardrop shaped, baitfish-like body configuration.Lipless crankbaits typically have a line tie positioned somewhere on the top of the lure. This line tie positioning provides the lipless crankbait with its tight vibrating action. Another signature feature of a lipless crank is — generally they sink.
The more classic crankbait is the floating/diver which features a relatively buoyant body and a diving bill that imparts some built-in natural action, the lipless crankbait has a slim overhead profile, no buoyancy and no diving bill. The action on the lipless crankbait is much, much tighter. These lures barely have any side-to-side wobble at all, but they have this intense tight vibrating action that accentuates with speed. The additional flash that’s created by the large flat sides vibrating back and forth at high speeds is also worth noting. Few lures match the flash of lipless crank.
Lipless cranks don’t generate the additional pull or drag that a diving bill style crankbait does when retrieved faster. Therefore lipless crankbaits can be cranked at very high rates of speed. The tremendous vibration and flash generated with these lures on fast retrieve speeds, triggers reflex strikes from gamefish that might otherwise totally ignore floating divers. The lack of drag is truly one of the lure’s biggest assets.
Lipless crankbaits are, of course, most famous as bass lures, and they readily catch both smallmouth, spotted and largemouth with equal flair. I’ll be the first to admit that boatloads of bass have also fallen to various lipless crankbaits for me during all seasons – not just in the spring. I could recite hundreds of success stories with big bass and lipless cranks. I’ve taken big bass on them from the northern reaches of Ontario to the southern tip of Florida.
As a tournament bait, I’d argue that the lipless crank has no equal. They are essentially speed lures, which makes them a perfect tournament bait for scouring water at a rapid-fire pace. At the same time, the lipless crankbait is highly attractive to all sizes of bass. If any class of bass is present, a few are bound to blast one of these “hi-vibe” gems as they scoot by. If you fish tournaments, and are not utilizing the lipless in your arsenal, I’m certain you are missing some opportunities. In fact, the best tournament bass angler in the last decade, Kevin Van Dam, is a devote lipless crank fan. Need I say more.
Oddly enough, really big bass seem to love this lure too even though it is essentially a high speed bait. It is often assumed that large bass prefer slower presentations, yet the high speed approach with a lipless crankbait defies this theory completely. The daily big bass awards on any given tournament fall with amazing regularity to pros speed fishing lipless crankbaits. This includes monster smallmouths of 6 pounds or more and largemouths exceeding 10 pounds. Annually, I will take several bronzebacks over 6 pounds on a lipless, and surely as many largemouths over 8 pounds on my southern trips during the winter months. The lipless crankbait is simply a big bass catchin’ machine.
The best tackle for working a lipless crankbait is baitcasting gear. This is one case where a high speed gear ratio is a real asset. Lipless crankbaits create almost no drag on a reel no matter how fast they’re retrieved. Lipless crankbaits also work better and trigger far more fish when cranked ultra quick. These assets make them perfect for high speed baitcasters featuring a gear ratio of at least 5 to 1. In fact, some of those super fast reels at 6 to 1 are great choices for lipless crankbaits.
An extra long, soft action rod is also preferred for lipless cranks. One of the biggest drawbacks to this lure is that it has a tendency to shake loose when fish jump to throw it. Perhaps the shape of this lure combined with its heavier than average weight makes it more susceptible to shake-free. The extra long 7 1/2 foot medium fast to medium action rod simply has more overall bend, and it exerts a more even pressure on the fish. This diminishes lure shake in the fish’s mouth, and thus reduces overall losses.
As far as line goes, lipless crankbaits seem to perform best with heavier gauge super braid lines in the 12 to 20 pound range. I’d even go heavier than this with some of the larger magnum versions; especially when fishing in woody cover for big fish. Casting and crankin’ lipless cranks is an aggressive “smash mouth” kind of presentation. There is absolutely no finesse in this kind of fishing at all. You need a line that will stand up to hours of casting and crankin’. Lines less than 12 pound test simply won’t give you this option, and they offer no advantages. Stick with heavier lines whenever fishing this kind of bait.
Various retrieves will work with a lipless crank depending upon the conditions at the time. Always experiment. Arguably, most anglers do extremely well with a simple cast and crank retrieve. There’s no science or secret here. Just cast it out as far as you can, and by the way these lures do cast really far, and then just wind as fast as you can. This simple system has made the lipless crankbait famous as a fish catcher with all anglers.
I frequently work a lipless crankbait with a rip and drop retrieve; particularly when I want to stay close to the bottom. This really seems to turn on fish holding a bit deeper that don’t want to run down the standard steady fast retrieve. All I do here is cast the lure out, let it sink all the way to the bottom, and then just sweep the rod tip to the side or upwards while picking up the slack line and allowing the lure to sink back towards the bottom. The sweep should be hard in order to really initiate a super fast, super tight vibration. Follow this up by allowing the lure to free fall while you pick up slack line. You’ll find that fish hammer the bait when it’s worked in this manner. Quite often the entire lure is engulfed during the drop portion of the retrieve.
Another killer cold water trick is to cast the lipless crank out, let it sink all the way to the bottom, and then initiate a slow somewhat steady s l o w retrieve. Keep your crank speed just fast enough to keep a good vibration on the lure and maintain fairly close bottom contact. I have really caught a lot of big smallies with this method. This trick is particularly deadly when the water is in the 40’s.
Grassbeds and weedy flats can also be fished effectively with a lipless crank. The key here is to retrieve the lure just fast enough to keep it mere inches above the grass or weed tops. Anytime the crankbait catches grass or weeds, it should be sharply ripped in an effort to clean it. This collision with weed tops and the subsequent ripping action, makes fish literally explode on the bait. I’d venture to guess that experienced anglers fish a lipless crankbait this way more than any other method. One of my biggest largemouths came last year on this exact technique.
All in all, the lipless crankbait is one fish catchin’ son of a gun. You really can’t fish this bait incorrectly. Simply casting it out and just reeling it in – is going to catch plenty of fish no matter what the species. Add a pump and drop to this bait and it becomes even more effective at times. Cast it out, let it sink to the bottom, then lift and drop it, and you’ve got one heck of a deep water cranker. Like I said, you really can’t fish this bait incorrectly. It is my #1 go-to bait in the early spring. I wouldn’t leave home without one. Check that – I wouldn’t leave home without a tackle box full of them.
Joe Bucher is the Editor Emeritus for Musky Hunter Magazine and one the most highly recognized multi-species fishing and hunting authorities in the outdoor business trade. Joe is the host of Fishing with Joe Bucher TV show which has been on the air for over 20 years. For more information on Joe please visit his website at www.joebucher.com