November 27, 2023
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This feature is from the October/November 2023 edition of In-Fisherman magazine.
While always an early-season favorite, we’ve expanded the application of lipless lures greatly, in terms of techniques and lure styles available. Their narrow wobble, flash, and flat shape imitate many sorts of baitfish. Then there’s those vibrations they produce, running shallow or deep. Over the years, many of my best catches have come during the Postspawn Period, not an acclaimed time to rely on rattlebaits. It seems that there’s no bad time to fish them.
In recent years, we’ve come to view lipless lures as jigging lures as well as wind-and-grind baits, where they’ve always been highly effective over shallow vegetation. Some models glide off to one side when paused, others shimmy as they drop. Both sorts of action simulate helpless prey, so they’re key in the fall season as predators move shallow to feed heavily and as bass move out to deep structure in big reservoirs and natural lakes.
One of their key attributes is what we call “triggering bites,” generally meaning to elicit strikes from bass that aren’t feeding but find the lures’ cues hard to ignore. Lipless baits fish a range of depths and one of their irresistible actions is the slight pause that lets the lure momentarily dip into vegetation, followed by an abrupt pull that frees them from clinging stalks, sometimes stirring a nearby bass to strike. In that fashion, they exhibit the erratic motion created by bouncing a deep crankbait through a field of stumps or winding a spinnerbait among the limbs of a fallen tree.
Then there’s the major calling card of those we call rattlebaits, containing some sort of sound-producing device. The early ones had BB shot or the smallest ball bearings that bounced inside as the lure wiggled. Some were loud enough to be audible more than 30 feet away on the retrieve. More recently, designers have sought to produce lower-pitch sound, realizing that many of the sounds lures produced were out of the hearing range of bass. Recent examples include Strike King’s 2-Tap Tungsten Red Eye Shad and Booyah’s One Knocker.
Reportedly, this sort of rattle was the impetus for the serendipitous success of Cotton Cordell’s Spot. Cordell intended a single lead slug to propel longer casts, but customers found that the ones with imperfect glue work outperformed the stock models, leading customers to demand “rattling Spots.” Dustin Elder, Pro Staff Manager at PRADCO, reports that the Super Spot continues to be a popular choice across the U.S.
“It has a wide distribution and sales continue strong. It seems to sell itself and has such a great reputation,” he said. “In addition, we have the Booyah Hard Knocker and One Knocker, made in the same mold as the former XCalibur Xr50 and Xr75. Lately, the One Knocker has sold better than the Hard Knocker, as anglers have tended toward baits with lower-frequency sounds. Last year we added six custom colors in these baits, and they’ve become the top sellers on our lurenet.com website.”
As a sign of their enduring value, many favorites of past decades retain their popularity. Scan the pages of Tackle Warehouses’s website and you find classics like Bill Lewis’ Rat-L-Trap, Cordell Super Spot, and Rapala Rattlin’ Rapala, as well as baits with over 20 years of success like the Strike King Red Eye Shad, Yo-Zuri Rattlin’ Vibe, Lucky Craft LV, SPRO Aruku Shad, and Booyah One Knocker (formerly the XCalibur Xr Series). In recent years, innovative models have joined the fold, while others have departed, undone by a combination of poor results, insufficient promotion, or changes in company marketing strategies.
Some anglers lump all such baits as “Rattletraps,” but each offers subtle differences in action and allure. One remarkable example brings this point home: The 2009 FLW Tour season began in February on Alabama’s Lake Guntersville, a big Tennessee River impoundment with lots of shallow and deep hard structure, as well as a healthy growth of milfoil, hydrilla, and other vegetation types. Versatile pro and Bassmaster Classic winner Jay Yelas was tuned onto the reputation of rattlebaits for catching bass from shallow flats adorned with early-spring vegetation, a feature of this Tennessee River reservoir. This tour matched a co-angler and pro, which provided a unique viewpoint.
It turned out that Yelas’ Day-1 partner, Fred Martin of Little Rock, Arkansas, had stopped at an Academy store en route and purchased tackle, including an Academy brand (H2OX) rattlebait. It proved a wise choice, as Martin used it to sack 25 pounds 1 ounce that day. Meanwhile, Yelas tried every lipless lure in his large selection to no avail. Martin finally offered it to Yelas; he accepted and caught the only bass he brought to the scales that day. Unfortunately, Martin had only a single H2OX bait and it was lost the second day, putting a sad end to his success. The particular feature of that bait that made it work like magic dwells deep in the tiny brain of our quarry, never to be divulged.
This anecdote serves as a reminder that just because they’re ignoring your favorite Rat-L-Trap, they won’t hit a seemingly similar lure.
A more recent addition that’s caught on well is Berkley’s Warpig, easily identified by its upturned snout. Steve Pennaz of TV’s Lake Commandos and longtime writer and industry insider, has become a fan.
“It’s a great fall search bait, as I make long casts and work it across flats with mixed vegetation—pondweed, milfoil, and more,” he said. “Here in Minnesota, it catches everything—largemouths, smallmouths, pike, muskies, and walleyes. But it’s been particularly effective for big largemouths as the water cools. Wind creates a surface disturbance that gets them eating this bait in fall.
“To fish vegetation, I use a medium-heavy-power rod from 7 feet to 7 feet 3 inches and a baitcaster with a gear ratio between 7:1 and 8:1. With 15- or 17-pound flouro, a faster reel can rip the lure free from vegetation. That rod is stiffer than cranking setups, but it reduces the number of bass that get off. In addition to rips, I add a hitch several times during each cast—just a split-second pause in reeling that creates flash and a change in cadence. The Warpig also works well on deeper rock spots that often lie just outside the weedline in natural lakes. I make long casts and work it with a lift-fall retrieve.”
Berkley offers the Warpig in 1/2- and 3/4-ounce versions and Pennaz favors the smaller one.
Rapala has been in the lipless business since the early 1990s when the Rattlin’ Rapala was released. It’s still a solid choice for fishing grassy areas and steady retrieve situations, though it can trigger bites with a slight pause as well. Buoyed by a moderate price tag (still only $5.99), it’s been a steady seller in 1/2- and 3/4-ounce sizes. Field Promotions Director Dan Quinn notes that several other baits have come and gone, but by far the most successful model has been the Rippin’ Rap, which was released in 2011.
“It’s an amazing lure because it catches all sorts of gamefish,” he said. “At first we considered it a bass bait, but it quickly caught fire for walleye fishing, in part because its unique flutter on the fall makes it an outstanding jigging lure. It’s the all-time favorite for the spring walleye run in Green Bay and the Fox River. You can cast and work it with a lift-drop retrieve or yo-yo it around deep structure. Its action has made it a favorite with crappie anglers too, as we offer it in ultra-light models just 1 1⁄8 and 1 1⁄2 inches long. Its thin design and rounded profile give it a hard-vibrating action on a slow or fast retrieve, with a loud rattle chamber. The way it runs with nose down and hooks back, it bounces off timber and rocks on deeper structure. At the request of Bass Pro Shops, we did a special series of Rippin’ Raps that didn’t rattle. It didn’t last long as anglers were skeptical.
“In our Storm brand, the Arashi Vibe has been a big seller ever since Ott Defoe used it to win the 2019 Bassmaster Classic. With a felt marker, he created his own custom red/orange color that bass loved. Of course, we’ve added it to our catalog, along with several other unique colors. It’s one of the most subtle rattlebaits on the market as it has moderate sound, a slower fall, and delicate vibration that appeal to cold-water bass. Its rotating hook hangers also keep the hooks close to the body to reduce snags.”
The Apex Tune from DUO Realis is another addition on the subtle end of the spectrum. Before his untimely passing, Aaron Martens worked on its design and tuned it to fish reservoir habitat once he’d moved from California to Lake Guntersville. The 68 model weighs 1/2 ounce but its slender body makes it very responsive to the initial pull as it commences its quivering action. Martens found it highly effective over grass as well as shell beds and deeper offshore structure in Tennessee River reservoirs. DUO spokesman David Swendseid of Oregon has had great success around boulders where he finds big largemouths and smallmouths on western rivers and reservoirs.
“We moved the line-tie farther back on this lure,” Martens said, “which helps it to run up and over snags of any kind, so you can fish it closer to cover than many other rattlebaits.”
This one comes in four sizes from 1/3- to 1 1⁄8-ounce to cover all bases.
Wes Higgins, former President of Bill Lewis Lures and now Brand Manager of Fishing for GSM since their acquisition of the company, reveals exciting news for the Rat-L-Trap’s legions of fans.
“Our new Hammer-Trap was revealed at a recent ICAST Show,” he said. “It has a completely new rattle system and revolutionary design, producing three types of sound simultaneously. It has a disc in the head for low-frequency sound, and chambers with both mid-size balls for medium-range sound, and tiny pellets for a higher pitch. We’re starting with 12 colors, and will build up from there, knowing how picky anglers can be about that. And we’ll offer it in 3/8- and 5/8-ounce sizes—a big change for us as well.”
One trend in lipless baits is mixing attributes of a metal bladebait with a classic rattler. Last year, SPRO introduced the Carbon Blade, a 3/8-ounce bladebait with a carbon-fiber body and a tungsten weight in the body that allows it to be fished vertically, semi-vertically, or horizontally. It has three attachment holes on the back; the forward one produces the tightest vibration, with horizontal wobble increasing with the middle hole and maximum at the rear spot.
Japanese lure designer Hiroshi Nishine, President of Nishine Lure Works, designed the new Simcoe 75 Silent Lipless Crankbait as a hybrid design with characteristics of a bladebait as well as lipless. With a slim, shad-imitating body, it produces tight vibration that mimics small baitfish.
“I built it for cold-water fishing,” Nishine said, “having done a lot of testing at Lake Seminole during winter and in the Niagara River, near the company office in Ontario. I make a standard 75 version that falls at 2.3 feet per second and a HW (heavyweight) model that falls at 3.5 feet per second. That one works best on deeper structure or in current, such as the Niagara or St. Lawrence rivers and many reservoir systems. Unlike most lipless baits, Simcoe 75 is silent, which enhances its appeal when the bite is challenging, but I’m considering adding a sound-producing version for fishing darker-color water.”
Simcoe 75 has two rings on its back to attach the snap; position affects the vibration and angle of retrieve. Nishine recommends the front ring in clear water and the rear one for murkier situations or when vertical jigging. Armed with sticky sharp Japanese Ichikawa trebles and spectacular colors on a textured matte finish, it’s a hot seller in the specialty market.
Rapala’s plans call for release of their Rippin’ Blade this fall, a crossover type with a tungsten weight in its plastic belly. “The tungsten increases its rate of fall,” Quinn said, “so it swims more actively on the fall than a standard bladebait. After our experience with the Rippin’ Rap, we expect it to score well in the multispecies market as well as the bass world. It has a nice niche in rivers as well as it gets down in current and offers a wide wobble.”
In addition to spring patterns that typically involve horizontal retrieves over shallow vegetation, lipless baits have proven deadly when fished in more vertical fashion with a lift-drop style or yo-yoing off bottom. This situation often arises in fall when big bass move out of shallow cover.
In-Fisherman Field Editor Cory Schmidt is an expert at probing these zones using rattlebaits and bladebaits.
“Like classic rattlers, bladebaits produce strong vibration,” Schmidt noted, “as the metal body shimmies and creates a substantial thump. I’ve found that lures with thinner bodies create more thump. Flash is also a major attractor, as silver and gold are hard to beat.”
He credits Michigan pro Scott Dobson for showing him their potency in Great Lakes waters and he’s adapted these techniques to northern natural lakes. Schmidt chooses lure style depending on depth, using a Rippin’ Rap in water less than about 15 feet deep and a bladebait in the deeper zone.
“In fall, you find some of a lake’s biggest bass on what you might call classic walleye habitat,” he continued. “They’re out there feeding before freeze-up and jigging lipless baits can be the best way to catch them. Hard-bottom points are key areas for the lake’s biggest bass in fall.
“For this method, cadence is important. It takes a while to learn the feel of different lures as they fall and touch down. After a lot of experimentation, my favorite bladebaits are the Berkley Vibrato, Damiki Vortex, and the classic Silver Buddy. Many anglers work them too aggressively. You don’t want to rip these lures, especially in cold water. Raise your rod just a few inches, maintaining feel of the vibration, then let it fall back under control. Most bites come when you pause the lure before it drops or when it hits bottom. And I’ve been fascinated to learn that deadsticking on the bottom for up to 10 seconds can work as well.”
Schmidt offered recommendations on rigging for jigging.
“I like the sensitivity of braided line for feeling vibration, bottom contact, and light bites. At times, they’re subtle and you feel only weight when you begin another lift. But their trebles easily catch braid’s filaments during a cast or when jigging. A fluorocarbon leader helps, not to make the presentation more subtle, but more efficient.
“I use a spinning rod for jigging 1/2-ounce lipless baits and bladebaits with 14- or 16-pound braid with a 10-foot leader of 12- or 14-pound flouro. I switch to a 7-foot medium-heavy baitcaster with fast action and 20-pound braid with a 14- to 17-pound-test leader for heavier lures. I use a long leader to make sure the joining knot is on the reel when the fish comes boatside.”
As noted earlier, we have new designs considered hybrids of bladebaits and rattlebaits. They’re often designed with an eye toward cold-water fishing, which makes them solid choices for many fall scenarios. And their appeal to several species promises to spice up your fall fishing. We continue to explore the effective zone of this lipless category and new ways to work them.
*In-Fisherman Field Editor Steve Quinn, National Fresh Water Fishing and Bass Fishing hall of famer and former In-Fisherman Senior Editor, has been writing for In-Fisherman publications since the late 1980s.