Don't Give 'Em No Lip!
Probably the best known lipless crank is the Rat-L-Trap, the Bill Lewis lure that started it all.
By Ronald F. Dodson, Ph.D.
When I first became introduced to the lipless crankbait I was primarily in the "farm pond" phase of my fishing career. When I could get off after school or during the summer, my trusty (?) 1947 four-cylinder Willis would hit the county roads of Lamar and Red River county finding as many folks as possible who would let a kid cast in their farm pond. Among the real producers in my tackle box were some swimming minnow-type baits. These included the Bayou Boogie made just up the Red River by Whopper Stopper, the Sonic introduced by Heddon, and the Pico Perch made down on the coast. All of them had the same features that make the modern day versions of this type of plug the choice by both beginners as well as the pro fisherman.
For starters they would cast with little wind resistance, and after a little practice could greatly improve your accuracy for placing them in distant pockets not easily reached by lighter lures. Another feature was that you had a hard time not catching fish on the baits. This was even if you simply threw and wound in the plugs, since they had an inherent wiggle that drove fish nuts. The other real advantage, soon learned by anglers, was that these baits could be used as what is now referred to as a countdown plug. This increased my ability to fish the depths where the bass equivalent of Moby Dick surely lived. This ability to fish the deeper water was most important when fishing clear-water ponds during hot, bright summer days.
My bass fishing as well as everyone else then entered the "worm age" created when Mr. Nick Creme introduced an artificial worm and some one found out you could Texas rig the bait rather than wad it up on the hook as per his original idea. While I enjoyed worm fishing, I couldn't get away from my original "roots" of using crankbaits, with the swimming minnows being a critical part of the arsenal.
The Cordell Hot Spot offered a slightly different design and a number of different colors from which to choose than some of the earlier plugs. The design also gave a slightly different vibration in the water, and as with all these plugs the attraction is not only the image seen by the bass but also the vibration sent through the water as they wiggle.
If being copied is flattery then surely the Spot was a reference point for a number of similar plugs. However one really charged into the market place. When I first saw a Rat-L-Trap, I took a "so what" approach. After all the bait had a fin on its back and other than that the only thing different was it was supposed to have a rattle. My first shot at trying one was in a jon-boat and the sonic waves from the sound chamber were heard through the hull like you were sitting in the drum section of a Latin band.
So now we had vibration, good "castability," excellent color patterns, and not only the vibration inherent with the wiggle as it swam, but also the effect of a sound chamber. The value of the latter became very obvious in muddy water or low-light conditions where the ability of a bass to find prey includes taking full advantage of its ability to "feel" food as it moves in the environment.
There are some things about these types of baits that drive the soft plastic purists a little nuts. These include the fact that among all crankbaits these plugs are probably the most likely to be thrown by a fighting bass. This results from a couple of features including the fact that some of these plugs have either small hooks or wire type hooks without very much holding power or very much of a barb for penetration to withstand the head shaking fight of a bass. In fact the first thing I usually hear as a complaint from a new fisherman is that you lose a lot of fish on these baits. Any time you put on a larger hook you are going to cause a greater likelihood of hooking cover. On the other hand you are also increasing the hook holding capability of the plug by simply giving the bait some hooks with a larger bite on hook set. More often than not the loss of a thrashing fish with such plugs is due to the fact that the hook wasn't large enough to get under the lip and penetrate the softer tissues where you get a more durable hold. Along these same lines it is important to see that you use sharp hooks. You need to make sure you check the hooks periodically to assure that they don't have a bent or broken barb and use a good quality replacement hook when re-rigging.
You may notice that some of these plugs have a larger hook on the front than on the back. I haven't actually asked the intent of the companies, but in actual fact this imbalance helps in several areas with these baits. To begin with these plugs don't have a lip to help shield the hooks on retrieve. However the front weight of the larger hook does make the plug run nose down and therefore the effect is the body of the plug does some- what shield the hooks on retrieve. The larger hooks will also cause the same bait to drop at more rapid speed, which is a point you may want to factor in when modifying the baits if you plan to use them very much in a countdown approach.
These are the ultimate "finder" baits because you can cover a lot of water in short period of time. They also can be used to locate the depth at which fish are holding by simply working them in at one speed with one cast and at a different speed that will work them either shallower or deeper on the next cast. Be very sensitive to rate of retrieve when you get a hit as well as the type of retrieve you are using. Did the fish hit on a more constant retrieve, a stop-and-start retrieve, or when you were using bursts of speed in a various sequences on retrieve? While it is sometimes important to "agitate" a bass into hitting, you must remember these baits move out of the strike zone rather soon with most retrieves. But you can still get the bass to pay attention because you have the luxury of placing several casts into a likely looking area by the time you retrieve and cast a slower working bait.
The lures come in various sizes, but while it is true you may get more hits on the small versions of the plugs, the hooks alone will tend to make it difficult to land a good size bass. I would suggest a good compromise is to start with 1/2-ounce sized plug, but don't hesitate to use the next size with your favorite version. Just remember that these will fall more rapidly and require a faster retrieve to keep them at the same level on retrieve as the lighter version. While you may want the bait to fall faster in some instances, other situations may actually require your bait to run shallower. This is particularly true for those lucky enough to have hydrilla or other underwater vegetation in their lake. Many tournament anglers have made money from learning to "tick" the tops of the grass beds with lipless cranks.
I noted that the different plugs from the different companies have similar vibration on retrieve as well as different sound or noise features due to the presence or in some cases the absence of rattles. I have at least convinced myself that the noise feature is extremely valuable in poor light or muddy water. However I also carry a second bait of the same color pattern, which makes less noise or even is without a noise chamber that I will use in clear water or good light conditions. My totally "un-guaran-teed" logic is that too much of a good thing can repel a fish just as under certain other conditions attract them. I have tested this concept in schools and at least between my own ears feel there is a real distinction as to when to use the noisiest emitting bait I can find. This is much like the topwater purist who sometimes wants the noisiest bait and at other times works a subtle and quieter approach on retrieve.
When talking about lipless cranks most folks don't think of the metal versions. These aren't new plugs and actually fit an occasional application very well. If the other plastic baits cast without much resistance from the wind then these plugs throw as though they have a second stage rocket to propel them. If for example schools are breaking in open water, a long cast is often very necessary if you are going to hit them while they are up. The two plugs that fit this type are the Gay Blade and the Sonar Flash, both by Heddon. These baits have excellent vibration on the slightest movement and are great baits when you want a rapid fall. The plugs also have two to three holes for line or snap tying. Just like the oversized front hook on the plastic versions, the different holes cause different angles of the front of lure on retrieve ranging from a nearly parallel to a very sharp angle with the nose down. These baits have one down side and that is, if anything, I found them to be easier for the fish to throw than the plastic plugs. When they are thrown they also become a projectile, which can make a major hurt on your body if you happen to be on the receiving end of the released plug.
There have been several attempts to make lipless cranks out of soft plastic. Most have had a consistent action between baits or didn't catch the fisherman's eye. The two possibly most successful are plugs which get their action by having a special design within the body which catches the water and causes a swimming action upon retrieve or when falling in the water. Those patterned with a tail-induced action include the Sassy Shad by Mr. Twister. Of more recent vintage are those which take advantage of some mid-body feature, which creates a swimming action. The first of these types of lures that I saw was made by a French company. The ad in the fishing magazine touted it as lethal on all types of fish (and the ad was trying to also catch all types of pocketbooks). The Creme company expanded their small Lit'l Fishie series to include a larger shad and perch versions. Both of these baits are relatively light, catch the wind as you cast them, and are therefore most often used on a jig hea4 or with some type of lead rig which permits easier casting. Their action can be exploited in using them as a weedless rig that free-floated over water lilies or hydrilla. Because they are rather light, you have to use lighter line to get reasonable length casts.
If the hard plastic types of lipless baits are the hot sellers, then what are the colors you want to pick? Be certain that everyone has a chrome color if they only have one such bait. The other colors of choice are chartreuse and in the spring an all time favorite is red or red/orange.
As with all crankbaits these are finder baits and can be used to cover a lot of water. But just as with all crankbaits your best presentation is often one you have to establish to meet the pattern of a given day. The good news is that without a deep thought process anyone can catch fish on the plugs. This also means that these are excellent to start with in teaching a young fisherman how to catch bass and will also keep him busy winding in a plug which won't pull very hard but will give enough vibration on the rod to convey that something is always happening.