Lipless Cranks And Bladebaits For Walleyes
May 14, 2013
To finesse oriented walleye anglers, lipless rattling crankbaits and blade baits for walleyes may seem counter-intuitive. After all, these are loud baits — lures that create vibration deep into the rod handle and can be heard boatside from 15 feet down. But doubt not, these thumping, hard rocking lures are hit tickets among walleye aces.
Lipless cranks and bladebaits for walleyes have earned a permanent spot in most tackle boxes as search lures for aggressive walleyes. Recent remasterings in their design and function have added a new level of versatility and appeal. This point became more evident to me last year while fishing with walleye aficionado Dave King of northern Illinois.
Our first outing of the season was in early spring targeting postspawn walleyes on Lake Michigan with bladebaits and lipless cranks. Results were impressive and continued throughout the year. We capped off the season in late December on an inland lake and crushed walleyes on the same lures. Typical headliners, like jigs, soft plastics, or livebait, never took the stage during these outings.
Offering an insider's perspective on these lures, King is a crankbait junkie. Put a crankbait outfit in his hands and he lights up. Spend time on the water with him and you discover there are times and places for almost every brand of lipless crankbait on the market. His favorite is Rapala's Rippin' Rap.
"Having fished lipless cranks for 20-plus years and caught more walleyes on this style of bait than any other, the Rippin' Rap has quickly become my favorite," he says. "Walleyes have a definite liking for Rippin' Raps."
The Rippin' Rap offers a slightly more compact and higher body profile than other lipless baits. The lure's etched sides reflect a lot of light and flash color on both the descent and upswing. It also falls quickly into the strike zone and makes more noise than an 80s hair band.
"The Rippin' Rap is like no other bait I've used," King says. "It's versatile. I like other go-to rattlers like the original Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap, Yo-Zuri Rattl'n Vibe, and Strike King Red Eye Shad, for specific applications. But I'm confident fishing the Rattlin' Rap in almost any application, including casting and yo-yoing it mid water column, jigging within inches of the bottom, burning it over the top of weeds and rocks, vertically jigging it, and more. My favorite way to catch deep-water walleyes on this lure is rippin'. The technique isn't difficult and requires just a little practice to establish an effective cadence."
Since lipless crankbaits offer an active approach for finding and catching walleyes, start by making a moderately long cast. Let the lure sink on a semi-tight line. When the lure hits bottom, start ripping it off the bottom. Snap the rod tip from the 10 o'clock position to slightly more than 11 o'clock. Follow it back to the bottom on the fall, and repeat the process to the boat.
"I like quick, controlled snaps where you feel the lure coming off the bottom and then shimmering back on the fall," he says. "I figure 70 percent of the bites come just as the lure hits bottom. In this case, on your next rip, the fish is there and the hook-set is solid and instantaneous. The other 30 percent of hits come as the lure is falling." These bites can be more difficult to detect and require more concentration to feel and react to.
No-stretch superlines aid bite detection. King's line preference is Sufix 832 braid in 10-pound test (2-pound diameter), with a 4-foot leader of 10-pound-test fluorocarbon. The fluorocarbon adds stealth and abrasion resistance when fishing around rocks. A medium-power fast-action rod delivers the proper action to the lure and allows for solid hook-sets at longer distances.
Match lure size to the presentation and depth of water being fished. The 1/2-ounce Rippin' Rap excels in water less than 15 feet deep and for vertically jigging most depths. When casting in depths over 20 feet, the 7/8-ouncer offers a faster sink rate and provides better feel and bottom contact. Other options include the XCalibur Xr75 and Xr1 and Lucky Craft Lipless Vibrator LVR D-10 and D-15, in 3/4- and 1-ounce sizes.
After mastering the retrieve and gaining confidence with lipless cranks, get creative and establish patterns that work in specific settings and with particular lures. Baits such as the LiveTarget Golden Shiner have a slightly slower sink rate. This makes them great for targeting suspended walleyes. The action emulates a dying shiner or shad as it sinks.
The technique for working the Golden Shiner is similar to that used with the Rippin' Rap, but the focus isn't on making bottom contact. Rather, count the lure down to where suspended walleyes show on sonar. Use a slightly slower and higher lift-and-drop motion with the rod to get the lure to jump 3 to 4 feet in the water column. Allow it to settle back on a semi-tight line, when most strikes occur.
When lure noise becomes excessive, go rattleless. The idea is to capitalize on fish that might be conditioned to noisy baits or in a neutral mood. Lures like Strike King's 1/2-ounce Red Eye Shad are offered without rattles, and Rapala offers a 1/2-ounce Rippin' Rap in a silent version exclusively through Bass Pro Shops.
For quiet 3/4-ouncers, turn to Lucky Craft's LV-300S and Sebile's Flatt Shad. These rattleless lures sometimes excel in clear, shallow water. The Flatt Shad's wider body displaces more water creating strong vibrations that appeal to walleyes' lateral line sense. The wider shape also makes it more weed resistant so it's more effective for working weedflats. Cast up onto the flat. Count it down to the top of the grass. Begin a slow steady retrieve or yo-yo the lure into openings in the vegetation. When it contacts weeds, a quick snap of the rod rips it free. Walleye rise up through weedpockets to strike.
The vibration and flash of bladebaits play to a walleye's lateral-line and vision senses. Even when fish are in a neutral mood, the tight rapid movement of bladebaits draws strikes. Strikes are harder on these lures than most others. Fish seem to inhale them with the intent to kill as opposed to just biting.
Bladebaits distinguish themselves from lipless cranks in fast current. This makes bladebaits a good choice for slip-drifting. As rivers swell with spring runoff and after summer thunderstorms, current accelerates, and maintaining bottom contact becomes difficult with other types of lures. The razor-thin profile of bladebaits makes them more hydrodynamic.
The standard bladebait technique — keeping the lure 6 to 18 inches off the bottom and using a simple lift-drop — catches plenty of fish. But proper lure selection for various situations increases your catch. The list of bladebait styles and designs has exploded in recent years. Popular ones include the Heddon Sonar and B Fish N Tackle's B3 Blade. Wolf's Big Dude offers a more rounded and compact design, while Johnson's Thinfisher brings a miniature profile and sonic sound chamber. The elongated SteelShad is easily bent to run left or right, imitating a sickly baitfish. Vibrations Tackle's Echotail adds more tie-off holes and incorporates tail options, while the Sebile Vibrato has a unique blade design. Exploring the right time and place to use each lure is where the fun begins.
The Heddon Sonar design is among the most effective blade styles for fishing tailraces. It not only casts like a bullet to reach far-away current seams, but its broader body profile catches just enough current to carry it downstream several feet between each upward sweep of the rod. As it flutters on the fall, detecting strikes in fast current can be difficult. For this reason, and due to the frequency of snagging when casting and retrieving cross-current, braided line helps in both feeling strikes and freeing snagged lures.
For slip-drifting, multispecies fishing guide Steve Everetts has developed a remarkably effective bladebait system that works on big and small waters. "My bladebaits of choice are the 1/2-ounce Big Dude and the Echotail with a curl tail on the back," he says. "These styles have the most vibration and action both in current and non-current conditions. "I keep the lure tight to the bottom and pop it with 6- to 12-inch snaps of the rod. About two years ago, I switched from 10-pound test mono to 8-pound test Sufix 832 braid for fishing Big Dudes. I also changed from a 6-foot 6-inch medium-power jigging rod to a St. Croix 7-foot Avid ultralight rod. I did this to enjoy big fish on an ultralight outfit, but my catch rate also increased two- to three-fold."
Everetts surmises that snapjigging with the ultralight rod changes lure action. The lure springs off the rod with a more fluid action instead of an abrupt start-and-stop motion. The use of no-stretch line compensates for the extra flex in the rod and increases hooking percentage.
"The softer rod keeps you from pulling the hooks out of the fish's mouth, especially big fish in fast current," he says. "I've also switched to a similar setup when fishing lakes and non-current areas. I scale up slightly on the rod to a 7-foot medium-light St. Croix Legend Tournament Riggin' rod with 10-pound Sufix 832 and a 3-foot leader of 10-pound-test Silver Thread Fluorocarbon. The added power of this rod allows more accurate casts and greater hook-setting power when casting and retrieving blades."
In lakes, Everetts turns to Vibrations Tackle's Echotail. With five line placement holes on the top of this crescent shaped bladebait, and a tail attachment on the rear of the lure, it takes on a different look and action depending on line placement and tail selection. Like lipless crankbaits, bladebaits like the Echotail can be used for searching and can be fished anywhere in the water column.
Attach the line with a snap to the forward holes of the Echotail for a slower action (even at a faster retrieve speed) when fishing for suspended walleyes. When more thump and vibration is desired, place the snap in one of the lure's rear holes. Bulk up the plastic for a slower fall rate, or vice versa. Add a Berkley PowerBait or Uncle Josh Meat trailer to the Echotail for a scent option previously unavailable in bladebaits. "Don't be afraid to let the Echotail or other bladebaits rest on the bottom for a second or two between a series of hops or rips," Everetts says. "It isn't uncommon for walleyes to suck it off the bottom, especially when a scented tail is added."
Under cold-front or high-pressure conditions, downsizing to the diminutive Johnson Thinfisher can be the ticket for finicky walleyes. The Thinfisher is less than 2 inches long and weighs just 1/4 ounce. It has an ultra-high vibration rate and a sound chamber to trigger negative-minded walleyes. The Thinfisher and other small bladebaits are great for vertical jigging. Let the lure pound the bottom on each fall. A small puff of sediment or sand kicks up with each bottom contact. Curious walleyes are drawn to the commotion.
The Sebile Vibrato is a hybrid between a jigging spoon and a bladebait. With the line attachment centered on the top of this elongated lure, and a treble hook on each end, the Vibrato vibrates on the rise and on the fall. The action is unlike any other bait. It fishes well at slow speeds and stands out when fishing through suspended schools of baitfish. Walleyes hammer this crippled minnow imitator on the fall.
Whether you're looking to make lots of noise or silently catch a limit, lipless cranks and bladebaits trigger strikes when walleyes turn a deaf ear to other lures. Together they offer a concert of sound, flash, vibration, and even scent. By adding rippin' and rockin' lures to your playlist, the walleye blues are a thing of the past.
*In-Fisherman Field Editor Steve Ryan lives in Des Plains, Illinois. He contributes on a variety of topics and fish species.