Anglers have raised the techniques of rippin’ and pullin’ to an art form in recent years. They‘ve expanded these techniques to diverse settings and to a wider spectrum of lure categories. When mastered, they can be used to trigger all species of fish throughout the open-water season.
In general, rippin’ refers to aggressively working lures both horizontally and vertically through the water column. Fish get only a limited opportunity to inspect the lure as it rockets away on the upward stroke of the rod and falls on a semi-slack line as the rod is lowered, prior to being ripped upward again in a rhythmic rise-and-fall cadence. This technique is so quick and deliberate that the strike is rarely felt. Instead, the weight of fish is merely detected on the next up-stroke.
Pullin’ is a toned down version of rippin’. The bait is allowed to fall to the desired depth to begin the retrieve and then pulled upward in a slightly less aggressive manner. In addition, a more deliberate effort is made to maintain constant contact with the lure throughout the retrieve than with rippin’. Any bait suitable for rippin’ can also be pulled, and both techniques should be tried until fish reveal their preference.
Bladebaits for Smallmouths
Bladebaits catch every species of fish that swims—smallmouth bass are one of the more exciting ones. Lure selection is influenced by water temperature and personal preference. My favorite early-season bladebaits are in the classic style of the Heddon Sonar, Silver Buddy, and RJ Lures Trigger Blade Baits. Each brand runs slightly differently. Sonars now are also available in a rattling version that can pay dividends for smallies feeding close to the bottom on crayfish and gobies. Silver Buddy blades run up to one ounce for deep-water applications, and RJ Lures Trigger Blades have holographic prism eyes and incredible color schemes. The wide wobble and erratic falling action of these larger baits make them effective for both cold- and warm-water applications.
Although aggressive by nature, when given the opportunity, smallmouths often take time to evaluate a lure. For this reason, a quick rip-fall, rip-fall retrieve often is best for fooling big bronzebacks. The idea is to play on their curious nature, while not letting them examine the lure at rest. I favor spinning reels like Abu Garcia’s Revo Premier, in the 40 size, since it picks up 30 inches of line per turn of the handle.
I start by allowing the lure to come to rest on the bottom at the end of a long cast. The first snap of the rod is an exaggerated stroke from the 9- to 12-o’clock position. The big reel picks up slack quickly and you can establish a quick cadence by sweeping the rod upward from 10 to 11 o’clock. Two or three quick turns of the reel handle collect slack line and the next wrist snap propels the blade 2 feet off bottom before it drops back.
As the water warms, other bladebaits can be ripped along ledges and the deep edges of rocky points with increased effectiveness. The Echotail by Vibrations Tackle is a banana-shaped lure with five line placement holes at the top of the bait and a built-in soft plastic keeper in its tail. The action and fall rate of the blade can be manipulated by these two features.
If the snap is attached to the front hole of the Echotail, its action is quick and tight. At the furthest back hole, the bait takes on a slow, wide, and more erratic action. In addition, depending on whether you add a tiny 1-inch grub or bulk up to a 3-inch curlytail on the back of the lure, its fall rate, profile, and action are dramatically altered.
When water temperatures dip below 40°F, pullin’ small compact bladebaits like the Johnson Thinfisher, Wolf Big Dude, and Cotton Cordell Gay Blade can be deadly for bottom-hugging smallies. For this less aggressive approach, gear needs to be altered to give fish a better look at the lure. I use a mainline of 8-pound-test Sufix Performance Braid or 6- to 10-pound-test Berkley Nanofil and a 3-to 6-foot leader of 10-pound-test fluoro. Thinner lines help maintain feel of the lure’s action and allow a faster fall rate.
Much like rippin’ larger blades, pullin’ compact bladebaits begins with a quick pop of the rod after the lure hits bottom at the end of a long cast. But instead of swift snaps of the rod with the wrist to get the lure charging upward, use your forearm to literally pull it one to two feet up. The action of the lure is precisely transmitted through the thin, no-stretch line into the handle of the rod. The quicker the pull, the faster the vibration. Next, lower the rod tip to maintain contact with the lure as it falls to the bottom. Give it a little hop with each pull of the rod. Don’t expect bone-jarring strikes in cold water and be ready to set the hook as soon as you lose feel of the lure’s vibration.
Lipless Baits for Pike
While Rapala’s Rippin’ Rap was the original rippin’ lure, this category now contains dozens more options. These lures gained initial popularity as powerhouses for rippin’ and pullin’ walleyes and smallmouth bass. But they’re equally effective for pike in both cold- and warm-water settings.
As a coldwater species, pike readily chase down speedy baits even in the coldest water. The quick ripping action of a hard vibrating lure often is too much for them to resist. On many occasions, we’ve seen how lipless baits score big on early-season pike, even when fish refuse other offerings.
We were recently on a rippin’ mission for prespawn walleyes on the Great Lakes. Water temps were still in the mid-30°F range and walleyes hadn’t yet moved in from the lake basin. Rough conditions kept us in a protected channel and pike became our backup species. With one angler working a jerkbait along the flat, a second swimming a 5-inch swimbait along the edge, a third twitching a deep-diving crankbait, and a fourth rippin’ a lipless crankbait in the main channel, the rippin’ bait caught eight pike in a row to start the day, including a 40-inch plus trophy. Nothing else got a sniff. Soon we all were rippin’.
Top choices for rippin’ include Bill Lewis’ Vibra Trap, Rapala Rippin’ Rap #7, Booyah Hard Knocker, Sebile Flatt Shad, Yellow Bird VIB75, and Yo-Zuri Rattl’n Vibe. To effectively work these lures in the 3/4-ounce range, use a baitcast reel spooled with 30-pound-test braid and a medium-power 7-foot rod. The rod should have a fast tip to effortlessly work lures in a quick and deliberate rise-and-fall motion. Both the Abu Garcia Villain 2.0 (model 705) and St. Croix Avid X (S70MF) do nicely. Slower action rods fail to impart the necessary snap to the lure between rips. I favor Abu Garcia’s Revo Beast reel for its quick retrieve and cranking power.
When lakes warm in summer, big pike move deep and become easy targets along outside weededges. In this scenario, a hybrid form of pullin’ lipless baits with an electric trolling motor can lead to huge catches. Prime baits include the 3/4-ounce Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap, Booyah Hard Knocker, Sebile Vibe Machine, and Lucky Craft LVR-D15. Start by making a medium-length cast behind the boat with the trolling motor moving the boat forward at about .3 to .5 mph. Pull the rod forward from the 9 o’clock to the 12 o’clock position, then drop the rod back toward the bait with the forward momentum of the boat. Occasionally make contact with vegetation to ensure that you’re in the correct depth zone for summertime pike. Use a 12-inch wire leader to prevent against bite-offs. Most pike rush the lure and hit on the drop. Big largemouth bass are also susceptible to this approach and aren’t wary of a leader.
Spoons for Salmon and Trout
Spoons are nearly as versatile as jigs and can be fished in countless ways, including rippin’ and pullin’ for walleyes, bass, pike, stripers, panfish, and Great Lakes’ salmon and trout.
From mid-summer to early fall, salmon and trout move onshore to necked-down areas, like harbor entrances and rivermouths. Here they gorge on alewives and other baitfish. In this situation, a well-ripped spoon can be fished more efficiently than a spoon trolled at a constant speed and depth. The process begins with using down- and side-imaging sonar to locate pods of baitfish with large predatory arcs beneath them.
Casting spoons like Acme Little Cleos, Luhr Jenson Krocodiles, and Blue Fox Pixees have been serving up Great Lakes salmon for decades. while compact, fast-sinking spoons like Mr. Champs, Hopkins, and Swedish Pimples reign supreme for trout. The key is to count spoons down to the desired depth. With an aggressive rippin’ technique, make the spoon dart up into the baitfish school, then flutter several feet below the baitfish on the fall. A long rod is helpful to create this drastic rippin’ motion. I recommend a rod such as the 9½-foot Fenwick HMX model S962M or St. Croix’s Avid S96MHF2.
Salmon and trout nearly always hit on the fall so a hi-vis line helps detect strikes. But since they have exceptional sight, an ideal solution is Trilene Tracer Braid. This line alternates between hi-vis and low-vis color every 2½ feet. Add a 10-foot leader of 15-pound Trilene Professional Grade 100% Fluorocarbon and even the wariest of trout can be fooled by a spoon. Try both rippin’ and pullin’ to check their level of aggression.
Swimbaits for Walleyes
Rippin’ and pullin’ swimbaits takes jumbo walleyes from spring into winter. Experiment with these baits in the 5- to 7-inch range. In early spring, rip 5-inch swimbaits across flats adjacent to main river channels where prespawn fish lurk. These baits also excel when fished after dark in washout holes below dams with a pullin’ technique.
During mid-summer, swimbaits trigger big-water trophy walleyes like few other baits and techniques. Favorites in this category include the Biwaa Divinator S Cranking Shad, Berkley PowerBait Rib Shad, and Kalin’s Sizmic Grub and Shad. Rig them on an a jighead in the 3/8- to 1-ounce range, depending on the water depth and wind. Kalin’s offers five styles that work, depending on the size and shape of the swimbait, with hooks from 1/0 to 8/0. Hybrid baits like the Biwaa Divinator S Cranking Shad, with the lead weight molded into the body and with a tail spinner, are poised to break new ground in the rippin’ and pullin’ scene this season.
Fish these lures where baitfish are concentrated near cover, points, ledges, and saddle areas. Wind helps draw baitfish and big walleyes into these areas. Heavy jigheads enable long casts and provide better contact with the lure between each pull or rip of the bait. Cast onto the shallow side of a structure, then walk the jig down the edge with a pull-and-drop retrieve. Don’t jig or swim the lure. The pull of the rod should be quick and deliberate to get the paddletails or blades on these baits moving fast, then falling back on a tight line. Hits can come anywhere along the rise or fall of the bait, and some fish pin the bait against the bottom on the fall.
Lines like Berkley Nanofil and Sufix NanoBraid in the 10- to 14-pound range increase sensitivity and improve hook-sets. The pullin’ technique works in less than 10 feet of water with a 3/8-ounce jig or down to 30 feet with a 1-ounce head.
Rippin’ and pullin’ are exhilarating techniques that every serious angler should master. They may test your stamina, but no matter where, when, and what you fish for, these techniques consistently produce big fish. ■
In-Fisherman Field Editor Steve Ryan, Des Plaines, Illinois, plies the waters of North America and beyond, seeking angling adventures.