Lipless Crankbaits 101

Lipless Crankbaits 101

Lipless Crankbaits 101

by March 10, 2015


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Lipless crankbaits are a phenomenal lure for bass! This is especially true when bass are transitioning to and from their seasonal summer or winter haunts. The problem with lipless crankbaits is that they often become a source of frustration for anglers who are unsuccessful with these lures. For this reason, it’s important to understand the how, when, where and why of these potent little lures.

Why Use a Lipless Crankbait

Lipless crankbaits are very much a reaction strike bait; a bass’ instinct takes over and tells it to attack your lure without taking the time to examine it. During the pre-spawn, spawn and fall, a bass’ actions are guided by this instinct.

The biggest mistake anglers make when using these baits is to work them slowly. This gives a bass the time to examine the lure and overcome its instinct to attack. It may be a matter of a split second; but if a bass has time to take a second look, then you’re working your bait far too slowly.

When to Use a Lipless Crankbait

The when is often the subject of much debate among anglers. There are some anglers who will successfully catch fish year round with a lipless crankbait, and keep lipless crankbaits on deck year-round. Although that works for some anglers, lipless crankbaits are deadliest when fish are on the move and restless, such as pre-spawn, spawn and fall.

During spring and fall, temperatures are changing; either rising or falling, and this change triggers bass’ instinct to feed. This is the time when the lipless crankbait can be most effective. I find that water temperatures between 52-62 degrees are optimum and some wind is perfect.

Bassmaster Elite Pro Paul Mueller explained in a recent conversation,

“…sun heats up banks, especially in the spring…”

Paul prefers to fish banks that have the longest exposure to the sun during the day. This is a great tactic to find water temperatures in the range you are looking early on and late in the year. Sometimes later in the day is optimum for a lipless crankbait because water temps will have had time to heat up with the sun throughout the day. The key is knowing the temperature of the water you are fishing and finding water that is the right temperature.

If you are using a baitcaster, don’t be afraid to throw a lipless crankbait in windy situations. Most lipless crankbaits cast well in wind. Their slender profile and compact design allows you cast them a mile! Many anglers sometimes avoid windy conditions because boat control and comfort become an issue. Wind breaks up your silhouette so fish can’t see you. Wind also stirs up the bottom which usually makes fish active.

Paul Mueller  recently shared with us,

“…wind is big, anything that breaks up line of sight is important…“.

It is in windy situations where a pair of shallow water anchors will definitely put more fish in your boat and they are a tool to consider if you haven’t yet.

Where to Use a Lipless Crankbait

When fishing lipless crankbaits in the spring and fall, you are looking for transition areas that bass will hold in. Points, humps, drop-offs, weedlines and creek-beds are all good starting points to throw a lipless crankbait.

In springtime, if you are targeting pre-spawn bass, be sure to check areas where bass will stage and feed before they move to shallow water to spawn. It is in this pre-spawn feeding frenzy that you will be able to catch bass through a reaction strike. Creekbeds and points are usually the best areas to try. Be sure to run your crankbait across these areas, and from several different angles.

During the fall, bass will put on the feed bag in an effort to prepare for the winter months. Lipless crankbaits shine during this time. As bass target baitfish and begin to retreat to their wintering areas, you can catch them by focusing here. Receding weedlines, drop-offs, creek beds and points become areas where bass will stop to feed.

Some anglers reserve the lipless crankbait for grass. Bassmaster Elite angler Brian Snowden told us in a recent interview,

“…I use it to cover water and find fish, it’s a great searchbait in grass…”. 

Water temperature is important. I am a believer in the notion that bass are triggered, among other things, by water temperatures. If you need to leave the main lake in search of warmer water, then travelling up a creek arm is definitely in the cards. Water that is too cold (less than 50F) does not do well when fished with a lipless crankbait. If there aren’t any creek arms available, then I usually look for a rocky area; this will usually have warmer water. Weather also comes into play. Sometimes a few days of warmth will create favorable water conditions, so it’s always good to be aware of trends.

Lipless Crankbait Hotspots

Always look for bottom structure that compliments cover. I always start at the spots pointed out on the map and try to find grass there. It is in these spots that the lipless crankbait is deadliest.

What Gear to Use with a Lipless Crankbait

A 7-ft medium/heavy power rod is optimum with a fast-action tip. You will want a medium/heavy power rod if you fish in heavy weeds or coontail that has strong fibers, which will require a heftier rod to “pop” your lure out of the vegetation. The fast-action tip will also assist with clearing your lure of weeds.

If you fish in areas that have light or emergent grass, you can easily go with a moderate/fast tip. This will allow the fish to take your lure in their mouth better and prevent you from pulling it away from the fish.

I really like to use 17-lb. fluorocarbon because it has just the right properties for this application. The line stretch, abrasion resistance and stealth are the perfect combination and I have had a lot of success using it; so it’s also a confidence thing. I use 17-lb because it does extremely well if you run into northern pike, which are common in some lakes I fish. For areas without pike, I would be comfortable with 12-lb, or even 10-lb. Braid would work well in the very heaviest of cover and the vegetation-cutting properties will come in handy for those of you who plan on tackling the thick stuff.

You will definitely want to go with a reel with a fast retrieve. I doubt there is a fast-enough reel that will outrun a fish, so the faster the better. You will want speed for two reasons. First, it will prevent you from burning yourself out. Secondly, it will make it a lot easier to work your lure correctly.

Lipless Crankbait Color Selection

This part is pretty easy, and I like the K.I.S.S. rule. Just make sure you are using patterns that bass are feeding on and know the forage in your lake. Generally, use natural colors in clear water and match the hatch. In the spring, if bass are feeding on crayfish, be sure to try a crayfish pattern crankbait. If they seem to be eating baitfish, be sure to use patterns such as shad or bluegill. There is a color pattern availabe that matches virtually any condition.

Lipless crankbaits-520

How to Use a Lipless Crankbait

There really isn’t a wrong way to work a lipless crankbait, as long as you are moving it erratically and fast! That’s the key with this bait. Remember, the time of the year you are going to be throwing this lure, these fish will be restless and primarily instinct-driven. So, all you really need to do is give it the right cadence to make them react.

There are primarily two standard retrieves; a pause retrieve and a snap retrieve. Of course, you can just do your own thing as well if it works, but remember that you are looking for an erratic retrieve.

Pause Retrieve

You burn your bait inwards, slightly above weeds or emerging grass, and pause it, allowing it to flutter down into the cover. Quality lipless crankbaits will flutter down much like a dying baitfish; this is where you will discover that not all lipless crankbaits are equal. Beware that some less-effective lures will spiral down, tangling the trebles in your line. Once you hit bottom, you begin retrieving your lure again. Be sure to snap off any weeds that may have snagged on your trebles with a quick snap of the wrist. I have found that the Rat-L-Trap has the best fall. It seems to never tangle land it “flutters” well, mimicking a dying baitfish.

Lipless Crankbaits- Pause Retrieve

Snap Retrieve

Just as the name suggests, you are going to “snap”, or “pop” your lure up with this retrieve. This retrieve is my favorite. The strikes almost always occur when you snap the lure up through the weeds. Think of this retrieve as a really fast Yo-Yo. Don’t let your lure sit on the bottom too long and snap it up as soon as you feel bottom contact. Ripping your lure up through cover attracts a lot of attention and bass can’t seem to stand it!

Lipless Crankbaits- Snap Retrieve

Hopefully my years of trial and error have paid off and others can learn from my experience. Lipless crankbaits have been around a long time and they have earned a place in everyone’s tacklebox. When you throw a lipless crankbait at the right fish, at the right time of year, there is no escape for your quarry, guaranteed! If you haven’t tried this technique be sure to check it out this spring.

Tight Lines!

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  1. Fishidy
    #1 Fishidy 11 March, 2015, 11:32

    Great article Grant, makes us want to get out and toss one of these bad boys right now!

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