January 11, 2018
Some lipless crankbaits shake and rattle when hopped off the bottom or retrieved at a steady pace. Others knock or remain silent on the retrieve and one even floats on the surface.
Once considered a top springtime choice for retrieving over and through vegetation, the lipless crankbait has become a lure for all seasons. "A rattlebait is more of a multi-seasonal bait than most anglers believe," says Bassmaster Elite angler Jared Lintner. "They can be effective in many situations. You can yoyo it, hop it, rip it, and bang it into cover, as well as retrieve it steadily at various depths. It's one of my favorite search lures."
Lure manufacturers have contributed to the versatility of the lipless crankbait by offering an array of styles, shapes, sizes, sound systems, and colors. But as with other lure categories, variety can make proper lure selection more challenging, considering the diverse waterways we fish.
The success of the iconic Bill Lewis Rat-L-Trap has led the company to greatly expand available options, including a Knock-N-Trap, Float-N-Trap, and Stealth Trap, in addition to the special color selections in the Supernatural Super-Nova, Chrome, Lectric Shad, Naturals, and Zombie Shad series. Moreover, "Traps" are available in six sizes from 1/8- to 1½-ounce.
Louisiana pro Cliff Crochet's first choice for most applications is 1/2-ounce Original Rat-L-Trap. If bass are in water less than two feet deep, he switches to a 1/4-ounce model to keep the lure off bottom. He favors a Stealth Trap (a vibrating model without rattles) for fishing in clear water and on waters receiving heavy fishing pressure.
The Knock-N-Trap delivers a low-frequency knocking pitch that Crochet wants as a change-of-pace lure. "I use that one when I've caught fish on one of the other Rat-L-Trap models, but the bite has slowed. At times, it seems they get conditioned to certain sounds, making those lures less effective," Crochet says. He reaches for the Float-N-Trap in clear-water situations when bass are suspended above submerged vegetation. "This lure offers the same vibration and sound, but stays up on top instead of four to six feet deep," he says.
Veteran Florida pro Bernie Schultz has relied on Rapala's Rattlin' Rap for his lipless crankbait tactics since it was released over 20 years ago, but now opts for the Rapala Rippin' Rap and Clackin' Rap in certain situations. When he targets bigger bass or fishes deeper water, Schultz selects the larger #7 (2¾-inch) Rippin' Rap, but he favors the medium size (2½-inch) most of the time. "That #6 is a good bite-size bait," he says. "It's hard for bass to pass up, so I catch a lot of fish on that one."
The Rippin' Rap generates a hard vibration with a distinctive BB rattling sound while the Clackin' Rap has a round metal slug as its sound chamber, which produces a loud, steady clacking sound. "I consider the "Clackin' Rap for power-fishing," Schultz says. "I fish it when louder sounds are effective, such as in dingy water or around thick vegetation, or else when probing deep reservoir ledges."
Designed by Bassmaster Elite pro Brandon Palaniuk, Storm Lures' Arashi Rattling Vibe can be retrieved at a slow pace and still generate a subtle vibration and soft knocking rattle to garner strikes during tough conditions, when many anglers rely on softbaits like flukes and stickworms. Yet it covers a lot more water. One of the Vibe's key features is its self-tuning line tie, according to Palaniuk. "This line tie rotates, which allows the lure to start at a slow speed and to fall straight down," he says. "And when you rip it, it shoots straight up without turning on its side. So you can burn this lure or else fish it slowly and it runs true and doesn't blow out. It's designed with a thin back and a wider tail and that helps it operate at extremely slow speeds when other rattlebaits stall out."
Bass fishing legend Jimmy Houston has relied on the Cotton Cordell Hot Spot to trick bass over the decades but now frequently fishes a couple newer versions of it. "It's one of those lures that still catches fish as well as anything else, but it's been updated with the improved hooks, new rattle systems, and color schemes," he says. Now, he relies on the Booyah Hard Knocker, which has multiple rattles that produce a wide range of frequencies and also the Booyah One Knocker with a single tungsten rattle that produces a thumping sound.
Houston favors the 1/2-ounce model of both lures for tempting big prespawn bass on lakes with aquatic vegetation. During summer, he downsizes to the 1/4-ounce version to match the size of shad that schooling bass feed on then. He fishes them over grassy areas and where bass blow up on baitfish in open water. "You can throw that little bait a mile, which helps with summertime schoolers," he adds.
Michigan pro Jonathan VanDam uses the Strike King Red Eyed Shad to rip through grass for largemouth and smallmouth bass in spring and fall. "This rattlebait has an internal weighting system so it shimmies on the fall while remaining upright and horizontal, not flopping over like most rattlebaits when paused," he says. He depends on the rattling version of the Red Eyed Shad for most situations, but switches to the Tungsten 2-Tap model that emits a double-tapping cadence when fishing on bright days in clear water. A silent version of the Red Eyed Shad also is available for tricking bass that have become conditioned to rattling baits. He also relies primarily on the 1/2-ounce model, switching to the 3/4-ounce version when targeting bigger fish.
In his home waters of California and across the varied tournament venues, Lintner frequently yoyos a lipless crankbait. For this presentation he relies on Jackall's TN60 and TN70, with a tungsten weight on the bottom lip that allows the lure to fall straight and stand up on its nose on the bottom. The TN 60 (1/2-ounce) and TN70 (5/8-ounce) are available in the original model with a traditional rattle sound and the Disc Knocker with a disc-shaped weight in the sound chamber that creates a low-pitch, knocking sound. Lintner uses the TN70 most often, but downsizes to the TN60 when conditions are tough or he's fishing around small baitfish.
The Livetarget Yearling Rattlebait with its unique baitball coloration is Arkansas pro Stephen Browning's choice for lipless cranking around grass in spring and hopping off the bottom in darker water during hot weather. The Yearling Rattlebait comes in two versions—the 65 (2½-inch) with a rounded shape and the 75 (3-inch) with a slender body shaped more like a traditional lipless crankbait.
If you've pigeon-holed the rattlebait as a one-trick pony, it's time to take a new look at what these baits can do. From the frozen waters of the North Country to the hot and turbid waterways of Texas, rattlebaits have prospered and proliferated. Now's the time to refresh your selection.
John Neporadny Jr., Lake Ozark, Missouri, is a veteran freelance writer and frequent contributor to In-Fisherman publications. In 2016, he was inducted into the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame.