Talk about finding yourself between a rock and a hard place. That's where Bassmaster Elite pro Kelly Jordon found himself, battling Boyd Duckett on Kentucky Lake, on the Ultimate Match Fishing show.
"I was beside myself," Jordon chuckled, as we talked about his dilemma. "On one hand, I wanted to win that event so bad, but in order to do so, I had to let the cat out of the bag."
The "cat" was a heavy Lake Fork Flutter Spoon, not unlike the ones trout and salmon anglers troll in the Great Lakes or cast for pike in Canada. But, while growing up guiding on Lake Fork in Texas, and for the previous three years on tour, Jordon had been clandestinely catching big largemouth bass by ripping spoons off bottom, whenever he found the fish grouped around deep, main lake structures.
So, here he was on Kentucky Lake, the home of "ledge fishing." Bass were positioned ideally, and a pile of cash was on the line. Throwing caution to the wind, Jordon grabbed his spoon rippin' rod, made long casts, let the spoon fall to the bottom and then ripped it up, then let it flutter back down, all the way back to the boat.
As anyone who watched the show can tell you, the lure rarely made it back more than a few yards before a bass ate it. Jordan put on a clinic for a national television audience of anglers who couldn't quite believe what they were watching. Such is the power of rippin', whether it is a flutter spoon, lipless crankbait, tailspinner, bladebait, or tube jig.
Hot and Cold — A Matter of Timing
But there's a twist of irony associated with the technique. It tends to works best when you would least expect it to, in the hottest and coldest parts of the year.
"That's the thing about rippin'," says Bobby Meyers, who fishes the Southern and Central Bassmaster Opens. "It's all about getting the fish to react. In spring, when the water is cold, bass typically are lethargic. When a spring cold front passes through, people want to slow down. But that's when I speed up."
Myers' bait of choice is a 5/8-ounce Rat-L-Trap, for provoking strikes in emerging clumps of grass scattered across 5- to 8-foot deep flats. He makes long casts with the lipless bait and lets it fall without any drag from the line.
Bass sometimes rip the rod out of your hand," says Myers, who has won several tournaments this way on his home lake, Oklahoma's Grand Lake O' the Cherokees. "It's important to let the lure free-fall all the way to the bottom. Then I reel slowly, purposefully hanging the lure in grass. Then I quickly pop it hard, usually twice. I jerk it as hard as I can and never reel in the slack. You want the lure to fall naturally after you rip it up. Watch your line. There's no doubt when a bass hits as your line jumps dramatically."
To rip lipless baits, tackle choice is important. He opts for a softer, 7-foot Power Tackle composite rod teamed with a Lew's Tournament MG 6.4:1 reel, instructing against using anything faster. And while he prefers 14-pound test Gamma monofilament for ripping, he switches over to the same pound test fluorocarbon when the vegetation is thick. He says the fluorocarbon blows the grass off his lure better in the jungle.
"Rippin' is not like drop-shotting, where fish may examine a bait before they decide whether or not to eat it," he says. "Rippin' invokes an instinctual response to strike. The fish can't help themselves. When you rip a lipless crankbait out of the grass, it makes a bass instantly curious. The fish has about a 1.5-second window to decide whether or not to eat it. And usually it does."
Rippin' and Rappin'
"That was true for me, as well, when I was experimenting with the technique," says In-Fisherman Editor In Chief, Doug Stange, who has pioneered the conversion of largemouth bass rippin' techniques to species such as walleye and smallmouth bass. "Most folks start off way too subtle," Stange says, "instead of giving the true rippin' thing a go. Discovering the motion with spoons first was the key for me. Then it was easy to cross over to baits like the Rapala Rippin' Rap."
When Stange talks about ripping spoons for smallmouth bass and walleyes, he is generally referring to the Luhr Jensen Tony's Spoon, a slightly smaller and lighter version of the Lake Fork Flutter Spoon and Big Joe Spoon that Jordon and others rip for largemouths. The Rippin' Rap, especially the 1/2-ounce #6 model, is Stange's favorite lipless lure for walleyes and smallies.
"The best retrieve I've found is the same with the spoon and the Rippin' Rap," he says. "Make a long cast, engage the reel, and let the lure sink to the bottom. The line goes slack when the lure touches down. That's the last time the lure should touch bottom. Position the rod tip at 9 o'clock. With my left hand palming the reel and the other gripping the rod butt, sharply snap the rod tip to 11 o'clock. Then immediately drop the rod back to 9 o'clock, allowing the lure to plummet toward bottom. As the rod tip drops and the lure plummets, remove the hand from the rod butt, grab the reel handle, and reel up most, but not all, of the slack line.
"The lure should fall on slack line. The next rod-tip snap should rip through a bit of the slack left from the last snap. That helps increase the snap speed of the rod tip and the speed of the lure on the next rip. The alternative to holding the rod as I've described is to palm the reel with both hands."
While this aggressive ripping presentation has proven effective on smallmouths, he says walleyes often prefer a less aggressive rip, what he describes more as a sharp pull.
"With walleyes, you often can watch the line for a telltale thump," he says. "That also works with small bass, but not for big fish. For the brutes, I get a rhythm going with the rip-drop, with the lure touching down or at least dropping near bottom for a split second before I rip it again. If it's stationary on the bottom for even a millisecond, it's too long."
Stange's found that rippin' for smallies and walleyes has been most productive in cold water of early spring and late fall. Fish reactions to ripped baits are counter-intuitive to what we've been taught about catching bass when the water turns cold, demonstrating that thinking like a fish can be challenging.
Hoppin' and Poppin' Gobies, Sculpins and Crayfish
Canadian pro Paul Shibata has an impressive string of tournament accomplishments, including 21 Top-10 finishes as well as the Renegade Bass Classic Championship. But Shibata's formal education — a Ph.D. in biology — and his business acumen sets him apart. As president of Shibata Bio Consultants, he has undertaken bridge construction projects around the Great Lakes, requiring him to spend countless hours looking through professional-grade underwater cameras. When fishing, he's linked a Marcum underwater color camera to the Simrad sonar units in his boat.
"Around the Great Lakes, I see vast numbers of gobies," Shibata says. Anglers recognize that gobies, as well as sculpins, lack swim bladders so they don't swim above bottom. "I've found that these bottom-dwelling species hop high up off the bottom when moving around, especially in large rivers. They seem to hop upward, catch the current, and jet themselves three or more feet downstream. The first time I saw gobies hopping up and down, it came together for me."
While most Great Lakes smallmouth anglers drag tube jigs along bottom to imitate gobies, sculpins, and crayfish, or else fish deadly slow with drop-shot rigs, Shibata rips tube jigs off bottom as fast and as violently as he can.
"Ripping a 1/2-, 3/4-, even 1-ounce jig off bottom is the most natural way to mimic the forage," Shibata insists. "It seems to trigger the predatory response of alpha smallmouths. If anyone saw me ripping a tube, they'd think I was crazy. But I don't believe you can rip it too hard or too violently for these fish."
Shibata favors 17-pound-test fluorocarbon for rippin' tube jigs for smallmouths around the Great Lakes, but switches to PowerPro braid when ripping in current. With braid, he says, you have considerably less slack line swirling on the surface so you can establish and maintain better bottom contact.
It may seem foolish to rip a lure violently up off the bottom when the weather and water conditions are hot or cold and fish are lethargic. But as Kelly Jordon can tell you, it's money in the bank.
*Gord Pyzer, Kenora, Ontario, is an In-Fisherman Field Editor and frequent contributor, as well as TV guest. Rip Fishing Lures