Wake 'em Up with Lipless CrankbaitsWake 'em Up with Lipless Crankbaits They’ve caught a ton of fish over the years, and they still catch a ton of fish today, but to catch giant bass on them, you need to do this.
By Blake Russell
Lipless crankbaits have been around longer than most of today’s anglers have been alive. It can be a presentation that’s easily overlooked because of how long they’ve been around. A lipless crankbait doesn’t grab your attention like the flashiest new lures do. Just looking at the thing would make one think it doesn’t do much. It’s easy to get caught up in the next great thing, but lipless crankbaits have been around for a long time for a reason. I’d go as far as saying that you’d be a fool not to have a lipless crankbait tied on during the early pre-spawn. Randall Tharp tells us why.
Lipless Crankbaits wake the fish up.
Tharp loves fishing in the late winter and early spring because it is usually your best chance at catching a lot of big fish. Tharp believes that the biggest fish spawn first, and these bigger fish will prepare for the spawn before the smaller fish do. This prospect sounds thrilling, but the reality is cold water can make fish difficult to catch. “In the late winter and early spring, water temperatures are still very cold. Fish are extremely lethargic, and their metabolisms slow down so they eat less often. Fish also don’t expend as much energy during this time, so it can be tough to catch them,” Tharp says.
You could argue that the fish are sleepy during this time of year. Tharp believes a lipless crankbait is the best presentation to wake the fish up with. Tharp says, “There’s something about a lipless crankbait that just causes the fish to bite. The loud noise they produce, the tight vibrating action, the wobble they have on the fall when you kill the retrieve, the amount of flash they have in the water - all of these things cause these lethargic fish to react and bite when they otherwise wouldn’t.”
Lipless crankbaits allow you to cover water quickly
When Tharp goes looking for big pre-spawn bass, he looks for drop-offs near spawning areas. The change in depth can be as little as a foot, and Tharp finds these small, subtle drops will often hold some of the biggest bass you’ll catch all year. Finding the perfect spawning bay with the perfect drop nearby doesn’t guarantee you’ll find bass though.
One of the most popular ways to fish a lipless crankbait is to fish it fast. Tharp will cover a lot of water in this period in order to find the fish he’s after. His search often starts in the upper reaches of creeks. Even though water temperatures are still very cold in late winter and early spring, big fish will still be relating close to spawning areas. Ditches, channel swings, points, secondary points, or even an unassuming subtle ledge are all good options if they’re located near spawning bays. Tharp quickly fishes these structures, starting closest to the spawning area, working his way backward toward the main lake until he finds the fish. He finds structures with grass, stumps, or even shell beds tend to be best. Once Tharp gets bit, he will begin to slow down and pick the area apart.
Lipless crankbaits are more versatile than you think
If you think throwing a lipless crankbait limits you to fishing fast on a flat, you’ve thought wrong. While it’s common knowledge that burning a lipless crankbait over a flat with grass or stumps will catch you a lot of fish, you’re really limiting yourself if this is the only way you fish it.
Tharp will fish a lipless crankbait as shallow as 1 foot and as deep as 15 feet. Depending on the depth of the water he’s fishing, he will upsize or downsize his crankbait accordingly to keep it in the strike zone. Burning it might be less than ideal in some places, but Tharp prefers fishing a lipless crankbait differently anyway. “There have been so many times where I’ve pulled up on a spot where a jig or other lure just won’t catch fish. Burning a lipless crankbait wouldn’t catch these fish either. I started to fish a lipless crankbait almost like you would a worm on semi-slack line. These fish would often bite when I’d pull my lipless crankbait over a piece of grass or a stump. A lot of fish also bite when the crankbait falls because of its fluttering action.”
So why does fishing a lipless crankbait this way work when a jig or soft plastic doesn’t? Tharp believes it still has to do with waking the fish up. “Even though I’m fishing the lipless crankbait slowly, it’s still vibrating and rattling loudly the whole time. The fluttering action on the fall also causes the fish to react in a way a jig won’t.”
You would think slowing down and lipless crankbaits don’t belong in the same sentence. After all, fishing them fast can often be the ticket. If you devote yourself to trying a few different things with lipless crankbaits, you’ll likely be surprised by just how versatile they can be. However you decide to fish them, do remember that coming into contact with cover is often what triggers strikes with these baits. More often than not, you’re looking for the fish to react to your lure during this time of year. Ripping your bait free of grass, having it deflect off a stump, or slowly grinding the bait through gravel will often be what it takes to get bit.
Lipless crankbaits mimic a variety of forages
Tharp doesn’t limit himself to a single color or crankbait size. “Matching the hatch is extremely important when fishing a lipless crankbait. If I know the fish are eating crawfish, I’ll fish a crawfish-colored crankbait. If it’s shad, I’ll fish a shad-colored crankbait. You have to pay attention to these details if you want to get bit,” Tharp says.
Thankfully, most lipless crankbait manufacturers offer a variety of sizes and colors. If you’re new to the body of water you’re fishing, do your research before you get there. Finding out what the bass eat on your body of water during this time of year, will allow you to choose the color and size of your crankbait accordingly, and it will also mean you’ll be catching more fish.
Many newer lipless crankbait models also have the ability to wobble and flutter on the fall. Experimenting with a few different models is not a bad idea, until you find the one that works best that day, as each model will have a different action. These little details can add up quickly and make your day on the water more productive.
Tharp’s gear selection
Tharp typically carries three different sizes of the Rapala Rippin’ Rap. Having these sizes in his boat allows him to fish a variety of depths effectively. His color selection varies from chrome and gold to crawfish colors depending on the mood of the fish and what they’re feeding on.
Tharp uses a 7’4” Halo cranking rod when fishing a lipless crankbait. The length of that rod allows him to make long casts and is sensitive enough to detect strikes when fishing the lipless bait slowly. He usually throws Gamma 14-pound fluorocarbon line. He will go up to 20-pound test if he’s fishing very heavy cover, but he finds 14-pound test is a good place to start. Tharp spools his line on a 6:2.1 Shimano Core casting reel. He finds this gear ratio is a good starting point and is versatile enough for him to do a little bit of everything with lipless baits. If he knows he’s going to be burning one all day, he’ll opt for a reel with a faster gear ratio.
Hopefully Tharp’s insight will remind you to dust off the lipless crankbait box at the end of winter. They’ve caught a ton of fish over the years, and they still catch a ton of fish today. The unique wobbling action they have on the fall, loud rattles, and the flash they produce are often what it takes to wake fish up in these cold water conditions. Pick apart some drops near spawning areas with these lures, especially if they have cover on them, and you’ll probably end up catching some giant bass. It’s certainly worked for Tharp, and it’ll work for you too.
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