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.
The baitfish gurus at Koppers unveiled a radical design in hardbait technology with the new LiveTarget BaitBall lineup. Comprised of a 2 3/8-inch floating squarebill and 3½- and 4½-inch suspending jerkbaits, all of which dive to four feet — along with a 2½-inch diving crankbait that reaches depths of 10 feet — the series mimics a tight school of frightened baitfish. So, rather than seeing one large preyfish, predators see a cluster of smaller, bite-sized minnows instead. If it proves half as deadly as the umbrella rig concept, it's going to be a game-changer on the cranking scene. livetargetlures.com
Jackall Jockie 120 Topwater Minnow
Designed by Kazuto Yamaki, the Jockie 120 blends topwater theatrics with top-shelf jerkbait performance. It dives straight with a spin of your reel handle — thanks to its unique, diamond-shaped lip. Plus, the bottom cup produces a popping sound on splashdown. Other features include a flashy inner scale molding, and aft-oriented, moving weighting system for long casts and a funky pop, dive, head-stand, and rolling action. Available in six colors. jackall-lures.com
Lucky Craft S.K.T. Magnum
Designed by Bassmaster Classic champ Skeet Reese, this beefy, tight-wobbling crank matches the supersize meals of behemoth bass. It should also shine for other large fish-eaters. Available in 11 colors, in four sizes from 1 to 3¾ ounces, in MR and DR versions. The 105MR is the shallowest runner, targeting depths of 6½ feet, while the 120DR is the depth-dredger of the family, capable of reaching 25 feet. luckycraft.com
Matzuo Kinchou Shad
Brandishing flared, blood-red gills, these shad-bodied additions to Matzuo's Kinchou series are wide-wobbling floaters featuring chambered bodies with stainless-steel rattle bearings. Available in eight colors, in 3- and 3 ½-inch sizes that dive from eight to 12 feet, respectively. matzuo.com
Smithwick Perfect 10 Rogue
Building on the stellar attributes of the original Rogue — an all-around jerkbaiting icon for more than 35 years — Smithwick created the Perfect 10 Rogue. Upgrades include a flash-enhancing new material and lip design that takes the suspending bait deeper, faster, plus a tungsten rattle that produces a unique, strike-triggering thump. Best of all, the weighting system allows the 5½-inch bait to be more responsive and regain its horizontal posture quicker after a twitch than its predecessor, all while retaining the iconic Rogue roll that has fooled countless bass. As a bonus, the translucent body intensifies the bait's reflective scales, and accentuates the eight available color patterns. smithwicklures.com
Rapala Scatter Rap
A groundbreaking 'scatter ' lip gives Rapala's newest lure series — which includes the Scatter Rap Crank, Minnow, Shad, and Countdown — an aggressive sweeping action that mimics the maneuvers of fleeing forage. The baits are easy to fish — just crank or troll, and they do the rest — but the more you get a feel for their intricacies, the more tricks they'll perform. Running depths range from five to nine feet. Available in a variety of hot color patterns. rapala.com
SPRO Baby Fat John 50
If you're looking for a shallow-running hardbait with a wild side-to-side hunting action, the new Baby Fat John 50 is a serious contender. Weighing in at 3/8 ounce, the bait dives to two feet, max. And, thanks to its fiberglass 'computer chip ' lip, it darts from to the side, then returns to center for an erratic fish-attracting action. Available in eight catchy color patterns. spro.com
Storm Arashi Silent Squares
Part of the hot new Arashi (ah-rash-ee) family from Storm, the Silent Square 3 and 5 sport 'circuit-board ' bills that enable true tracking at slow speeds, while still reaching maximum running depth. Another slick feature is a self-tuning line tie that keeps the bait tracking true, while producing a tantalizing roll, accentuated by a pronounced tail kick. The size 3 is 2 1/8 inches long, weighs ½ ounce, and runs to three feet, while the size 5 stretches 2 3/8 inches, weighs in at just over 5/8 ounce, and dives to five feet. Available in 12 alluring colorations, ranging from Mossy Chartreuse Craw to Black Silver Shad. stormlures.com
Named with the Japanese word for sky, this ultra-responsive jerkbait from iconic bassman Gary Yamamoto glides or walks underwater, depending on your wishes and retrieves. Available in 76-, 100-, and 110-mm sizes that dive to four, eight, and 10 feet, respectively, in a broad palette of colors. yamamoto.baits.com
Yo-Zuri 3DB Jerkbait
Built with big bass in mind, but perfect for other predators such as pike and walleyes, this 3½-inch suspending jerkbait is part of the brand-new 3DB family. Features include lifelike detail on gills, fins, and scales, flat sides, flashy 3D Internal Prism, and Wave-Motion Vibration Ribs that create wave-like fish-attracting vibes. Comes in five core colors, all accentuated with oversized red eyes and Mylar tail treble dressing. yo-zuri.com