Lipless crankbaits hardly deserve to be called crankbaits. Diving crankbaits are floating lures with a bill or lip that force them to dive upon being retrieved. Lipless crankbaits on the other hand are sinking lures and don’t have a lip as the name implies. They are worked with a combination of rod tip movement and reel. They also shine at mid-depth whereas diving crankbaits are designed to bounce off the bottom.
You can fish a lipless crankbait all year long. But the technique and location will differ per season. After all, fish location also differs throughout the year, the baitfish moves, game fish move along. Let’s take one season at a time and figure that riddle out:
I don’t pick spring as the first season at random, because that’s when it’s the best time to fish a lipless crankbait. As soon as the water temperature starts climbing, fish will eat to recoup after the winter and fatten up before the spawn. They will leave the deep winter holes but not quite in the shallows yet. It means they can be spread out and hard to locate. The best clue is to find baitfish.
That’s where a lipless crankbait comes in: it imitates very well a distressed baitfish, it’s fast and covers a lot of water. With its intense vibration and being a rattle bait, fish will find it easily and it has a much larger strike zone than most lures. This technique works great for perch, bass, and pike.
You will catch the occasional zander as well, especially early morning. There’s a legend that says crawfish red is the best color for this time of year, it might or might not be true, whatever the anglers prefer I don’t think it matters.
Spring plus grass equals lipless crank! That’s in any good algebra lesson! Make sure your lure has thin wire treble hooks and braid in your reel. Allow the lure to snag in the grass and pop the bait free, the lure will sort of jump forward triggering angry bites, a very effective pattern!
Summer is the time when baitfish scatter and so does game fish. So again, it’s important to have the ability to cover a lot of water. In deep lakes, surface water can be too hot while deep water might not have enough dissolved oxygen.
For zander, you could use a lipless the same way you would use a blade bait. Let it reach the bottom and then hop it with a yo yoing action close to the bottom.
When summer grass dies off, baitfish leave shallow water and start grouping up for the winter. It’s a similar pattern with the spring, just in reverse. Fish will be in that transition zone. I usually fish deeper water just adjacent to grass beds.
In rivers, I have developed a pattern I call the leaf highway: the main current does not spread over the whole width of the river, and the floating dead leaves show its location very well. This path is where the food is and so are the fish. I just fan cast that area and get perch, pike, and big fat chubs eating the food brought by the current.
This is the season where a lipless is probably the most overlooked bait. Select a lure that sinks slowly. Look for deep submerged grass beds or what’s left of them. Alternate long sweeping retrieve with the rod and pauses while the lure sinks slowly. Better if the lure has some type of shimmy as it sinks.
Another option, for clean bottom lakes, is to hop it and yo-yo the lure on the bottom. This is a great alternative to fishing a soft plastic lure. A lipless crankbait will be heard from further away and somehow tends to get bigger fish.
Many anglers are rattled (pun intended) by the loud noise emitted by these lures. They have been led to believe pressured fish will shy away from loud lures. It might be the case, sometimes, but I think it’s marginal at best.
Rattle in lures has been around for a good 40 years, widely used in lakes in America with tremendous fishing pressure. There’s no evidence it has lost efficiency over the years. The same can be observed in Europe, I fish small ponds with pike and bass, ponds the size of a football field or less. Rattling baits still catch fish day in and day out.
Let’s take a more pragmatic look at this question. Sound travels at about 1500 meters per second in the water. That’s a kilometer and a half. It’s only 340 meters per second in air. It means hearing travels fast and far. Fish must be using sound a lot more than any other sense.
Almost any movement creates noise, crawfish feeding and swimming away, baitfish schools, and so on. Fish food is noisy! So for fish to avoid noisy prey would be like for you to never listen to anyone because you’ve been lied to before.
That’s not to say we should disregard this element entirely. As stated before, sound is paramount and needs to be taken into consideration. There are essentially 3 alternatives on the market: multiple BBs, one knocker, and silent.
The multiple BBs version is the most common and most versatile. It will work basically everywhere. The one knocker has proven itself in muddy water and when we need a slow-rolled steady cranking. Having a silent version is a good alternative for quiet days, early morning, or super clear water.
Barbels are not a game fish, but the big ones won’t turn down a lure given the chance. For some reason, lipless crankbaits are by far the best lure for giant barbels. So if your river has big barbels, try a lipless crankbait and hang on cause they are fierce fighters.