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“The Average Lure Angler Could Transform His Fishing Simply By Learning How To Use A Lipless Crankbait. Who Wouldn’t Want That?”
My aim in this article is to cover everything you need to know about how to fish a lipless crankbait. They’re without doubt the most versatile hard body lure you’ll ever use……. yet they’re under utilized and often misunderstood.
But before we start, some things are common to fishing all styles of crankbaits. So I’ve also put together a more general article on fishing with crankbaits that you might want to check out.
OK! let’s make a start……
Table Of Contents: How To Fish A Lipless Crankbait
PART 1: Lipless Crankbait Fishing Basics
PART 2: Lipless Crankbait Fishing Techniques
PART 3: Pro Tip!
PART 1: Lipless Crankbait Basics
Lipless crankbaits have many aliases. You may also hear them referred to as “rattle baits”, “rattle traps” “rat l traps” or sometimes just “traps”.
I personally prefer the term “Lipless Crankbaits” because not all contain rattles. In fact, silent lipless crankbaits are among my all-time favorite lures.
Anyway, these lure have some distinguishing features that set them aside from other lures:
- They don’t have a diving lip (well, duh!)
- The tow point (the bit you tie your line to) is always on the top of the lure, never on the nose
- They generally (but not always) have relatively flat bodies
- They are always weighted internally and are (mostly) sinking lures
In my opinion, it’s really important to learn how to fish a lipless crankbait. They work very differently to other lure styles, which means that they can catch fish when other styles won’t. Of course, none of that matters if you don’t know how to use them!
Anatomy Of A Lipless Crankbait
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Lipless crankbaits have some awesome advantages that can make them spectacularly successful, when “normal” crankbaits are not.
Please don’t misunderstand me here, I love lipped crankbaits too. I reckon every angler needs a box full of both!
But knowing how to fish a lipless crankbait lets you do things you couldn’t otherwise.
Here are some of the advantages of fishing lipless crankbaits and rattle baits.
Long, Accurate Casting
Yep, lipless crankbaits and rattle baits cast like freaking bullets! With no diving lip to catch the air and (usually) a fair bit of internal weight, lipless cranks and rattle baits go straight and go long. That means you can reach fish that are hard or impossible to get with a standard crankbait.
Ability To Handle Heavy Terminals
Lipless Crankbaits can handle heavier hooks and rings than most similar sized lipped crankbaits in other styles. Their action is different, making them is less sensitive to the weight and drag caused by hooks and rings.
Noise When You Need It
- The rattle trap varieties of lipless lures can make a fair bit of sound. This can be advantageous or disadvantageous, depending on circumstances. I talk about why that is in my lure fishing tips article. But these lure sure give me the option of noise – if I want it. And the right noise is about the most powerful fish attractant you can get (it leaves lure color for dead).
Vibrations In Spades
As a fish magnet, vibration is right up there with noise. It makes lures super easy for fish to find, even in dirty water or after dark. Lipless crankbaits and rattle baits move a lot of water with each wiggle, causing massive vibration without feeling like you’re cranking in a house brick.
- Lipless baits often have flat sides, perfect for reflecting sunlight to create massive flash. Fish can see flash from a long way off and it often puts them into a hunting frame of mind.
Range Of Working Speeds
Well designed and made lipless crankbaits can be cranked or trolled at much higher speed than a lipped crankbait will handle. On the other hand, they can be designed to be fished incredibly slowly, too.
Lipless crankbaits can be worked in ways that other hard bodied lures can’t. Like vertical jigging, or fluttering them slowly along the bottom. The ability to use them in so many ways means you can fully explore a piece of water without making a ton of lure changes.
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We all know that no hard bodied lure style is perfect for every fishing situation.
So part of learning how to fish a lipless crankbait properly is recognizing when they shine. Or when another lure style is a better choice.
Here are some times when I’ll reach for the lipless crank box.
Blank lipless crankbait fishing accordion
When The Wind Is Gusting
Lipless crankbaits can be a good choice when conditions are blustery. They’re usually more heavily weighted than other lures of comparable size, so they cast well even in a strong wind. They don’t flutter in flight like other flat sided lures or those with large diving lips, either. That not only means longer casts, but more accurate ones, too.
When The Fish Are Scattered
There is nothing like a lipless crankbait for finding fish when they’re scattered throughout a system. They cast a mile and many styles can be worked quite fast, so you can cover a lot of water quickly. This style of lure can be fished over flats or in deeper water, through weed and grass or jigged vertically. They can handle the toughest fish and because of the flash, noise and vibration they emit they are perfect for dirty water or after dark. Lipless crankbaits are a very versatile choice of lure.
In Weed (Marine Or Freshwater)
Learning how to fish a lipless crankbait through grass is the fishing equivalent of opening the bank vault, in my opinion. There’s nearly always a good fish hiding in grass and you’ll usually find they feel safe and secure, which means they’ll hit hard. Lipless crankbaits are definitely the weapon of choice for this style of fishing and it really doesn’t matter whether you’re fishing seagrass or lake grass.Later in this post we’ll cover the technique for fishing with lipless crankbaits in grass.
For Really Gnarly Fish
A great thing about lipless crankbaits is their ability to be loaded up with heavy duty hooks and rings without impairing their action. Likewise, they can be fished on quite heavy lines and leaders. All of this makes them a great option for that white-knuckle, locked drag style of fishing when you can’t give the fish an inch. Strong hooks, rings and line gives you a fighting chance.
When Speed Matters
Because of the way that lipless crankbaits work, their action is usually very stable. That means that many styles of lipless crankbait can handle being worked at much higher speeds than your standard lipped varieties. Not only that, they won’t create so much drag on the rod tip that it feels like you’re trolling a house brick.
In Dirty Water Or After Dark
Many times I’ve done incredibly well in dirty water or fishing after dark with lipless crankbaits. Low visibility often makes predatory fish more active and aggressive, and anything that helps them find a lure under these conditions is an asset. Noise and vibration are the two secret weapons – and lipless crankbaits have these in spades! In the techniques section I talk more about using lipless crankbaits after dark.
When I Need To Go Vertical
When I Can't Decide
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With a few notable exceptions, most lipless crankbaits get their unique swimming action as a result of their body shape and they way they’re weighted.
- If they weren’t weighted, the flat sides would make most lipless crankbaits float on their side.
- The weight holds the lure body vertical.
- As the lipless crankbait is pulled along, water pressure on the top of the lure increases the tendency for the lure to turn on its side.
- The internal weights and the hooks pull it back to vertical, but tend to over-correct
- The opposing forces of buoyancy and internal weights keep the lure wobbling from side to side as its dragged through the water.
Importantly, the flat sides combine with the side to side wobble to create a massive amount of vibration. This is particularly easy for fish to detect and home in on – and is one of the main reasons lipless crankbaits are so successful.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule! For example, the classic trout lure Woden’s “Flatfish” is technically a lipless crankbait, but it works very differently to other lipless cranks. But for the most part, the above is the mechanism that causes lipless crankbaits to do their thing. And for most people wanting to learn how to use a lipless crankbait, it’s all you need to know!
I mentioned earlier that lipless crankbaits are very forgiving lures – Well, that extends to tackle too. Just about any decent quality baitcast or spin outfit will get you started!
So if you’re in the market for a new, general purpose crankbait fishing outfit , check out my article on basic crankbait fishing tackle.
All of that said, there are some things to know if you want to fish lipless crankbaits to full potential.
I’m not generally the kind of bloke who needs a different rod, reel and line combo for every lure style. But fishing with lipless crankbaits is a little different.
Gearing up to fish lipless crankbaits effectively is very worthwhile because of their versatility. By setting up right means I can fish scenarios with just one rod and reel combo and a selection of lipless crankbaits!
Why baitcast reels?
Well, I first learned how to fish a lipless crankbait using spin gear. And it was fine. But baitcast reels allow me to cast further and with greater accuracy than spin reels. And the weight of lipless crankbaits means they are no trouble to cast on baitcast gear. Because of the direct route of line to the spool, baitcasters handle tough fish better than spin reels. Couple that with the heavy tackle ability of lipless crankbaits and it’s a match made in heaven. Finally, a high ratio reel means you can burn lipless crankbaits pretty fast. Combine long casting and fast retrieves and you’ve got a great tool for covering a lot of water. Of course, you can still slow the retrieve down for fishing the lure deep, it just takes some concentration and focus!
The majority of lure fishermen will just pull a lipless crankbait out of its packaging and start fishing. That’s fine, except for one thing…… Often the hooks are garbage.
I remember years ago the first thing I’d do with the hook on any new lure was to …….sharpen them. I don’t do that these days because almost all hooks are chemically sharpened and super pointy straight from the packet.
Sharpness isn’t the issue now. It’s everything else!
The problem is that many (most) factory lures these days are fitted with cheap stock trebles. Hooks that will blunt quickly, straighten, snap or lose their sharpness quickly.
I don’t blame the manufacturers. All the serious lure fishermen I know tend to upgrade their hooks. Even if the lure was fitted with quality hooks they’re just as likely to retrofit with the ones they want for their own fishing needs. So why waste money on quality hooks and price themselves out of the market.
Of course, the majority of lure fishermen don’ know the difference….. so once again, why would they price themselves out of the market?
Lipless Crankbait Hook Tips
- Lipless crankbaits can often be fitted with relatively heavy hooks and rings that other lures of a similar size couldn’t sustain. This make them perfect for throwing at tough species.
- For really tough fish, single crankbait hooks like those offered by Owner or VMC can be used for extra holding power, greater strength and less damage to fish and fishermen.
- Assist hooks are also a great option that can be fitted to many lipless crankbaits and are especially useful when fish are biting short.
Obviously, rattle baits contain rattles. But take that rattle away and the same lure can become one of the deadliest styles of lure I’ve ever used – a silent lipless crankbait.
So, what if you can’t find a silent lipless crankbait? Or if you have a particular rattle bait but you’d really like a silent version of the same lure?
Easy! You do a little lipless crankbait surgery!
Turning A Rattlebait Into A Silent Lipless Crankbait
Step 1: Drill Holes
Step 2: Drizzle In Epoxy
Step 3: Seal & Let Cure
Step 1: Drill one or more holes in the belly of your rattlebait. Note that many plastic rattlebaits have several internal chambers, so you may have to drill a few holes.
Step 2: Mix up some epoxy and drizzle it into the hole.
Step 3: Place some tape over the hole to trap the epoxy, then leave the lure resting on its belly until the epoxy has cured.
If you get this process right, your rattlebait will become a silent lipless bait, but it can take a bit of trial and error until you figure out where to drill the holes.
PART 2: Lipless Crankbait Fishing Techniques
The technique of “Burning” probably doesn’t really need a lot of explanation. Cast the lure out, hold the rod tip about 1 o’clock and crank back somewhere between fast and flat out.
Burning is one of the most common ways to use this style of lure. Especially by beginners because, well, it doesn’t get much simpler than casting out and cranking back in.
Now, regular readers will have heard me say “The worst way to use a crankbait is to just cast it out and crank it back in at constant speed“.
And I (mostly) stand by that!
But burning a lipless crankbait is an exception to the rule. The problem I see is that most newbies don’t know any way to use a lipless crankbait other than burning. So they’re definitely not catching as many fish as they should on lipless lures.
How To Fish A Lipless Crankbait By Burning
Where & When: Great over shallow sand, mud, rock and coral. Also works well over weed beds and grass. Most effective when the water is warm and fish are aggressive. Prime technique when I’m covering water quickly because fish are scattered or hard to locate.
How: Cast long, hold the rod at around the 1 o’clock and wind back quickly. Variation: throw in the occasional random pause. This can cause a following fish to react instinctively.
Pro Tip: A relatively long, medium action rod and a high ratio reel loaded with fluorocarbon line is a good choice for burning lipless crankbaits. The long rod enables longer casts and the medium action provides some shock absorption from the savage strikes. Fluorocarbon line is low visibility, which can be important in clear, shallow water.
Slow rolling a lipless crankbait is all about working it slowly and close to the bottom – or just above structure such as weed, riprap or coral. The idea is to play around with lure choices and retrieves until you’re working your lure as slowly as you can and still get some wiggle.
Slow rolling requires a little more attention than burning. Go too slow and you may end up hooking the bottom. Too fast and you might not be close enough to structure to entice fish.
Slow rolling is a good technique when you know where fish are holding but they’re not being particularly active or aggressive.
How To Fish A Lipless Crankbait By Slow Rolling
Where & When: Can be done anywhere, but especially useful in slightly deeper water. Often a useful technique when fish are skulking about the bottom in cooler weather.
How: Cast long, hold the rod at around the 1 o’clock and wind back just quickly enough to keep the lure near the bottom. In impoundments it can be good to keep the lure just above the thermocline.
Pro Tip: The size and weight of lure and the type and weight of line will affect the depth of slow rolling. In deeper water, larger, heavier lures and braided lines will get you down deep. Use a smaller lure and/or fluorocarbon line for rolling shallower water.
Ripping is a classic lipless crankbait fishing technique. It’s a favorite around grass and weed in freshwater areas, but also works nicely in seagrass beds in estuaries and coastal bays.
There is plenty of debate about the best crankbait setup for ripping lipless cranks. I personally prefer a reasonably long, medium action rod coupled with braided line and a fluorocarbon leader. This gives me the leverage to rip the lure from the grass and braid tends to cut through the grass.
Others prefer to use fluorocarbon lines to avoid a leader knot that can catch on the grass. I find that an FG knot doesn’t catch that much weed, so I’ll usually stick with the braid.
How To Fish A Lipless Crankbait With The Yo Yo Technique
Where & When: The Yo Yo is a great technique for when the water is cold and the fish are lazy. It’s not so great where there is a lot of weed or structure as you’ll be constantly hung up. It’s great over sand, gravel or mud bottoms though. Look for places where baitfish are aggregating such as points, depressions, channels and the like.
How: Cast long, and hold the hold the rod horizontal as the lure sinks. Keep the lure on a semi-tight line and when you see the line “relax” lift the rod sharply to the twelve o’clock position. Then wind line to stay in touch with the lure as it sinks back down. Continue doing this until you reach the boat or bank. Don’t be afraid to leave the lure stationary on the bottom for a few seconds or more. It’s not unusual for fish to nail the stationary lure. And experiment with the speed of your rips too. Variation: move the rod tip to the side, rather than upwards, if you want to keep the lure closer to the bottom.
Pro Tips: I like braided line and a medium action rod for yo yo fishing. This gives me the sensitivity to feel bites on the drop and enough grunt to pull the lure sharply through the water. It also gives a little shock absorption to reduce the chances of hooks being torn from a fish. Heavier lures are better for deeper water, but I’d still rather then don’t plummet to the bottom. Lighter lures can flutter about more, pulling fish in from long distances.
Ripping a lipless crankbait through weed is one of the deadliest ways you’ll ever fish one of these lures!
When fish are hiding out in weed they don’t get a lot of chance to think before the opportunity has passed. So get your lure in their zone and they tend to hit it hard and without hesitation.
I like slow sinking lipless crankbaits for this approach because I can work them a little slower than a faster sinking lure. That keeps them in the zone a little longer and seems to result in more strikes.
How To Fish A Lipless Crankbait In Grass By Ripping
Where & When: Ripping is the perfect technique when fish are holed up in weed. Done properly, violently tearing the lure free of the grass often triggers a strike and solid hookup.
How: The key to fishing lipless crankbaits in grass is to work the lure quite slowly with the rod at 9-10 o-clock. For this technique to be effective you need it to make contact. Snap the rod tip briskly to the 12 o’clock position each time you feel the grass, pulling the lure free. Then lower the rod tip and reel to maintain contact with the lure, then rinse and repeat.
Pro Tips: Part of the reason I love braid for ripping crankbaits is the sensitivity. You can feel the contact with grass and react fast, pulling the lure free. Mess about with lure weights and cranking speed as you don’t want to sink your lure so deep it won’t pull free! Be ready for the fish to strike as the lure is falling……
Here’s a great example of the versatility of lipless crankbaits! There aren’t too many other hard body styles that can be fished vertically like a jig!
The vertical jigging technique is similar to yo-yoing a lipless crankbait in that it takes advantage of the flutter of a falling rattletrap.
How To Fish A Lipless Crankbait Vertically Like A Jig
Where & When: Jigging lipless crankbaits is a great technique when you find fish aggregated around vertical structure like pylons, standing trees or buoy chains. It works best in medium to deep water.
How: Free spool your lure to the bottom on a semi-slack line and let it rest there for a second or two. Then lift the rod sharply from the 9 o’clock position to around 11 or 12 o’clock. Wind in slowly as you lower the rod tip, staying in touch with the lure. Pause a second or two, then repeat. Sometimes I’ll work the lure right back to the top this way, but if fish are down deep I’ll usually get part way up and then free spool back down.
Pro Tips: Often with vertical jigging you are tight in to structure, so fluorocarbon line can be a good choice, being more abrasion resistant than braid. Remember that your lure is working when it is moving both upwards and downwards. Often the strike will come when the lure is on the drop, so avoid missed strikes by maintaining a semi-tight line while the lure is falling.
Night fishing with lures is exhilarating – not to mention highly successful! And lipless crankbaits are a really good option after dark.
Obviously, fish tend to rely on sound and vibration to find food after dark. And lipless crankbaits, especially rattle baits, make plenty of commotion. My experience has been that fish are less spooky and more likely to investigate a sound after dark than in full daylight.
For me, the best success at night has always come from the slow to medium fast sinking lipless baits. The exception is when I’m vertical jigging around jetty pylons under the lights. Depending on water depth I may look for a faster sinking lure in this scenario.
How To Fish A Lipless Crankbait After Dark
Where & When: Pretty much all of the above techniques work just as well after dark as during daylight. As a general rule, I tend to work the lures slower at night so fish have extra time to find them. But not always!
How: Use the techniques I’ve described above. Usually when I’m fishing at night with standard crankbaits I’ll tend to use black (or at least dark colored) lures. But with lipless cranks I’ll often go for a shiny, metallic, reflective lure. The flat sides of most lipless crankbaits create massive flash. A reflective lure can catch a glint of moonlight or the lights of a jetty and create fish attracting flash.
Pro Tips: Noisy lures are a often good choice at night, but don’t dismiss the silent lipless crankbaits. This is especially the case where the fishing pressure is high and fish have learned to recognize the rattle of a lure. Try fishing a lipless crankbait under the lights of a wharf or dock at night…… you might be pleasantly surprised!
Let’s be honest……. Lipless crankbaits aren’t usually the first choice for fishing through heavy cover. Weed and grass, yes, they can be ripped through very effectively. But gnarly fallen trees? Not so much.
Standard crankbaits aren’t too bad in heavy cover for two reasons: First, the diving lip tends to hit a structure first and flips the lure upwards, keeping the hooks safe. Second, most of them float. So when you hit something, just stop cranking and wait a second or two for the lure to float up a little. Then continue to work the lure back.
Lipless crankbaits don’t have a diving lip to deflect the lure off snags. And most of them don’t float. So what to do?
Well, I have to say…… most of the time I’d recommend choosing a fat bodied crankbait (either square or round billed) instead. But if you’re adventurous then here’s how to fish a lipless crankbait through cover.
How To Fish A Lipless Through Cover
Where & When: Through light to medium density brush piles and fallen timber!
How: Choose a slower sinking lipless crankbait so your lure can be worked slowly and has less time to descend into the structure. Mono line is a good choice as it floats and has reasonable abrasion resistance. Fluorocarbon gives even better abrasion resistance but is a trade-off because it sinks, making your lures run a little deeper. Cast out, then work the lure back at a speed that keeps it close to the structure. When you feel the lure make contact with timber, flick the rod tip sharply to yo-yo it over.
Pro Tips: Lipless crankbaits that swim with a head-down orientation are less prone to snagging as the body helps protect the hooks. Clipping the downward facing point of you treble hooks off helps reduce snagging, as do weedless hooks. Carry a lure retriever……. it really doesn’t matter what lure you use, you’re going to lose lures in this type of fishing. A lure retriever can save you plenty of dough!
PART 3: Custom Lipless Crankbaits
Oh, man…… Seriously, this is my number one, all -time favorite tip for crushing it with lipless crankbaits! It’s the most powerful thing anyone can do to improve their fishing. No BS.
Ordinary lipless crankbaits are awesome, but wait until you fish with custom lipless crankbaits!
What’s so great about custom lipless crankbaits? Plenty!
Custom wooden lipless crankbaits can do the following things that standard, off the shelf, store-bought lures can’t:
- Pull trophy fish from waters where they’ve seen and heard a million rattlebaits and are too smart to take any store-bought lures.
- Allow you to fish through snags and cover where normal lipless crankbaits get constantly hung up.
- Provide more weight options that give the flexibility to fish difficult conditions with ease.
- Create unique different vibrations than those made by plastic lures (and are more attractive to fish).
- Generate low frequency sounds that make them more natural and much easier for fish to hear.
- Provide opportunities to match the size, shape, action and color of your baits to local bait fish.
How Anyone Can Take Advantage Of Custom Lipless Crankbaits
Here’s the good news. FANTASTIC news, actually! Getting all the advantages of custom lipless crankbaits is CHEAP and fast – and I’m about to show you how.
You don’t need to spend a fortune on expensive custom lipless crankbaits only to be too afraid of losing them to actually fish them. AND, you can have as many lipless crankbaits as you’d ever want……. for the rest of your life!
Best of all, hand-making your own lipless crankbaits is so easy that anyone with access to a sharp knife, a battery drill and a handsaw can do it RIGHT NOW!
If you’re interested in making lipless crankbaits, why not check out my free lipless crankbait making webinar, where I’ll show you exactly how to get started. Just think, you could be catching fish on your own handmade lures THIS WEEKEND!